Tag Archives: WWII

Empty London: Sheltering from the Blitz

Bus in Crater, London Blitz

In the early 19th century, this grand city became the first in the modern world* to reach a population of one million, and over the next 100 years, that number multiplied six times over.  By the mid-20th century, London was home to over 8 million people. Not that you’d think it looking at London at the height of the Blitz in 1940.  Buildings lay in crumbling ruins.  Millions of people are missing, either serving in the armed forces or having

The Passing of Quiet Hero Sir Nicholas Winton

Sir Nicholas Winton, a quiet civilian hero of World War II, has died at the age of 106. In a time of considerable disinterest in the Jewish plight, Winton rescued 669 Czech Jewish children, most of whom would have otherwise perished. In pre-World War II Europe, Jewish living conditions varied widely. Centuries of anti-Semitism were a reason locals often did little to support their Jewish neighbors when the Germans came and further persecuted them. Many were forced to live as

The Mystery of the Nazi Envelope, or the Search for Arthur Gorum

Norwegian letter with Nazi censor stamp

I spent much of this last winter sorting through my grandfather’s collection of stamps. They come from a variety of sources.  Some he clearly cut off envelopes.  Some he probably purchased, as they are in glassine envelopes.  Some were gifted to him by a cousin in 1935. I have zero idea how he came into possession of this envelope (click to enlarge). Where did it come from? The stamps make this question easy, on account of Norway having a long

Nazi Memorabilia and Memory

Auction house Vermot de Pas has cancelled the appearance of Nazi items in an April 26 auction after multiple groups objected.  Critics called the sale obscene and insisted the sale would give the items “unhealthy symbolic value that resembles cynicism and a form of moral indecency”. The Nazis and the Holocaust are difficult topics to deal with.  Today, survivors still live, but even after the last of them pass, the topic will not easily fade from the public mind. Nor

Recovering the Oral History of the Holocaust

February 24 marked the death of the oldest living Holocaust survivor.  Certainly there are still survivors out there, but they are growing scarcer by the year.  Someone who was 15 in 1945 would be 83 today, and most people under the age of 15 didn’t survive the Holocaust at all because they were seen as useless for labor.  Even those born in 1945 are 68 this year. One might think that all the stories to be told have already been

U.K. finally pardons computer pioneer Alan Turing

Almost 50 years after his death, Alan Turing is finally pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II. Turing was a pioneer in cryptography (most notably in connection with breaking the WWII Enigma codes) and early computing. He wrote on the possibilities of artificial intelligence, which he expected we would develop within fifty years. He was also a homosexual, which was criminal in 1950s Britain.  He was found guilty of “gross indecency” and chemically castrated for the last few years of his life,

Changing Europe: a Dynamic Map

Map of Europe

I so wish I had this when I was teaching modern western civ this semester.  That course covers roughly the 16th through 20th centuries.  It’s only half the time frame of the map, but my other class starts at the beginning of time and runs up to the 16th century.  The map is only relevant for about the last six weeks of class. Maps change.  I always encourage students to spend time looking at the maps, not that many of

Yesterday in History: Declaration of War and the Representative Who Refused

USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor

This should have been a “Today in History” post, but I am a day late. On December 8, 1941, the United States declared war on Japan in retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor. The resolution passed unanimously in the Senate, but a single representative refused to approve it. Rep. Jeannette Rankin, R-Montana, was a pacifist even in the face of aggression. According to Wikipedia: “As a woman I can’t go to war,” she said, “and I refuse to send

People I Like: Sir Nicholas Winton

Sir Nicholas Winton

Studying history comes with both bad and good. It’s important we remember both, both as something to celebrate and something we try not to repeat. Modern history is not my thing, but of that era, the Holocaust is one of my interests, although it’s so awful I sometimes literally have to ration how much I read at a sitting. But it’s important to understand, and I think it’s really important my students understand, since most of them don’t know much