SHANGHAI—When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Shanghai in May 2013 and hailed the city’s role as a “haven” for Jewish people fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe in the 1930s and 40s, his comments highlighted a part of the city’s history that many contemporary residents don’t know. Today, few would guess that this quintessentially Chinese city once played host to a bustling community of over 20,000 Jews.
While a Jewish community has existed in Shanghai since the late 19th century, the first large wave of immigrants came in the 1920s and 30s, as thousands of Russian Jews fled the Bolshevik Revolution for the more business-friendly foreign concessions in Shanghai. A decade later, the mainly Russian and Sephardic Jewish community was supplemented by tens of thousands of Ashkenazi Jews from Europe, who fled during the early stages of Nazi rule in Germany.
Before Nazi policy turned actively genocidal in the late 1930s, exile was seen as a perfectly acceptable solution to the “Jewish problem” and German and Austrian Jews, stripped of their citizenship rights, property, and employment, were encouraged to emigrate to any country that would have them. Unfortunately, there were few options for these would-be emigrants: At the Évian Conference in 1938, the great powers collectively decided to shut their borders to all but a small selection of Jewish refugees.
Aside from the Dominican Republic, Shanghai was the only place that remained open to these refugees, and 20,000 or so European Jews found their way to the city in the late 1930s.
Read more. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]
Earlier this month, a spectacular cache of more than 1,400 artworks surfaced in Germany—works that had been unknown to the public or presumed to be lost. And as details have emerged, one elderly American has been on the phone to his lawyer every day.
For the past five years, 88-year-old David Toren and his 92-year-old brother—both Holocaust survivors—have been trying to track down a beautiful painting that their great-uncle, the collector David Friedmann, lost due to Nazi persecution: “Two riders on the beach,” by the German Impressionist Max Liebermann. Their lawyer spotted the long-lost painting on TV when it was presented to the public as one of the pieces discovered in an apartment in Munich. But whether the brothers will ever get it back is far from clear.
Between 1933 and 1945, the tightening grip of the Third Reich facilitated one of history’s biggest art thefts. Initially, Jewish dealers were effectively forced to sell their precious collections at bargain prices before fleeing abroad. Later, Jewish-owned collections—such as those of David Friedmann, who died of natural causes in 1942—were systematically confiscated. Other pieces were looted after their owners were deported to concentration camps. Paintings that were deemed modern or subversive were snatched from museums and exhibited as “degenerate” art.
Read more. [Image: Reuters/Michael Dalder]
The note arrived from a stranger named Don Gould of Fall River, Massachusetts.
“I am in possession of a letter written many years ago by, I believe, your father,” he wrote. He had found it going through his mother’s effects after her death and had no clue how she had come to possess it. He tracked me down through an online search. My first thought was this Mr. Gould was a long-lost half brother, but that was not the case.
Attached were two immaculately preserved sheets of onion-skin carbon paper, filled to the outer margins with dense black type and my father’s name at the end. The letter, dated December 1, 1943, was dispatched from “somewhere in Italy,” and addressed to “My Dear Mr. & Mrs. Gregson.” Its purpose was evident from the opening sentence.
“I’ve been a long time writing this, first because I wanted letters from the War Department to precede this one, and secondly because I just didn’t know what to say or how to say it. I’m sure you’ll understand what I mean.”
What followed was a vivid account of my father’s friendship with the Gregsons’ son John, a fellow officer tapped to take part in the “Big Show,” the Allies’ first amphibious landing in Europe nine months before D-Day.
Read more. [Image courtesy Allan Ripp]
My generation of veterans has adopted an odd moniker: The Next Greatest Generation. We grew up watching Band of Brothers and found parallels in this dramatization of World War II experiences to what we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan—brotherhood, sacrifice, the struggle to endure long and bitter conflicts. We’re just as capable as they were, and they changed the world, the thinking goes. We proclaim our greatness at the beginning of the second chapter of our lives.
But there’s a problem with that logic: It means our sense of greatness is derived from that first chapter. While some of the greatest contributions the World War II generation gave this country happened after the war, our self-admiration is based entirely, by contrast, from our time in service. And that troubling attitude means a continued isolation from the society we left behind.
As a biographer, it helps to like your subjects. You develop feelings for them. You even whisper advice: avoid Constantinople; do not marry that woman. You will them to find some kind of meaning in their lives, if only so you can, too.
I liked Eric Erickson in the beginning. I still do, but it’s different.
Erickson’s legend was that of a classic American adventurer: he was born in Brooklyn, worked the oilfields in Texas, and served in World War I as an intelligence officer. He was a dashing, self-made millionaire and playboy who charmed women from the South of France to Yokohama.
And then in the middle of World War II, while living in Stockholm, he volunteered for a spy mission so danger-filled it was almost ludicrous: Erickson posed as a Nazi collaborator, hung a portrait of the Führer in his apartment, “disowned” his Jewish best friend and travelled to wartime Berlin, where he met and bamboozled Heinrich Himmler, all the while locating the top-secret synthetic oil plants that kept the Wehrmacht running. He passed the coordinates to Allied Bomber Command, who attacked and destroyed the plants, helping to end the war early and potentially saving thousands of American lives. “Hitler was a lunatic,” he later said. “I wanted to crush him.”
Read more. [Image: Paramount Screenshot]
Sixty-eight years ago today, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing approximately 110,000 Japanese citizens and thrusting the world into a nuclear age.
The American public didn’t know how to respond to this unprecedented military move. Should they just be glad that the war was over, and conclude that the ends justified the means? Or should they be skeptical, and question whether this final assault was really absolutely necessary?
In December 1946, just over a year after Hiroshima, The Atlantic published Dr. Karl Compton’s article, “If the Atomic Bomb Had Not been Used.” Compton argues that if the United States had not implemented the Manhattan Project, hundreds of thousands more lives - both American and Japanese - would have been lost.
Read more. [Image: AP]
An old Office of Legal Counsel memo is a potent historical reminder that being on war footing gravely threatens basic liberties.
The [588th Night Bomber Regiment of the Soviet Air Forces] was the most highly decorated female unit in that force, flying 30,000 missions over the course of four years — and dropping, in total, 23,000 tons of bombs on invading German armies. Its members, who ranged in age from 17 to 26, flew primarily at night, making do with planes that were — per their plywood-and-canvas construction — generally reserved for training and crop-dusting. They often operated in stealth mode, idling their engines as they neared their targets and gliding to the bomb release point. As a result, their planes made little more than soft “whooshing” noises as they flew by.
Those noises reminded the Germans, apparently, of the sound of a witch’s broomstick. So the Nazis began calling the female fighter pilots Nachthexen: “night witches.” They were loathed. And they were feared. Any German pilot who downed a “witch” was automatically awarded an Iron Cross.
The picture is a rare glimpse of the bomb’s immediate aftermath, showing the distinct two-tiered cloud as it was seen from Kaitaichi, part of present-day Kaita, six miles east of Hiroshima’s center. […]
The person who took this photo would have been among the first to look out there and realize that this wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill bomb. It wasn’t the air raid that the citizens of Hiroshima had been anticipating for months. This was the beginning of a new world.
Read more. [Image: Honkawa Elementary School]
"It is a bit like painting with history," Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse says of her project "Ghosts of History."
She got the idea a few years ago when she found some old negatives at a flea market in Amsterdam, where she lives. “I was very curious about these mysterious photos and wanted to find out who took them and where. So I started to walk around Amsterdam and made photos in the same spot where the old photos were made and combined them on the computer.”
See more. [Images: Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse, Unknown, Tom Timmermans]