Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Posts tagged “Poland

Tereska, draws a picture of “home” while living in a residence for disturbed children; Poland, 1948.

This is a fantastic example of the art style known as Art Brut. Collectively, the art of children, the insane, and those who are

This is a fantastic example of the art style known as Art Brut. Collectively, the art of children, the insane, and those who are “outsiders”, this style has been described as a pure or raw form of artistic expression.

Life Magazine:Tereska Draws Her Home”, photo by David Seymour, Vol. 25, No. 26, December 27, 1948, p. 16.

The original caption reads as follows:

Children’s wounds are not all outward. Those made in the mind by years of sorrow will take years to heal. In Warsaw, at an institute which cares for some of Europe’s thousands of “disturbed” children, a Polish girl named Tereska was asked to make a picture of her home. These terrible scratches are what she drew. (p. 17)


This photograph was taken by Chim (David Seymour) in a home for emotionally disturbed children (Warsaw, 1948). It’s generally agreed upon that the subject, Tereska, was a victim of the Holocaust.

This was part of a series on Europe’s postwar children commissioned by UNICEF.


Update:

Tereska’s family had no idea that her photo is famous around the world and used by psychologists to research what war does to children’s mind.

It turns out that Tereska – “Niuńka” as the family called her – has never been to concentration camp. Her drawing may show war, of course, but as children were ask to draw “home” it may show rubble. Tereska’s house was ruined during Warsaw uprising seconds after she and her older sister managed to run away. We don’t know exactly what she experienced since there are no living family members who were there with her, but it happened during Wola massacre so we can just imagine. During bombing a fragment of brick hit Niuńka. Her central nervous system was harmed and ever since she had physical and mental problems.

Tereska died tragically in 1978 in a mental hospital nearby Warsaw.

• More Info (in Polish)

(more…)

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Polish concentration camp survivor weeping near charred corpse of a friend, in Leipzig, Germany; ca. 1945

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This photo was taken by Margaret Bourke-White (who  was the first female war correspondent in WWII. Also she’s also the photographer of the iconic Kentucky Flood photo.) She was a badass with a robotic heart. I could have never done what she did and maintained her love of life and compassionate nature.


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Doctors in protective clothing during an outbreak of smallpox in Wroclaw, Poland; July 20, 1963

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The Katyn Massacre

The Katyn Massacre was horrifying. 22,000 prisoners of war from the officer corp and high ranking civilians who surrendered peacefully to the soviets when Poland was invaded, murdered simply so there would be less resistance to Soviet rule.

Detailed information on the executions in the Kalinin NKVD prison was provided during a hearing by Dmitrii Tokarev, former head of the Board of the District NKVD in Kalinin. According to Tokarev, the shooting started in the evening and ended at dawn. The first transport on 4 April 1940, carried 390 people, and the executioners had a hard time killing so many people during one night. The following transports held no more than 250 people. The executions were usually performed with German-made 7.65×17mm Walther PPK pistols supplied by Moscow, but 7.62×38mmR Nagant M1895 revolvers were also used. The executioners used German weapons rather than the standard Soviet revolvers, as the latter were said to offer too much recoil, which made shooting painful after the first dozen executions. Vasili Mikhailovich Blokhin, chief executioner for the NKVD—and quite possibly the most prolific executioner in history—is reported to have personally shot and killed 7,000 of the condemned, some as young as 18, from the Ostashkov camp at Kalinin prison over a period of 28 days in April 1940.

The killings were methodical. After the personal information of the condemned was checked, he was handcuffed and led to a cell insulated with stacks of sandbags along the walls and a felt-lined, heavy door. The victim was told to kneel in the middle of the cell, was then approached from behind by the executioner and immediately shot in the back of the head. The body was carried out through the opposite door and laid in one of the five or six waiting trucks, whereupon the next condemned was taken inside. In addition to muffling by the rough insulation in the execution cell, the pistol gunshots were also masked by the operation of loud machines (perhaps fans) throughout the night. This procedure went on every night, except for the May Day holiday.

…but what happened with the discovery of the Katyn burial site is a lesson in how screwed up the world was at that time. when the Germans found the massacre site, they used it as propaganda material against the Russians.

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When the Russians retook the area, they planted evidence and said the Germans committed the massacre.

The whole era was colossal race to the bottom: who can kill the most people, in the most brutal fashion, and claim their enemy killed more, in a more brutal fashion. a sort of anti-morality. it really makes you wonder, how humanity can be that screwed up.

When, in September 1943, Goebbels was informed that the German army had to withdraw from the Katyn area, he wrote a prediction in his diary. His entry for 29 September 1943 reads: “Unfortunately we have had to give up Katyn. The Bolsheviks undoubtedly will soon ‘find’ that we shot 12,000 Polish officers. That episode is one that is going to cause us quite a little trouble in the future. The Soviets are undoubtedly going to make it their business to discover as many mass graves as possible and then blame it on us”.

Having retaken the Katyn area almost immediately after the Red Army had recaptured Smolensk, around September–October 1943, NKVD forces began a cover-up operation. A cemetery the Germans had permitted the Polish Red Cross to build was destroyed and other evidence removed. Witnesses were “interviewed”, and threatened with being arrested as German collaborators if their testimonies disagreed with the official line. Since none of the documents found on the dead had dates later than April 1940 the Soviet secret police planted false evidence that pushed the massacre date forward to the summer of 1941 when the Nazis controlled the area. A preliminary report was issued by NKVD operatives Vsevolod Merkulov and Sergei Kruglov, dated 10–11 January 1944, concluding that the Polish officers were shot by the Germans.


Young Ukrainian boys with wooden clubs chase a battered and bloodied Jewish woman during the Lviv pogroms; ca. 1941

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“On June 30, 1941, Lvov was conquered by the Germans. Pogroms against the Jews began that day, carried out by Ukranian civilians and the German Einsatzgruppe C. The Ukrainians were incited by rumors that the Jews had participated in the murders of Ukrainian political prisoners in the Soviet regime’s NKVD (security police) prison. Jews were forced to take the bodies out of the prison, and then the pogroms commenced and continued until July 3. In those few days, some 4,000 Jews were killed.”

(Source)

Chances are the reason most of these photos are of women, is that their men were already dead.

(A professor once told me that mediocre, normal people are the most dangerous in situations of persecution.

The logic being that a mediocre person is in a situation of unsure status within the system. They do not have any skills which cement them into a position of need or power, nor are they clearly defined as a target of persecution. In order to signal to others that they are a ‘true believer’ and not part of the doubter’s camp or aligned with the ‘enemy’, these mediocre people often rely on exhibiting dramatic and excessive acts of violence against the targeted population.

An interesting example is the Cambodian Communist mass killings and the importance of thought crime to the Khmer regime. The Khmer were obsessed with trying to find physical symptoms to inner states, as thier main ‘enemy’ was not one defined by the ethnic but of political beliefs. Since you can’t tell by looking at someone what ideology they follow, the Khmer relied heavily on semiotics in order to find possible non-believers (soft hands meaning hadn’t worked in agriculture, wears glasses implying education enough to necessitate them to read, et al). In Tuol Sleng, the Khmer’s main torture center, even after a prisoner confessed to being a traitor or harboring negative thoughts about the regime, they weren’t executed right there, however, they were kept imprisoned and continued to be tortured. Why were they kept alive, when the main purpose of TS was to identify and execute traitors? One hypothesis is that, in order to clearly demonstrate their hatred of the ‘enemy’ and signal that they are a ‘true believer’ of the Khmer’s ideals, especially in the context of the Khmer’s paranoia, the perpetrators continued to torture the imprisoned, confessed ‘traitors’, in an outward display of hatred.)


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A girl and her dog view the destruction inflicted by German air raids during the siege of Warsaw, September 1939.

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Kazimiera Mika, a 10 year-old Polish girl, crying over her older sister’s body. (She was killed during a German air raid while working in a field outside Warsaw, Poland); September, 1939.

Every time you hear: “USA, USA!” (or whatever your countries name is), think of this…

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The glory of war is a hard stance to take in the face of these types of photos.

Photographer Julien Bryan described the scene:

“As we drove by a small field at the edge of town we were just a few minutes too late to witness a tragic event, the most incredible of all. Seven women had been digging potatoes in a field. There was no flour in their district, and they were desperate for food. Suddenly two German planes appeared from nowhere and dropped two bombs only two hundred yards away on a small home. Two women in the house were killed. The potato diggers dropped flat upon the ground, hoping to be unnoticed. After the bombers had gone, the women returned to their work. They had to have food.

But the Nazi fliers were not satisfied with their work. In a few minutes they came back and swooped down to within two hundred feet of the ground, this time raking the field with machine-gun fire. Two of the seven women were killed. The other five escaped somehow.

While I was photographing the bodies, a little ten-year old girl came running up and stood transfixed by one of the dead. The woman was her older sister. The child had never before seen death and couldn’t understand why her sister would not speak to her… The child looked at us in bewilderment. I threw my arm about her and held her tightly, trying to comfort her. She cried. So did I and the two Polish officers who were with me…”

In September 1959 Julien Bryan wrote more about it in Look magazine:

In the offices of the Express, that child, Kazimiera Mika, now 30, and I were reunited. I asked her if she remembered anything of that tragic day in the potato field. “I should,” she replied quietly. “It was the day I lost my sister, the day I first saw death, and the first time I met a foreigner – you.” Today, Kazimiera is married to a Warsaw streetcar motorman. They have a 12-year-old girl and a boy, 9, and the family lives in a 1 1/2-room apartment, typical of the overcrowded conditions of war-racked Poland. She is a charwoman at a medical school (she told me her biggest regret is that her education ended when the war began), and all of the $75 earned each month by her husband and herself goes for food. Kazimiera and her husband, like most Poles, supplement their income with odd jobs, and are sometimes forced to sell a piece of furniture for extra money. But they celebrated my visit to their home with that rare treat, a dinner with meat.

This is but one case of attacking civilians in war – this hits us so hard because we know the story and can relate to it emotionally.

Now think of the millions of people killed over the years in millions of acts just like this one – and just how horrific a person is to think bombing of civilians is an acceptable practice.

The glory of war is a hard stance to take in the face of these types of photos.

The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori.


The Gleiwitz incident: the ‘first man to die’ in the War

In August 1939 Hitler was stirring up tension with Poland and he was prepared to fabricate whatever was needed as a pretext to invade. On August 11th he told the League of Nations High Commissioner

“If there’s the slightest provocation, I shall shatter Poland without warning into so many pieces that there will be nothing left to pick up.”

On August 22nd Hitler spoke to his military commanders

“I will give propagandistic cause for the release of the war, whether convincing or not. The winner is not asked later whether he said the truth or not.”

In fact preparations for Operation Tannenburg had begun on August 8th when SS-Gruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich told his men that war with Poland was ‘inevitable’.

The idea for fake “border incidents”, in which Germany would apparently be the victim of attacks by Poles probably came from Heydrich himself. It was he who was ordered to stage them, assisted by SS-Oberfuhrer Muller, head of the Gestapo.

They started by scouting the Silesian border between Germany and Poland and soon found suitable locations near the town of Gleiwitz. What they wanted were relatively isolated outposts of the German government that could be attacked by ‘Polish aggressors’. The attacks would be on a forestry station, a customs house and a radio station, where the ‘Poles’ would take over a German radio broadcast and make nationalistic statements in Polish. This would have a dramatic impact on ordinary Germans listening to their radios at home.

A plan was rapidly put together where SS troops dressed as Polish ‘rogues’ accompanied by units from the Polish army would ‘attack’ other SS troops dressed as German border guards. A refinement that was introduced during the planning was that some of the ‘Poles’ would be killed in the attack, so that their bodies could be presented to the worlds’ press as “evidence”. The victims were to be concentration camp inmates dressed as Poles, known as “canned goods”.

If the context and implications were not so serious the whole ‘pretend’ episode could be seen as a complete farce, especially as the Nazi’s had to go to extreme lengths to maintain the secrecy of the operation yet were simultaneously giving the nod to various individuals to keep ‘out of the way’. It was arranged that the regular Wehrmacht would keep clear of specific border areas so that they would not get mixed up in actually responding to ‘Polish aggression’.

The descent into farce came closer when on August 23rd, almost as soon as the ink was dry on the Nazi-Soviet Non aggression pact, Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland to start at 4.30 am on 26th August. The first of three successive code words for Operation Tannenburg to commence on August 25th was sent. When the second code word was sent on the evening of 25th two of the ‘attacking’ units became confused and started to cross the border without waiting for the final third code word. Yet Hitler had had a change of mind, rescinding his order to invade because of British guarantees to Poland and a lack of support from Mussolini. Operation Tannenburg was now halted as well. German motor cyclists were sent out to deliver desperate messages to the ‘Polish’ forces telling them to stop.

This led to a revision of the overall plan. Now the takeover of the Radio station by ‘Polish rebels’ became more important. To give it added credibility it was decided that a real ‘Polish rebel’ was needed, so that he could be killed while ‘attacking’ the German radio station.

Franz HoniokThe unfortunate Franz Honiok was selected from police files as being a well known local Polish sympathizer who had fought with the Poles during the 1921 rebellion by Silesian Polish nationalists, even though he was a German national. The 41 year old farmer and agricultural equipment salesman was picked up by the Gestapo on 30th August and held incommunicado.

Hitler decided to go ahead with the invasion on 30th August with the commencement of ‘Fall Weiss’ set for 5.45am on 1st September. Operation Tannenberg was back on. The attack on the Gleiwitz Radio staton went ahead on the evening of the 31st.

At around 8pm the ‘rebels’ managed to break into the unlocked compound and beat up the three radio station employees, all German nationals. Then their problems began. First they could not find a microphone. Further assaults on the radio station employees led to the discovery that it was not a radio station at all, merely a radio transmitter relay station for Radio Breslau, located many kilometers away. In desperation the ‘rebels’ found an emergency channel used for sending out local flood warnings and used this to send out their message of ‘Polish aggression’. How many people heard it, if any, is not known. However hundreds of thousands of Germans sitting at home listening to light music on the radio did not have their evenings interrupted by insurrectionist messages in Polish, as originally planned.

Meanwhile Franz Honiok, who had earlier been drugged into semi-consciousness, was dragged out, placed near the entrance to the radio station and shot in the back of the head. Later that evening the local police were called in to take photographs of the body, which they were forced to hand over to the Gestapo. When these were viewed in Berlin it was decided that they were not good enough – so the Gestapo went back and took pictures of the body in a different position – mysteriously by this stage a second body had been added. Eventually it was decided that even these could not be used for propaganda purposes. What happened to the bodies has never been established.

Later that evening the attacks went ahead on the Pitschen Forestry Station, where a bucket of ox blood was spread around, and at the Hochlinden Customs House, where the bodies of the “canned goods”, the concentration camp inmates, were left. However it was the attack on the Gleiwitz ‘radio station’ that attracted the most attention. The ‘take over of a German broadcast by Poles’ was being reported by German radio by 10.30pm and by the BBC the same evening, and featured in the New York Times the next day. Hitler referred to ‘three serious border incidents’ in his speech to the Reichstag on the 1st September announcing the war. The Nazi’s persisted with the Gleiwitz myth for years, it was only first seriously challenged at the Nuremburg trials.

(Source)


Polish child in the ruins of Warsaw.

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The devastation of Warsaw is really hard to comprehend, even before/after shots can’t show anything because of how complete the devastation was: there’s no point of reference anywhere, like the surface of the moon. For example, this ghetto area photo is 1950 and was either directly adjacent to the current city center at the palace of culture, or nearby:

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Here’s a video showing the destruction. This is a digital reconstruction of the destruction that happened. Powerful stuff…


The Kroll Opera House in Berlin on April 28, 1939. Hitler makes keynote address answering Roosevelt’s appeal to avoid war.

I play a little game, a variant of “where’s Waldo”, with pictures like this.
The challenge is to try and figure out everyone in the photo who will be dead or in jail by 1946. It’s quite gratifying.

Hitler’s speech that day was a response to a letter sent by Roosevelt to get Hitler’s assurances that it would not attack other countries. You can read it here.

Roosevelt asked for Hitler to give assurances that he would not invade a number of specific countries, mostly British possessions and European neighbors, most of which became involved in the war anyway. Hitler’s view of peace seemed to be between the major powers, and that Germany should be entitled to expand into Poland and Czechoslovakia if it wanted to. He was telling Britain, France, the US and Russia to stay out of Germany’s area so that he could continue his ambitions. This is not at all what those other countries, especially Poland wanted.

In my understanding this letter came at a time when the world had already geared up for war. Although it hadn’t been declared yet, all the major powers were building up their stockpiles and constructing more and more weapons, like bombers. Even the US, which wouldn’t join the war for another 2 years was already preparing for it.

There were a few warning signs that that just got ignored. One that I think should not be forgotten is that most Western countries did not raise their immigration quotas and allow more Jewish refugees to enter their countries until late in the war. Anti-semitism and fear over immigration in general led to refugees being rejected until public opinion turned around 1944. Even though their was ample evidence of violence and discrimination, the US and Britain still refused to increase their quotas. It saddens me to think about the lives that could have been spared by a bit of bureaucratic empathy.

It is possibly the greatest tragedy of human history that the Second World War happened with so much warning, yet nothing was done to truly stop it.

(Here’s some of the speech, with subtitles.)