April 29, 2013 1:57 pm
Margot Woelk, now 95, is the last surviving member of a team tasked with keeping Hitler alive as he hunkered down in the Wolf’s Lair in the final chapters of World War II. For nearly all her life, says the Associated Press, Woelk kept quiet about her wartime activities. But now, in her old age, she wants to talk, and her stories are filled with details of life in Hitler’s fortress and about living a life of “constant fear.”
Woelk was the sole survivor of the Nazi leader’s poison paranoia. In her mid-20s, she was swept away from her home in Ratensburg (now Ketrzyn, Poland), “drafted into civilian service” to join 14 other women in the dictator’s wartime bunker where she and the others were charged with taste-testing the leader’s meals.
As the war dragged on, food supplies in much of German-occupied territory suffered. Within the Wolf’s Lair, however, “the food was delicious, only the best vegetables, asparagus, bell peppers, everything you can imagine. And always with a side of rice or pasta,” said Woelk.
“He was a vegetarian. He never ate any meat during the entire time I was there,” Woelk said of the Nazi leader. “And Hitler was so paranoid that the British would poison him — that’s why he had 15 girls taste the food before he ate it himself.”
But each meal brought fear, says Woelk. “We knew of all those poisoning rumors and could never enjoy the food. Every day we feared it was going to be our last meal.”
Nearing the end of the war, after tensions mounted following an unsuccessful attempt on Hitler’s life from within the bunker, Woelk fled. When Soviet troops took the Wolf’s Lair a year later, the other taste testers were all shot. But the end of the war was not the end of Woelk’s ordeal, according to the AP. She suffered abuse at the hands of Russian troops long after the war ended, she says:
“For decades, I tried to shake off those memories,” she said. “But they always came back to haunt me at night.”
…Only now in the sunset of her life has she been willing to relate her experiences, which she had buried because of shame and the fear of prosecution for having worked with the Nazis, although she insists she was never a party member.
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April 8, 2013 10:34 am
Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, died today at the age of 87. Thatcher, the first woman to lead a Western power, pushed back against socialism in Britain and ushered in a new era of partnerships with Russia.
Thatcher wasn’t exactly an uncontroversial figure. She was fiercely conservative, tough and unwavering in her commitment to her own ideas, earning her the nickname the Iron Lady. “I am not a consensus politician,” she would say. “I am a conviction politician.” Later, she said to her internally warring party “Turn if you like, the lady’s not for turning.”
Some think that this hard-working, hard-headed ethic came from her working class background. Thatcher was born above a shop in Grantham, to a grocer. Early in her career, Thatcher underwent an image overhaul that included changing her voice to be lower. She worked with a speech therapist to lower her register. In Vanity Fair, her biographer chronicles the episode saying, “soon the hectoring tones of the housewife gave way to softer notes and a smoothness that seldom cracked except under extreme provocation on the floor of the House of Commons.”
This sort of commitment and work wasn’t uncommon for Thatcher: if she set out to do something, she did it. And it is that resolve that made Thatcher successful, according to the New York Times:
At home, Lady Thatcher’s political successes were decisive. She broke the power of the labor unions and forced the Labour Party to abandon its commitment to nationalized industry, redefine the role of the welfare state and accept the importance of the free market.
Abroad, she won new esteem for a country that had been in decline since its costly victory in World War II. After leaving office, she was honored as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven.
Thatcher was one of first Western leaders to work with Mikhail Gorbachev, spurring a slow turn towards working with the former Soviet Union. Thatcher pushed British Petroleum to explore oil deals in Kazakhstan to help Gorbachev, eventually creating a giant oil production facility in Azerbaijan that has pumped thousands of barrels of oil a day for the last seven years.
Of course, these policies weren’t universally praised. During her time, inequality in the U.K. rose, and her own former university, Oxford, refused to grant her an honorary degree, making her the first prime minister educated at Oxford to be denied the honor. Here’s the BBC on the internal Oxford debate:
The principal of Mrs Thatcher’s old college, also supported her nomination. Daphne Park said: “You don’t stop someone becoming a fellow of an academic body because you dislike them.”
But Professor Peter Pulzer, of All Souls, who led the opposition, said: “This is not a radical university, it is not an ideologically motivated university.
“I think we have sent a message to show our very great concern, our very great worry about the way in which educational policy and educational funding are going in this country.
Thatcher didn’t comment on the snub, but her spokesperson said, “If they do not wish to confer the honour, the prime minister is the last person to wish to receive it.”
Eventually, however, Thatcher’s political enemies caught up with her. She fought over poll taxes and over water privatization. She called Nelson Mandela a terrorist. And then, in 1990, she left office.
Here is her last speech to Parliament, made on November 22, 1990.
Of course, no one with such sway stays quiet once officially out of politics. Thatcher is thought to have greatly influenced George H.W. Bush in his decisions about the first Gulf War, telling him it was “no time to go wobbly.” She retired from public life in 2002, after a stroke, and it was another stroke that ultimately claimed her life on Monday.
Thatcher was divisive; she was tough; and she was intense. The New York Times closes its obituary of the Iron Lady with this quote:
“Margaret Thatcher evoked extreme feelings,” wrote Ronald Millar, a playwright and speechwriter for the prime minister. “To some she could do no right, to others no wrong. Indifference was not an option. She could stir almost physical hostility in normally rational people, while she inspired deathless devotion in others.”
And while many disagreed with her policies, most agree that her resolve was admirable and her precedent as a woman in charge opened doors for generations after her.
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March 14, 2013 8:54 am
Earlier this week, a jury in New York City decided that the cop who dreamed of killing and eating his wife wasn’t simply fantasizing. The case sets an unusual precedent—people can be convicted of a crime they thought about but never committed. The implication here is that cannibalism is so terrifying and awful to us that anyone who could reasonably consider it must be dangerous. But cannibalism didn’t always have such a horrific association. Other cultures practiced cannibalism as part of religious rituals, and even in America’s past, many have turned to cannibalism out of desperation, when stranded by weather or lost in the wilderness.
Mental Floss has summed up some of the most famous people-eaters of the Old West, like Liver-Eating Johnson, whose wife was killed by members of the Crow tribe. Johnson spent the next twenty years killing something like 300 Crows and eating their livers. Then there’s Alferd Packer, also known as The Colorado Cannibal. Packer was serving as a guide for six men hiking in Colorado. When the men went missing in a snowstorm and Packer showed up alone and seemingly unfazed, people were suspicious. But Packer had a story. Here’s Mental Floss:
Packer was arrested and taken in for questioning. The tale he told then was quite different: Packer said that while they were stranded, Israel Swan (the oldest of the group) died and the others ate his body. Humphrey died next, of natural causes. Then Miller died of an undisclosed accident. Each of the bodies were eaten by the survivors. Then, according to Packer, Shannon Bell shot Noon in order to eat him. Then Bell tried to kill Packer as well, so Packer killed Bell in self-defense. Not long after telling his story, Packer escaped from jail and wasn’t seen again until 1883. Meanwhile, the remains of the other prospectors were found, showing evidence of violence. However, they were all lying near each other, and their feet were bound with strips of blanket.
Later Packer confessed to eating some human flesh, but it’s still pretty unclear what happened. And then there’s Boone Helm, the man who ate at least two companions during two separate storms. At Legends of America they have an account of one of those two instances:
He stayed on at this spot, and, like a hyena, preyed upon the dead body of his companion. He ate one leg of the body, and then, wrapping up the other in a piece of old shirt, threw it across his shoulder and started on further east. He had, before this on the march, declared to the party that he had practiced cannibalism at an earlier time, and proposed to do so again if it became necessary on this trip across the mountains.
The thing is, people used to find themselves in life or death situations far more than they do now. Survival cannibalism—eating another human because there is literally nothing else to eat and you will die otherwise—is easier for us to stomach. Mental Floss writes:
In 18th and 19th century seagoing communities, it was pretty much accepted as something that happened from time to time as a hazard of the occupation and lifestyle. By the 19th century, sailors and fishermen had even worked out some general guidelines should the “custom of the sea” need to be performed. Straws were drawn to decide who would be killed and eaten and who would have to do the killing (usually the second shortest straw made you the killer, and the shortest made you dinner).
Non-survival cannibalism is a whole other thing. And it didn’t used to be that uncommon either. Cultures all over the world have incorporated human flesh into rituals and events. Some of these rituals, like eating the flesh of a recently deceased person at the funeral, have positive associations. Some, meant to intimidate enemies, involved eating the flesh of their warriors. It’s not necessary to go that far back in the past to find that sort of intimidation, either. In World War II, a few Japanese soldiers were tried with war crimes for cannibalism. Except the U.S. realized it hadn’t really ever technically outlawed cannibalism in international law so it had to technically try them for something else. The Project to Enforce the Geneva Convetion writes:
Lieutenant General Joshio Tachibana, Imperial Japanese Army, and 11 other Japanese military personnel were tried for the beheadings of two American airmen in August, 1944, on Chichi Jima in the Bonin Islands. They were beheaded on Tachibana’s orders. One of the executed airmen, a U. S. Navy radioman third class, was dissected and his “flesh and viscera” eaten by Japanese military personnel. The U. S. also tried Vice Admiral Mori and a Major Matoba for A Global Forum for Naval murder in the deaths of five U. S. airmen, in February, 1945. Major Matoba confessed to cannibalism. However, military and international law had no provisions for punishment for cannibalism per se. They were accused of murder and “prevention of honorable burial.”
In fact, even today, most countries don’t have laws against cannibalism. Here’s Business Insider:
In the United States and most European countries there are no outright laws against the consumption of human flesh. Most criminals who commit acts of cannibalism are charged with murder, desecration of corpses, or necrophilia.
Because the victims often consent to the act it can be difficult to find a charge, which was what happened with the famous Miewes case in Germany. His victim responded to an internet ad: “looking for a well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed.” He’s now serving a life sentence.
And long before the the German case, or the cannibals of the old west, or the Maori, Neanderthals probably ate one another. Scientists have found several pieces of evidence that the bones of preserved Neanderthals were cut with the same blades they used to slice meat off other game. The signs of cannibalism might even live in our cells, writes National Geographic:
A growing body of evidence, such as piles of human bones with clear signs of human butchery, suggests cannibalism was widespread among ancient cultures. The discovery of this genetic resistance, which shows signs of having spread as a result of natural selection, supports the physical evidence for cannibalism, say the scientists.
“We don’t in fact know that all populations did select. The selection may have occurred during the evolution of modern humans before they spread around the world,” said Simon Mead, a co-author of the study from the Medical Research Center with University College, London.
Today, cannibals scare us, but for a long time cannibalism was a survival technique, a cultural practice, and a legitimate source of protein.
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March 5, 2013 10:45 am
It’s been nearly a quarter century since the fall of the Berlin Wall—a symbolic end of the Cold War and a physical destruction of the barrier separating East and West Germany. Parts of the Berlin Wall still stand, including the 1,420 yard-long portion now known as the East Side Gallery, a long, chipped stretch of concrete heavily adorned in paint.
But threatening a 22-meter piece of the East Side Gallery, says the CBC, is “a 14-storey luxury apartment block featuring floor-to-ceiling glass fronts.” To build their new apartments, Berlin-based Living Bauhaus wants to rip down the wall. And Berliners, it seems, are not happy with this idea.
“Several hundred demonstrators turned out on Friday, when work to remove the Wall temporarily stopped mid-morning after a crane had removed a first panel,” says The Local.
”I cannot and do not want to tolerate the little that remains standing of the Berlin Wall being damaged,” local Green party politician Hans-Christian Ströbele said.
The CBC says that the art on the wall will not be destroyed with the wall. Rather, the paintings will be moved to a nearby park. The protests stalled the deconstruction efforts for now, says Der Speigel. The wall will remain up for sure until at least March 18—the scheduled time of a meeting between the city and the developers.
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March 5, 2013 9:53 am
In the years leading into and during World War II, Adolf Hitler and the German Nazi party carried out a terrifying project to imprison, force into slavery or murder millions of Europeans, largely Jews, “homosexuals, Gypsies, Poles, Russians and many other ethnic groups in Eastern Europe.” The Holocaust was an atrocious act of inhumanity and violence, but, says The New York Times, our long-standing understanding of the scale and extent of the Nazi’s system of concentration camps and imprisonment ghettos has been, disturbingly, a drastic underestimate.
New research by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, says the Times, found there were tens of thousands more components of the Nazi’s network than anyone previously realized.
When the research began in 2000, Dr. Megargee said he expected to find perhaps 7,000 Nazi camps and ghettos, based on postwar estimates. But the numbers kept climbing — first to 11,500, then 20,000, then 30,000, and now 42,500.
The finding, says the Times, “shocked even scholars steeped in the history of the Holocaust.”
The documented camps include not only “killing centers” but also thousands of forced labor camps, where prisoners manufactured war supplies; prisoner-of-war camps; sites euphemistically named “care” centers, where pregnant women were forced to have abortions or their babies were killed after birth; and brothels, where women were coerced into having sex with German military personnel.
The growing tally of sites devoted to carrying out Hitler’s machinations, the Holocaust Museum’s Martin Dean told the Times, “left no doubt in his mind that many German citizens, despite the frequent claims of ignorance after the war, must have known about the widespread existence of the Nazi camps at the time.”
You literally could not go anywhere in Germany without running into forced labor camps, P.O.W. camps, concentration camps,” he said. “They were everywhere.
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