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

40 Kilo Camp, Burma

Eventually, the POW camps in Java are emptied as the prisoners are shipped to Burma to complete a 258-mile-wide gap of the Burma-Thai railroad.

At this point, a little over halfway, Ship of Ghosts becomes a completely different kind of story. Instead of sea battles, we are dealing with jungles and malaria and dysentery.

Self has developed a habit of looking up each new name in the Appendix, to see if that person made it or not. It just occurred to her that of course that person made it; otherwise, they wouldn’t be giving interviews to James D. Hornfischer!

The Appendix was useful in another way, though: to fix the number of POWS who died in Burma. There was a pattern: the dying began in 80 kilo camp, but increased as one got to a higher-numbered camp: 100-kilo camp, 105-kilo camp, and 114-kilo camp (She didn’t see anything higher than 114-kilo camp — so the railroad was still unfinished at the end of the war)

The men at 40-kilo camp were lucky: a Dutch doctor named Henri Hekking volunteered to be sent there. Born in Surabaya to Dutch parents, Hekking’s grandmother was “a committed herbalist and healer, who set him on the path of studying native medicine.” He was captured at the Dutch hospital in Timor and became a POW. He began hearing of the plight of the men building the Burma-Thai railroad and offered to perform medical services on the line. When he showed up at 40-kilo camp, he became the “on-site medical caretaker.” Once there, he began “the most challenging kind of solo practice.”

p. 264:

  • He knew that palmetto mold could be used like penicillin, that pumpkin could be stored in bamboo stalks, femented with wild yeast, and used to treat men suffering from beriberi (it got them pleasantly drunk to boot). Tea brewed from bark contained tannins that constricted the bowels and slowed diarrhea. Wild chili peppers had all sorts of beneficial internal applications.

Another quick look at the Appendix: NO DEATHS in 40-kilo camp! Either there were no American POWs there, or Hekking managed to save them.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

I’m Joining Bloganuary 2022

via Cee Neuner:

  • For those of you who need some inspiration for your blog, WordPress is giving us a prompt every day in January. I’m planning to join along.

Follow the link to join.

Didn’t get a prompt today, but others did and already posted. Umm, sorry, I don’t know what I did wrong. Good luck to the others!

View: Main Street, Mendocino

There is nothing on earth so vast, so glorious, as the southern heavens. In the ordinary world a man measures himself against the height of buildings, omnibuses, doorways; here, scale blown to the four quarters, he’d be a fool not to recognise he’s no more significant than a raindrop on an ocean. Standing there, it seemed irrelevant where Amundsen was — we were both cut down to size.

The Birthday Boys, p. 109

Photographing Public Art Challenge (PPAC) # 16: Frida Kahlo-Themed

Still playing catch-up with the Photographing Public Art Challenge (PPAC) co-hosted by Cee Neuner and Marsha Ingrao.

Such a fun challenge, self is so happy whenever she gets to post.

Happened to be at the local car-wash, and was amused by some Frida Kahlo items:

These Diego and Frida Christmas ornaments were in the SFMOMA Store:

And finally, further proof (if proof were needed) that Frida Kahlo’s influence is worldwide, these socks were on sale at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, UK:

Self’s personal favorite is the Frida Kahlo pillow.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Photographing Public Art Challenge (PPAC) # 13: the Robinson Jeffers Tor House and Hawk Tower, Carmel-by-the-Sea

Still playing catch-up with the PPAC Challenge! Self spent last weekend in Carmel. One of the main purposes for the visit — aside from meeting an aunt she hadn’t seen in 20 years! — was seeing Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House, which had just re-opened for tours. Self is a lover of gardens, and the garden of the Tor House has been featured in several gardening books she owns.

To get to it from the north (the San Francisco Bay Area), you take 101 south, then 85, then 17 north, and finally pass through Salinas. Driving the 25 miles through Salinas to the Carmel turn-off will take almost an hour, because this area has perennial stop-and-go traffic. You will see fields, many fields! All in all, the drive took self almost 3 hours. She arrived about 15 minutes before the 1 p.m. tour she’d signed up for.

The tour of house and tower takes about an hour. Our guide was David, and he was really good. It will make you weep when you learn that Jeffers bought his lot for something like $200.

The views from Hawk Tower, right next to the house, are spectacular. Watch your step, the stairs are very narrow.

To think Robinson Jeffers built the house and tower all by himself! Tours cost $12.

The house is truly unique. Don’t miss, if you’re in the area.

Poetry Friday: “Like the Molave” by Rafael Zulueta y da Costa, Written 1940

This poem is epic.

The molave was a Philippine hardwood (said to be impervious to fire), now extinct.

Jose Rizal was the writer of the seminal novels Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. He was tried by the Spanish for inciting a revolution, and shot by firing squad in Manila’s Bagumbayan Field.

Self has not been able to find much about Rafael Zulueta y da Costa. He died in 1990, and apparently this was his only poem. He wrote in English. At the time of writing, the Philippines was still an American colony.

Like the Molave, Part I:

Not yet, Rizal, not yet. Sleep not in peace:
There are a thousand waters to be spanned;
There are a thousand mountains to be crossed;
There are a thousand crosses to be borne.
Our shoulders are not strong; our sinews are
Grown flaccid with dependence, smug with ease
Under another’s wing. Rest not in peace;
Not yet, Rizal, not yet. The land has need
of young blood — and, what younger than your own,
Forever spilled in the great name of freedom,
Forever oblate on the altar of the free?

Not you alone, Rizal. O souls
And spirits of the martyred brave, arise!
Arise and scour the land! Shed once again
Your willing blood! Infuse the vibrant red
Into our thin anemic veins; until
We pick up your Promethean tools and, strong,
Out of the depthless matrix of your faith
In us, and on the silent cliff of freedom,
We carve for all time your marmoreal dream!
Until our people, seeing, are become
Like the molave, firm, resilient, staunch,
Rising on the hillside, unafraid,
Strong in its own fibre; yes, like the molave:

Past Squares 6: St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin

Self misses travel soooo much.

Grateful to Becky at Life of B for coming up with the theme of Past Squares. Self is really having fun going through pictures of her past trips.

These are from May 2017.

Self loves parks, all parks. She loves green, and she loves people-watching.

Quote of the Day: Michael Connelly

A book is like a car. It pulls up to the curb and the passenger door swings open to the reader. The engine revs. Do you want a ride?

Once you get in, the car takes off, the door slamming shut and the rubber burning in its wake. Behind the wheel the driver’s got to be highly skilled, heavy on the pedal, and most of all, oh man, most of all, somebody you want to be with. He’s got to drive near the edge of the cliff but never over. He’s got to turn sharply just as you think you know where you are going. He’s got to gun it on the final lap.

Introduction by Michael Connelly to the 2003 Edition of Thomas Perry’s The Butcher’s Boy

Self borrowed her copy from the library, and it is pretty beat up. Nevertheless.

She absolutely loved Eddie’s Boy. Which is what led her here, to the very first book of the series. What did she love so much about Eddie’s Boy? The main character was a professional hit man, married to a member of the British peerage. If that character description doesn’t grab you, self doesn’t know what will.

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge (CFFC): “Here Comes the Sun”

Prompt is from the Beatles song, sung by George Harrison.

Thanks to Cee Neuner for the prompt. You can find the full lyrics on her blog.

I chose my inspiration from the refrain:

Here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right.

I have a collection of solar lanterns. My newest one is a bright, butter-yellow.

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