Hidden History.

            Robert Harris is the author of a series of historical-fiction thrillers. 

            Munich (2017).  The 1938 conference between German dictator Adolf Hitler, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, French prime minister Edouard Daladier, and British prime minister Neville Chamberlain marked the high point of Appeasement.  While both Hitler and Chamberlain believed in what they were doing, other people on both sides had their doubts.  Some of these people, British anti-appeasers and German anti-Nazis, tried to undermine their own leaders.  Could knowledge of German plots to topple Hitler be communicated to the British?  Could British anti-appeasers use this knowledge to shift Chamberlain toward a harder line?  Would a harder line by the British provide an excuse to overthrow Hitler before he could set fire to the whole world? 

            Enigma (1995).  One secret of the Second World War was British victory in breaking the code system, called “Enigma,” used by the German military for all radio communications.  This allowed the British to read all enemy radio traffic, but with occasional, nerve-racking interruptions.  A second, less well-preserved, secret of the Second World War was the Russian massacre in 1940 of thousands of captured Polish army officers.  The mass graves were discovered by the German invaders in 1943.[1]  Harris supposes that an Anglo-Polish cryptographer discovers the truth.  Revealing it could wreck the Russo-British alliance. 

            V2 (2020).  As the Second World War turned decisively against Germany, Hitler unleashed “vengeance weapons” created by advanced science.  First, the V-1 “flying bombs,” then the V-2 ballistic missiles began to rain down on allied cities.  Is there any way—technological or human—to halt the attacks?  The question racks both an Allied intelligence officer and a German scientist tormented by his own deal with the Devil. 

            Fatherland (1992).  Long after Nazi victory in the “last European war,” a German homicide detective discovers the Holocaust.  Here Harris is thinking-through the implications of a German victory: a “united” Europe is dominated by Germany; the Soviet Union has been thrust back away from Europe; American “appeasers” (Joseph P. Kennedy, Charles Lindbergh) now head the government of the United States; and the Holocaust has been kept so completely secret that thought about the Jews never enter anyone’s noggin.  Now, on the eve of a Hitler-Kennedy summit meeting, the truth starts to leak.   

            Harris is fascinated by the hidden parts of historical events.  Knowledge of the German resistance to Hitler only came out after the war and then in dribbles; the Nazis meant for the Holocaust to remain hidden from history and all but one copy of the minutes from the Wannsee Conference were destroyed; at Nuremberg, the Katyn Wood massacre was blamed on the Germans; and the Enigma story remained secret until 1974.[2]  In dramatizing these events, Harris restates a basic lesson of history. It didn’t have to be this way.  People create History by the decisions they make and the actions they take. 

            He also leaves the reader wondering “What else is still hidden?” 


[1] For another fictional take on the Katyn Wood discovery, see Philip Kerr, A Man without Breath (2013). 

[2] See Peter Hoffmann, The German Resistance to Hitler, 1933-1945 (1977); F.W. Winterbotham, The Ultra Secret (1974); Allen Paul, Katyn: The Untold Story of Stalin’s Polish Massacre  (1991)..   

Imagining November 2022.

Mask wearing remained a contested issue in spite of an earnest and avuncular blitz of television ads by President Biden.  As a result, full control of the virus had to wait on mass vaccination

            The Covid 19 pandemic is under control by November 2022.  The development and testing of vaccines had been completed by early 2021.  A gigantic production effort by pharmaceutical companies made possible mass vaccination beginning in Spring 2021.  Lingering suspicion of the vaccines slowed the achievement of a critical mass, but it was achieved during Summer 2021. 

            Vaccination allowed a full return to the pre-Covid economy. 

            Direct negotiations between President Biden and Senate Majority Leader McConnell produced unexpected results. 

            First came a “skinny” stimulus bill previously rejected by House Democrats in the tag-end of the Trump Administration.  It covered only one year’s worth of spending, left the cap on state and local taxes in place, and excluded any aid that might be used to shore up the state pension funds of New Jersey, Illinois, and California. 

            Second, they agreed on a deal to stabilize Social Security by raising the cap on the Social Security tax for those making more than $800,000 a year.  It did not raise benefits. 

            Third, Biden announced a first step in his “Green Good Deal.”  This came in the creation of a National Coal Reserve.  The US government will pre-emptively buy all coal that is mined.  This will complete the transition of the US away from one kind of fossil fuels.  The coal will be sequestered in disused coal mines surrounding Scranton, PA.  Many thousands of jobs will be created for those retro-fitting the mines and warehousing the coal. 

            Attorney General Elizabeth Warren crusaded against the American economy of the previous two decades.  The Anti-Trust Division of Department of Justice announced attacks on “Big Tech.”  The Criminal Division launched a campaign to claw-back the “illicit profits” of American business.  This involved investigations of a thousand corporations. 

            The sustained US tariff campaign against China yielded big gains.  China agreed to buy regularly scheduled dollar values of American products.  China agreed to effective safeguards against intellectual property theft. 

            US troops were much reduced in Afghanistan and Africa.  A small, anti-terrorism raiding force continued to operate from Bagram Air Base.  In the interests of restoring alliance solidarity within NATO, Americans continued to provide intelligence and logistical support to French forces fighting to defend French-owned uranium mines in Niger. 

            Ships of an expanded and improved US Navy made highly publicized port visits in Taiwan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. 

            It became ever apparent that Biden would not seek a second term.  The lackluster performance of Kamala Harris during the 2020 Democratic primaries combined with occasional odd things that she has said in public as Vice President fueled interest in the 2024 presidential race among Democrats.  The most-mentioned candidate is New York Governor Michael Cuomo. 

            Adam Schiff celebrated his victory in the race for the Senate seat of Diane Feinstein, who had abruptly been retired.

            Wreathed in the glow of seniority, Nancy Pelosi (aged 82), Steny Hoyer (aged 83), and Jim Cliburn (aged 82) all ended their careers in public life.  This set up the House Democrats for their first new leadership in twenty years.  The leading candidates are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Abigail Spanberger. 

            Amy Walter, once of the Cook Political Report and NPR’s “The Takeaway,” succeeded Judy Woodruff at the helm of the moribund “NewsHour.”  Viewership (even among Republicans) immediately soared. 

The [Retrospective] Biden Plan for Dealing with the Coronavirus.

            Here’s a hard truth.  According to the New York Times, “While the federal government has authority over interstate and foreign quarantine measures, states have the primary authority to impose and enforce quarantine and isolation measures within their own borders, as part of the police powers conferred to states by the 10th Amendment of the Constitution,…” According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, “states and cities are responsible for announcing curfews, shelters in place, or other restrictions and safety measures.”[1]  Joe Biden’s criticism of Donald Trump’s unquestionable mishandling of the corona virus pandemic needs to be seen in this light. 

Biden: “[I]f [Trump] had listened to me and others and acted just one week earlier to deal with this virus, there’d be 36,000 fewer people dead.”[2] 

NYT: “[T]here is no record of Mr. Biden urging adoption of those measures before March 8, nor does Mr. Trump have the power to compel their nationwide enforcement.”  “[W]hile the presidential pulpit might have incentivized governors and mayors to act quicker, Mr. Trump lacks the authority to impose and enforce quarantine and isolation measures in states and cities.” 

Furthermore, Biden “did not suggest locking down cities or limiting social gatherings.” 

Biden: Without a uniform plan and guidance from the federal government that state and local leaders can use to inform their reopening plans, this is going to continue to be worse than it would’ve been otherwise.” 

NYT: “Though they were nonbinding and criticized by some as vague, the White House did release guidelines in mid-April about “opening up American again”.”  “Of the 30 states that had planned to begin reopening in early May, most had failed to meet those guidelines.” 

            Joe Biden spent the years from 1970 to 2016 as a public employee, often an important one.  You would think that he knows the distribution of powers under the Constitution.  Or you would think that he at least reads the newspapers.  Apparently not. 

            President Trump could have done much more to encourage responsible behavior on the part of his supporters, but he did not.  That’s putting it mildly.   

State governors and city mayors deserve much of the blame or credit for their response to the coronavirus.[3]  That’s where the real authority lay. 

            Possibly another hard truth.  We’re likely to have a reliable vaccine by the end of 2020 or early 2021.  Joe Biden will be inaugurated as President pro tempore in March 2021.  A massive production effort, already under preparation, will make mass vaccination possible by Spring or early Summer 2021.  Biden will claim credit for having whipped the coronavirus. 


[1] Linda Qiu,  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/14/us/politics/trump-authority.html

[2] Linda Qiu, “Fact-Checking Biden on the Coronavirus and His Own Record,” NYT, 11 July 2020.  “A study by infectious disease modelers at Columbia University [found]… that about 36,000 deaths could have been prevented through early May had social distancing measures been enacted by March 8, rather than in mid-March.”

[3] For an example, see: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2020/04/22/chronology-of-a-tragedy/ 

Zion Island 23.

Federal Bureau of Investigation.

J. Edgar Hoover, “Personal Files.”

 

October 3, 1951.

 

Dear Roy,

 

I had a marvelous time!  Where do you find them?

 

Talked it over with Bobby.  He’s very enthusiastic.  Trying to get rid of the perverts matches well with the anti-Commie thing that you and he have been working.  I’ve got my own list already, starting with Offie[1] and that snotty writer who’s tangled up—somehow—in the whole Bouvier-Auchincloss mess.[2]

 

Just between you and me, I get the feeling that the Birdman[3] feels the same way about this.  I’ll probably get a lot of backing from this on Hoover as well.  He’s ferocious on the subject.  I tried calling him today, but Gandy[4] said he was out of the office.

 

Also, it gives me something distinct of my own to run on.  I won’t be just feeding off the Senator’s work.  Which reminds me.  Have you read Agar’s new book The Price of Union?[5]  Excellent work.  It set me to thinking about those brave men who have defied their party and the whole political system to follow their conscience.  Maybe I’ll write something on that theme.  If I do, count on the Senator being included.

 

Best regards, Jack.

 

[1] Carmel Offie (b. 1909): Department of State, 1931-1948; Central Intelligence Agency, 1948-1950.

[2] Possibly Gore Vidal (b. 1925).

[3] Reference unclear.

[4] Helen Gandy (b. 1897), F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover’s personal secretary.

[5] Herbert Agar, The Price of Freedom: The Influence of the American Temper on the Course of History (1950).

Zion Island 22.

Reichsarchiv.  Nachlasse Bach-Zalewski.  Private files–Miscellaneous.   Sipo-SD IV-B-4.

 

Partial transcript of a recorded conversation, Theresienstadt, Madagascar, 2 February 1947.

 

MA[1]: Why there?  Why change the plan?

 

MB[2]: Because they’ll all be there!  All of them!  Everyone who ever harmed us.  We don’t have to make one dramatic gesture and claim that one is enough.  We don’t have to go hunting year after year.  And we don’t have to worry about what that bastard[3] will decide to do to us in the meantime.  When will we ever have a chance like this again?  That’s why.

 

MA: But your way can’t be clean!  Not there.  Not that way.  It isn’t just them.  It’s all the others.

 

MB: Clean!  The others!  Are you out of your fucking mind?  It’s a war.  The world may be at peace, but we’re in a war and you know it as well as I do.  Nothing is clean about war.  And we’re at war.  As for the others, how do you think these shits got into power?  How do you think that they could do what they have done to us and to others?  They could do it because lots of ordinary men helped and because millions of people stood around with their hands in their pockets.  They wanted to not know.  They didn’t mind picking up whatever came loose, so long as they could claim they didn’t know how it came loose.  Alright, now they’re going to know.

 

MA: We’re going—our people are going—to have to live in the world after we do this!  However bad things seem now, doing what you want to do will make the situation incalculably worse.  We’ll prove the lies were true: that we’re everyone’s enemy.  We’ll turn every hand against us.  And just for vengeance!

 

MB: It’s not just for vengeance.  It’s a lesson.  They have to learn, the world has to learn, that thing have changed.  No more silent endurance.  Of suffering.  Of persecution.  Of murder and rape and robbery.  No more trying to be too useful to lose.  No more waiting for reasonable men to get fed up with the louts, pull the reins in.  No more trying to fit in.  Centuries of that is what got us here.  Here, in this stinking shit-hole!  Now they’ve got to learn that when somebody starts talking about getting rid of us, we take them seriously.  When the mobs start forming, we don’t scuttle back into the wood-work.  No more cringing.  Now we fight.

 

MA: But we are in this stinking shit-hole.  Almost all of us are.  Think!  We wanted a country of our own.  Maybe they’re right.  This could be that country.  But to turn it from a prison into a real country, we’re going to need friends in other countries.  We’re going to need help.  We’re going to need time.  If we do what you want, we’ll never have either.  And it isn’t just you and I and the others who will pay.  It’s all of us.

 

MB: You’re a fool.

[1] Mordechai Anielewicz: b. 1919, Warsaw, Russian Empire.

[2] Menachem Begin: b. 1913, Brest-Litovsk, Russian Empire.

[3] Reference unclear.

Zion Island 21.

Reichsarchiv.  Nachlasse Bach-Zalewski.  Private files–Miscellaneous.

 

Transcript of Recording.  Private meeting held in the office of General von dem Bach-Zalewski, beginning at 8:55 PM on 28 June 1948.

 

KG[1]: Heil Hitler!  Obersturmfuhrer Gerstein reporting as ordered.

 

B-Z: Heil Hitler!  Stand at ease.  Indeed, please take a seat.

 

B-Z: I have before me your personal file.  Your family background is rigorously patriotic and you joined the SA.  However, you joined only in July 1933.  You would be considered a “March violet” by many Old Fighters.  Then you managed to get expelled because of the conflict between your Christian religious beliefs and Party doctrine.  Then you–well your father and his friends—arranged for your re-admission.  Then you volunteered for the SS in 1941.  Your record is hardly that of a conventional SS-man.  Well, we take all kinds.  Still, you wish to comment?

 

KG: I am a German patriot.  I despised the Versailles Treaty and am happy to have seen it utterly overthrown.  I am a Christian.  My soul will be saved from Damnation if I follow the teachings of Our Savior Jesus Christ.  I do not think that either faith is incompatible with the other.

 

B-Z: I certainly hope not.  Your file states further that you are assigned to the “technical disinfection section” of the Institute for Tropical Medicine.  This brings you into contact with Dr. Mengele?[2]

 

KG: It does on occasion.  My position is very junior, but Dr. Mengele makes every effort to create congenial relationships among his staff, both German and non-German.

 

B-Z: Yes, yes, German and non-German.  I am told that you have been in contact—unofficially—with both residents of and visitors to our sunny dominion over palm and pine.  The name Schulte has been mentioned.[3]  There is also talk of a Hungarian.  Is this so?

 

KG: Mr. Schulte is here investigating possible copper mining.  Originally I trained as a mining engineer, before going on to medicine.  We met by chance on the train and fell into conversation on that matter.

 

B-Z: Ah, of course.  And this supposed Hungarian?  Does he—or she?—exist?

 

KG: Dr. Nyiszli[4] works as a pathologist at the Institute.  Dr. Mengele holds him in high regard for his technical competence in autopsies.  I have encountered him several times in the course of work.  Again, after studying mining, I turned to medicine.  That gave us a basis for conversation.

 

B-Z: The Institute of Tropical Medicine has need of a pathologist to conduct autopsies?  That’s not very encouraging.

 

KG: Much of Dr. Mengele’s own work at the Institute is, well,….. experimental.

 

B-Z: Is it indeed?  I didn’t realize that.  You know, that’s the problem with governments: they become too complicated.  The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.  Not from bad motives, you understand?  Just from compartmentalization and the pace of too much work.  Yet I am responsible for everyone and everything.  So, I am always glad to hear what is actually going on.  Rather like the private reports on opinion the SD once collected.[5]  I hope that you will feel confident in bringing me any little scraps of news you acquire about the Institute or Dr. Mengele.

 

KG: So far as it does not go against my duty.

 

B-Z: As a German patriot, as a National Socialist, as a Christian hoping for Salvation?

 

B-Z: As for your informal contacts, I have no reason to object.  Certainly, life here can feel very cut-off from the larger worlds from which we came.  Still, such reports, if they reached certain quarters, might be the source of some alarm, is it not so?  Seen in the context of your personal file, they might be misunderstood.  Despite Dr. Best’s efforts as governor, I hear that Neu Kaledonie is a big step down from this place.[6]  Dismissed.  Heil Hitler!

 

KG: Heil Hitler!

 

[1] Kurt Gerstein: b. 1905, Munster, German Empire.  Degree in mining engineering, then studied medicine.  Member of the Nazi Party 1933-1936, 1939—.  Enlisted in the SS (1941) with rank of Obersturmfuhrer, essentially a First Lieutenant.

[2] Josef Mengele: b. 1911, Gunzburg, Kingdom of Bavaria, German Empire.  Ph.D., Anthropology, University of Munich, 1935; M.D., University of Frankfurt, 1938.  Joined the Nazi Party in 1937, and the SS in 1938.  Military service with the Army (France, 1940), and then with the Waffen SS (Russia, 1941).

[3] Probably Eduard Schulte: b. 1891, Dusseldorf, German Empire.  From 1926, General Manager of the Giesche Trust industrial and mining conglomerate, Breslau, Germany.

[4] Miklos Nyiszli: b. 1901, Transylvania, Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Hungarian nationality from 1919.  M.D. 1929.

[5] Heinz Boberach, ed. Meldungen aus dem Reich 1938–1945. Die geheimen Lageberichte des Sicherheitsdienstes der SS, 17 vols. (1984).

[6] Werner Best, b: 1903, Darmstadt, German Empire.  Doctorate in Law, University of Heidelberg, 1927.  Joined Nazi Party, 1930, and the SS in 1931.  Close to Heydrich, he took a senior position in the Gestapo, and then, in 1939-1940, in the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA).  Following a conflict within the RSHA, from 1940 to 1942 he served as chief of the German administration in Occupied France.  In November 1942, following a further conflict, he was appointed Governor General of the German penal colony on the former French possession of New Caledonia.

Zion Island 20.

Library of Congress/Admiral John A. Waters, Jr., Papers/Director of Security, Atomic Energy Commission/Liaison with F.B.I/ “November 1953.”

Folder contained the following clipping from the New York Herald-Tribune, 28 January 1950.  No further information supplied.

 

WANTED: Inventor/Engineer seeks combined office and workshop space in Long Island City industrial building.  Area of 48th Street and Center Boulevard, and upper floors preferred; Western exposure and long-term lease required.  Please respond to Walter Glassman, PO Box 1202, 9224 Queens Blvd, Rego Park, NY.

Zion Island 19.

Fodor’s South Asia on Five Dollars a Day (1952).

Madagascar.

Madagascar is difficult to visit, but well worth the effort.  The difficulties arise from its remote location, the infrequency of air flights or ship sailings to the island, and from the stringent customs formalities.  The benefits more than repay these difficulties.  The lush vegetation, the immense diversity of fauna, the striking scenery, and the remarkable social experiment being conducted on the island combine to make Madagascar a must-see for the sophisticated traveler.

The island may only be entered through the east coast port city of Toamasina.  There are monthly sailings from Germany and from Dar es Salaam in Tanganyika.  From Dar es Salaam one can make connections to many other destinations.

The capital city is Theresienstadt (formerly Antananarivo).  Here are located the headquarters of the administrative services.  Here, also, is located a small technical institute that supports the European immigrant population’s agricultural development program with a variety of engineering services.

Theresienstadt is also the home of the Institute for Tropical Medicine.  The ITM provides European scientists a home base that serves the many medical research stations dotted about the island.  The ITM is particularly notable for its pioneering techniques in seeking cures for tropical diseases like malaria, yellow fever, and dengue fever.

The traditionally sleepy languor of a tropical town has been enlivened in recent years by immigrants from a variety of European cultures.

You have to get out into the countryside to garner a sense of the “real” Madagascar.  The island is divided by climate and geography into three zones.  Along the east coast there is a narrow, high scarp of mountains.  The twisting roadways are largely the product of the extension of Germany’s domestic program of “autobahn” to the tropical island.  These allow for many eye-catching views.  But don’t let your attention wander too much!

The central part of the island is occupied by a plateau.  Here one finds the indigenous population.

The bulk of the European immigrant population is engaged in re-claiming the arid Western coastal strip that slopes down from the central plateau to the Mozambique Channel.  The whole region is dotted with small agricultural settlements.  Irrigation systems are being constructed and mangrove swamps drained to increase farmland.  Soon the fields will give forth a harvest of fruits and vegetables that promise to become a major source of export earnings.

The unusual mixing of different populations might be expected to give rise to some tension.  In fact, the substantial police presence inspires a sense of security that reassures all parties.

Zion Island 18.

“Shipping News,” Dar es Salaam newspaper, September 1950.  Extract.

The large dhow “Simba,” Mohammad Atif captain, has failed to return to port and is presumed to have been lost at sea.  “Simba” sailed from Dar es Salaam in July, bound for Lourenco Marques in Mozambique.  Captain Atif had been active in the coastal trade for forty years, carrying every sort of cargo, and was well-known in East African ports.

Zion Island 17.

Reichsarchiv.  Nachlasse Bach-Zalewski.  Private files–Miscellaneous.

 

Sipo-SD IV-B-4.

Partial transcript of a recorded conversation, Theresienstadt, Madagascar, 12 February 1951.

MA: He’s falling apart!  The staring, the crying, the puking!  How long can he go on?  It isn’t possible.  Everything will be ruined!

MB: He can hold on.  Don’t worry.  He’s a remarkable man.  It’s this other one[1] we have to think about.

MA: Don’t think too long.  Handle it.

MB: Easy to say.

MA: We need the cover.

[1] Reference unclear.