I’m a big fan of Detective Laidlaw. William McIlvanney’s titular detective didn’t set out to solve crimes but resolve the world. Danny Felix, a kind of modern gentleman highwayman, comes from a different place, London. But corrupt cops, the places where the sun doesn’t shine and the good and the true, all come together in a plot that begins with a bang and ends with a bigger bang. 38 short chapters, which ends with 28 Days Later. A stiletto to the head and heart.
I’m a fan of Storyville. There have been lots of documentaries on recently to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, 27th January. The date is chosen to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. There are two stories here which wind around three minutes of film, but which takes over sixty minutes to tell.
The first story is quite simple. How a piece of film celluloid was saved by Glen Kurtz (he’s listed as a writer) before it degraded and the images on it were lost. Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum were able use the latest technology to recreate frame by frame footage taken by David Kurtz of the Jewish community of Nasielsk, Poland in 1938.
A river separated Nasielsk from Soviet Russia, when Hitler and Stalin made a pact which divided up the Polish territory. 7000 residents,3000 of which were Jewish. Around 100 Jews survived the war when the Nazi came. The people on the film are dead. Identifying them and telling their stories is an act of homage and remembrance.
It also make nonsensical Poland’s nationalist government’s attempts to criminalise those that tell a story of Polish people helping the Nazis to murder, rape, torture and steal from Jewish victims of genocide. Here it was shown to the lie it is. Those in the film had ten minutes to assemble in the cobbled town square. Stripped naked and robbed. Whipped while they were marched to the synagogue where they were locked inside without water or food. Then they were put into cattle trucks and sent to their death. This was all done without Nazi help. The Holocaust was a team effort. The Poles player their part. Rewriting history is what winner do. Three minutes of footage stands as testament to different kinds of lies in different eras.
One Jewish resident of Nasielsk recounted how he’d saved his girlfriend from the Synagogue by borrowing the hat of a sympathetic German officer. Turning up and telling the guards on the door (fellow citizens) that he was here to arrest his girlfriend. She too didn’t recognise him until they were unsafely away. Both made it across the river to the Soviet side and survived the war. Around six million Jews didn’t. Their stories remain untold.
The Nazis estimated there were around 11 million Jews in Europe. In their calculations they included Jews in Britain and other nations that had not yet been murdered. Much is made of myth making. Pluckly little Britain with its Kinder transports of around 10 000 Jewish, middle-class children, for example. America, land of the free, with the Statue of Liberty epitomising ‘The Mother of Exiles: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. But all nations closed their borders to refugees. Charles Lindbergh, a national hero, with global fame and acclaim, was a fan of Adolf Hitler and his anti-Semitic policies. A spokesman for American Bund and fascist parties. American isolationism carried widespread public support in both Houses of Congress for letting in fewer Jews and no refugees in general. Industrialists such as Henry Ford also supported Hitler and kept his factories running full tilt in Germany as they prepared for war.
Pearl Harbour made such viewpoints less popular. Around 150 000 US serviceman lost their lives in the European arena. Russia, in comparison, lost millions. But old prejudices remained. Assistant Secretary of State, Breckinridge Long, for example, lied to Congress and continually thwarted any attempt to help Jews even after it had been shown that around 4.5 million men, women and children had already been murdered. There was blood on his patrician hands. American reporters such as W.H. Lawrence dismissed the massacre of over thirty thousand Ukrainian Jews at Babi Yar as fake news. And many bought into the story as war propaganda. America remained open for business but largely closed to Jews, even after the war had ended.
Polish nationalist politician’s attempts to make it a criminal offence to claim that their citizens were involved in the mass murder of Jews doesn’t even make good fiction in the mould of Robert Harris’s Fatherland. It’s as stupid and dangerous as followers of the moron’s moron and 45th American President at Charlottesville—‘those very good people’—drinking pints of milk, slapping their bare chests and chanting as they marched, ‘We will not be replaced by the Jews’.
Genocide is the intentional destruction of a people—usually defined as an ethnic, national, racial, or religious group—in whole or in part. Raphael Lemkin coined the term in 1944, combining the Greek word γένος (genos, “race, people”) with the Latin suffix -caedo (“act of killing”).[
After decades of open borders, a xenophobic backlash prompts the United States to pass laws restricting immigration. In Germany, Hitler finds support for his anti-Semitic rhetoric, and the Nazis begin their persecution of Jewish people, causing many to flee to neighbouring countries or America. Franklin D Roosevelt and other world leaders are concerned by the growing refugee crisis, but they fail to coordinate a response
After Kristallnacht, Germany’s Jews are desperate to escape Hitler’s tyranny. Americans are united in their disapproval of the Nazis’ brutality, but remain divided on whether and even how to act as World War II begins. Charles Lindbergh speaks for isolationists, while FDR tries to support Europe’s democracies. The Nazis invade the Soviet Union, and the Holocaust begins in secret.
The first reports of the killing reach the United States. A group of dedicated government officials establish the War Refugee Board to finance and support rescue operations. As the Allies advance, soldiers uncover mass graves and liberate German concentration camps, revealing the sheer scale and horror of the Holocaust. The danger of its reverberations soon become apparent.
The Homeless. The Tempest Tossed (1942–
Daniel Mendelsohn writer:
There are already people that think every Jew died in the Holocaust died at Auschwitz, died in a concentration camp, died in a gas chamber. No there’s whole chapters of this story.
There was another round-up, which was the biggest round-up in my family’s town. 2500 people. And my great-aunt, Esther. And the youngest girl, Bronia, who was 13 at the time. They kept them, this huge group of people in a square outside the city hall. And there were a lot of atrocities that took place. Mostly against children.
There were some Soviet documents that came to light, including a report, and they listed all the children that had been shot. Jager Bronia Samyelna 1929 was the first child listed. This was in September 1942. You know they were throwing children off the balconies of the city hall. Real terrible stuff. Whoever survived the couple of days of the roundup (Belzec memorial) were shipped to Belzec. And that’s where my great aunt, Esther died in the gas chambers.
I was able to find out that Schimiel was hiding with his second daughter, Fritka. And that was because there was a Catholic, Polish boy that was in love with her. And he was helping to hide her in the home of his local schoolteacher. And for some unknown amount of time they were being successfully hidden. The father and daughter in an underground dugout. Until someone betrayed them. Then they found them and took them and shot them both. Then they killed the schoolteacher too.
The oldest daughter, Lorca, joined a partisan group that operated with Polish partisans in a nearby forest. She was killed when the whole partisan group was wiped out. Except for my poor great Aunt, Esther, nobody was killed in a camp. They were killed in all different ways and all different manners and I think that is already being erased. The particularity of what happened.
Deborah Lipstadt, Historian.
Here’s the tragedy. Millions of people could not be rescued. They were in the hands of the Germans. They were deep into Eastern Europe. They’re in Germany and Austria and France, Belgium, Netherlands. But there were people who’d got to Portugal. Who got into Spain. There were people who eventually get to North Africa. If you had taken more people from those places, maybe more refugees could have come in. Are we talking of rescues of hundreds of thousands? No. But if it’s your family it doesn’t matter if it’s one.
Just before the US entered the war, Germany barred the emigration of Jews from any country it had captured. For them occupied Europe had become a prison to which Adolf Hitler held the key.
Americans were still in no mood to welcome immigrants. The anxiety about alien subversion that preceded Pearl Harbour only intensified afterwards.
FDR declared the West coast a military zone. And forced 120 000 persons of Japanese descent to live there in internment camps. Most of them were citizens.
The justice department also interned so-called enemy aliens. German and Italian immigrants suspected to fascist sentiments.
This war can end in two ways Hitler insisted in early 1942. Either the extermination of the Aryan peoples or the disappearance of Jewry from Europe.
Within a few months the first report emerged that the Nazis had systematically started murdering every Jewish man, woman and child on the continent.
Deborah Lipstadt, Historian.
The mantra was we’ll rescue these people by winning the war. The problem was, and many people knew this, certainly within government circles, by the time the war would be won, very few of these people would be alive.
But the dominant idea in the American government is any act of rescue will be a diversion from the war effort. Both could have been done at the same time. But clearly nobody wanted these people.
It’s not one of those things that will go down in the long annals of good things America did. It goes in a different book.
Diary of Anne Frank (in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam). Otto and Edith Frank struggled to provide for their family.
12th June 1942. Daughter Anne’s 13th birthday. Among the gifts was a diary.
Eva Geringer, Amsterdam, neighbours.
The first few weeks nothing much happened. And we thought maybe they don’t want to do anything. The Dutch people were very eh, typical. They said you belong to us. We are going to protect you. You don’t have to worry about anything. But they didn’t really count on the measures the Germans were going to take.
In the first year it became a nuisance. It interfered with our way of life, but it was not dangerous. We were not allowed on public transport, for instance. But we all had bicycles. But then you had to hand in your bicycle. And then we had to wear the yellow star. Which means that people walking the street are recognisable as Jews. That started to become really dangerous. Because people just disappeared.
I didn’t want to wear it. I was stubborn. I know I’m a Jew. But why do I have to wear a star. For everybody had ID cards. And on Jewish ID cards it said you were a Jew. Sometimes a J stamped on it. So if you were stopped without wearing a star, and you asked for your papers, you would have been deported, immediately.
The same week the Franks disappeared (to their hiding place). The Geringer’s disappeared too.
Hans was 16. He’d been called up (like the oldest Frank daughter, who was the same age) for what the Nazi’s called labour service. My father called us together and my father said we are not going to send Hans.
Members of the Dutch resistance provided them with false papers. And places to hide. But the constant dread of raids by the Gestapo forced the Geringers to temporary split up. Eva to hide with her mother. Hans with her father.
I didn’t want to. I was very much attatched my brother and my father. But my father explained. If we are in two places. The chance to survive is very much bigger. That’s the first time I really realised it’s a matter of life and death. And that’s quite scary when you’re 13-years-old.
What do you mean? We will be killed? About once a week, in the night, there was a knock on the door. People had to open up and let them search their homes. So that we had been moving around. In another house the beds were still warm. So they demolished the whole apartment until they found the people. And, of course, the hosts were taken away as well. So when you hear stories like that people were saying we can’t take this tension any longer. You have to move. So we moved about 7 times my mother and me to different places. My mother used to be like a lamb. But suddenly she became like a tiger, protecting her children. My father when we went into hiding said, ‘don’t worry, it won’t be long. By Christmas the war will be finished’. End of 42, but, of course, it wasn’t.
Deborah Lipstadt, Historian.
Chicago Tribune, late June 42, reports the mass killings of Jews (printed one million Jews killed). Like many others, the Tribune puts it on page six or seven, in a tiny little article. You either missed it. Or if you saw it you think the editors don’t think this is true. If they thought this was true, this article would be on the front pages.
Commentaor: Some papers did put the story on the front page. Including the Pittsburgh Courier. An African-American newspaper which said the Nazis could even teach Southern whites a few lessons.
3 years after their aborted voyage to Cuba, Sol Messinger finally made it to America, June 1942.
Sol Messinger, Buffalo New York.
Our sponsor was a man in Buffalo who had a furniture store. And he was a relative or a relative of a relative whom we knew in Berlin. He was the one that sponsored us. It was great to the in the United States. Not to be afraid of policemen. To be with relatives—who I never knew—but who obviously loved us. And you could feel or see how people were more or less relaxed. They weren’t worried about being picked up by the police and so on. It was just amazing.
Leon Silver. He was one of one and a half million kids killed by the Germans, including all my cousins.
Six killing centres.
Deborah Lipstadt, Historian. Gas chambers served one purpose and one purpose only. To kill as many people as efficiently as you can (Zyclon gas around a penny a victim).
Himmler so impressed with initial results promoted Hess and accelerated the programme every month.
Scholte, in Switzerland on a ‘business trip’ , was determined to get the story of the death camps out. He told his story to a Gerhart Riegner, World Jewish Congress in Geneva.
Rebecca Erbelding, Historian.
Riegner hears this third hand. The Nazis have a plan to gather the Jews together in the East and murder them before the end of the year. He obsesses over this. It keeps him up at night. Finally, 8th August 1942 he decides that he is going to spread this to the world. He is going to get the Allies to do something about this. So he goes the US consulate in Geneva and explains what he’s learned to the vice-consul there.
‘This morning Gerhart M Riegnar, Secretary of the World Jewish Congress, called in great agitation. He stated that he’s just receive a report from a German business man of considerable prominence, who is said to have excellent political and military connections in Germany and from whom reliable and important political information has been obtained on two occasions, the effect that there has been and is being considered in Hitler’s headquarters a plan to exterminate all Jews from Germany and German controlled areas in Europe after they have been concentrated in the East (presumably Poland). The number is three-and-a-half and four millions and the object is to permanently settle the Jewish question in Europe. The mass execution if decided upon would allegedly take place this fall.
Reigner said that according to his informant the use of prussic acid was mentioned as a means of accomplishing the executions. When I mentioned that the report seemed fantastic to me…’
But his [the vice-consul’s boss] was dismissive and added a covering note, [12th August 1942] warning Washington that Riegnar’s story had all ‘the earmarks of a war rumor’. That the Nazi persecuted the Jews was undeniable. But the notion that the Nazis were preparing to kill them was simply impossible for many in the State department to believe.
Rebecca Erbelding, Historian.
State Department official decide this is not good information. And this is crucial, they say even if this was true, there was nothing we could do about it. They believe they are doing all they can to assist the Jews, and that any sort of rally or petition or protest asking them to do more would be diverting resources from the war effort.
Many of these people were racist and anti-Semitic. And nativist… and you have to wonder if some of their concerns or annoyances are to do with the fact that they are being asked to help Jews.
But Riegnar had also told his story to a British consul official. Who passed it onto a Jewish Member of Parliament. (Care Mrs Schreebener). Who passed it onto Stephen Wise. The best know Rabbi in the United States.
Weiss took it to under-secretary of state, Sommner Wells who asked him to say nothing until he could find out how much truth was in it.
Wise was nearing 70, exhausted from over-work and in declining health. He told a friend these were the unhappiest days of his life. They have left me without sleep (he wrote). And I am almost demanded with grief about my people’s grief.
Over the next 2 months, reports from the Vatican, the Red Cross, from other witnesses supplied by Riegnar suggested that the horror he described was real.
[6000 killed daily]
Wells summoned Wise back to Washington again and gravely told him that the evidence justified his worst fears.
Rabbi (Dr) Wise called the associated press. There can be no doubt now. Two million Jews were already dead he told reporters, which would turn out to be a gross underestimate. Four million had already been killed. And the Nazis intended to go on killing Jews as long as there were Jews to kill.
The story finally made the front page of the New York Herald Tribune. With a report from the Polish government in exile, which described Jews in the ghetto
‘Half of the people arrived dead at the destination. Those surviving are sent to special camps at Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor. Once there they are mass-murdered’.
Rebecca Erbelding, Historian.
Riegnar’s message, when it finally reaches the American people in 1942, is the first information the American people really have verified that the Nazis have a plan to kill all the Jews of the earth.
The news was widely circulated by the Associated Press. Though its impact was lessened by the news of fighting in North Africa. Where American troops had just landed. And from Stalingrad, where the Soviets had finally broken the German siege (on 200-mile front).
CBS correspondent, Edward R Murrow perhaps the country’s most respected broadcaster was unsparing in his broadcast.
‘What is happening is this,’ he said. ‘Millions of human beings. Most of them Jews are being gathered up with ruthless efficiency and murdered.’
Jewish organisations worldwide declared 2nd December 1942, a day of mourning.
8th December, Stephen Wise and three other Jewish leaders met with the President. Unless action is taken immediately the Jews of Europe are doomed they told him.
FDR said he was aware of the Nazi horrors. But he had no remedy at hand. We are dealing with an insane man, he said. Hitler and the group that surrounds him are psychopathic. That is why we can’t act towards them with normal means.
He always maintained Hitler’s victims included all sorts of people. Not specifically Jews.
Rebecca Erbelding, Historian.
The War Department doesn’t even want American soldiers to know about the Jews because they feel like the soldiers won’t fight hard if they think they’re secretly being sent to save the Jews.
And Jewish organisations are very sensitive to this. They don’t want Americans to perceive this as a war for the Jews.
Still, 9 days after FDR met with Rabbi Wise the Allies joined in Joint Declaration (United Nations) issued simultaneously in London, Washington and Moscow. Protest on ‘Cold-Blooded Extermination’. Reiterated those responsible would not escape retribution. And would press on with necessary practical measures to this end. But no specific practical measure were recommended, other than victory in the battlefield.
Daniel Greene, Historian.
What does that declaration say?: We’re going to punish the perpetrators. Full punishment. We do rally as a nation to defeat fascism. We just don’t rally as a nation to help the victims of fascism.
Peter Hayes, Historian.
Three-quarters of the victims of the Holocaust are dead before ANY American soldier is in Continental Europe. 90% of the victims of the Holocaust die in the North East quadrant of the European continent. Poland, Ukraine, and today Belarus, but then the Soviet Union. They are all out of the reach of American aircraft and Great Britain. There is no way that American aircraft could have flown to those death camps and impeded the killing process, while it was at its most intense in 1942 and January 1943. I think the only thing they could have done was publicise what was happening more and organise behind-the-scenes resistance. But they were always inhibited about this. Remember Nazi propaganda was that Roosevelt and Churchill were the tools of the Jews. They were fighting the war for the Jews. And the Nazis used this propaganda to great effect and anything the Allies did that seemed explicitly defending Jews ran the risk of playing into the hands of that propaganda.
Despite the front-page coverage. Despite the Allies declaration, a Gallup poll taken in early 1943 showed that fewer than half its respondents could bring themselves to believe that the Nazis could possibly could have killed as many as two million Jews. Let alone, four million.
In early 1943, the tide of battle turned against the Nazis. At Stalingrad, the Soviets, armed and supplied with American trucks and tanks and aircraft had destroyed the entire Sixth Army.
In North Africa, British forces had captured 250 000 German and Italian prisoners. And saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Jews who had lived or sought sanctuary there.
Meanwhile, the pace of the Nazi slaughter or Jews slowed. Largely because so few survived to be killed. Those who did survive were needed for slave labour and lived mostly in Romania and Hungary. Countries that were allied with, but not controlled by the Nazis.
In America agitation for action against the killing accelerated (United Jewish War Effort). Rabbi Wise and the heads of other well-known Jewish organisations continued to offer advice to the FDR administration. But that advice had been rejected or ignored before. And they were soon faced with a rival group, more militant than them.
Its name kept changing but its philosophy remained the same. Its founder was Peter Bergson. A recent arrival from Palestine. And a member of the Irgun. A Zionist military group, who would dismiss Rabbi Wise and most of his allies, as timorous American’s of Hebrew descent. Not authentic members of the Hebrew nation.
Rescue now became Bergson’s cause. (A Proclamation on the moral rights of the stateless and Palestinian Jews). With help from the screenwriter Ben Heck, he produced an avalanche of newspaper advertisements. Charging the administration with ignoring the plight of Europe’s Jews.
9th March 1943, he filled Madison Square Garden twice, with an elaborate pageant called ‘We Will Never Die’. Told largely from the viewpoint of the dead, it featured 200 rabbis and cantors and an all-star cast that included Edward G. Robertson, John Garfield and Paul Muni. The show would go on to Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago and the Hollywood Bowl. It’s composer Kurt Weill, himself a refugee from the Nazis was pleased by the big crowds it drew, but felt the pageant didn’t achieve much. All we have done is make a lot of Jews cry, he said. Which is not a unique accomplishment. But it did impress the First Lady and scored of Congressmen.
While the show was still touring, word came that some of the 70 000 Jews still alive in the Warsaw ghetto had risen up against the Nazis, rather than be deported to Treblinka. They had already buried artwork, diaries, poetry and final notes in steel milk cans in the ground. One teenager wrote, ‘he hoped to alert the world to what happened in the twentieth century. May history attest for us.’
The uprising was the largest Jewish rebellion of the war. It would take the Germans over a month to crush it. Level the ghetto and send the survivors to their deaths.
Fredya Kirkway, The Nation magazine. In this country, you and I, and the President, and the Congress and the State Department, are accessories to the crime and share Hitler’s guilt. If we had behaved like humane and generous people, instead of complacent, cowardly ones, the Jews lying today in Poland and Hitler’s other crowded graveyards would be alive and safe. And other millions, yet to die, would have found sanctuary. We had it in our power to rescue this doomed people and we did not lift a hand to do it. Or perhaps it would be fairer to say we lifted just one cautious hand. Encased in a tight-fighting glove of quotas and visas and affidavits. And a thick layer of prejudice.
Gerhart Reigner, whose report from Switzerland had alerted America to the ongoing Nazi policy of extermination, sent Washington another desperate message. Tens of thousands of Jews deported by the Nazis were now trapped in Northern Romania without warm clothing. They had just endured another hard winter. With help from the International Red Cross, Reigner thought he could keep them alive. He also thought he could help Jewish children still hiding in France, escape across the Swiss and Spanish borders.
Rebecca Erbelding, Historian.
Reigner had many connections with underground organisations and partisan organisations in these different countries. And his idea was if he could get the money he could funnel that money into France and into Romania to people that could buy clothing and food, who could buy fake documents, or pay off border guards to allow children to escape over the border.
Reigner’s organisation, The World Jewish Congress, could provide the money. But Reigner would need a special license from the Treasury Department which routinely prohibited all financial or commercial arrangements within enemy territory. On 23rd June 1943, Reigner’s request reached the desk of 34-year-old John Pehle, who ran the foreign funds control department at Treasury.
John Pehle U.S. Treasury (speaking now) The State Department was quite negative. It worried about funds falling into the hands of the Germans. However, we decided we could go back and put safeguards in the procedures so no foreign exchange could go to the Germans.
Pehle granted the license and sent it along to the State Department for transmission to Switzerland, assuming it would reach Reigner quickly.
But the staff of Assistant Secretary of State, Breckinridge Long, who had been adamantly opposed to helping refugee Jews from the beginning, quietly shelved it.
By the beginning of September 1943 (Allies Invade Italy) when American and British troops finally landed in Italy and gained their first foothold in Europe, John Pahle insisted the US government should take an active role in trying to rescue Europe’s surviving Jews. And he would do everything he could to help.
Rebecca Erbelding, Historian
John Pahle was the child of a German immigrant. His father had come when he was a teenager from Germany. And his mother was the child of Swedish immigrants. He grew up in Omaha. He went to college there. Then ended up at Yale. But came from a family that did not always have a lot of money. And was an immigrant family. And I think that made him a little more sympathetic to the plight of people who did not come from wealth or privilege. He also thinks the US is a force for good in the world. And a force of good for mankind. And that comes through a lot of his decisions. The US cannot be isolationist. We are part of a global community. That we need to treat everyone as a fellow citizen of the world.
28th July 1943. The Ambassador of the Polish Government in Exile brought a man named Yon Kosky(?) to the White House for a meeting with President Roosevelt. Jan Karski was a Catholic courier for the Polish underground who had survived Gestapo torture and had managed to smuggle himself in and out of the Warsaw ghetto. And a transit camp that exported Jews to a transit camp at Belzac. Roosevelt questioned him closely about the situation in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Karski: ‘Mr President I have also a mission from the Polish Jews. Without outside help, the Jews will perish in Poland. ‘
Before he left Karski asked what message he had for the Polish people.
You will tell them that we will win this war. You will tell them that the guilty will be punished. Justice and Freedom will prevail. You will tell your nation they have a friend in this House.
Daniel Greene, Historian.
FDR also tells Karski to meet with Felix Frankfurter (Supreme Court Justice) who’s on the Supreme Court at the time. Frankfurter is Jewish. He tells Frankfurter what he’s seen in Warsaw and other parts of occupied Poland.
‘He only tell me, do you know I’m a Jew? Tell me what is happening to the Jews in your country? There are conflicting reports here. After I finish, he said I’m unable to believe what you told me. The Ambassador, you can’t tell him to his face that he is lying? Mister Ambassador, I did not say this young man is lying. I said I’m unable to believe what he told me.’
Deborah Lipstadt, Historian
The Soviets bring a group of reporters to Babi Yar where one of the early mass killings of Jews took place. And they are walked through by two people the Soviets say are survivors of this massacre. And they walk them through these fields where these killings have taken place. And there’s bits of bones and broken eyeglasses and teeth and all sorts of things that indicate what has happened.
Headline. ‘50 000 Kiev Jews reported missing. Soviet Atrocity Group Hears Nazis machine-gunned group in September 1941’.
There were American reporters in the story of Babi Yar and one of them (W.H.Lawrence) wrote a report that was so riddled with doubts, so riddled with questions (‘Remaining Evidence is Scant’) if I were a person reading that and I harboured the least bit of scepticism about the veracity of what was going on I could dismiss this as war propaganda. As atrocity stories. And atrocity stories are shorthand for fake news. I’m sitting at home in Chicago, De Moines, St Louis, New York, wherever it might be, and I’m reading those kinds of reports, and I’m saying this can’t be true, can’t be true.
In early October 1943, Heinrich Himmler attended a meeting of his SS commanders. By then nearly 4.5 million Jews had been murdered.
Heinrich Himmler : ‘Most of you know what it means when 100 bodies lie together, when 500, or 1000 lie there. We have carried out the most difficult task for the love of our own people. And we have suffered no harm to our inner self, our soul, our character, in so doing. This is a chapter of glory in history that had never been written, and which will never be written.’
Himmler was doing all he could to keep that chapter from being written. He ordered his men to dismantle and disguise the killing sites at Sobibor, Belzec and Treblinka, where more than 1.5 million human beings had been killed. And he insisted that prisoners be forced to dig up the dead. Burn their corpses and grind their bones to powder. Then he had the prisoners who done the ghastly work shot. So no one would ever tell what they had seen or done.
Meanwhile, on the Eastern Front, special exhumation squads were now retreating ahead of the Red Army. Seeing to it that the mass graves the Einsatzgruppen and their accomplices had murdered back in 1941 and 1942 were emptied as well.
But in Nazi-occupied Poland two killing centres continued their daily, deadly, work. Majdaneck and Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Daniel Mendelsohn, Writer.
Interviewing survivors, one that could give first-hand accounts, where young adults when this happened. You hear things that…you think you’ve heard it all and you haven’t heard it all. Trust me. There are… ‘there is no bottom’, as one of my survivors said of the things that people will do to one another. The structures of what we like to think of our civilised lives, they fall apart very easily. Surprisingly easily.
‘I left behind me a few photos of my nearest ones. In the hope that somebody will find them while digging in the earth. And this person will be so kind to transmit them to one of my relatives or friends in America or Palestine. If there will still be any of them left. My name is Freda Nevselovitch, born in Vigova.’
Two days after Himmler’s secret speech, and three day before Yon Kippur, The Jewish Day of Atonement, Peter Bergson arranged for 400, mostly orthodox Rabbis, to march to the Capital. For fear of encouraging anti-Semitism, FDR’s chief speech writer, Sam Rosen and most of the members of Congress had opposed their coming.
The Rabbis sang The Star Spangled Banner, recited the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead and met with Vice President Henry A. Wallis
Rabbi Wolf Gold made a speech appealing to FDR to save the remnant of the people of the Book, the people of Israel.
The President did not see the Rabbis. But they had an impact, nonetheless.
Several Senators and Congressmen introduced a resolution calling for a new commission tasked with somehow saving the surviving Jewish people of Europe. Assistant Secretary of State, Breckenridge Long attempted to fight against it for four hours behind closed doors. He said, ‘There was no need for such a commission. The State Department had welcomed 580 000 refugees to America since 1933.’ It was not true. The real refugee number was one-third that.
Deborah Lipstadt, Historian
Breckenridge Long in his testimony, clearly misrepresents, some would say, lies. The best you can say is it’s a total misrepresentation of America’s record. He was crazed about preventing any refugees from coming here.
Newspaper Headline: Assistant Secretary Accused of Misinforming Congress.
The resolution stalled in the House. And when Long’s testimony became public, a couple of weeks later, Brooklyn Congressman Emmanuel Celler asked Long to quit.
At the end of 1943, Gerhart Reiger was still waiting for the license he needed to help Jews in Romania and France, which John Pahley had approved 5 months earlier. Breckinridge Long and his staff continued to stall. Using every possible potential barrier. Even though the President himself was on record favouring it.
John Pehle U.S. Treasury.
The State Department seemed such that rather than facilitating entry of refugees. Obstructions were thrown in their way. It’s as simple as that.
Treasure Secretary Henry Morgenthau Junior was the President’s close friend and upstate neighbour. As well as the only Jewish member of his cabinet. All through the Hitler years he had been careful to be seen not to be seen seeking special treatment for his fellow Jews. But this was too much. He confronted Long and the Secretary of State Cordell Hull. The license was finally issued. But an investigation of the reason for the lengthy delay Morgenthaus’s staff found that the State Department had deliberately suppressed Reigner’s reports from Switzerland about the extermination of the Jews.
John Pehle U.S. Treasury.
People in the State Department were saying don’t send any other messages over about what’s happening to the Jews.
Rebecca Erbelding, Historian
The State Department were being deliberately obstructionist. They had been delaying relief money that could have went to Jews in occupied Europe. And lying about it. So people would stop rallying. Stop protesting. And they’d stop asking the government to do more.
Morgenthau’s outraged aides wrote an internal report setting forth the evidence of the State Department’s deceit.
‘It appears that certain responsible positions of this government were so fearful that this government might act to save the Jews of Europe, if that gruesome facts of Hitler’s plans to exterminate them became known that they attempted to suppress the facts. We leave it for your judgement whether this action made such officials Hitler’s accomplices in this programme and whether or not these officials are not war criminals in every sense of the term.’
Treasure Staff entitled the document: Report to the Secretary on the acquiescence of this government on the murder of the Jews.
But Morganthau, who understood his boss better than most, toned down the accusatory rhetoric and named it simply: Personal Report to the President.
Morganthau’s own father, who had been the Ambassador to what had been then The Ottoman Empire, between 1915-16, had tried unsuccessfully to persuade President Woodrow Wilson to intervene on behalf of hundreds of thousands of Armenian civilians, who were being systematically massacred by Ottoman troops. He had called it race murder.
Rebecca Erbelding, Historian
Henry Junior, when to Turkey, went to Constantinople, now Istanbul, to see his father as all these event were unfolding. He points to that directly to Roosevelt. He says, you remember what my father saw. Remember what I saw in Armenia. We can’t let this happen again. To be the Secretary of the Treasury, to be in the position to actually point his friend to the past. And to say, we have a chance to do better this time.
After a meeting with Morgenthau and Pahle, Roosevelt issued an Executive Order on January 1944. Establishing The War Refugee Board. The only government agency created by any of the allies, specifically to do what it could for the Jews still under Nazi threat.
Treasury was in charge. And John Pahle was made Director. Determined to perform what he said was a life-saving job.
John Pehle U.S. Treasury.
The most important thing about The War Refugee Board was it dramatically changed the policy of the US overnight.
Rebecca Erbelding, Historian
Five million Jews have already been killed in Europe. But there are millions still there. Who are in hiding. In concentration camps. Who are still, they think, in relative safety. Who could get out. Could get rescued across borders. Could be kept alive long enough to be liberated.
The work taken on by the Board in Europe was improvisational and clandestine. Official US policy forbade paying bribes. Pahle’s men paid little attention.
Rebecca Erbelding, Historian
The first thing The War Refugee Board does is to streamline the license process. Meaning, humanitarian aid organisations can send money into Europe much easier. By the end of the war The War Refugee Board has approved around $11 million in humanitarian aid to go into Nazi Europe. That money was used to buy guns for the underground. It was used to pay off border guards.
The plight of Jews varied depending where you were in Europe. If you were in France you might be able to escape through the border in Spain or Switzerland. And so the US puts pressure on border guards in Spain and Switzerland. If you were in Romania or Bulgaria you might be able to board a ship to Turkey and take a train to Palestine.
So The War Refugee Board works with governments to make that process easier.
And if you are in Poland you might need food packages or documents that would allow you to hide. So The War Refugee Board [WRB] give help with that. And so they had a whole host of different plans that had real impact on the lives of the people who managed to survive.
Much of the Board’s most effective work was focussed on Hungary. Which in early 1944 was still home to some 800 000 Jews. The largest remaining population in Europe. It’s Regent Admiral Miklos Horthy had been a Nazi ally since 1941, when his troops joined the German invasion of the Soviet Union. But most of the Hungarian army had been destroyed at Stalingrad. Because Nazi defeat now seemed inevitable, Horthy began exploring whether a separate peace with the Allies might be possible.
When Hitler got word of it, he sent in troops to occupy the country. And insisted the Horthy cooperate in Hungary getting rid of its Jewish population.
Between May and July 1944, some 440 000 Hungarian Jews would be rounded up and deported. 338 000 were killed immediately at Auschwitz. So many that the four crematoria were not enough. And fire pits had to be dug and tended to dispose of all the corpses.
Members of the Polish underground managed to smuggle a camera into Auschwitz so that five courageous inmates could document what was happening to the Hungarians and other prisoners. While four men kept watch, a fifth snapped four pictures from the hip. Not daring to take the time to focus. The film was smuggled out of the camp inside a tube of toothpaste. They remain the only photographs of the killing process at Auschwitz.
In Hungary the WRB helped orchestrate an international series of threats and condemnations, aimed at persuading Horthy to stop cooperating the with Nazis. [Swedish King Bids Horthy Help the Jews, Stockholm, July 4th ]
Then on 2nd July US bombers hit oil refineries on the outskirts of Budapest. And dropped leaflets on the city promising punishment for the perpetrators.
Five days later, Horthy called a halt to the deportations. Hungary’s provinces had been emptied of Jews. But some 230 000 still survived in Budapest itself. Subject to persecution. Fearful that transports might resume at any time. To protect them and glean first-hand accounts of what was happening in Hungary the WRB called upon neutral nations, including Switzerland, Portugal and Sweden to expand their diplomatic presence in the country.
Their diplomats started issuing so-called protective documents to desperate Jews. Sheets of paper emblazoned with coats of arms and peppered with official looking stamps. Intended to persuade Hungarian police and German officials that the bearer was under international protection.
Timothy Synder, Historian.
It’s no coincidence that the WRB begins to make a difference in Hungary. Because that’s a country that still has a sovereign state and still has diplomats. Where a diplomat can be sent in. With briefcases full of money. And issue documents and make a difference.
9th July, a 31-year-old Swedish businessman named Raoul Wallenberg arrived in Budapest to accelerate that process. Appointed a Swedish attaché. But recruited and partly financed by the WRB, he saw his mission as carrying out an American programme. He established hospitals, nurseries and a soup kitchen. Issued thousands of protective papers. And rented 32 safe houses for those who carried them.
Diplomats from other neutral countries also participated in rescue operations. Most notably the Swiss vice-consul, Carl Lutz.
Soon some 37 000 Jews were living under Swedish and Swiss protection. In what was called the international ghetto.
When Hitler replaced the Horthy government with more ardent fascists who resumed the deportations of Jews, Wallenberg intervened as often as he could to intervene with those with protective or forged papers.
Of the nearly 150 000 Jews in Budapest who would survive the war, some 120 000 are thought to have owed their lives to Wallenberg and his fellow diplomats from neutral nations.
It is impossible to tally how many lives the WRB saved. Directly, or indirectly.
Rebecca Erbelding, Historian
These were American’s who were really trying to do good. And we have forgotten them. Because, in part, we have this longer narrative and trajectory in our memory on the US. Not doing enough. Being indifferent. Being deceitful. Not trying to save people. There is a group of people in the US government who were trying. And who saved tens of thousands of lives by the end of WW2. That is not insignificant.
‘BBC HOMESERVICE, communique number 1. Issued by Supreme Headquarters, Allied Forces.
People of Western Europe, a landing was made on the western coast of France. Troops of the Allied expeditionary force.
This landing is plan of the concerted liberation of Europe. Made in conjunction with our great Russian allies. I have this message for all of you…The hour or your liberation is approaching.’
Diary of Anne Frank: ‘6th June 1944. This is D-Day. The BBC announced it today. The invasion has begun. The best part of the invasion is I feel that friends are on their way. Those awful Germans have oppressed and threatened us for so long that the thought of friends and salvation mean everything to us.’
In one of Flannery O’Connor’s most famous short stories ‘A Good Man Is Hard To Find,’ the grandmother doesn’t want to go to Florida on vacation. This is the era of the Great Depression in America. She rattles on about this fellow that’s escaped from the State Pen, ‘The Misfit’. She doesn’t want to go anywhere with such a fellow ‘aloose’.
Dreamland has Alison Wells (Margot Robbie) aloose with a $10 000 reward on her pretty head. She’s Bonnie and Clyde rolled into two silk stockings. But her last bank job has left her bust with a bullet in her leg. She ends hiding up in an outhouse beside a Texan farm whose topsoil has blown somewhere over Washington.
Eugene Evans (Finn Cole) is the boy with big dreams. He talks about the reward money in the same way the grandmother in O’Connor’s story talks about the Misfit. But the Misfit here turns out to be MILF. I went along for the ride. But I guess it’s one of those films shooting blanks. Not bad. Can there be any more damning praise?
I’ve seen the film, now I’ve read the book. Yeh, I know that’s the wrong order. Books are better. But I got there in the end. That gives me a pivot to spin on and talk about endings being beginnings. When you’re young, you never think you’ll get old. And when you’re old you never think about dying, until you have to. ‘Make death proud to take you.’
I’ve hung that out there. A quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Noodles is the man for quotes. But Tully Dawson is the man for living it. They all are. The gang of 1986 that went to Manchester to listen to music and take on the world.
‘The Manufacture of Nostalgia’. We all do it. But it becomes more poignant. A necessity even when we get to the end of our lives. Tully’s fifty-seven and dying, terminal cancer, but not quickly enough. His wedding to Anna a promise and affirmation of life. But ‘he was making room for death’.
Death has its reckoning not in death but in life. Anna wants him to fight it, to find more time.
‘He wanted places perched on the lips of a good time, places safe from the pity or the evil of the chemo, and he wanted to pretend he said that the pain was only a state of mind. The treatment had given him months.’
Noodles is the narrator. He admits, ‘I needed his kindness once.’ Tully Dawson gave him a sense of family and belonging, and helped him escape from the Ayrshire coast to a different life. One of the themes is what do we owe each other? Should kindness be called in like a bad debt? What right has Tully to ask Noodles to help him die, especially when he’s got a wife and got a life?
‘The say you know nothing at eighteen. But there are things at eighteen you know that you’ll never know.’
Does Tully know more at 57, or he is just pretending he does (as we all do)? Saying is not doing. Matteo and Digitalis in Switzerland are as far enough away as the cool girl Noodles tried to date after they’d bumped into Morrissey in Manchester all those years ago. Was Limbo then on that fast track to drink and drugs and death in his thirties? Could they have done more? Would they have done more? Probably not. We all know somebody like that. When it’s family there’s no escaping.
What do friends, best friends, owe to each other? Honesty and kindness that’s a good start and a good ending. Read on.
I was the Effie Ambrose of Welfare League Football and could be relied on to give a goal away at a vital point in the match. Dribbling from the back. A misplaced header. Sure as dog shit on a public park, Ambrose did the same consistently for Celtic. Big European matches under the lights. Juventus, for example. It was always Effe wasn’t it?
This was a chance for Postecoglou to give David Turnbull a game from the start. We lost Juranovich. The money wasn’t spectacular, but we’re a selling club. Giakoumakis is next to go. But we’ve brought in replacements. Oh Hyeon-gyu is meant to have signed. Don’t know anything about him. But he’ll be second-fiddle to Kyogo, who is king.
Back to Effe. He was involved in the first two goals and another penalty shout. VAR took the usual five minutes to look at it and conclude it was a penalty. If it was against Rangers I’d have been jumping up and down. But I felt sorry for Effe. Morton like St Mirren had started well. Teams playing against the champions know that free kicks and corner are route one to goal. Strapp’s throw ins were causing some problems in the box. And Quitongo was getting the better of Bernabei. But it was Strapp who missed Morton’s best chance at the back post, from a cross from Quitongo, with an Effe like touch. The Argentinian full back has been targeted by the opposition in recent weeks. He’s terrific on the ball, but not a great defender. But then again I used to think Taylor was a diddy.
Then Effe’s penalty gave the game to Celtic. It wasn’t his fault. It often wasn’t his fault. He can’t help being Effe. Abada struck a shot which was blocked and came up and hit his arm. Clancy listened and looked and then gave it (wrongly). Mooy, scored from the penalty spot. And got his double late in the match, from a pass from Haksabanovic. Mooy is real cog in this champion team, also hitting the post with a shot. He’s always there to take the ball and was heading early throw ins away. No one doubts substitute Matt O’Riley’s ability. He’s great, but no goals isn’t. But he’s also ahead of Turnbull in the pecking order. McGregor, looks assured, pretty easy in a game such as today’s, when hit the bar with an early effort and drilled a shot past the post, but he does it against better opposition and consistently. Tomoki Iwata came on for him for the second half and looked assured. He’s here to make his mark.
Kyogo made it four nil before that with Gillespie making a hash of Abada’s cross and the Japanese forward finishing.
Funnily enough, Kyogo has been doing the same at the front post. Heading away free kicks, corners and throw ins. Effe gifted him the second. A heavy Ambrose touch inside his own box. Kyogo is too quick for him. He puts it away. Game well and truly over.
David Turnbull got the third with a shot from outside the box. The former Motherwell man is a class player. He gives you goals. But Hattate is arguably the best midfielder in Scotland. McGregor is top class. Mooy is getting better and better.
Half-time 4—0. Full-time 5—0. Easy enough. As Brendan Rodgers used to say, we’ve loads of wingers. But this time we’ve loads of terrific wingers, all of them in their own ways, game changers. Abada has the most goals. Jota the most trickery. I thought Maeda was the dud, but he’s proved me wrong. After the World Cup, he’s flying. He hit the bar today, and was unlucky with a turn and shot. We bought him and the other players from the Asian market for relative pennies.
We’ve also got stacks of class midfielders. The inclusion of young Scottish player of the year, Turnbull here wasn’t a shock, but it was a surprise. Iwata will push for a place.
Defensively is perhaps were we are weakest. I know we can use stats to say we aren’t. Starfelt is a diddy. He’s good enough for back-up and not an Ambrose, but we want better. Carter-Vickers is a certain starter. His partner might be Kobayashi. He did get bullied by Curtis Main, but there’s nothing new there. Kobayashi is quite simply a better passer than Starfelt and possibly Carter-Vickers. His passes on the left hand side zip to wingers and middle of the park. Our play speeds up with him in the team. That gives him a good chance of starting.
Beranabei, for now, stands in for Taylor. Johnston is the replacement for Juranovich. The Canadian is taller and more physical. He doesn’t seem to have the Croatian’s burst of pace. But we’ll wait and see if he’s better. He holds the jersey. All change at Celtic. Transfer policy remains the same, bring in the best and let them play. We look great when we’re winning. I forget what losing feels like. Long may it last. Thank God we no longer rely on the Effe’s on this world. I know how that feels.
A topical film in the week the moron’s moron and 45th American President mistakes the woman he’s accused of raping as being his ex-wife. And you can’t rape your wife, right? Here we are in the sleaze pit of Fox News. Donald Trump has put himself forward as a candidate for the Presidency. Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) has primed herself to ask Trump some critical questions about his attitude towards women in the 2016 Republican debate. This was before, of course, he was reported to have admitted he liked to grab a woman by the pussy. What, of course, he meant, was poor women. Poor white women. Who can forget the moron’s moron gushing all over his daughter and admitting that he might have dated her? Kelly nails Trump for his misogynist attitude. But this is Fox News. White is right. Woke is wrong. And Trump is the coming Messiah. Kelly is good for their ratings. But she’s suddenly on the wrong side of the right.
She asks her boss, Roger Ailes’s (John Lithgow) advice. Aile’s boast is he is Fox News. His news channel made $1.3 billion profit. That’s the kind of leverage that allows him to joke with his staffers that James Murdoch has the kind of mouth that sucks cock. Rupert Murdoch owns Fox, but Ailes is king. Unlike the moron’s moron he doesn’t grab his subjects by the pussy, he invites them into his office. Reminds them who they work for. Asks them to show a bit of loyalty, show more leg, a bit of ass and pussy and suck his cock. That way they might get that promotion they’d hoped for. That way they might not get sacked. Droit du seigneur. And in Fox if you’re not a fox, you don’t get onscreen. You don’t get employed. Ailes makes sure of that. Any complaints go straight to the top.
Megyn Kelly does the right thing and the wrong thing. She bends the knee for the moron’s moron. Plays the game. She needs to keep her job. She’s got children to support.
Gretchen Carlson, (Nicole Kidman) Fox and Friends, is the eye-candy blonde of yesteryear. A former Miss America. Her looks fading. Her appeal fading. She’s demoted. It’s not called that, of course. Everything she does is wrong. She didn’t question the right of every American from cradle to grave to own and shoot a firearm, but wondered if each citizen needed their very own machine-gun. In a Fox Poll, 80% voted they did. She was out, but she was building a case against Roger Ailes. Her lawyers advised her not to sue Fox as she’d lose, but to bring a case against Ailes, which she’d probably also lose. We know she didn’t. She won $20 million in damages and a public apology from Fox. But that’s jumping ahead.
Megyn Kelly is treading water. Gretchen Carlson is out. Another beautiful blonde is climbing the corporate ladder to Aile’s private office. Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) is the next big thing or so she hopes. On the first day on The O’Reily Factor she mucks up. A staffer, Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon) gives her some advice about the permanent outrage factor merged with the cynicism of an Irish beat cop in a brothel. She does more than that. She sleeps with her. Most shocking of all, she admits that she’s a Hilary Clinton fan. But when Kayla wants to ask her advice after she’d been invited into the inner sanctum of Alie’s office, Carr holds her hands up and tells her she doesn’t want to know any details. She needs to keep her job.
We know how this ends. It’ll be interesting to see how the moron’s moron’s rape charges end. In 2016, like Roger Ailes, Trump was untouchable. Can he be President again? No. Will he go to jail? Probably not. Murdoch and Fox will reluctantly fall into line. Profits before personalities. But Facebook gave him leverage. No Meta. No Russian bots. No Russian cash. No Russian rejoicing in the Russian White House when he was elected. Heart attack. For a man with no heart that should be something. No more Bombshells with the moron’s moron. We already know everything about him. Serial loser.
I often find it easy to say what I don’t like about a book, or film or documentary. But books are my thing. And if I met Ryan O’Connor (which is highly unlikely) I’d shake his hand and tell him his debut novel is fucking great. Dan O’Connor writes about people like us.
Chris Leslie (2016) Disappearing Glasgow: A Photographic Journey summed it up.
‘I always presumed the Red Road flats would last forever, but when you see it now in this state you realise it’s over. It’s not the actual building itself, but all your memories, that’s where I was brought up, that’s where I was made.’
Leslie photographed The Birdman and his doos, one of the last residents in the soon to be demolished high flats.
The opening paragraph is the readers’ guillotine:
‘I was living on the fourteenth floor of a condemned high-rise. I was all alone up there. One of the few remaining tenants in the building. The others, a character known as the Birdman and several pensioners who hadn’t set foot on terra firma for years, were scattered throughout the floors below.
…The Birdman was in his late forties and had a flat on the fourth floor that he shared with a flock of pigeons. Regardless of the weather, his living-room window was always open to allow the birds to come and go. Every morning he’d be in there in his guano-covered dressing gown, dragging his oxygen tank back and forth as he fed the pigeons jostling and cooing loudly at his windowsill.’
Chris Leslie took photographs of The Birdman. Ryan O’Connor gives him shape in the opening paragraphs of his book set in an unnamed Glasgow city-centre high-rise. Most characters that are given such premium billing are likely to be the protagonist or the antagonist. But after the opening page the Birdman is no longer part of the narrative. His job is to set the tone. The soon to be thirty-year-old protagonist is his own antagonist. Drink and drugs. His life is fucked up or he wouldn’t be living in the (Red-Road) flats. The writer’s job is to make things worse and broadly comprehensible.
A journey such as the drink sodden British consul takes in Under the Volcano. Or after the last Celtic v Rangers match at Ibrox when my mate shouted I should help Billy up the road. I shouted, ‘Nae bother’. I was going that way, but Billy didn’t know where his legs were and kept falling down. I’d help him up and help carry him along the road and ask him where his house was. He’d wave an arm and fall down. Then two younger guys loomed from out of the darkness. That’s also a journey, but along the back roads of Trafalgar Street. O’Connor uses a broader city-centre canvas that takes in the affluent West End, and the not so affluent Govan. A journey into his past. He even goes abroad. But it’s the same story of falling down and failure to get up.
In the second chapter, he finds his true love, or she finds him. Same difference. He’s blootered, but she doesn’t seem to mind. Then she does. Of course she does. Other troubled women fling themselves at him. He’s handsome and boyish and they want to save him. Each lost love gets a chapter. Mia, for example, takes him to live in The George. It’s a hotel that hadn’t so much rooms as cages where no one knows the room numbers and everybody has the same key.
Chapter three tells the reader what he did for a living and how he lost his job. He worked as a journalist for The Examiner. One of those newspapers someone hands you and you stick it straight in the bin or drop it in the street (litter lout). He’s not so much sacked as told to stay on the sick and never come back. The problem with social realism is you expect reality.
He always finds enough money to haunt pubs and clubs, drink all night and day, take drugs, and even finds enough spare cash to sneak back and stick a couple of hundred quid through the door of an Iraqi drug dealer he’s ripped off, with a ‘Sorry note’. Although he’s fucked, he’s not that fucked. He leads a charmed life.
Minor quibbles, in what is a fantastic book that I loved reading. I’ll be looking for more from Ryan O’Connor. Read on.
In front of me is a cardboard packing from a gift. A wavy dividing line drawn in biro. Good: Rosay, Sophie, Megn. Bad: Claudia, Robin. The list was drawn up by Alfie aged seven, and Tilly, aged five (her birthday today). Rosay has just turned one and is Robin’s sister. She can’t be bad because she’s a baby. Claudia is bad because she’s Alfie’s sister. Megn, aged six, is a neighbour’s kid that runs really fast and told me she doesn’t really need to go to school because she already knows everything. Sophie, aged twelve, is an almost adult, but she lets them play on her trampoline, and she plays with them too. That makes her good. It’s a polarised world we live in. The good and the bad. The black and the white. All of these kids are white. None of them are racists—yet.
Adam Rutherford doesn’t really tell us how to argue with a racist. He describes himself as mixed race, but acknowledges that has negative connotations in an Eurocentric white world. Karl Linnaeus around 1758 listed the genus and species of Homo sapiens. That’s us. You’ll probably recognise some of them. Afer (African), Americanus, Asiasticus, Europus and Homo sapiens monstrosus (spelling may vary). But the sentiment remains. Some people were good. And some people were no good. Adam and Eve were white skinned, although they came out of Africa because Africans were lazy and dumb.
‘Pigmentation is not a binary trait, even though we use terms like black and white.’
There is no one gene for skin colour or intelligence. Tilly, who drew up the list of who was good and bad, has the most beautiful red hair which she hates. She is also the smartest girl on the planet. MC1R a recessive gene involved in the coding of protein melanin, and is associated with skin colour. For example, it also has seventeen variants, or mutations, making it more and less likely a child will have ginger hair. As a rule of thumb. Ginger pubes gives you ginger. A recessive trait, two people with two red alleles of MC1R have a 70% probability of producing a ginger snapper. Both Tilly’s parents have black hair. The latest genetic research shows that over 200 genes interlink to influence pigmentation in hair. There are more points of genetic diversity between Africans than the rest of the world put together. When you see black, you see your own biases.
I don’t have any black friends, or Asian. My partner would argue I don’t have any friends. I remember Rangers supporters flung bananas onto the pitch in the early seventies because Celtic had a mixed-race winger, Paul Wilson. In the eighties our supporters flung bananas onto the pitch because Rangers had signed winger, Mark Walters. We made monkey noises, of course, not because he was black, but because he was an orange bastard.
I like bananas. They were my favourite fruit when I was a kid. A real treat was eating them on a sandwich— white bread, of course—with a spread of margarine. In a footnote, Rutherford tells us edible bananas were a human invention, and monkeys rarely eat them. Orange bastards could choose to stop being orange bastards by choosing to support Celtic. My nephews, for example, have sons that are orange bastards and daughters that are normal. Mixed lineage from the same mother and father. The idea of tabula rasa, or starting from a blank slate, on which our abilities and knowledge are drawn, is also a human invention, like edible bananas. Personality equals a person and their reality. We feed our children what we believe. There are no blank slates.
Rutherford tells the reader of a meeting he had with a scientific great, James Watson who shared the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the shape of the double-helix structure of DNA. Rutherford was a young research student and was told he would do OK, because ‘Indians are industrious, but unoriginal’. No Nobel Prize for him. Despite not being Indian, he could have been marked down as black and lazy. Watson proclaimed black people to be stupid. That’s a relative term. He meant stupider than whites or any other race. Cognitively they did not measure up in terms of IQ or any other measure of intelligence.
Anyone that has written an essay on intelligence knows it’s like writing an essay on love sickness.
‘IQ is a single number, but intelligence is not a single thing, and the genetic component to intelligence is most emphatically not a single gene. The most recent studied identify scores of genetic variants that correlate en masse with better results in cognitive tests.’
The human genome has around 20 000 genes. They are the same genes for everybody, but expressed differently. Tilly has over 200 genes working together to produce the pigment on her beautiful red hair, which she says isn’t red. Her intelligence is beyond measure. Robin, who has blonde hair, the same colour Tilly wants, is in the bad book. In antiquity, white lead was used to make the skin look pale. Every culture has its own way of naming and categorising colours whitewashing ancient statues before putting them back on the plinth to show the march of progress and white superiority.
Human variation is real.
The dominance of skin colour as a racial classifier is based on historical pseudoscience.
The primary physical characteristics or race are not representative of overall similarities or difference between people and populations
We see broad geographical clustering of people and populations on the basis of sampled genetic markers, but the borders are fuzzy and continuous.
Concept of racial purity are ahistorical and pseudoscientific.
Genetic differences between populations do not account for differences in academic, intellectual, musical or sporting performance between those populations.
Race is a social construct. This does not mean it is invalid or unimportant.
Read on. I’ll let you know how Tilly’s and Alfie’s list of good and bad people pans out historically.
I like to think I’m pretty good contestant at Conspiracy Theories. But any fellow conspirators, I guess, imagine the same thing. A general rule of thumb, whatever the 45th American President believed, I believe the opposite. The great thing about fiction is you can—literally—put words into people’s mouths. In Ugly Puggly, for example, this is exactly what I think, but not so exactly that anyone would believe a real person would think this way.
“I tapped my pocket for my fag packet, even though I’d been off them for two years. ‘Yeh know yev got a hangover, when you waken up wae three socks—and only one of them is yers.’
Ugly Puggly sighed. ‘There’s a mystery there waiting to be unravelled by future conspiracy theorists, involvin lizards and flyin saucers. But imagine wakin up one mornin and findin oot the Americans, the once-great nation that used ex-Nazis to help land man on the moon, have elected the moron’s moron as President. And he doesn’t believe in anythin apart from his love-in with Putin, who he labelled a “genius” just before he invaded Ukraine for the third time. Certainly, no global warmin. Won’t sign yer Paris Agreement or attend Cop-out, whatever number we ur at. When all the major nations meet and agree to disagree, while the collapse of civilisation and the sixth great global extinction event is noo.’
I finished the dregs of filtered tea. ‘Fuck sake, I just asked for a burnt sausage, no a lecture. It’s too early fer that stuff.’
‘Nah,’ he pulled open the oven door and banged the Dalmuir duck about in its baking tray. ‘It’s too late. And it’s no jist about us.’ He nodded at the ceiling. ‘He’ll no have a future.’
‘Och, he’s no got a future anyway. Maybe he should join the Lib-Democrats. Or handcuff himsel to a petrol tanker. At least one of they hings might be useful.’
‘Maybe he should. Maybe we all should. There’d be worse hings in the word tae dae.’
‘Aye, it’s like eatin broccoli. Yeh know it’s good for yeh, but it tasted shite. But I draw the lines at the Liberal Democrats. Remember no long ago that was the same mob that formed an Alliance wae the worst o the Tory scum.’
Ugly Puggly raised an eyebrow. ‘Well, worst till noo.’
‘When yer scrappin the bottom of the barrel, there’s almost mair barrel tae scrape. It’s like the mystery of the smelly socks. There’s always another Tory cunt appears that’s worse than the last.’”
Phillips and Elledge get right into it with the history of ‘blood libel’. They ask and answer in Chapter 1, ‘What is a Conspiracy Theory?’
Saturday, Holy Week, 1144.
None of us were there. If you were, contact me, I’ll have a theory about that too.
The body of a twelve-year-old boy called William was found in a forest near Norwich.
Twelve-year-old now is boyish. Then it was middle-aged.
He was found at the foot of an oak tree.
Who killed him?
We don’t know, but we’ll blame the Jews, always comes in at one or two in the conspiracy theory top ten. Sometimes they can hold multiple spots at the same time.
Culprits caught. William mother alleged William was last seen going into the house of a Jewish family. But she wasn’t sure if she dreamt that bit. She was sure in the dreams the Jews were attacking her.
Fair cop. All Jews in Norwich murdered and their properties stolen. Heinrich Himmler and the SS did a similar job. But first they registered the Jews as being Jews and had them write down a complete list of all they owned.
Jews were killed for being Jews in the twentieth century. A tautology.
In the tenth century, a reason, however flimsy, had to be found for murdering Jews. Sir Simon de Novers was heavily in debt to a Jew. One of the wealthiest men in Norwich. The knight’s advocate was Bishop William Turbe. He argued that Sir Simon de Novers had not killed to avoid repayment of his debt. His motive was pure. He killed the ringleader of the killer of his nephew Willian of Norwich in a nefarious Jewish ritual and blood sacrifice of a pure Christian child.
Scotland has a Not Proven verdict. Simon de Noever’s case was Not Proven. He walked free. That might have been the end of that.
But his case was taken up by a Welsh monk living and working in Norwich. Thomas of Monmouth was responsible for writing the pamphlet: The Life and Passion of William of Norwich.
No, I haven’t read it. Thomas of Monmouth cited Turbe (as I’m citing Phillips and Elledge p43) to calm the Jews at Passover routinely sacrificed a Christian child. In this case, William of Norwich. They crowned him with thorns and crucified him. A parody and mockery of The Passion of Christ.
Simple arithmetic, which I’m not very good at. No conspiracy, I’m a bit thick. Jewish Passover happens once a year. This is 2023. This supposedly happened in 1144. SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann, who helped murder six-million Jews, estimated there were eleven million Jews in Europe, including Britain, in 1945. Subtract 11 144 from 2023 and multiply by 11 000 000 to estimate the number of innocent Christian children murdered by Jews since (and before) 1144. Don’t send me the answer. Eat it. The truth sets you free.
For every head, there is a tale. The flipside is the local sheriffs in Norwich had been bribed by the Jews to look the other way.
Comparisons can be made with Pizzagate. I didn’t know what this was until I read a book about QAnon. If you don’t know what QAnon is you’ve not been missing much. Jake Angeli is the face of QAnon. His face and bare chest covered in red, white and blue. A furry hat with horns. Armed with a spear with the Stars and Stripes American flag attached, he also carried a bullhorn, as he stood behind the desk of the United States Senate, 6th January 2021. A leading member of an army of incompetents called to Washington by the moron’s moron in the moral crusade to help unsteal the election.
Naively, I thought, chants at the moron moron’s rallies which called for the jailing of his Democratic rival, Hilary Clinton, had to do with an email account by aide John Podesta hacked by the Russians, and the information fed to Trump, and relayed back to her, in breach of federal law. She didn’t, for example, steal TOP SECRET documents and leave them lying around her house. Instead she ordered pizza. This was code for orgy, murder, cannibalism as innocent children were tortured and sacrificed in a satanic paedophilic ring in which the Washington elite were party. They might have been lizard people, like former Queen Elizabeth II and Charles III. According to Donald Trump only one man could stop them and that was Donald Trump. There is a danger of repeating yourself, but QAnon concurred. He was the saviour for foot soldiers like Jake Angeli in a moral quest not only to save America, but the world.
One foot soldier, 4th December 2016, took an AR-style semi-automatic rifle and shot up a pizza restaurant named by Alex Jones, Infowars. He demanded captive children be freed from the basement. The restaurant didn’t have a basement. But the online world has many rooms.
The Illuminati feature in many. Also known as International Jewry. New World Order. I quite liked the story that David Cameron went to the Shetlands to stop Scotland seceding from the Union and taking control of Clair Ridge oilfield. This would have made us like a Tartan Norway. London government could no longer fritter away tax revenues to fund tax cuts for rich people. Our proud nation would have a sovereign wealth fund equivalent to super-rich Norway and allow us to invest in a green future. I might have made that last bit up.
Phillips and Elledge in their Conclusion ask us to interrogate our beliefs with these questions.
Could anything disprove it?
Yes, global warming and global catastrophe is not inevitable. But we are rushing towards each checkpoint quicker than anticipated.
How does it deal with contradictory evidence?
As a storyteller, I find this interesting. Some of the largest corporations in the world came together and lied, lied, and lied again. They paid for propaganda and politicians and took over the seats of government, penalising those that told the truth. Contradictory evidence was their battlefield. They used it to kill our children’s children.
Does it exist in a bubble?
I’m not a scientist or (as you’ve seen) not good with numbers. But I understand the null hypothesis. Conspiracy theories start the assumption the answer is obvious. Then it works backwards towards the evidence. Putin’s that blue-eyed Vikings were the first Rus in what is known now as Ukraine in the eighth or ninth century, and they helped create a great Russia and the Third Rome of the East. Ukraine therefore doesn’t exist outside Russia, because it is Russian.
Global warming beings and ends with the data. Man-made or not? Not in terms of yes or no, but probability. The chances of Leicester winning the league were around 1000/1 at the start of the season. They won it. Bookies don’t say they won’t win it again. Scientists don’t say glaziers won’t freeze again, but they give odds of an upset. Over the longer term, bookies never lose. 97% of scientists are backing one winner and us as losers.
Are you applying the same standards to the conspiracy theory as you do to the official narrative?
No, I’m biased. I begin with the assumption that those rich money-grabbing bastards are lying to me, not because I count as anything, but because I count as nothing. Standard conspiracy theorist thinking.
How many people would this conspiracy theory need to involve? And what’s keeping them in line?
Money, power and status are all interlinked to the product they sell and the lies they sow. How many? I’d guess 1% of 8 billion. Whatever that is, sounds about right? Multiply that number by around 100 for the ‘running dogs’ that do their master’s bidding. Perhaps more.
Does is ascribe a ridiculous level of competence to conspirators?
Absolutely. It’s not us against them in a life-and-death struggle for the future of the planet and our children. It’s us question ourselves. While we do so, they create facts on the ground and in the air in the form of greenhouse gases that kill us. The sting in the tail is it kills them too. Any victory now will be pyrrhic.
Does this plan rely on everything going right?
Yes, The Paris Agreement and Cop-22 show a willingness to believe, but not a willingness for rich countries to share their wealth with poor countries. This looks increasingly unlikely.
How has the conspiracy been kept completely secret, apart from a coded clue to the entire plot that the conspirators have deliberately placed in plain sight, like printing it on banknotes or something, as if they’re a serial killer taunting Mr Police?
Fossil fuel companies did their own research. They placed their findings into departments and downplayed the results. They created an army of spies and hangers on, willing to do the dirty work. Some true believers, that also happened to be among the richest men in the world, such as the Koch Brothers and Charles Koch in particular.
Is it really likely that these people are working together?
It seems unlikely that Charles Koch, who promulgates a Darwinian form or capitalism with little or no government in the economy and Vladimir Putin, the Russian dictator who claimed to invade Ukraine to save it from fascists would have much in common. But their commonwealth and power is largely dependent on fossil fuels. A future without fossil fuels leaves both men like commanders of horse cavalry after the First World War. We still need millions of horses for the Second World War. But it’s the Third World War that worries me.
How does it make you feel?
This is the big question. It’s not what you think, but how you feel? I’ve a pal that didn’t get the Covid vaccine. He came up with a lot of reasons that are in this book. Conspiracy. They’re out to get you. How do you know? How much are they making? I’ve not got all the answers. I’ve not got many of the answers. And I knew it wouldn’t really have mattered what I said. There’s always another ‘what if’ and get-out clause, if pigs could fly?
I know, or think I know that global warming is real. I think it will kill tens or hundreds of millions, perhaps billions as nations like India and Pakistan fight over fresh water, with China perhaps becoming involved. But emotionally, I don’t feel anything. I don’t really care. Because I’m not there. It’ll only be real when it’s real. A bit like the Jews watching the Nazis come to power and thinking everything will work out. Phoney war for now.