Saturday, 27 December 2008

Murder and Madness on Sunset Strip

The so-called Holy Land is one of the unholiest places on the planet. And there a war is being waged against an imprisoned people; a people living in what is euphemistically called a 'strip', a 'strip' which is in reality a prison. These people have no medicine, food, water or other resources of their own and depend on UN charities and other charities to survive. In desperation a few rockets which are not much more than hand-grenades on sticks and lack guidance systems are launched in the direction of the enemy; an enemy armed to the eyeballs with all the latest hi-tec American equipment and an arsenal of atom bombs.
Today, at first count 155 inhabitants, including the usual percentage of women and children, of the 'strip' are dead and 250 more are seriously wounded. A massive air attack by Israel is responsible. It is an outrage. It is disgusting. It is criminal. No, it is worse than criminal. It is beyond belief that a powerful military machine can be used with impunity to put down what is little more than a token of defiance from the impoverished and imprisoned. There must be a law against it. Those responsible must be brought to justice.
Tonight on the 'strip' the sun will set yet again on a scene of misery and devastation. Throughout the world the suicide bombers will already be forming new and longer queues ouside the mosques and prayer houses. The rest of us may ultimately have to count the cost of Israeli stupidity.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Remembering a real hero, 50 years on

In one of the buildings where I used work there's a plaque on the wall. I, and many others, would pass it every day. Many times I would stop and read it. Sometimes I would point it out to a visitor. On the plaque is written:
This tablet
is erected to perpetuate the memory of
James O'Donnell MM & Bar Detective Inspector
County Borough of Blackburn Police
To whom has been posthumously awarded
'The Queen's Police Medal for Gallantry'
who died from gunshot wounds received
in the execution of his duty
on the 13th December 1958

Mike Griffin, the editor of my quarterly pensioners newsletter writes: On this 50th anniversary of his death, it is proper to remember with gratitude and pride the service that this remarkable man gave to this country. I agree.

James O'Donnell was a native of Bolton, then a County Borough in Lancashire. During the war he served in the Irish Guards. On the 10th May 1940 the German Army invaded neutral Holland. Three days later, manning an anti-aircraft gun on the Hook of Holland jetty which was being bombed and machine-gunned, Lance Sergeant O'Donnell fired a continuous stream of tracer at enemy aircraft until he lost consciousness from machine-gun wounds. This courageous action gave Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch Government the opportunity to sail to Dover. Two days later, lying in hospital in the Hague, O'Donnell was captured.
He soon found himself in prison in Poland. He managed to escape on at least a dozen occasions, including once by hiding in a box and another time by hiding in a sack, but always, being unable to get passable forged papers, he was recaptured within a few days. One Gestapo official managed to catch him twice. The longest time he was able to remain at large was for a period of 10 days. Finally, in April 1945, he escaped for good and rejoined his regiment in Bergen after an absence of 4 years and 11 months.

After the war O'Donnell rejoined Blackburn Police where he rose to the rank of Detective Inspector and head of the Criminal Investigation Department. It must be remembered that British Police Officers in uniform and their detective colleagues were in those days, as they are today for the most part, unarmed.
On 12th December 1958 at 11.35pm two constables, Jack Covill and Jack Riley, were called to a terraced house in Brewery Street, near to the police station. On arrival they found the front door barricaded and the occupant Henry King standing at the back door with a shotgun in his hands. King had been drinking heavily. He had purchased a shotgun earlier in the day. It was his intention to kill his wife and baby. The family was crowded into the back room.
Constable Covill told King to hand over the gun. King immediately shot Covill in the groin. He then turned the gun on his wife and fatally shot her. Meanwhile Constable Riley, acting swiftly, was able to pull his colleague to safety. It would take Covill a year to recover from his injuries.
Detective Inspector O'Donnell and Detective Inspector Harrison arrived at the house and King, who knew O'Donnell, allowed them entry. Shortly after they had entered King fatally shot O'Donnell in the chest at close range. Detective Inspector Harrison then threw a chair at King, who was now pointing the weapon in his direction, and in the confusion managed to get out of the house. The incident ended at 2.15am the following morning when armed police officers entered the house after using tear gas and arrested King.

In a world where the term 'hero' is much abused we would do well to reflect on what the word really means, or what it ought to mean.

Updated 6 July 2012: Please see comment box re information forwarded by M John Halliwell re another 'hero' in connection with this post. I am sorry for the inadvertent omission. GW.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Craig Ewart, dying with dignity

Hamlet: To be, or not to be - that is the question;
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep -
No more - and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
that flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consumation
Devoutly to be wished. To die - to sleep -
To sleep - perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub.
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil
Must give us pause [...]
[...] Who would these fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all [...]

The case of Craig Ewart, 59, a former university lecturer from Yorkshire, England, has raised a stormy debate in Great Britain. Ewart took his own life at the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland. He swallowed a handful of tablets and turned off his own oxygen supply. There was no-one forcing him to do this. It was his free decision. It was his own life that he himself was ending.
Phil Willis, the Member of Parliament for Ewart's constituency in Yorkshire is reported, in The Northern Echo, to have said: I don't believe anyone has the right to take their own life.
What Mr Willis and his ilk believe is naive in the extreme and irrelevant. People have always taken their own lives and will doubtless continue to do so. Mr Willis might like to consider the situation in countries such as Roman Catholic Austria where any discussion of suicide is conveniently swept under the nearest church doormat. In these types of societies persons determined to take their own lives often have do so in a way designed to protect their families from the stigma attached to suicide; for example by crashing their car at high speed. Unfortunately this tactic all too often results in the deaths or serious injury of innocent persons who happen to be in the vicinity.
Presumably, as Mr Willis ruminates it, it is better for potential suiciders in his constituency to consider the use of tried and tested methods like blasting one's teeth into the bedroom ceiling with a double-barrelled shotgun or cutting into one's jugular in the bathtub. Never mind about the shock and trauma this will cause to family and friends. Or about the mess that somebody else will have to come and clean up.
Far better then, than all this hypocrisy, would be to provide the terminally ill patient whose mind and body is in rapid decline, after appropriate discussion with doctor and family, the opportunity to end his own life with dignity and to depart with his mind at peace with the world; leaving one's nearest and dearest with no fardels to bear.
One of several advantages that the Dignitas method of taking one's quietus has over traditional methods is that of time factor. It takes longer. Hamlet has time to mull on the consequences. He has time, in Shakespeare's tragedy, to change his mind. This is something that the suicider who leaps into the air from the roof of the multi-storey carpark doesn't have. He cannot change his mind at the last second and propel himself back to his starting point. He must go on with the act. The tragedy is, he may survive; his crumpled and crippled body may be saved by medical skill.
Another advantage of the Dignitas method is that some inncocent stranger is not forced to particpate in the act. Consider the inter-city train driver who suddenly finds a suicider standing on the line. The driver has no time to react. He has no choice but to kill. It's the nightmare scenario in the real sense of the word. The driver is left with Hamlet's fardels. What shall he do with them Mr Willis? He can only take them home. It's all part of the job.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

The Laughing Hangman and other stories

Country squires in fur coats and farmers in rags, all lumped together. And all ages from confused old men to frightened children. And alone, in groups, or in lines; from trees, from telegraph poles, or the gallows. Some with their caps and hats on their heads. And also two women; both young and pretty. And the spectators, often posing for photos. A soldier who appears to be amused stands over the body of a Ukrainian priest. Nazi criminals? You have to ask!
Anton Holzer's collection of photographs speaks volumes. And will shock; for the facts are not yet known in the wider world. It's a photographic story that demonstrates that the old Austrian K.u.K. Army in the Balkans, in Poland and in Russia was not very much better than the German Wehrmacht in World War II with its contribution to the Holocaust. In Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia, along the Adriatic and in Galicia not thousands but tens of thousands of innocent civilians, the vast majority without any legal process and only because of hysterical outbursts from K.u.K. officers who thought every civilian was a spy, were summarily executed.
The worst affected were the Ukrainians and the Jews. In East Galicia every constable, watchman, sergeant, had the power to order that every alleged spy, every arbitary suspect, could be hanged without any formalities. The newspapers carried photos of arrests and public executions; Russian Spy Arrested, Farmer is Suspected Spy, Suspicious Female Spy Captured, German Gendarme with a Jewish Spy, were typical captions.
The public hangings were photographed and went on sale as postcards. The fear of spies had to be widely spread. Training courses for potential hangmen were available.
The K.u.K. army was ordered to spread terror: In Serbian border towns and villages take hostages. In the event of any incidents and to justify hostages burn down the place, to paraphrase an instruction to military commanders dated 12th August 1914. The first massacre of Serbian civilians took place in the third week of the war.
At an execution of a prominent prisoner a photograph was taken of Vienna's laughing hangman, Josef Lang, who was brought in for the occasion; dressed in bow-tie and bowler hat Lang stands smiling over the corpse of Cesare Battisti. He is surrounded by a laughing crowd of civilians and soldiers. Battisti, a former K.u.K. politician was an Italian patriot and had therefore joined the Italian Army. When he was captured by the Austrians, he was imprisoned, charged with betrayal and hanged in public.
In Sabac on 18th August 1914 Field Marshal Lieutenant Kasimir von Lütgendorf ordered three of his own soldiers to be executed for being drunk. The bloody execution, carried out with bayonets, took place in the square directly outside the town's church. In 1920 Lütgendorf was sentenced to 6 months military detention but without loss of rank or military honours.
Anton Holzer's book Das Lächeln der Henker - Der unbekannte Krieg gegen die Zivilbevölkerung 1914-1918* (Primus Verlag) will not be widely read in Austria says reviewer Hellmut Butterweck in the Wiener Zeitung newspaper dated 12th December 2008.
This theme is an indigestible morsel for Austrian self-image, he concludes.

*The Smile of the Hangman - the unknown war against the civil population 1914-1918

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Recollecting - Looted Art and Restitution

Outside Vienna's Museum of Applied and Contemporary Arts there is an old car. The car is in a large red container with one open side. It is an exhibit in an exhibtion titled Recollecting: Raub und Restitution / Looted Art and Restitution. The car is a 1931 Fiat 522C. It once belonged to a respected Vienna citizen, a man called Moritz Glückselig. In 1938 the vehicle was confiscated by the authorities. The reason was simple. The owner was Jewish. As a Jew he had no right to posses a car. Did he not know of the Jüdisches Gut wird Volksgut law which said Jewish property is the People's Property? It would appear not.
By 3rd December 1939, another new law regarding motor cars and motor cycles was on the books. This new law prohibited Jews from driving. Not much use having a car then, even such a handsome and prestigious vehicle as a Fiat 522C. And anyway you can't drive a car when you are locked-up in Dachau and Buchenwald, as Mr Glückselig was soon to find out. Once Mr Glückselig was safely ensconced in his new quarters his People's vehicle was disposed of by the VUGESTA, the Secret Police for the Administration of Jewish Relocation Property whose other duties included collecting Reich Flight Tax (this has nothing to do with airline fuel surcharges by the way). Mr Glückselig did not perish in Buchenwald and he was not shipped to Auschwitz. He later surfaced in Argentina where he opened a Deli.
Brigitte Bermann-Fischer was fond of her Camille Pissarro painting Le Quai Malaquais et l'Institut until the VUGESTA knocked on the door and took it away along with all her other property including her books; her favourites being those on Austrian music. In 2002 she found her books in the Austrian National Library. She knew they were hers because they had her name and her ex libris inside their front covers. In 2007, after years of searching, she found her beloved painting. It was in the Kantonalbank in Zürich.
The People's new artworks were distributed by VUGESTA through the Zentralstelle für Denkmalschutz the 'Central Office for the Protection of Monuments'. This latter organization was renamed the Institut für Denkmalpflege the 'Institute for the Care of Monuments' in 1940. Under the Führervorbehalt that is the Führer Priority Proviso of 1938 a man named Hans Posse was appointed to select the works deemed suitable for the proposed Führermuseum in Linz, Upper Austria. The last photo of the Führer in his Berlin Bunker shows him gazing lovingly at a plywood model of the capital of Ostmark and presumably the Führermuseum.
The banker Phillip Gomprez was a wealthy man. He lived in Palais Tedesco (The German Palace) in Vienna's fashionable shopping street, Kärntnerstraße. He fled with his family to Brno (Czech) and made his way from there to Switzerland. His sister Marie died in Brno in 1940, the year the VUGESTA cleared out the Palais Tedesco. Cornelia died in Bern in 1944. Phillip Gomprez passed away in 1948 in Montreux. Ten of his artworks had the honour of being selected for the Linz museum. Art was moved by truck or train in the night. Sometimes in crates, other times under a tarpaulin. Paintings were sold in Switzerland or like two of Gomprez's favourite paintings, a Gauermann and a Spitzweg, they were hidden in tunnels in Austrian salt mines.
In 1945 the US Army created four collecting points in a former NSDAP building in Munich. Here works of art were brought with a view to restoring them to their owners. When the Americans closed the collecting points in 1950 they handed 1,000 artworks to Austria on the understanding that they should try to trace the owners and return the property. The Austrians decided to put the artworks in a safe place. And where is safer than a monastery? The Federal Office for the Care of Monuments situated in the Carthusian Monastery at Mauerbach was just the place. Here work to trace the owners of 8,000 stolen artworks could be carried on in an atmosphere of peace, tranquility and quiet. Or could it? Very few works were returned. Work seemed to go on at a snail's pace or more aptly at the pace of a monk wandering around a quadrangle deep in thought, deep in prayer. In 1996, following the Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets "the remaining objects" were auctioned off at the Mauerbach Benefit Sale.
An interesting side to the exhibition is the appearance of lists of appropriated property with official Nazi stamps and signatures and comments regarding the estimated value of articles. A family's photos and other personal effects would be entered on the same typed official lists as artworks and then marked down by a qualified official in the appropriate column in red ink as wertlos, that is to say 'of no worth', before disappearing forever.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Pictures from an exhibition (2) Land of Songs

One of the songs that the child is instructed to copy into its school exercise book runs like this:
Führer and flag
Volk and Reich
in holiest goodness
we all the same
ready to fight
we are prepared
to live and die
for you...[etc.]
And another so:
30th January
Hear the banner flutter in the wind
Hear the storm rush through the land
Of Germany we are...[etc.]
There are official songs too. Austria has had many National Anthems since 1918. Like the street signs they are changed at intervals:
..... 1918 "Gott Erhalte..." the so-called Kaiserhymn (Seidl/Haydn) better known today as "Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles")
1920 - 1929 "Deutsch-Österreich du herrliches Land" (Renner/Kienzl)
1929 - 1938 "Sei gesegnet ohne Ende" (Kernstock/Haydn)
1947 - "Land der Berge..." (von Preradovic/Holtzer)
Of course there must have been at least two other National Anthems; 1918-1920, 1938-1947. But, strange to say, there's nothing here about them. There are always gaps in the offical accounts. By now I have come to expect them.
A single poem catches my eye. It's by Theodor Kramer and it is dated 13/7/1938. It's on the side of a display cabinet. There's a pillar in the way. I almost missed it. Could easily have done so. Others do. I scribble a copy of it (and I will attempt to translate it for a future post). I was unable to find any information on the poet's post-1939 life in exile.
Adolf Hitler is here. Never easy to miss the Führer. One photograph shows a pair of devoted officers giving an enthusiastic 'Sieg Heil' salute in his direction. He sits with his entourage in a box at the Vienna State Opera. The date is 27th October 1938 and the opera is Eugen d'Albert's Tiefland. It's one of Hitler's favourites. In 1940 film producer Leni Riefenstahl made the film Tiefland for Hitler. The film's extras, Romer gypsies who played the parts of the Spanish peasantry, were duly sent to Auschwitz to be murdered. So much for their contribution to the silver screen. Tiefland's action takes place in the Spanish Pyrenees; not far from Guernica, the town made famous by the Luftwaffe's crimes and the paintings of Picasso. It is ironic, and not mentioned, that Glasgow born composer Eugen d'Albert was a man with French, Italian, Scottish and German blood in his veins; was a man who saw himself as a Weltbürger, a free spirit, a cosmopolitan citizen of the world.
There's a photograph of the new synagogue in the Austrian city of Graz. It was opened in the year 2000 and stands on the site of the 1892 constructed synagogue which was destroyed by the Nazis in 1938.
But we cannot dwell too long in this period of the past. It doesn't do. Austria is now a member of the European Union. A corner of the exhibition testifies to this. But it doesn't impact on my mind.
What I take away in the end are the images of students fleeing for their lives down ladders, scrambling out of Vienna University's windows almost as if the building is on fire. But the building is not on fire. The Nazi terror is in there looking for its next victims. I take away a photo of the courageous playwright Thomas Bernhard, the writer of Heldenplatz, a man still ostracized by many, a man whose grave is vandalised at regular intervals. And I take away also a distinct feeling that something is missing, the feeling that the full story is not before me, the feeling that they have allowed me in to show me that it wasn't so bad and that it was all inevitable. I walk out of the fog of woe and into the sunshine and see once again the exhibition's banners proudly fluttering in the sunshine blazing down on the inner-city's main artery. So, at the end of the two hours spent in the Austrian Parliament looking at what they wanted me to see, what's the word I'm looking for to sum it all up? Something to do with a dearth of qualities; civil courage, integrity. Things like that. And soon I have it. A lack of Weitsichtigkeit. The ability to see past the end of one's nose. Perhaps that's it. The sign hanging over the door of the Vestibule, a small theatre adjoining the Austrian National Theatre the Burgtheater, it's perhaps 400 metres from the '1918 Austria Republic 2008' Exhibition ; it's a title of a performance. And it reads 'Everywhere the Neurosis is Blooming'. Maybe, the situation is not totally without hope. Somebody, somewhere may be addressing the issues.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Pictures from an exhibition (part 1) Born in Blood

A 130 page guide (German/English) to the Austrian Parliament (€4.00) was on sale in the Austrian Parliament's foyer when I bought my ticket (€2.00) for an exhibition in the main entrance hall of Palas Athene, an exhibition that I felt was a little misleadingly titled Republik 1918/2008 Exhibition on the giant screen alongside the Ring, the inner-city's main artery.
By 1918 the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy had drowned itself in a blood bath. At the end of the war, the K.u.K. Army had accumulated senseless losses: more than 1,000,000 soldiers dead, more than 2,000,000 soldiers wounded, more than 1,200,000 soldiers taken prisoner. It was beyond comprehension, especially when one considers that the Habsburgs were offered favourable peace terms on at least four occasions during the years 1916 to 1918 and refused them all. The last refused offer was from the USA's President Wilson. In reply to an earlier offer from Clemenceau the newly appointed Kaiser Karl, crowned in Budapest, sent a curt note written in French and immediately turned up in Berlin in his Prussian Officer's uniform to announce that his cannon would face to the west.
It had been said repeatedly on the radio and elsewhere that the exhibition was to mark the Republic of Austria's 90th birthday, which of course it isn't. The Second Republic was born on 27th April 1945. It is 63 years old. The First Republic was born on 12th November 1918 and died on 4th March 1933. It was 15 years old. The two republics have a combined age of 78 years. But that is not even the case. The First Republic was not the Repbublic of Austria but the Republic of German-Austria. Another kettle of red herrings altogether.
The original idea was that the exhibition would be open to guided groups only. That idea was doomed from the start, for reasons I can guess at; lack of interest being one. And so, the man off the street was duly allowed in to see for himself. The only problem was that the exhibition was not open as advertised. "Perhaps you could call back tomorrow? Tomorrow we will certainly be open." And so I did.
I arrived at 9.30am today. There was no queue. I was able to go straight to the counter, get my ticket and go in. Two or three school groups of a dozen or so teenagers were doing the guided tour. About twenty other people wandered around the large upstairs exhibition room; the room in which the Nazis tried to kill Dollfuss the first time, but more about him later. Workmen were erecting a large Christmas tree. There was much banging and chattering. But it was only slightly distracting. A video installation in a dark box next to the great tree was not showing. Perhaps the workmen needed the electricity supply for the tree's lights? I didn't ask.
At this point it's good to come back to the guidebook for a moment. If ever there was a pivotal moment in the history of the Austrian Parliament it would be the 25th July 1934, the day of the attempted Nazi Putsch when the Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss was murdered in the Parliament building by Nazis and the nation's Radio Station was occupied by them. I looked for details of this event in vain in the section 'History'. The whole business seemed skipped over. Here's what I read:
The events surrounding 12 February 1934, which triggered a short but violent civil war in Austria, further shifted the powers of government towards the autocratic forces. This was strongly supported in Italy, which, governed by Mussolini and at the time Austria's only effective ally against National Socialism, favoured an autocratic and anti-democratic solution. All this occurred against a background of growing conflict with Nazi Germany, which the Dollfuss government hoped to counter successfully with a corporative, autocratic constitution and the formation of a new unity party [.....] the prohibition of political parties and the stipulation that the Fatherland Front was to be the sole state party. This expressly forbade any form of opposition to government [.....]
Austria under Nazi Dictatorship (1938-1945)
The occupation of Austria by Hitler's troops entailed the Anschluss, the country's annexation to the German Reich [.....] After the death of the German president, Paul von Hindenburg, the functions of chancellor and president were combined (Act of 1 August 1934).

I now turn to the actual exhibits. The first thing to see is 10 seconds of original film footage; a large crowd has gathered outside the Austrian Parliament building. Several men dutifully raise their hats and some of them wave. They are not exactly jubilant. In fact the mood is somewhat sombre. Many red flags are in evidence in a painting of the scene on the wall nearby. A quotation sums up the business of the day, 12th November 1918: A new and happy time has broken out. From the old Austria is born a new German-Austria.
I move on to look at a political poster. It shows a map of Germany and Austria. They are almost the same shade of pink. They are separated by a lightly drawn dotted line, a line that you will think will soon disappear. In the middle of the beautiful pink drawing is a dark, almost black, splodge. This cancer, as you are drawn to think of it, to diagnose it, is in an otherwise healthy heart and is marked with one word CECHIEN (Czech).
There's a photograph of a large building from which smoke is pouring. This is the Palace of Justice; it's just round the corner from where I'm standing. On the 15th July 1927 there was a demonstration 'for justice' outside the building. And justice was duly meted. The police fired into the dense crowd and killed 89 people. Hundreds more were badly injured. Two scorched papers in a glass case, legal documents, are on show.
The 5th March 1933 edition of Das Kleine Blatt (The Small Paper) carried the front page headline: Crisis in Parliament. The 3 Parliamentary Presidents had resigned following a heated debate over a railworkers' strike. This meant that the Austrian Parliament could no longer function democratically. At one stroke the citizens of Austria were disenfranchised. From now on, until his assassination, Engelbert Dollfuss would rule as a fascist dictator. He'd be supported in his new role by the Roman Catholic Church and his Italian friend Mussolini. A photograph shows the busts of the three founders of the First Republic, which stand on three granite plinths as a monument to democracy, on a corner between the parliament building and the palace of justice, suitably covered with white sheets.
By 1935, with Dollfuss out of the way, Nazi propoganda dramatically increasing in Vienna and the other provinces. At its peak a total of 530,505 Austrians would be paid up members of the NSDAP.
On the 15th March 1938 Adolf Hitler addressed the jubilant crowds in the Heldenplatz (The Square of the Heroes). On the 10th April 1938 there was a plebiscite. It was a farce. The result: more than 99% of Austrians voted for unification with Germany.
Dollfuss Platz was renamed Adolf Hitler Platz in the Austrian tradition of honouring the flavour of the day. Today it is Rathausplatz (City Hall Square).
There was a small photograph of some Jews scrubbing the pavement. A nearby text explained that under the Nuremburg Racial Laws 200,000 people had lost their 'civil rights'. There was another photo. Dozens of jars, containing the brains of handicapped children, removed for 'research' at Am Spiegelgrund in Vienna. Nothing about the infamous and highly honoured Dr. Gross who lived to be over 90, the man responsible for the efficient running Am Spiegelgrund (On the Mirror Ground), the man responsible for the welfare and care of these unfortunate children. Eight hundred in all. Treatment included being locked in solitary confinement in a windowless cell. Somehow one or two children survived. It's not mentioned. There's just the photo. The jars and their contents. It's enough.
At Austria's most famous concentration camp Mauthausen (Toll Houses) more than 100,000 lost their lives. The approximate figures: 66,000 Jews, 20,000 Medical Cases, 10,000 Roma and Sinti, 4,000 Political inmates, 500 criminals. Curiously there's no mention of allied servicemen who died at Mauthausen. A famous film, The Hill, where starving prisoners are forced to run up a hill carrying heavy loads, is based on actual events that took place at Mauthausen. This is not mentioned either.
What is highlighted, in prominent text on a colourful wall chart, is the number of Austrian casualties: 246,000 soldiers killed (of which 76,000 missing), 600,000 taken prisoner, 250,000 wounded (of which 116,000 invalids), civilian victims due to bombs etc. 24,300.
There's an interesting section which shows children at school. A young boy, a Hitler Youth member, is learning to shoot straight. Men in military uniform look on. They appear suitably impressed. There's a school exercise book open at a page. The child, perhaps 10 or 12 years old, has copied out poems. He or she will be told to learn them by heart.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

You can't take it with you!

A body and the coffin containing it have disappeared from a family tomb at Auen on the shores of Lake Wörthersee. The location, in the Austrian province of Carinthia, is close to Velden, the town where the late Carinthian Governor Jörg Haider's last movements (see below) became lost in a fog of misinformation and speculation.
Billionaire, Frederick Karl Flick, left behind a personal fortune of €5-6 billion at the time of his death in 2006. His father, a self-made billionaire industrialist and member of the 'Himmler Circle of Friends' employed slave labour at his steel plants and coal mines in Germany, France and the Soviet Union during the Nazi era. He was subsequently sentenced to 7 years at the Nuremburg Trials but was released after 3 years with more than 30% of his fortune still intact.
The missing Flick, for his part, was best known for his cultivation of the political landscape in Germany, which appears to have required a mere $25 million, and in connection with the Helmut Kohl affair of 1983.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

More on Hungary/Slovakia border problems

The current (13th November 2008) edition of the weekly German language Czech newspaper Prager Zeitung carries the following short report of the recent troubles on the Slovakia-Hungary border under the page 2 headline 'Border blockade':
Last Monday right-wing extremists blockaded the Slovakia-Hungary border at several crossing-points. This deployment was a protest against the presence of Slovakian police at the football match between Dunajska Streda* and Slovan Bratislava* at the beginning of November, when 11 people were injured and 30 arrested. The Slovakian government stand behind the action of the police. Premier Robert Fico claims that Hungarian fans entered Slovakia in order to provoke a conflict with the police. Budapest called for the Slovakian authorities to investigate the adequacy of the police presence.

*Both towns are situated in Slovakia. Dunajska Streda has a large Hungarian population.

On the same page of the Prager Zeitung under the headline 'Remembering' is the following:
In Slovakia, last Monday, on its 70th anniversary, the Reichsprogromnacht was remembered. In the east of Slovakia in Kosice 40 survivors of the Holocaust were welcomed by the mayor Frantisek Knapik. From the area of Kosice more than 13,000 Jews were deported to various concentration camps. Only 400 of them survived.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Slovakia closes border crossings

Slovakia today announced the closure of two border crossings; in order, they say, to prevent Hungarian neo-fascist trouble-makers from entering Slovakia.
The relationship between these two European Union countries which share a common border along the River Danube is far from good. Neighbouring countries like Austria are wondering if the latest move signals the beginning of a big problem for the region.
In the south of Slovakia there lives an Hungarian minority, residue of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy which fell in 1918. Hungarians comprise 10% of Slovakia's total population of 5.4 million. Recent 'crowd trouble' at a football match in the town of Dunajska Streda (Dunas Zerdahely - H) appears to have kick-started the latest grudge war.
Slovakia claims that neo-fascists from Hungary were responsible for causing violent street battles and vandalism in the town. The Hungarians countered with an accusation of police brutality. The Slovak flag was subsequently set on fire outside the doors of the Slovak embassy in Budapest. In the Hungarian area of Slovakia road signs were oversprayed. Slovakia then demanded that Hungary deal firmly with the problem of extremism.
Hungary replied to this request with its old tactic of issuing new school books to the Hungarian children in Slovakia. These Hungarian school books are printed only with Hungarian place names (e.g. Dunas Zerdahely) and with no Slovak place names ( e.g. Dunajska Streda).
Following this escalation, Jan Slota head of the Slovakia National Party (SNS), part of the Slovak coalition government, decided to engage in schoolboy mentality name-calling. He started by calling the Hungarian patron saint "a clown on a horse" and the Hungarian Foreign Minister Göncz "a Hitler without a moustache". The final and most provocative insult was to Hungarian national pride itself. He referred to the Turul, the giant bird of Hungarian myth and legend, as a mere "parrot".
Slota: Slovakia is no longer part of Upper-Hungary, the home of the terrible Turul bird but the home of the doubled crosses of the Slovakia State. Our army should hold more manouevers to answer this Hungarian chauvinism.
Hungarian leader Viktor Orbam countered: Slovakia is preparing for a Kosovo in Central Europe.
The time bomb ticks...

Thinking of the NS-Progrom

'Thinking of the NS-Progrom in Austria' is the title of a report on page 2 of the popular Austrian tabloid the Kronen Zeitung, a daily paper boasting a readership of 3,000,000 in a land of 8,000,000 souls.
The story, by Dieter Kindermann, is accompanied by a picture of Pope Benedikt XVI. It reads (subject to any unfortunate translation errors by me) as follows:
"Today I still feel the pain of this tragedy," Benedikt XVI said yesterday after Angelus in St. Peter's Square. He was speaking about the Jewish victims of the NS-progrom, cynically called 'the night of broken glass', in Germany and Austria. Yesterday with memorial services and silent marches the churches remembered the inhuman terror of the night of 9/10 November 1938.
In Vienna alone 42 synagogues and prayer houses were set on fire, 30 people were murdered, thousands were deported to concentration camps. Without any scruples the mobs plundered the Jewish shops and homes.
Historians are united. It was with the November progrom that the holocaust began, the systematic extermination of the Jews through the criminal NS regime.
"A terrible, shameful, and tragic event in the history of our land," said President Fischer.


At this time I feel strongly that we should also remember those thousands of anonymous others, many unknown and unsung, who were murdered by the Nazis. People like the poet and professor of theology Roman Karl Scholz, who organized an underground resistance movement with 400 members in Klosterneuburg near Vienna. Unfortunately Scholz and other members were betrayed by Otto Hartmann, a Burgtheater actor and Gestapo spy in 1939.
Scholz, who wrote a book of poems called Ferne Feine Dinge 'Fine Distant Things' (published in 1935) was tried and found guilty along with 8 others of making preparations for high treason. He was incarcerated in 11 different prisons, and doubtless brutally tortured, before being executed by guillotine in 1944. During his time in prison he wrote a novel Goneril and two dramas: Zu Spät 'Too Late' and Männer 'Men'.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

A glass of milk and water

The telephone at Austria's ORF TV station was said to be 'red hot' as outraged viewers bombarded the station after remarks, described by Austrian Times as a 'racist tirade' were made by an experienced journalist of 61 years standing.
Klaus Emmerich, 80, a former ORF chief editor and US correspondent made the controversial comments on the US Election show. And he followed them with similar remarks in broadsheet newspapers.
On the ORF show Emmerich said, "I do not want the Western world directed by a black man. And, if you say that is a racist remark, I say you are damn right." He added that Obama was "a talented but branded man with a devilish talent to present his rhetoric so effectively."
In an interview in the Austrian daily Der Standard he explained that he saw Obama's election as "a highly disturbing development" because "blacks were not as far advanced in the process of civilisation and political progress."
In another Austrian newspaper Die Presse he said, "Americans are racist so the situation in the USA must be very bad if they send a black man to the White House. That would also be the case in Austria if the next Chancellor was a Turk." He went on, "I am no racist. I've written a book in which I describe a scene when as a child in 1928 I walked through my home town of Frankfurt with my parents and a young black. I'll never forget the hate in the faces of the people of Frankfurt who didn't want to see a small white child walking with a black. The point is not Obama. The point is the emotion in politics."
ORF spokesman Pius Strobl's glass of milk and water reaction was that the moderator Andreas Pfeifer was "too weak" and that the other panelists had failed to react because they "were tired after the long election night."
In 3 days time Austria will mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the 1st Republic on 12th November 1918 following the fall of the Habsburg Monarchy after World War I. The 1st Republic lasted 16 years. In 1934 following on the heels of a civil war the Republic was replaced by a system known as Austro-Facism until 1938 when the land became part of Nazi Germany.
Austria regained it's Republic status in 1945 due to the sacrifices of millions of non-Austrians, including thousands of black Americans, and not through any sacrifice on Austria's own part. The majority of Austrians were more than content to be loyal inhabitants of Ostmark in Adolf Hitler's 1,000 Year Reich; but only until it all turned sour at Stalingrad.
It is only because of the great sacrifices of peoples "not as far advanced in the process of civilisation and political progress" as white man Emmerich, that Emmerich and his ilk at ORF TV have their freedoms of speech and reporting.
In Austria's recent general election the far-right populist parties, the BZÖ and FPÖ, received a combined 29% of the votes.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Imprisoned blogger to be set free

Malaysian blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin, sentenced to 2 years imprisonment in September and now in custody for 56 days, is to be freed later today by order of the high court in Selangor. The blogger had been imprisoned for allegedly promulgating articles insulting Islam on his Malaysia Today blog at
A full report can be found on the Al Jazeera link in the side bar on my Poet-in-Residence blog.
Raja Petra has consistently infuriated the authorities by refusing to follow the government line with his blog. He is one of 700 Malaysian bloggers who comment on social and political issues says Al Jazeera. His detention triggered widespread protests, a brisk trade in anti-government t-shirts and candle-light vigils. The Malaysian deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, whom the blogger links to the brutal murder of Altantuya Shaariibu in 2006, is a frequent target of the Malysia Today blog. Raja Petra's pages also highlight Muslim on Muslim terror attacks and murders in Islamic countries like Algeria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The controversial law under which Raja Petra was arrested empowers the authorities to detain a 'suspect' for 2 years, and this is renewable indefinitely, without bringing any charges. Raja Petra could even be immediately re-arrested under Malaysia's all-encompassing Internal Security Act. Bloggers throughout the free world will be keeping more than a close eye on developments.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Bizarre twist in the 'King of the Carinthians' death saga

Ingo Krassnitzer the organizer of the Stermann and Grissemann comedy show due to take place at Klagenfurt University in December has survived a murder plot. Krassnitzer was driving near Klagenfurt when for no apparent reason his car began to skid. Austrian Times reports that the wheel nuts on Krassnitzer's car had been loosened by persons unknown.
This bizarre attempt at a repeat performance of a Jörg Haider type death accident follows an ORF TV show in which the comedy duo Stermann and Grissemann made jokes about the circumstances surrounding the death of the late Governor of Carinthia in particular about his vodka drinking spree in a gay bar.
Writing in The Vienna Review Maruska Strah reports that a survey of 2,000 internet users found that 79% believed that Haider had been murdered. Only 16% believed that the fatal accident was of his own making. Several blogs and websites highlight a strange looking hole in the roof of Haider's VW Phaeton and suggest it was made by some kind of explosive device. This theory can be laid to rest here and now. The indentation in the car roof above the driver's seat corresponds to the size and shape of the top of an Austrian fire hydrant. The hydrant was uprooted by the impact of the Phaeton and obviously struck the vehicle a heavy blow on the roof.
A story originating in Algeria is that Haider was responsible for securing the recent release of the two Austrian hostages held for over 250 days in Mali and that he did this through his Libyan connections. It is being widely reported that a sum of money, perhaps as much as €5,000,000 has been paid to the kidnappers. Austrian Foreign Minister Plassnik and the Mali authorities deny that any ransom was paid.
There was another political death in Austria recently and that was the demise of Helmut Zilk, a retired socialist Mayor of Vienna, who passed away in his sleep at the age of 82 following a long illness. In 1993 when in office Zilk was the victim of a right-wing fanatic's letter bomb campaign; his left hand was blown to pieces when the device exploded as he was opening a package. Helmut Zilk has said of Haider: "Whether we like it or not Jörg Haider is the only political talent that Austria has experienced in the past few years." The recent words of Zalka Kuchling, of Carinthia's Green Party appear to confirm Zilk's observation: "There wasn't a single day that Haider was not mentioned in the newspapers or on the radio. The journalists made him look good. This kind of adulation was never here before."
And so we are unlikely to see the truth and reality of what really happened on that dark night when a man driving to his mother's 90th birthday party met his end. The man was drunk and driving too fast. The rest is a private matter.
- The king is dead. Long live the king!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

The lost 250,000 and neo-Colonialism

Today, or was it yesterday, news can travel slowly through the Congo, twelve United Nations trucks carrying medicines and supplies finally halted in the refugee camp at the end of the long and dusty trail. And found the camp totally deserted. That this does not bode well for the refugees goes without saying. We can only pray to whatever gods there are overseeing this unholy war that the 250,000 refugees, mainly old men, women with children, and girls with babies who were in the camp only a few days ago are now hiding somewhere safe. We can only hope that another genocide has not yet been perpetrated.
When President Obama takes office, as he must surely do according to all the pre-election polls, one of his first international problems will be how to deal with the situation in the Congo. Will he send in more peace missions, more troops on the ground, more spy planes in the air, more money, more skilled workers, more American firms, more experts or what? Or will he be the man who finally gets to the root of the problem?
A glance in any modern encylopedia will reveal the causes of the current strife. To spell it out: the area is much too rich in mineral wealth for its own good. Tribes are now staking their claims. The G8 and G7 countries are dealing from their marked decks at the high table. The usual shady interests are lurking in the long shadows, knives drawn. The new power blocks are seeking to get their hands on large chunks of the mineral wealth cake. Every dog wants its 'place in the sun' as Mussolini, and Hitler too, termed the old colonialism. The arms manufacturers and the manufacturers of civil unrest and civil wars have 'never had it so good'.
So what are these minerals that lie in abundance under Central Africa? Here's a list, by no mean comprehensive, but it will suffice to tell the tale: gold, copper, zinc, cobalt, manganese, oil and uranium... and of course, also of much interest, above the surface the green jewel, the vast African rain forest.
The great river which flows through Africa's 'Heart of Darkness' is 4,820 kms long; long as the Atlantic Ocean is wide. The crocodile infested waters may already be flowing red.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The nature of the beast

In Somalia a woman accused of adultery was killed on Monday evening by public stone throwing. The brutal sentence was carried out in the port town of Kismayu which is held by Islamic rebels.
Hundreds of local people, including several members of the woman's family, are said to have gathered in a public square to witness the execution.
The woman, Asha Ibrahim Dhuhulow, 23, was bound by the hands and legs and placed screaming in a hole in the ground. Several men then threw stones at her head.
Some reports claim that Dhuhulow was removed from the hole and placed back in it at least three times before her executioners were satisfied that they had completed their abhorrent task.
A child who may have been running towards the woman was shot dead by a guard.
Reports from various sources, including Amnesty International, now say that Dhuhulow was aged only 13 years and that she was in fact a rape victim.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Playing the sympathy cards...the Ace of Hearts, the 3 of Bishops

Jörg Haider, the right-wing Austrian politician perished at the wheel of his official Volkswagen Phaeton motor car. We were told by the media that the tragic accident had happened as he was on his way to celebrate the 90th birthday of his mother.
A great funeral was held in the capital of the Austrian province Carinthia. Three bishops in their pink skull caps were prominent on the front row of the black mass of mourners sitting in rows in the city square. Steel helmeted green soldiers were on parade. A gun carriage carried the coffin. The wife picked up fallen rose petals. The President and all the political leaders were there to pay their respects. It was doubtless a moving spectacle.
Haider, 58, trumped in the recent elections by the young and virile populist - the boy Strache, who took 40% of the youth vote and finished 3rd close-up behind the two main parties, was said to have been considering a re-merger of his BZÖ (orange is a lighter shade of brown) with his protege's rapidly ascending xenophobic FPÖ (bright and breezy blue).
Conspiracy theories now abound; a Mossad assassination or a Slovenian terrorist acting alone are two popular scenarios. The fact of the matter is that Haider was drunk. Witnesses in a popular gay bar a few miles from the crash site have spoken of how the politician drank a bottle of vodka in less than an hour and of how he walked unsteadily to his car shortly after 1am on the fateful morning and drove away after refusing a lift home.
Three questions the conspiracy theorists and the rest of us should be asking are these:
Why did the Austrian authorities delete the SMS messages on Haider's telephone?
Why did Haider's deputy, Petzner, get out of Haider's VW a few minutes after the duo left a Velden night club together earlier that night?
Why did Haider feel the need to get drunk?
The time has come for all players in this bizarre game of cover-up to lay their cards, face up, on the unholy altar of truth.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Que Cera ...Cera?

Austrian 2008 Tour de France rider Bernie Kohl (trans. Cabbage), 3rd on the podium in Paris and overall winner of the red polka-dot King of the Mountains jersey is the fourth Tour de France rider to test positive for the banned substance Cera*. Stefan Schumacher, Kohl's Gerolsteiner teammate and roommate on Le Tour is one of the others to have tested positive.
Kohl (trans. Cabbage) received a letter containing a 20-page document with the results of two positive 'A' samples (tested: 3rd July and 15th July) on Friday. On Monday he met with Andi Schwab, head of Austria's Anti-Doping Commission, in a Klagenfurt hotel and was suspended from competitions pending the results of his 'B' samples. Said Schwab, "I am not happy. Once again Austria is making negative international headlines."
Italian cyclist Riccardo Ricco who injected himself with the blood-booster before the start of Le Tour has been banned for two years. Ricco, who was advised to use Cera by the banned physician Carlo Santuccione won stages 6 and 9 of Le Tour in spectacular fashion. Ricco tested positive on July 17th. The case against teammate Leonardo Piepoli is still pending. Both riders have been shown the door by the Saunier-Duval team.
Bard on the Run, who dopes on bananas and beer, applauds the work of Wada (World Anti-Doping Authority)!
The organization now has the technology and expertise to check blood samples taken as long as eight years ago. In the fight against the cheats the latex gloves are being pulled on. The dopers may run but now there's no hiding place.
The International Olympic Committee has given Wada permission to test 969 blood samples taken at the Beijing Olympics.

*Cera - Continuous Erythropoiesis Receptor Activator - from Hofmann-La Roche produces increased levels of red blood cells and therefore gives an obvious advantage to drug cheats in endurance events. Cera was developed to help patients in hospitals and on dialysis.