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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: WWII, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 48
1. Monuments Men and the Frick

By Stephen Bury


At rare moments in time a library can have a singular impact on history. The recent release of George Clooney’s film Monuments Men (2014) has triggered an interest in the role that the Frick Art Reference Library played in the preparation of maps identifying works of art at risk in Nazi-occupied Europe. For the first time in history a belligerent was taking care of cultural treasures in a war zone.

Bill Burke and Jane Mull, members of the Committee of the American Council of Learned Societies on the Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas, working with Gladys Hamlin, draftswoman, at the Frick Art Reference Library on a map of Paris. circa 1943-44. The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Photographs. [National Archives photograph]

Bill Burke and Jane Mull, members of the Committee of the American Council of Learned Societies on the Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas, working with Gladys Hamlin, draftswoman, at the Frick Art Reference Library on a map of Paris. circa 1943-44. The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Photographs. (National Archives photograph)

Initially, the concern was that Allied bombing might damage or even destroy irreplaceable cultural treasures. This was articulated first by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) who in June 1943 accepted Helen Clay Frick’s offer of the use of the Frick Art Reference Library, 10 East 71st Street, New York, which Helen had founded in 1920, in their endeavors. This was the only time in its history that the Library was closed to the public (15 July 1943- 4 January 1944).

Under the auspices of William B. Dinsmoor (1886-1973), Chair of ACLS Committee on the Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas, which predated the Roberts Commission, lists of cultural treasures were drawn up at the Library using its guidebooks — Baedeker, Touring Club Italiano, Guide Bleu etc. — and other resources, supplemented by what could be seen as an early form of crowd-sourcing, i.e. questionnaires sent out to academics and others who had recently visited Europe. Lists of monuments and art objects were compiled and marked on maps of the relevant area — the maps supplied by the Library of Congress, the Army Map Service, or the American Geographical Society. Some of the monuments were rated higher in importance than others: it is interesting to speculate what the criteria might have been. The monuments were numbered and their locations marked on a gridded tracing paper overlay over the map. These were re-photographed by the Library photographers, Ira Martin and Thurman Rotan. The photographic studio where this was done is now the Library’s conservation facility.

Questionnaire image_Page_4

Sample questionnaire from the ACLS Committee on the Protection of Cultural Treasures, c.1943. The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives.

Used by bomber pilots and navigators, then by soldiers on the ground directing artillery after the invasion of mainland Italy in September 1943 and France in June 1944, the maps were also incorporated into the Army’s Civil Affairs handbooks, which were issued to all officers on the ground. Later the lists and maps of treasures were used in the continuing struggle to return looted and confiscated portable treasures the rightful owners and their heirs. The Library’s resources including its Photoarchive are still used today for this very purpose.

Some 700 “Frick” or “Treasure” maps were made, and in a letter, dated 12 October 1943, to Dinsmoor, Monuments Man, Theodore Sizer praised their usefulness in the field and the work of “those magnificent women in the Frick”.

Dr. Stephen Bury is the Andrew W. Mellon Chief Librarian of the Frick Art Reference Library, New York, and is the Advisory Editor of the Benezit Dictionary of Artists.

Oxford Art Online offers access to the most authoritative, inclusive, and easily searchable online art resources available today. Through a single, elegant gateway users can access — and simultaneously cross-search — an expanding range of Oxford’s acclaimed art reference works: Grove Art Online, the Benezit Dictionary of Artists, the Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, The Oxford Companion to Western Art, and The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms, as well as many specially commissioned articles and bibliographies available exclusively online.

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2. Britain, France, and their roads from empire

After the Second World War ended in 1945, Britain and France still controlled the world’s two largest colonial empires, even after the destruction of the war. Their imperial territories extended over four continents. And what’s more, both countries seemed to be absolutely determined to hold on their empires; the roll-call of British and French politicians, soldiers, settlers, and writers who promised to defend their colonial possessions at all costs is a long one. But despite that, within just twenty years, both empires had vanished.

In the two videos below Martin Thomas, author of Fight or Flight: Britain, France, and their Roads from Empire, discusses the disintegration of the British and French empires. He emphasizes the need to examine the process of decolonization from a global perspective, and discusses how the processes of decolonization dominated the 20th century. He also compares and contrasts the case of India and Vietnam as key territories of the British and French Empires.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Martin Thomas is Professor of Imperial History in the Department of History at the University of Exeter, where he has taught since 2003. He founded the University’s Centre for the Study of War, State and Society, which supports research into the impact of armed conflict on societies and communities. He is a past winner of a Philip Leverhulme prize for outstanding research and a holder of a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship. He has published widely on twentieth century French and imperial history, and his new book is Fight or Flight: Britain, France, and their Roads from Empire.

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3. Teaser Tuesday: Gamelan––Growing up under Japanese Occupation

I’ve been researching and trying to write a story based on my family’s experience in World War II for about ten years now, ever since Dad started to open up about his experience. For ten years we’ve been sitting down with each other, talking about events, locations and his experiences, getting clear about the “when” and “wheres” of his time as a prisoner. When we first sat down together, it was difficult for him to remember just how many prisons he was in and how long he had been a prisoner. But, together, we pieced the puzzle together. I’ve read that “why” isn’t a very spiritual question. I kind of like that insight.

I’ve tried five different times to write the story as a novel. And, well…it just wasn’t happening. Each attempt fell apart for one reason or another. And then, after I’d taken only a few storyboarding classes at Art Center at Night, creative fireworks went off and I saw the whole story. I like to write my novels cinematically, so I guess the transition to screenplays is natural, even as I have a lot to learn. Part of the reason why this story hasn’t come together as a novel has to do with the fact that the scope of the story has seemed so epic to me, spanning several generations, and like my screenplay writing instructor said, “that’s the trouble with true stories”…all the details. The story needed focus and that’s what I’ve been working very hard on over the past few months. Here is the opening scene from Gamelan.

EXT. JAPANESE POW CAMP, TJIMAHI, OCCUPIED JAVA 1943

A bamboo and barbed wire fence. An old, white man’s emaciated wrinkled, shaky hand clenches three cigarettes. The boney, but steady hand of HANS (19) takes the cigarettes from the old man.

HANS hammers a crooked nail into a rough-hewn wooden plank.

NINETY YEAR OLD MAN WITH A DUTCH ACCENT (V.O.)

Liberty is something you can’t understand until it’s taken away. You become a different person. You become a prisoner. You learn what it is to survive.

Last weekend my family had a reunion where we celebrated Dad’s 90th birthday!

Happy Birthday Dad! 

20140211-163411.jpg


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4. Ezra Pound and James Strachey Barnes

By David Bradshaw and James Smith


The extent of Ezra Pound‘s involvement with Italian fascism during the Second World War has been one of the most troubling and contentious issues in modernist literary studies. After broadcasting on the wartime propaganda services of the Italian Fascist state and its successor, the Republic of Salò, Pound was indicted for treason by the United States government and arrested at the end of the war, eventually being found unfit to stand trial and instead committed to a psychiatric hospital. These episodes have obviously led to a number of major questions for scholars. Was Pound really insane? Were his actions really treasonous? Or did these broadcasts reveal the extent of Pound’s true sympathies for fascism and anti-Semitism?

Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound

Our research has tried to shed new light on these questions by exploring Pound’s relationship with James Strachey Barnes (1890-1955), an Italophile Englishman who also broadcast propaganda for Mussolini during the Second World War. Barnes is a figure who occasionally pops up in the footnotes of modernism – he was a cousin to Lytton Strachey, acquainted with Virginia Woolf and T. S. Eliot, and the inspiration for one of the characters in D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. Barnes was also one of the major intellectual supporters of Italian fascism, writing a number of books in support of the fascist cause, running a pro-fascist think-tank, and meeting Mussolini on several occasions. This culminated in his propaganda work in Italy during the Second World War, where he compiled hundreds of broadcasts with titles such as “Thank God for the Blunders of our Enemies,” with the overall aim (as he stated) of “inciting the English people to revolt against their Government.”

Pound and Barnes are known to have been friends and work-associates during the war, but despite the obvious significance of this relationship Barnes has only been a peripheral figure in Pound scholarship, and indeed little-remembered at all in the history of the inter-war radical right. One of the major problems is that the war (particularly the latter stages) remains one of the least-documented periods in Pound’s life, and almost all of Barnes’s personal papers were destroyed by his family after his death. But importantly, our research for the article found that enough documents still exist to allow us to begin to reconstruct the relationship between Barnes and Pound. The most significant of these was Barnes’s unpublished diary covering the period of 1943-5 (which eventually surfaced in the possession of his daughter-in-law, who was then living in Lund, Sweden), but we also drew upon a sequence of letters between Pound and Barnes held in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale, as well as various government files held at the National Archives of the United Kingdom.

From these documents a picture emerges not just of Barnes’s extensive collaborations with the Italian propaganda apparatus, but also of how this was often conducted with Pound’s close advice and support. And vice-versa. We now know that Pound followed Barnes’s broadcasts and offered detailed advice about their tone and content, and that Pound would often stay with Barnes in Rome and engage in long discussions on economics. When the Allies invaded the Italian mainland in September 1943 Barnes and Pound made plans to flee Rome together, with Barnes even managing to get a fake Italian passport issued for Pound to aid his escape (Pound had fled north before Barnes could get it to him). It was Barnes who lured Pound back to broadcast for the newly-formed Salò Republic, where Barnes and Pound would collaborate on programs said to contain “Pound’s most virulent anti-Semitism.” Barnes’s diary even recorded a letter from Pound to Mussolini, in which Pound promised to “fight” the “infamous propaganda” of the Allies, but warned the Duce that “I don’t need a ministry, but without a microphone I can’t send.”

So what does this mean for our understanding of Pound? Perhaps most crucially, it gives us important new material to reassess the extent to which he was a willing part of the official Fascist propaganda apparatus. Interestingly, after Barnes’s death, Pound attempted to distance himself from his previous association with Barnes, drafting a letter for The Times which stressed “the difference of angle” between the two, emphatically stating that “Pound never WAS fascist…Not only was he not fascist, he was ANTI-socialist and against the socialist elements in the fascist program.” But as much as Pound tried to wash his hands, Barnes’s papers provide a rather different picture, suggesting that, throughout the war, Pound had served as the revered and trusted mentor for a man who dubbed himself “the Italian Lord Haw-Haw.”

David Bradshaw is Professor of English Literature at Oxford University and a Fellow of Worcester College. James Smith is a Lecturer in English at Durham University. They are the authors of the paper ‘Ezra Pound, James Strachey Barnes (‘The Italian Lord Haw-Haw’) and Italian Fascism‘, published in the Review of English Studies.

The Review of English Studies was founded in 1925 to publish literary-historical research in all areas of English literature and the English language from the earliest period to the present. From the outset, RES has welcomed scholarship and criticism arising from newly discovered sources or advancing fresh interpretation of known material. Successive editors have built on this tradition while responding to innovations in the discipline and reinforcing the journal’s role as a forum for the best new research.

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Image credit: Ezra Pound US passport photo (undated) [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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5. "Which side were you on, Poppie?" Anzac Day excerpt from The House at Evelyn's Pond


 ‘Poppie,’ Megan asked, at a Sunday lunch not long before her tenth Anzac Day, ‘were you in the war they’re talking about?’
‘One of them,’ said Fred.
‘Which side were you on?’

Three months later, on Megan’s birthday, Fred presented her with a notebook: Poppie in the Army.
‘I’m not much of a writer,’ Fred said gruffly, ‘so I did it with cartoons.’
Small figures – ‘me’; ‘Jack’; ‘Corporal Butler’ parade outside their tents in the training camp at Trawool; the Ile de France wends its way to the Middle East; a flea hops across the desert from a camel to the unsuspecting ’me’, who on the following page is standing on a rock in front of a Red Cross hut – in the nuddy, the caption says - while a medico lances his flea boils and small girls giggle. ‘I closed my eyes so they couldn’t see me,’ Fred told Megan, and she giggled too. There are battles with the French Foreign Legion, glamorous pyramids, mosques, and another ship, the Orestes, pointing towards Fremantle, with a question mark thought bubble of Dulcie and two babies, one pink, one blue. ‘That’s your dad,’ Fred explained. ‘The last letter I’d had from Gran said the baby would be coming soon – I reckoned soon was past and the baby must be there, but blow me if I could work out if it was a boy or a girl!’
‘If Daddy was a girl,’ Megan began, starting her next month’s agonising what ifseries, ‘he’d be my mum…’ She looked at Jane and changed tack. ‘Then you found out he was a boy!’
‘And my word, what a day when I got that letter!  But it was some time coming, and I thought, ‘A bloke could go crazy wondering if the baby’s born yet and what it is. So I made up his birthday – February 4, I said, but I was three days early, that was the day your Gran wished he’d been born. Then I thought – ‘A bloke’s got to get to know his kid somehow!’ So every night when I lay down on my mat I said to myself, ‘Now I’m in Coburg again,’ and I said goodnight to your gran, and goodnight to a boy baby called Ian and a girl baby called Sandra. Every February 4th I wished them happy birthday, and in between I talked to the men who had kids and some of the doctors – ‘What do you reckon,’ I’d ask, ‘about what a kid can do when it’s six months old, or one year old?’ ‘Oh, it’ll be crawling,’ they’d say, ‘and laughing, or starting to walk,’ or whatever it was, and I’d think about Ian laughing, or Sandra learning to walk.’
‘What happened to Sandra?’
‘She never got born - I had to wait a long time for my little girl! It was queer when I found out, not saying goodnight to her any more, or happy birthday next time February came around.’
Megan clambered onto his lap, giving the others a chance to blink or surreptitiously wipe eyes.
‘But you should have seen your Poppie smile when that letter came! I still know it by heart: ‘Ian is walking well now; he is a lively little chap and everyone says quite big for eighteen months.’ I carried the letter around with me all the time, till it was all holes from being folded and opened again; you have no idea how I read it! It’s a poor look-out when a bloke’s son is two and a half years old before he even knows it’s a boy, but that’s how it was.’
Megan stared accusingly at Dulcie. ‘Why didn’t you write before?’
‘Don’t you blame your poor Gran! Prisoners didn’t get much mail, it wasn’t her fault.’
‘You weren’t in prison!’ Megan squealed, but calmed on seeing the adults’ faces. ‘Were you very bad, Poppie?’
‘Must of been!’ said Fred. ‘Now let’s get on with this story or your dad’s cows will never get milked tonight.’
The ‘me’ is now on another ship, waving goodbye to his machine gun on the pier; mortars explode in jungle; friend Jack has shrapnel pulled ‘out of his bum’, said Fred, with a wicked look at his grand-daughter, but though Megan knew he’d like her to giggle again, she’d caught her parents’ mood and was still. The pages that they would study later: a prison camp in Java, a railway built through rock and jungle, a hospital hut with skeleton patients and staff, the dark tunnel of a mine – Fred turned as one, saying Megan was too young for that now but he’d thought he might as well put it all in while he was at it.

Over the next few years something opened – not a floodgate, but a trickle of memories that Fred was finally ready to share: snapshot snippets of an unimaginable life. ‘The night before the Japanese invaded Batavia,’ he’d say, ‘Jack and me were billeted in this native hut, made of bamboo. It was fairly pissing down outside, pardon the French, and we were sleeping in muddy straw and duck manure. Jack woke me up and said, “You know, Fred, I have a feeling we mightn’t get out of this.” Then he pulled out his whisky flask: “We’d better have a drink; it could be the last chance we get.” He was right too; it was the last drink we had for a bloody long time. Which reminds me – how about a cold one?’
And Ian would know that the time for probing had passed.

An edited excerpt from The House at Evelyn's Pond, copyright Wendy Orr

available as ebook from: booku.com or ebooks.com






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6. Lessons of Casablanca

By David L. Roll


Seventy years ago this month, Americans came to know Casablanca as more than a steamy city on the northwest coast of Africa. On 23 January 1943, the film Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, a tale of doomed love and taking the moral high ground, was released to packed movie houses. The next day, a Sunday, President Franklin Roosevelt ended two weeks of secret World War II meetings in Casablanca with Prime Minister Winston Churchill by announcing at a noon press conference, in a sunlit villa garden fragrant with mimosa and begonia, that “peace can come to the world,” only through the “unconditional surrender by Germany, Italy and Japan.”

The Academy Award-winning movie, of course, became a classic.

Title screen of Casablanca, the Academy-Award winning classic directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid. Image in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Similarly, Roosevelt’s supremely confident proclamation reverberated throughout the world and shortly entered the history books. Choosing just a few words, the president for the first time sought to firmly establish Allied war aims and determine the framework of the peace.

But both the emotional power of the film and the president’s lofty words blurred if not obscured some inconvenient facts. American audiences must have been persuaded that their government, like Bogart’s Rick, would do the right thing by turning its back on the Nazi collaborators (the French puppet government, the Vichy regime) and casting its lot to fight alongside Charles de Gaulle’s Free French. In fact, the Roosevelt administration did not act to cut its ties with Vichy, continued to rely on Nazi sympathizers to run the Moroccan government, and did not officially recognize de Gaulle until October 1944. Like the political and military realities confronting the Obama administration today in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and Iran, the situation on the ground in North Africa in 1943 was murky, complicated and ambiguous. It did not lend itself to the high-minded moral clarity that Hollywood screenwriters enjoy.

So too the policy of unconditional surrender announced by the US president at Casablanca, and endorsed by the British prime minister, masked some stark realities. Unless and until the Soviet Union decided once and for all to reject German peace-feelers and its Red Army had achieved sufficient size and strength to break the back of Germany’s military machine, “unconditional surrender” could be nothing more than a hollow slogan. Though the president’s confident rhetoric was ostensibly aimed at lifting the morale of the populations of the United States and Great Britain, it was in fact directed at the man who was conspicuously absent from the Casablanca conference—Joseph Stalin. Roosevelt was aware that many would argue that the unconditional surrender policy would prolong the war by encouraging the Nazis to fight to the last man and woman, but he believed that this danger was outweighed by the need to allay Soviet suspicions that the Americans and British would conspire to negotiate a separate armistice with Germany. Roosevelt saw his policy as another way to convince Stalin of his goodwill, a political and psychological substitute for a second front—a phrase that would keep the Soviets in the war, killing German soldiers by the bushel.

President Roosevelt, with Prime Minister Winston Churchill at his side, reading the “unconditional surrender” announcement to the assembled war correspondents. Casablanca, French Morocco, Jan 1943. Image courtesy the Library of Congress.

The policy announced by Roosevelt at Casablanca not only failed to acknowledge the essential role of the Soviets, it also did not have the impact on surrender and peace that he intended. Italy would soon surrender under “conditional” terms. Japan would eventually surrender on condition that her Emperor would be retained. And FDR’s dream that he would turn the page on balance-of-power diplomacy in central Europe and broker the postwar peace would be shattered by the man who could not attend the Casablanca conference in January 1943 because he was busy directing the crucial struggle at Stalingrad.

In the years since Casablanca, experience has shown that presidents would do well to emulate Roosevelt by defining war goals and outlining a framework for peace before engaging the enemy (or at least at an early stage of the conflict). Indeed, the failures of presidents Truman, Johnson, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush to do so in Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan seriously soiled their legacies.

Still, the lessons of Casablanca run much deeper and are far more nuanced than the articulation of war aims and peace terms. Casablanca—the movie and the conference—teaches us that human conflict, particularly armed conflict, usually does not end on predictable terms and in conformance with unilateral decrees. Often family, clan, or tribal affiliations trump national loyalties making it difficult if not impossible to distinguish between friends and enemies, neutrals and belligerents. Religious and cultural differences befuddle American peacekeepers. These problems test the mettle of the Obama administration today in places like Benghazi, Waziristan, Damascus, and Teheran.

In Casablanca, Rick was led to believe that he had come to that city because of the healthful waters. Told by Captain Renault that he was in the desert, Rick responded, “I was misinformed.” When it comes to waging wars and structuring peace, US presidents and policymakers should humbly revisit the lessons of Casablanca.

David L. Roll is a partner at Steptoe & Johnson, LLP and founder/director of the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation, a public interest organization that provides pro bono legal services to social entrepreneurs around the world. His latest book is The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler.

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7. How Nazi Germany lost the nuclear plot

By Gordon Fraser


When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, neither the Atomic Bomb nor the Holocaust were on anybody’s agenda. Instead, the Nazi’s top aim was to rid German culture of perceived pollution. A priority was science, where paradoxically Germany already led the world. To safeguard this position, loud Nazi voices, such as Nobel laureate Philipp Lenard,  complained about a ‘massive infiltration of the Jews into universities’.

The first enactments of a new regime are highly symbolic. The cynically-named Law for the Restoration of the Civil Service, published in April 1933, targeted those who had non-Aryan, ‘particularly Jewish’, parents or grandparents. Having a single Jewish grandparent was enough to lose one’s job. Thousands of Jewish university teachers, together with doctors, lawyers, and other professionals were sacked. Some found more modest jobs, some retired, some left the country. Germany was throwing away its hard-won scientific supremacy. When warned of this, Hitler retorted ‘If the dismissal of [Jews] means the end of German science, then we will do without science for a few years’.

Why did the Jewish people have such a significant influence on German science? They had a long tradition of religious study, but assimilated Jews had begun to look instead to a radiant new role-model. Albert Einstein was the most famous scientist the world had ever known. As well as an icon for ambitious young students, he was also a prominent political target. Aware of this, he left Germany for the USA in 1932, before the Nazis came to power.

How to win friends and influence nuclear people
The talented nuclear scientist Leo Szilard appeared to be able to foresee the future. He exploited this by carefully cultivating people with influence. In Berlin, he sought out Einstein.

Like Einstein, Szilard anticipated the Civil Service Law. He also saw the need for a scheme to assist the refugee German academics who did not. First in Vienna, then in London, he found influential people who could help.

Just as the Nazis moved into power, nuclear physics was revolutionized by the discovery of a new nuclear component, the neutron. One of the main centres of neutron research was Berlin, where scientists saw a mysterious effect when uranium was irradiated. They asked their former Jewish colleagues, now in exile, for an explanation.

The answer was ‘nuclear fission’. As the Jewish scientists who had fled Germany settled into new jobs, they realized how fission was the key to a new source of energy. It could also be a weapon of unimaginable power, the Atomic Bomb. It was not a great intellectual leap, so the exiled scientists were convinced that their former colleagues in Germany had come to the same conclusion. So, when war looked imminent, they wanted to get to the Atomic Bomb first. One wrote of ‘the fear of the Nazis beating us to it’.

Szilard, by now in the US, saw it was time to act again. He knew that President Roosevelt would not listen to him, but would listen to Einstein, and wrote to Roosevelt over Einstein’s signature.

When a delegation finally managed to see him on 11 October 1939, Roosevelt said “what you’re after is to see that the Nazis don’t blow us up”. But nobody knew exactly what to do. The letter had mentioned bombs ‘too heavy for transportation by air’. Such a vague threat did not appear urgent.

But in 1940, German Jewish exiles in Britain realized that if the small amount of the isotope 235 in natural uranium could be separated, it could produce an explosion equivalent to several thousand tons of dynamite. Only a few kilograms would be needed, and could be carried by air. The logistics of nuclear weapons suddenly changed. Via Einstein, Szilard wrote another Presidential letter. On 19 January 1942, Roosevelt ordered a rapid programme for the development of the Atomic Bomb, the ‘Manhattan Project’.

Across the Atlantic, the Germans indeed had seen the implications of nuclear fission. But its scientific message had been muffled. Key scientists had gone. Germany had no one left with the prescience of Szilard, nor the political clout of Einstein. The Nazis also had another priority. On 20 January, one day after Roosevelt had given the go-ahead for the Atomic Bomb, a top-level meeting in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee outlined a “final solution of the Jewish Problem”. Nazi Germany had its own crash programme.

US crash programme – on 16 July 1945, just over three years after the huge project had been launched, the Atomic Bomb was tested in the New Mexico desert.

Nazi crash programme – what came to be known as the Holocaust rapidly got under way. Here a doomed woman and her children arrive at the specially-built Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination centre.

As such, two huge projects, unknown to each other, emerged simultaneously on opposite sides of the Atlantic. The dreadful schemes forged ahead, and each in turn became reality. On two counts, what had been unimaginable no longer was.

Gordon Fraser was for many years the in-house editor at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in Geneva. His books on popular science and scientists include Cosmic Anger, a biography of Abdus Salam, the first Muslim Nobel scientist, Antimatter: The Ultimate Mirror, and The Quantum Exodus. He is also the editor of The New Physics for the 21st Century and The Particle Century.

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Image credits: Atomic Bomb tested in the New Mexico desert. Photograph courtesy of  Los Alamos National Laboratory; Auschwitz-Birkenau, alte Frau und Kinder, Bundesarchiv Bild, Creative Commons License via Wikimedia Commons.

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8. The familiar face of Winston Churchill

By Christopher M. Bell


The steady flow of new books about Winston Churchill should confirm that the famous wartime prime minister is now the best known and most studied figure in modern British history.

Churchill, a tireless self-promoter in his own time, would undoubtedly have taken a great deal of satisfaction from knowing that the legend he helped to craft would endure well into the twenty-first century. Unlike most politicians, he was deeply concerned with how he would be remembered – and judged – by history. And, although the verdict today is by no means universally positive, there is no doubt that he has achieved a level of fame that few can rival.

Academic historians (like me) spend so much time immersed in the study of the past that we cannot help but see it as a crowded place full of familiar faces. And a figure like Churchill is impossible to ignore: his memory, like the man himself, positively demands our attention. But the full-time historian is generally able to tune Churchill out when necessary: for most of us, he remains just one of the many historical actors we must look at to understand the past.

For the public at large, however, the past is a very different place. Most people approach it as they would a party full of strangers: instinctively scanning the crowd as they enter in hopes of spotting a familiar face. But the more time that passes, the more unfamiliar the past becomes – and the fewer faces we are likely to recognize. Our collective historical memory is subject to a natural sort of attrition process. Most of Britain’s leading politicians, statesmen and warriors of the early twentieth-century, many of them household names in their own time, are now barely remembered at all. Lord Kitchener’s famous recruiting poster from the First World War is still instantly recognizable, but every year there are fewer and fewer people who can put a name to the face of a man who in 1914 was better known – and certainly more widely admired – than Churchill.



The process has distinctly Darwinian overtones, as the most famous figures of yesteryear gradually displace their lesser-known rivals – and eventually each other – in the competition for a place in our collective memory of the past. Only a handful of famous twentieth-century Britons can share the historical stage with Churchill and demand anything like equal billing. And even they do not seem to share his seeming immunity to the passage of time. Neville Chamberlain, for example, remains an iconic figure, although for many he is not an important historical actor in his own right so much as a supporting figure in a better-known, and implicitly more important, story: Churchill’s triumphant rise to power in 1940.

Britain has good reason to look back on the Second World War as the “People’s War”, but the fact remains that only one of “the people” could be reliably identified today in a police line-up. And he is recognizable precisely because of his role in this great conflict. Churchill’s near-mythical status was ensured by his leadership in the critical months between the army’s evacuation from Dunkirk and the Royal Air Force’s victory in the Battle of Britain. At a time when Britain’s defeat seemed not only possible but imminent, Churchill rallied and inspired the people as no other contemporary politician could have. In Britain’s national mythology, he almost single-handedly changed the course of the war by sustaining the morale of the British people at the height of the Nazi onslaught, and in so doing ensured Hitler’s ultimate downfall.

Even in 1940, there was already a tendency to regard Churchill as the personification of Britain’s collective war effort and the embodiment of the nation’s heroic defiance of Nazi Germany. Churchill himself once attempted to put his role into perspective when he declared that “It was a nation and a race dwelling all round the globe that had the lion heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.” How far Churchill really believed this is debatable. In his speeches and memoirs he consistently downplayed the doubts and fears that pervaded Britain after the fall of France. But he knew better than anyone how close Britain may have come to a negotiated peace with Hitler in 1940 – and how important was his role in preventing this.

As more and more of Churchill’s contemporaries have receded and then disappeared from public memory, the popular association of Churchill with this defining moment in Britain’s history has only grown stronger. He may soon be, if he isn’t already, the last (recognizable) man standing in the history ofBritainduring the first half of the twentieth century.

Churchill believed that history was made by “great men”, and it is hard to imagine him being troubled by this trend. Historians might lament the public’s disproportionate interest in any one particular individual, but this is not to suggest we don’t need any more books about Churchill. The central place he enjoys in our memory of the twentieth century makes it all the more important that the record is as full and accurate as possible. The challenge is to populate that history with real people, and recognize that Churchill was also a supporting character in their stories.

Christopher M. Bell is Associate Professor of History at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is the author of The Royal Navy, Seapower and Strategy between the Wars (2000), co-editor of Naval Mutinies of the Twentieth Century: An International Perspective (2003), and author of Churchill and Sea Power (2012).

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Slideshow image credits: all images by British Government [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (1, 2, 3, 4).

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9. Another Oswald Mosley Sighting

Last month, I wrote about how often Oswald Mosley turns up these days on Masterpiece Theatre. That was prompted about his appearance in The FitzOsbornes in Exile. Now, just weeks later, Mosley shows up again in the very next World War II novel I read, Code Name Verity. It's not going to be long, and he's going to need a rest. He wore out his welcome in his lifetime. He ought to be careful about doing it again.

Code Name Verity is a WWII spy story. No sooner do I get into it (and I am into it), then WW II undercover activity makes the news. I, for one, want to know what that carrier pigeon was doing. He'd better not have been bringing a love note or a shopping list back from France, that's all I can say.

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10. Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak, translated by Laura Watkinson

5 Stars Soldier Bear Bibi Dumon Tak Laura Watkinson Philip Hopman Eerdmans Books for Young Readers .................... When a group of Polish soldiers stationed in Iran during World War II trade a penknife, a tin of beef, and some money for an orphaned bears cub, it’s the start of a very special friendship—and a remarkable [...]

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11. The Girl is Murder - Audiobook Review


Read by Rachel Botchan
Publication date: 19 July 2011 by Roaring Brook Press
ISBN 10/13: 1596436093 | 9781596436091

Keywords: World War II, Girl detective, friendship, mystery
Category: Young Adult Historical
Format: Audiobook, Hardcover, Paperback, eBook
Source: Purchased from audible.com



It's the Fall of 1942 and Iris's world is rapidly changing. Her Pop is back from the war with a missing leg, limiting his ability to do the physically grueling part of his detective work. Iris is dying to help, especially when she discovers that one of Pop's cases involves a boy at her school. Now, instead of sitting at home watching Deanna Durbin movies, Iris is sneaking out of the house, double crossing her friends, and dancing at the Savoy till all hours of the night. There's certainly never a dull moment in the private eye business.

Alethea's review:

I'm not a Veronica Mars fan (as the marketing taglines for this series insist on singling out that demographic), but there's something about the spunky girl-detective novel that never fails to please me. I'll confess that I have fond memories of a hundred Nancy Drew novels, and am currently obsessed with vintage fashion, which might explain part of why I liked this book. Some of the credit definitely goes to the reader, Rachel Botchan. She really nails not just the New York accents but also the inflections from--has it really been that long?--seventy years ago. I think I would have enjoyed this less had I tried to read it myself.

I'm actually surprised this novel kept my interest, as the beginning of the novel felt really slow. Iris is coping with many changes--not just the typical girl-becoming-woman challenges we expect of a coming-of-age novel. She's transplanted from the posh part of town to the Lower East Side, hears whispers of disapproval and malicious gossip regarding her mother's suicide the year before, and is trying to form some sort of connection with her estranged and now disabled father. It's heavy stuff, lending gravity to the story, and I can't decide whether or not it saves the rest of the book from just being a plot-driven mess.

The main mystery involves the disappearance of a boy from Iris's new school. I really enjoyed the author's skill at portraying the secondary characters: Suze, queen bee of the charmingly named "Rainbow Gang", the high school's resident hooligans, and Pearl, the plump, quiet, and defensive schoolmate Iris struggles to befriend. There's no team of good girls versus the bad girls here: everyone seems to have some bad with the good, even Iris, who makes some really terrible decisions for occasionally noble reasons. Despite all the mistakes they make, I found the characters well-rounded and likable. 

The solution of the mystery did leave something to be desired. I wouldn't call this a traditional whodunit--you're better off reading the original (or even playing the games--they're really good!) if a murder is what you're after. You'll enjoy this more if you like reading about relationships, teen problems and comparing those of today to those of yesteryear, or World War II nostalgia. 


You can find the author online at www.kathrynmillerhaines.com and on Twitter @KathrynMHaines.

FTC disclosure: Only the Bookdepository.com link may generate revenue for this blog if you make a purchase by clicking the link. The other links in this post are not formatted with my affiliate IDs.

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12. The Lily Pond

The Lily Pond Annika Thor, translated from the Swedish by Linda Schenck

In this sequel to A Faraway Island, Stephie is on the mainland, studying at school and lodging with Soderbergs. Unfortunately, the Soderbergs aren't as warm as Stephie expected. She's to eat her meals in the kitchen and once Mrs. Soderberg keeps her from going back to the island one weekend because she's throwing a big party. Stephie's excited to attend, until she discovers that she's to be hired help, not a guest.

The one highlight of the Soderberg home is Sven, on whom Stephie quickly develops a crush (oh, such a painful storyline to read.)

In addition, on the mainland, Stephie learns that the Nazi threat grows ever closer and even though Sweden is a neutral country, there are more than a few Nazi sympathizers. And, of course, letters from home show how desperate the situation is getting for her parents-- for modern readers who know what the truth ends up being about the fate of some many European Jews, it is heartbreaking to read, and rage-inducing to read the reactions of the Swedish adults Stephie tries to get to help her family.

There are four books in this series and I cannot wait for the next two to come out in the US. Sadly, there was a two-year lag between the first and second one. Maybe they'll speed up the publication cycle because the first two have both won awards? I don't want to wait until 2015 to see how it all turns out!!!

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13. Coming Next Week: THE ESCAPE OF SIGMUND FREUD

Renowned psychologist, author, and filmmaker David Cohen returns next week with the release of The Escape of Sigmund Freud, a new book exploring Freud's final years in Vienna and his flight from the Nazi rise.As Hitler seized power in Germany throughout the early 1930s, the Nazis passed a series of decrees intended to limit the personal and financial freedom of Jews throughout the country. Agents

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14. Teaching Anne Frank and WWII

Anne   As a young girl at a Jewish Day School in New Jersey, I learned about the Holocaust in a brutal and compelling way.  Every year, we watched Night and Fog, a rather graphic Holocaust documentary, we held a chilling but beautiful Holocaust remembrance ceremony, and we had Holocaust survivors come speak to us about their experiences in the concentration camps.  It was a small school, and all of us fit into the little chapel at the synagogue that served as the school's home.  There were members of the school and synagogue staff who had survived the camps, and they shared their stories in that chapel, showing us their numbers on their arms, talking about how many people they watched die in front of them.  I felt the shock and terror every year. 

    So it always somehow surprises me that there are so many kids who don't know anything about the Holocaust or World War II or Anne Frank.  I don't know why, but I just assumed that they were a part of everyone's school experience, and as a teacher, I am always dismayed when I discover yet again that the students are so, well, ignorant about this aspect of very recent world history. 

    My unit of inquiry covering Anne Frank and WWII starts, of course, with guiding questions: What can we learn about history and human behavior from reading diaries and journals? How do diaries help us learn about ourselves? Why does Anne Frank's diary "live on" even though most diaries are not widely read? The unit focuses on diaries and their value as historical resources.  We talk about primary sources and their usefulness as tools for furthering research and understanding of an era.  What is it about diaries that make them such rich sources, maybe the best sources of information?  Well, for one thing, diarists are among the most honest writers you'll ever encounter!  Very few lies exist in a diary that carries the expectation of being private forever.  Also, diaries are written in a way that is characteristic of an era.  One can learn about speech patterns, syntax, and changes in language from reading diaries. We look at excerpts from diaries and tease out all of the historical information available. 

    Anne's diary is at once exceedingly special and totally normal.  Her circumstances, her writing skill, and her insight make the diary extraordinary.  But, at the same time, she was just a girl, living in a certain time in history, writing about the mundane and everyday. I have taught this unit using the entire text of the diary, and I've taught it using excerpts.  While excerpts are easier, students don't get the whole picture of who Anne was from reading 40 page chunks.  If you're going to use the diary, try to fit in the whole thing.  And the play is not a substitute, as good as it is.  It's the diary format that tells the whole story. An interesting exercise is to compare a scene from the play with the part of the diary that is being portrayed.  For example, compare the scene in the play when Dussel arrives at the annex to that section of the diary. Which one is a better historical resource?  Why?  

    Anne's diary should not, or rather cannot, be taught without context.  Students must understand the circumstances surrounding the Franks' decision to go into hiding.  Actually, the story of how, when, and why the Franks went to live in the "Secret

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15. The Friendship Relationship

One of my friends died last weekend. Since it wasn’t expected, my first reaction was shock. How is that possible? What happened? Are you sure? It can’t be! And then I had to make peace with the fact that my dear friend, Betty, is gone.

I didn’t see Betty all that often. She and I don’t live very close and we both are so busy in our lives, that touching base every so often was all we could do. but when we did see one another, or even when we talked on the telephone, we could relate exactly to what the other was experiencing and feeling … because we each had gone through the same life events. We understood one another and accepted each other’s feelings.

There is an empty hole there now that won’t be filled any time soon. the experts tell us that women fare much fetter than men in case a lifelong partner is lost. Why? It seems that women make deeper and stronger bonds with one another that men do. Perhpas that goes back to the Stone Age when women stayed home in their camps with their children while the men hunted. Women talked, shared their concerns, and protected one another. Men’s attentions were completely directed to the hunt and not to one another.

I am particualrly sensitive to the strength and power of women’s friendships. You see, it was because of my Jewish mother’s close friendship with a Catholic woman that my entire family’s lives were saved from Nazi persecution. She risked her own skin for our benefit.

I must have learned that lesson subjectively because I am blessed with many friends of my own and to lose one of them really hurts. I treasure the others that are still with me.


Filed under: Survival Tagged: relationships, wwii

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16. Review: Dear America: The Fences between Us

Pearl Harbor has been bombed. The government has rationed food. Piper's brother may be dead. And innocent men are going to jail. Click here to read more ...

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17. SATURDAY FOCUS: REMARKABLE WOMEN(6) Joice NanKivell Loch

Operation Pied PiperThe story of the rescue of 2,000 civilian refugees from Poland and 50 orphaned Jewish children Joice Loch’s account of events of her incredible rescue of Polish refugees and orphaned Jewish children in A Fringe of Blue are greatly understated. In fact, she makes no specific mention of Operation Pied Piper at all. I am left to wonder whether she didn’t recognise the enormity

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18. hamlet-and-icecream: My uncle brought this from the Danish...





hamlet-and-icecream:

My uncle brought this from the Danish Resistance Museum here in Copenhagen - a subversive “fold-for-hidden-message” Hitler. Pretty cool. Reminds me of the back of Mad magazine.

This gem was posted by my friend Pippin. I don’t think Al Jaffee ever attempted a four-way MAD Fold-In, did he?





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19. Mind Your Own Business–or Not

In one of my earlier blogs I talked a bit about thinking that most people want to be liked. It probably varies a little from one person to another as to how much they want to be liked, or maybe even to the extent of certain people not caring a hoot about being liked.

I think I even wrote about a newspaper in my home town of Portland, the Oregonian, which ran a column when I was a teenager telling people what to do to be liked. Their formula was to have people give compliments to others to achieve great popularity. I couldn’t do that then or now.

My dad’s formula was to agree with everybody, whether he did or not. That didn’t work for me then and it still doesn’t. However if I do disagree I usually don’t start battle with them; I just let it go and move on to speak to someone else .. until last weekend.

I was at a dinner party having a grand old time when the conversation got around to politics and the world situation, or should I say mess, that we are in right now. The talk got to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which my particular group of dinner partners thought were wars “not worth fighting.”
Then someone commented, “I think no war is worth fighting for.

If you’ve read Becoming Alice you would know immediately why I would disagree vehemently with that statement. I hesitated. If I expressed my contrary opinion, would I lose that person’s friendship? I like her. I wouldn’t want to that to happen. What to do?

“I must disagree,” I said finally. “The threat of having to live under the rule of Hitler caused a war that was necesary and worth fighting for.” There! I said it. My grandparents were killed in that war. And if Hitler would have succeeded, which he almost did, I think a whole lot more of us would have been killed.

No one responded to my challenge. The conversation took another turn. I have yet to find out if I’ve lost a friend. But, if I have, she is not someone I would want to keep with the group I respect as my friends.


Filed under: Becoming Alice, Personalities, wwii Tagged: Becoming Alice, Friendship, Popularity, relationships, Wars, wwii 3 Comments on Mind Your Own Business–or Not, last added: 3/8/2011
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20. Rescue City: The Cats in Krasinski Square

The Cats in Krasinski SquareI picked this book off the library shelf because I saw that it was about cats, and we love cat books around here. Well, it turned out to be quite serious subject matter. I'm a bit of a wuss when it comes to talking to my eldest son about serious topics. There are certain things about WWII I just don't think a 6 year old needs to know yet.

I'm not a creative writer, but I'm guessing it is fairly difficult to write a children's picture book set in the WWII Warsaw Ghetto, and even more difficult to write such a book that would not be too frightening for this age. Karen Hesse's The Cats in Krasinski Square avoids both. Hesse based her book on an article she read abut cats who outsmarted the Gestapo at a Warsaw train station. In Hesse's book, a young girl narrates a story in which a plan to smuggle food inside the Ghetto is almost thwarted by the Gestapo. The heroes of the story are the cats, who confuse the Gestapo's dogs at the station.

Hesse's soft and lyrical text, as well as Wendy Watson's gentle palette, mitigate the harsh reality of the Warsaw Ghetto. Hesse's attention to the cats' loyalty and reciprocated love for their human companions is a wise choice and helps make the topic approachable for parents like me. Even as I was still debating whether or not to read it to my 6 year old, he picked it out and read it himself. The suggested age range is grades 3-5.

It's a well-written book about a sensitive topic. I hope you remember this book when your children begin learning about World War II.

Want More?
Read more about the author.
Visit the illustrator's webpage. She illustrated one of my favorite childhood books: Father Fox's Penny Rhymes.
Bearing Witness Through Picture Books: a list of books about the Holocaust at School Library Journal.
Never Forget focuses on books for children about the Holocaust.

Big Kid says: I like those cats.

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21. The Battle of Midway: a slideshow

There are few moments in American history in which the course of events tipped so suddenly and so dramatically as at the Battle of Midway. At dawn of June 4, 1942, a rampaging Japanese navy ruled the Pacific. By sunset, their vaunted carrier force (the Kido Butai) had been sunk and their grip on the Pacific had been loosened forever.

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22. Telluride at Dartmouth: In Darkness



This post continues to chronicle my attendance at the Telluride at Dartmouth program at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. Days 1 & 2 (A Dangerous Method and Albert Nobbs) can be found here, Day 3 (We Need to Talk About Kevin) can be found here.


I resisted In Darkness because it is a Holocaust film, and that is just about my least favorite movie genre. Nonetheless, it is a genre I'm deeply familiar with, and was the subject of the first serious film book I ever read, the original edition of Annette Insdorf's Indelible Shadows, which I discovered on my father's bookshelves when I was in high school. Soon after, I saw Schindler's List and found it deeply moving in a very adolescent way (on my part, at least, and maybe on Spielberg's). Later, I realized that Schindler's List had created a sort of emotional smugness in me -- it had made me feel good about feeling all the appropriate emotions. Spielberg is one of the greatest manipulators of emotion that the cinema has ever seen, and part of the pleasure of his action films, especially, lies in surrendering to them, allowing our emotions to be played by a virtuoso. I resist this in his films about something more serious than excitement; my loathing of The Color Purple and Munich is boundless and perhaps even a bit irrational -- indeed, I may resent the manipulation so much that I tend to perceive it as worse (cinematically and morally) than it is. At the same time, I desire great art to help us understand the Nazi era and its aftermath -- Paul Celan is my favorite 20th century poet, perhaps because so much of the power I perceive in his words derives from a struggle with (and against) the representation of atrocity. The problem is that for me it has to be great art. Plenty of subjects can withstand mediocre, ordinary, awkward, or bad art. Art that takes the Nazi years as its subject and ends up, in my estimation, to be less than great feels like a trivialization, and it infuriates me.

In any case, this is the background I brought to In Darkness, and explains why I spent the first half hour or so with my arms folded and jaw clenched -- I had pretty well decided that whatever magic spells this film tried to cast, I would resist them.

In Darkness tells the story of the final liquidation of the ghetto in Lvov, Poland, in June 1943 and of a group of Jews who hid in the city's sewers to survive. They were aided by Leopold Socha, a sewer worker, whose original goals were mercenary -- in the film, he is represented as a scavenger and thief, and tension is built early on because we fully expect him to take the Jews' money and then turn them over to the Germans for a reward. This is not what happens, though, and one path of the narrative is the story of Socha's redemption.

Had that been the primary path of the narrative, I would have hated In Darkness, because using the Holocaust as a plot device for tales of redemption seems despicable to me. (Millions of people died, and thus Our Protagonist found the goodne

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23. So what do we think? The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (Flavia de Luce)

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag

 Bradley, Alan. (2010) The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag. (The Flavia de Luce Series) Bantam, division of Random House. ISBN 978-0385343459. Litland recommends ages 14-100!

 Publisher’s description:  Flavia de Luce, a dangerously smart eleven-year-old with a passion for chemistry and a genius for solving murders, thinks that her days of crime-solving in the bucolic English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey are over—until beloved puppeteer Rupert Porson has his own strings sizzled in an unfortunate rendezvous with electricity. But who’d do such a thing, and why? Does the madwoman who lives in Gibbet Wood know more than she’s letting on? What about Porson’s charming but erratic assistant? All clues point toward a suspicious death years earlier and a case the local constables can’t solve—without Flavia’s help. But in getting so close to who’s secretly pulling the strings of this dance of death, has our precocious heroine finally gotten in way over her head? (Bantam Books)

 Our thoughts:

 Flavia De Luce is back and in full force! Still precocious. Still brilliant. Still holding an unfortunate fascination with poisons…

 As with the first book of the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, we begin with a seemingly urgent, if not sheer emergency, situation that once again turns out to be Flavia’s form of play.  We also see the depth of her sister’s cruelty as they emotionally badger their little sister, and Flavia’s immediate plan for the most cruel of poisoned deaths as revenge. Readers will find themselves chuckling throughout the book!

 And while the family does not present the best of role models (smile), our little heroine does demonstrate good character here and there as she progresses through this adventure. As explained in my first review on this series, the protagonist may be 11 but that doesn’t mean the book was written for 11-year olds :>) For readers who are parents, however (myself included), we shudder to wonder what might have happened if we had bought that chemistry kit for our own kids!

 Alas, the story has much more to it than mere chemistry. The author’s writing style is incredibly rich and entertaining, with too many amusing moments to even give example of here. From page 1 the reader is engaged and intrigued, and our imagination is easily transported into  the 1950’s Post WWII England village. In this edition of the series, we have more perspective of Flavia as filled in by what the neighbors know and think of her. Quite the manipulative character as she flits  around Bishop’s Lacy on her mother’s old bike, Flavia may think she goes unnoticed but begins to learn not all are fooled…

 The interesting treatment of perceptions around German prisoners of war from WWII add historical perspective, and Flavia’s critical view of villagers, such as the Vicar’s mean wife and their sad relationship, fill in character profiles with deep colors. Coupled with her attention to detail that helps her unveil the little white lies told by antagonists, not a word is wasted in this story.

 I admit to being enviou

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24. Available Now: Monty and Rommel: Parallel Lives

Thought you knew all there was to know about the Second World War? Think again. Today we're celebrating the release of Monty and Rommel: Parallel Lives, the new dual biography exploring the lives of WWII's opposing European generals Bernard Montgomery and Erwin Rommel, written by military defense analyst and BBC contributor Peter Caddick-Adams.During the Second World War, British and German

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25. Soldier Bear

Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak, translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson

With the partition of Poland at the beginning of WWII, members of the Polish army were taken prisoner, either by Germany or the USSR, depending what side of the border you were one. Once Germany declared war on the USSR, the Soviets let the Poles go, hoping they'd join the Soviet army. Many fled south, crossed the border into Iran, and joined up with the British.

One group of Polish prisoners making their way to the British found a bear cub. They name him Voytek and he becomes a private in the Polish army, getting into mischief and causing mayhem, but also helping to haul munitions and keeping everyone's spirits up.

It's a fun, light read, despite the horror of war. While the soldiers see some horrible things and are afraid, the book doesn't dwell there. Usually, Voytek does something silly to make everyone (including the reader) feel better. It's very episodic, which is not my cup of tea at all.

It's based on real events, and the back has photos of the real Private Voytek. There is not, however, any end matter explaining a little more about WWII (the politics at play here are complicated, and not all explained in the text) as well as detailing what parts of the story are true and what parts aren't.

It's funny, and I think kids will like it. Voytek is not the only animal in the unit and his antics, as well as those of Kaska the monkey and the various dogs are sure to delight child readers. It's a great WWII story that will appeal to both boy and girl readers and shows a different theater than we usually see in the literature. (North Africa and Italy.)

I think I would have really liked this one as a kid. As an adult, I don't dislike it, but it also didn't do much for me. Probably because of the episodic plot.

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