Sentence of the Day, 2nd Friday of 2022

  • “The policeman wanted to throw my three-year-old daughter out the window but I held her tight.” — Simon Ackerman

It is Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass.

The violence was so chaotic, it was hard to believe it was planned. But it was.

“Goebbels holds a press conference to castigate Lochner, Schultz, and other foreign correspondents for writing what he insists are false stories. No stores were looted. No Jews were killed.”

More than ever I’m convinced, we are going down this dangerous road. Right now we have Joe, but can he pass the baton? He should pass the baton because we need a strong AFTER.

Hitler didn’t even need a Supreme Court to justify him. WE DO.

After Kristallnacht, something breaks in the Americans. Ambassador Hugh Wilson is recalled to Washington “for consultation.” He never returns to Berlin. The US Embassy is left in the hands of junior diplomats. Consul Prentiss Gilbert is given a hasty promotion to chargé d’affaires. He dies of a heart attack, five months later.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Louise Heath (Wife of Donald)

One morning Louise decides to attend a lecture at the American Women’s Club. She brings Young Don (11 years old) with her. They’re in the Embassy car. Louise glances in the rearview mirror. Following them is a Volkswagen crammed with Gestapo trainees (!!!), some of whom look as young as sixteen. Louise floors the accelerator. She has a full tank of gas . . . the teenage trainees don’t.

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, p. 283

High fives, Mrs. Heath.

Fun Fact: Life in Stalinist Leningrad

These two marketing blogs must really be getting desperate because they keep linking to my posts. Every time I see a link, I make that post private. I’ve done this with a lot of my posts the past week. Mostly my posts about Mendocino and Philo. These people have NO imagination.

It’s so beautiful to see them today. How are you? When every single one of my posts is private, maybe I can finally concentrate on writing a book.

I haven’t been able to join Bloganuary. Despite all the fanfare, I’ve only received one prompt in my ‘In’ box, and I check every day.

Fun Fact 1 from All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days:

  • Over forty thousand residents of Leningrad are murdered in 1937 — a number that reaches sixty-thousand in 1938. (Because executions are carried out at night and mass graves are hidden, most of the population remains blissfully ignorant of Stalin’s killing spree)

But, sixty-thousand people in the space of a year? Surely those people had family? Friends? Co-workers? Wouldn’t they notice if their family members and/or friends simply vanished? I mean, we’re not talking six or even sixty or even six thousand people. We’re talking sixty-thousand, which is 3/4 the population of self’s city in California.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

This Wicked Game 2

She misses Arvid, who is in Washington, DC, on official business for the Ministry of Economics. Every American official Arvid meets in the State Department believes he’s a devout Nazi. The man he pretends to be is a horrible, horrible lie.

Lies spill out of Mildred too.

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, p. 258

The Berlin Night School for Adults

God bless Mildred Harnack. Fired (without explanation) from her part-time teaching job at the University of Berlin, she doesn’t waste time in second-guessing. She immediately finds another teaching job, this time at the Berliner Stadtisches Abendgymnasium fur Erwachsene — the Berlin Night School for Adults — “nicknamed the BAG.”

There, she’ll come into contact with a fresh crop of German students, and she’s energized by the possibilities. They will be different from the students she taught at the University of Berlin — poorer, predominantly working-class, mostly unemployed. Precisely the type of person the Nazi Party has been relentlessly targeting with propaganda.

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, p. 34

What It Was Like in Berlin, 1932

New book, started just today. It’s by a woman named Rebecca Donner, and the subject is her great-grandaunt, Mildred Harnack, who was married to a German, Arvid, whose fate is a family secret, because it was very bad: it seems she was imprisoned by Hitler and executed, and what family would want to talk about something like that?

Self only heard about Mildred Harnack from a book review in The Economist (August 2021). Self saved the review and now, finally, she holds in her hands All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler.

Mildred was from Wisconsin. She met Arvid when they were both students at the University of Wisconsin. In 1932, she was a part-time instructor at the University of Berlin, where she taught American Literary History.

It’s a good thing her great grandniece knows how to tell a story. She uses present tense, which hints that at least one of her goals is to make this story immersive: it’s not going to be a “Mildred did this, then Mildred did that” kind of thing. No, Rebecca’s actually going to put us in Berlin, which so happens to be a place self has visited, long ago, when she was invited to read from her book Mayor of the Roses by the House of World Culture. Just a few weeks ago, she was in Berlin again, this time April 1945 Berlin, through the eyes of Anonymous in A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City.

1932 Berlin is very different from 1945 Berlin (of course). Mildred would be two years dead by the time Anonymous began writing her diary (Self wonders if Anonymous would have heard of Mildred Harnack? Anonymous was a journalist, so in all probability she would have heard of Mildred’s arrest and execution). Here is Mildred walking through Berlin in 1932:

She reaches a wide boulevard: Unter den Linden. She turns right.

The boulevard takes its name from the profusion of linden trees flanking it, trees that are in full bloom now, cascades of tiny white blossoms perfuming the air she breathes. But all this beauty can’t mask the ugliness here. Swastikas are cropping up like daisies everywhere: on posters pasted to the walls of U-Bahn stations, on flags and banners and pamphlets. A white-haired, walrus-mustached man is leading the country right now, but just barely. President Paul von Hindenburg is eighty-four, tottering into senility. A politician half his age is growing in popularity, a high-school dropout named Adolf Hitler who, Mildred predicts, will bring “a great increase of misery and oppression.”

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, p. 16

Back to Reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the verse translation by Simon Armitage

Self is reading three books at the moment: My Heart, by Semzedin Mehmehdinovic (which she is hugely enjoying — it’s her first ever book by a Bosnian writer); Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; and All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, by Rebecca Donner (about Donner’s great-great-aunt, Mildred Harnack)

She reads according to her mood. This morning, the mood is verse:

The Green Knight:

I’m clothed for peace, not kitted out for conflict.
But if you’re half as honorable as I’ve heard folk say
you’ll gracefully grant me this game which I ask for
by right.

Sea of Images 2021

After

Only nineteen of the three thousand transcripts that were eventually declassified and published in 1995 mention Julius or Ethel. Julius was given the code name “Antenna” or, as already seen, “Liberal” in the messages. David was code-named “Kalibr” (Caliber) and Ruth was called “Osa” (Wasp). However, Ethel had no code name and was mentioned only once, and then by her given name.

Ethel Rosenberg, an American Tragedy, p. 223

Self has no words.

p. 205, Back to Crying

Really, self has never experienced anything like it, not in her entire life: it’s like her eyes have been swollen to the size of golf balls for TWO DAYS, all on account of reading Anne Seba’s Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy (The title was slightly different in the UK edition, self noticed. It was Ethel Rosenberg: A Cold War Tragedy).

And also, the house is really, really cold. Insulation is circa 1939, which means there is none. Self is wearing three sweaters.

Also: She is really glad it rained last night. And not just a little sprinkle, either. Ground was wet when she went to the backyard this morning.

p. 205:

  • Ethel was admant that her fate could not be separated from Julius’s: either both of them would be spared, or both would go to the electric chair. “A cold fury possesses me and I could retch with horror and revulsion for those unctuous saviors, these odious swine who are actually proposing to erect a terrifying sepulcher in which I shall live without living and die without dying” . . . Ethel had learned that she might be saved “out of a humanitarian consideration for me as a woman and as a mother while my husband is to be electrocuted,” an idea that appalled her.

Self is simply in awe. This should be an opera. Why hasn’t anyone turned this into an opera?

Meanwhile, on the rejection of their last appeal for clemency, to President Eisenhower, Judge Kaufman — yes, that same Judge Kaufman who presided over their initial trial, where he pretty much functioned as a member of the prosecution team — sets the date of execution for the following week. He’s waited two years for this moment, the moment when the Rosenbergs run out of options and face the music! Oooh. Can’t you just see his face? As far as this judge is concerned, the Rosenbergs should have received their just deserts in 1951, why have they been allowed to live an additional two years?

Ethel is calm, but Julius becomes belligerent. Why, he wants to know, do the other convicted spies get 15-year sentences and he and Ethel get the electric chair? Why indeed. That was probably a question for his lawyer, who was so completely out of his depth, he didn’t even think about the court of public opinion until it was too late.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in the prison van, 1951. The last time they were allowed to touch. Even on the day of their execution, two years later, they were separated by a wire mesh barrier.

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