Tuesday, June 28, 2016

28 June 1919: A French Bookseller Commemorates the Signing of the Versailles Treaty

The Paris Peace Conference, convened after the end of World War I, began on 18 January 1919. Although the deliberations, which ended in 1920, led to five major international treaties from 1919 to 1923, it is best known for having brought forth the Versailles Treaty, between Germany and the Allied Powers, signed on 28 June 1919: the fifth anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which led to the conflict.

This postcard, depicting the northern wing and parterre of the palace, is postmarked on the date the Treaty was signed.

The recipient, who presumably sent it to himself, is the Parisian bookseller and publisher (François) Louis Dorbon (1878-1956), who called himself Dorbon the elder, to distinguish himself from his brother, Lucien. As the finding aid to the holdings at the University of Texas-Austin explains, the firm of Dorbon-aîné, which flourished from 1900 to the beginning of World War II, “entered the bookselling trade with a remarkable initial stock of 400,000 volumes,” adding, “As both a publisher and a bookseller, Librairie Dorbon-aîné contributed numerous influential works to the early 20th century French literary scene.”

Here, the text of the Treaty, from Yale’s Avalon Project.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

18 June 1942: Heydrich Assassins Killed in Prague Church

Following the assassination of the "Reichsprotektor" of Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich, the members of the Czechoslovak paratroop teams went to ground as the Nazis frantically searched for the killers. By mid-June, the Germans were getting desperate: neither the manhunt nor the vicious reprisals, such as the destruction of the village of Lidice, had succeeded in bringing forth the necessary information.

Realizing that the terror might be having the opposite of the intended effect, the more shrewd among the authorities made a final offer, guaranteeing immunity for anyone who came forward by a final deadline of 18 June. A flood of statements came in, including one that identified the assassins by name. The anonymous author was one of the paratroopers, Karel Čurda. Still the Nazis could not find the killers. On 16 June, Čurda went in person to Gestapo headquarters and turned himself in. Although he did not know the hiding place of the assassins, he did reveal the existence of safe houses that had aided the paratroopers. Under torture, the confessions of one of the adolescent residents mentioned the Orthodox cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius in downtown Prague. Early on the morning of the 18th, the Nazis surrounded the church. In the course of a lengthy battle, all seven paratroopers there fell in combat or committed suicide. (details in an archived post here)

Since the fall of communism, the cathedral has officially and publicly commemorated the terrible events. In 2002, the Memorial to the Victims of the Heydrich Terror became "A National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror--a Place of Reconciliation." Each year, on the anniversary of the battle, a national commemoration takes place  on the street in front of a memorial plaque on the bullet-pocked wall.

To the accompaniment of martial music and the Czech and Slovak national anthems, soldiers lay wreaths dedicated by a succession of persons, from major political figures and dignitaries to veterans and their families or ordinary citizens.

Here, Czech soldiers practice wreath-laying gestures before the ceremony, 2011.

Here, an honor guard of Czech soldiers lines up in preparation for the ceremony, 2011.

By the end of the ceremony, the sidewalk is covered with flowers and inscribed ribbons.

The event concludes with a brief mass in the church, after which the exhibit hall and the memorial in the crypt, are opened to the public, free of charge. Despite the awkward location, in a narrow and busy urban space, it is one of the simplest but most moving memorial ceremonies that it has been my privilege to attend.

[updated video, stills]

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Flag Day 2016: Three Flags

On Flag Day, 2016, three flags:

The first thirteen-star "Stars and Stripes," from the American Revolution: postage stamp issued 4 July, 1968 (Scott # 1350)

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The small 48-star flag my father received when he became a citizen after World War II.

(Interesting to think about what immigration controversies were in the news when I wrote the post versus today.)

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The newest, large, ceremonial flag on the north end of the Common in front of Amherst Town Hall, at half-staff in tribute to the victims of the Orlando massacre.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Lidice Shall Live: Anniversary Postal Covers Commemorating the 1942 Massacre.

One of the most notorious of the many Nazi crimes of World War II was the liquidation of the (innocent) village of Lidice, on 9-10 1942, in retaliation for the assassination of the "Reichsprotektor" of Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich, by Czechoslovak paratroopers.

(Main post and background)

After the war, the Czechoslovak government decided to rebuild the village, which has also become a memorial and a center for peace and reconciliation. The massacre has been commemorated in the philatelic and numismatic realm. In particular, for example, the government issued special stamps on the major anniversaries of the tragedy. Here are commemorative covers from the fifth and fifteenth anniversaries.

Fifth anniversary, 1942-1947

The cachet at left combines local and national motifs: the miner's lamp, representing the occupation of many of the residents, illuminates both the village at left and the Czech patriotic symbol of the linden leaf, at right with the message, "Lidice Shall Live." The stamp is one of three, in different denominations, issued for the occasion. The first two, identical in design except for the denomination, represent a weeping mother. This one, the highest denomination, signifies hope and rebuilding. The special cancellation echoes one of the iconic memorials, with its wreath of barbed wire (like a crown of thorns) on a cross symbolizing both death and resurrection--but here with the addition of the national linden leaves.

Fifteenth anniversary, 1957

Since 1955, when British group, "Lidice Shall Live," realized the dream of creating a Garden of Peace and Friendship, the rose has been a special symbol for Lidice.

Older posts on the Heydrich assassination and reprisals, and Lidice.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

8 June 1794: Robespierre Presides Over the Festival of the Supreme Being

On 8 June 1794, Maximilien Robespierre presided over the Festival of the Supreme Being, the inauguration of a new civil religion that was to be a high point of the remaking of France in accordance with the principles of revolutionary reason. Instead, it proved to be a foreshadowing of his downfall.

a belief in some divine presence was essential to the philosophical and social order

Contrary to the popular stereotype, Robespierre was not some bloodthirsty monster: in fact, he tried to rein in the "enragés" and "terrorists" who, oblivious to political reality, insisted on implementing ultra-radical policies and carried out murderous and indiscriminate retribution against any presumed "counterrevolutionary" elements of the population. For Robespierre, the so-called "Terror" was just "prompt, severe, inflexible” justice unique to revolutionary situations.

Part of his opposition to the "enragés" also derived from their radical atheism, which struck out against religion, the religious, and monuments of religious cultural heritage alike and did not scruple at the casual murder of priests and nuns. Although Robespierre had no use for the traditional church, he condemned  the radical "de-Christianizers" and upheld freedom of worship. For him, as a disciple of Rousseau, a belief in some divine presence was essential to the philosophical and social order, which, he believed, rested on the moral and spiritual certainty of reward and punishment.

"The day forever fortunate has arrived, which the French people have consecrated to the Supreme Being"

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen appended to the radical French Constitution of April 1793 acknowledged the existence of Supreme Being. Attempting to address the twin crises of the Revolutionary war and the internal divisions of the Revolutionary camp the following spring, Robespierre sought to institutionalize this belief. He delivered a Report to the National Convention on the Connections of Religious and Moral Ideas with Republican Principles, & on National Festivals on 18 Floréal, Year II (7 May 1794).

The day forever fortunate has arrived, which the French people have consecrated to the Supreme Being. Never has the world which He created offered to Him a spectacle so worthy of His notice. He has seen reigning on the earth tyranny, crime, and imposture. He sees at this moment a whole nation, grappling with all the oppressions of the human race, suspend the course of its heroic labors to elevate its thoughts and vows toward the great Being who has given it the mission it has undertaken and the strength to accomplish it.

Is it not He whose immortal hand, engraving on the heart of man the code of justice and equality, has written there the death sentence of tyrants? Is it not He who, from the beginning of time, decreed for all the ages and for all peoples liberty, good faith, and justice?
He did not create kings to devour the human race. He did not create priests to harness us, like vile animals, to the chariots of kings and to give to the world examples of baseness, pride, perfidy, avarice, debauchery, and falsehood. He created the universe to proclaim His power. He created men to help each other, to love each other mutually, and to attain to happiness by the way of virtue.
It is He who implanted in the breast of the triumphant oppressor remorse and terror, and in the heart of the oppressed and innocent calmness and fortitude. It is He who impels the just man to hate the evil one, and the evil man to respect the just one. It is He who adorns with modesty the brow of beauty, to make it yet more beautiful. It is He who makes the mother's heart beat with tenderness and joy. It is He who bathes with delicious tears the eyes of the son pressed to the bosom of his mother. It is He who silences the most imperious and tender passions before the sublime love of the fatherland. It is He who has covered nature with charms, riches, and majesty. All that is good is His work, or is Himself. Evil belongs to the depraved man who oppresses his fellow man or suffers him to be oppressed.
The Author of Nature has bound all mortals by a boundless chain of love and happiness. Perish the tyrants who have dared to break it!
Republican Frenchmen, it is yours to purify the earth which they have soiled, and to recall to it the justice that they have banished! Liberty and virtue together came from the breast of Divinity. Neither can abide with mankind without the other.
O generous People, would you triumph over all your enemies? Practice justice, and render the Divinity the only worship worthy of Him. O People, let us deliver ourselves today, under His auspices, to the just transports of a pure festivity. Tomorrow we shall return to the combat with vice and tyrants. We shall give to the world the example of republican virtues. And that will be to honor Him still.
Following the political and philosophical exposition, the Report set forth a 15-point decree on the cult and its festivals.

    First Article.

      The French people recognizes the existence of the Supreme Being, and the immortality of the soul.


      It recognizes that the manner of worship worthy of the Supreme Being is the practice of the duties of man.


      It places chief among these duties: to detest bad faith and tyranny, to punish tyrants and traitors, to assist the unfortunate, to respect the weak, to defend the oppressed, to do all the good that one can to others, and to be unjust toward no one.


      Festivals shall be instituted to remind men of the Deity and of the dignity of their state....

It concluded with the outline of a Festival of the Supreme Being, proposed by the artist Jacques-Louis David, to be held on 20 Prairial Year II (June 8, 1794)

On 4 June 1794, Robespierre was elected President of the Convention (=legislature), and on 8 June, he presided over the Festival of the Supreme Being, according to the aforementioned mise-en-scène.

Festival of the Supreme Being, from Charles François Gabriel Levachez, and Son, and
Jean Duplessi-Bertaux, Tableaux historiques de la Révolution Française, 1798-1804
(folio engraving; image size: c. 190 x 250 mm)

Unlike the more shallow, who felt the need to prove their revolutionary bona fides through ostentatiously "populist" dress and demeanor, Robespierre saw no contradiction in combining the most radical principles with traditional sartorial propriety: he was a fastidious dresser who still wore a powdered wig and silk stockings. A contemporary account described him as presiding over the festival "dressed in a sky-blue coat, with exquisite ruffles of lace, and holding a bunch of flowers, fruit, and ripe wheat in his hand."

The hostile image below, from a nineteenth-century history, conveys the stereotypical view of him: murderous monster as fastidious prig.

from the first French edition of Alphonse de Lamartine's Histoire des Girondins (History of the Girondists--the moderate left-center faction in the Revolution). The work ran to 61 "books" divided among 8 volumes, whose publication (Paris: Furne et Cie.,1847-50) coincided with the outbreak of a new revolution, in which the Romantic poet and liberal politician himself briefly played a key part. It was accompanied by 39 steel engravings of Revolutionary figures, along with a portrait of the author. The plates, drawn by Denis August Marie Raffet (1804-60), engraved by various artists, and printed by Plon, were issued separately in 13 installments costing 1 franc each, from 1848 to 1850 (sheet size: c. 19.5 x. 25.7 cm). This engraving is by one Bosselman, active in the first half of the nineteenth century.

All did not go as planned, either. When he symbolically set fire to the statue of Atheism to reveal the statue of Wisdom rising form its ashes, the latter emerged rather scorched. Whereas Robespierre viewed the Festival as a crucial last attempt to reinvigorate the Revolution, both contemporaries and modern scholars have seen it as one of the factors that contributed to his downfall. It alienated both de-Christianizers and more traditional deists; critics accused him of megalomania and seeking to set himself up as  a new "pope" or "Mahomet" (Muhammad).

When despite the new military victory of Fleurus (26 June), which seemed to secure the Republic's fate, Robespierre insisted on ratcheting up the Terror against internal enemies, both left and right, he found that he longer had a base of support and fell victim to his foes on both extremes a month later. The radical Revolution died with him.

Ramadan Kareem

To my friends and readers:

Ramadan Kareem

"The Minarets at the Bab Zuweyleh, and entrance to the Mosque of the Metwalis, Cairo," by David Roberts (1856), from my collection. (details: from a previous post).

Roberts's view of the "Interior of the mosque of the Metwalys" (1846-49)
(New York Public Library Digital Collections)

• Last year's Ramadan post:
A Tale of Interfaith Cooperation and Historic Preservation from Old Jerusalem

Ramadan posts from all previous years

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Bomber that Delivered the Heydrich Assassins

I've been posting a lot lately about the anniversary of the assassination of Nazi Security Office head and Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia Reinhard Heydrich by Czechoslovak paratroopers. But I haven't mentioned how they got from England to their homeland. They were dropped by a Handley Page Halifax (1 , 2) of the Special Operations Executive (SOE)--the British clandestine warfare group equivalent to the American OSS--piloted by Flight Lieutenant Ron Hockey.

The same issue of the Illustrated London News that reported briefly on the assassination contained a three-page feature on the manufacturing of the Halifax, one of the RAF's two heavy bombers at the time, which entered service in late 1940. It explains with pride, "This notable aircraft carries a heavier bomb-load over a greater distance than any other aeroplane in the world on active service to-day."

The emphasis, though, is on the innovative design and production technique. That the machine was constructed of 24 major components simplified manufacture ("more people on each stage of the job") as well as "transport and repair ." The latter point was a crucial one.

in the field, as well. Hockey called the Halifax "a sturdy aircraft with enough redundant structure to keep it flying if damaged in action . . . also good for servicing repair, with the structure subdivided for component replacement." He contrasted this with the American Liberator (the most widely produced bomber of the war), which it resembled, but which was made in a single unit and therefore had to be disassembled rivet by rivet.

The robustness of the Halifax proved crucial to the SOE missions carried out by Special Duties Squadron 138. At first, the RAF was understandably focused on its strategic role of heavy bombing and thus reluctant to give the unit top-of-the-line aircraft. Initial runs over Poland and Czechoslovakia involved two-engine Whitleys, with limited range and payload; airmen denounced them as "flying coffins." Hockey called Czechoslovakia "Undoubtedly the most difficult country in which we operated . . . a long flight, all over enemy territory, much high ground . . . flights only in the winter to benefit from the long nights, so terrain was often snowbound, and no reception facilities." In October 1941, the RAF finally gave Special Duties Squadrom 138 three Mark I and II Halifaxes, though they had to be modified for paratroop use through the addition of a hatch in the floor. They first saw use at the end of December when Hockey's plane, the NF-V  L9613, delivered three Czechoslovak jump teams to Bohemia. The flight was plagued by problems, and because heavy snow made it impossible to spot the intended landmarks, the two assassins were simply dropped east of Plzeň, after which they were on their own.

senior officers and staff at RAF Tempsford, Bedfordshire.
front right: Wing Commander R C Hockey, Officer Commanding No. 138
(Special Duties) Squadron RAF [Imperial War Museum Photo © IWM (HU 54484) ]

Ron C. Hockey was the only member of the aircraft's crew to survive the war. He was one of a number of distinguished RAF veterans to sign this commemorative large-format bookplate for copies of Keith A. Merrick's 1990 book on the Halifax at the Royal Air Force Museum.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

June 1942: Rommel and Heydrich in the News

On June 6,1942, the Illustrated London News ran a little feature on "British and German Personalities in the Public Eye To-Day."

The two "German personalities" were General Erwin Rommel and Reinhard Heydrich, Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, and the emerging stories would become among the most important of the war.

Rommel was "again in the news" because he had "launched his long-awaited offensive against the Allies in Libya." Already a week earlier, the New York Times headline announced, "Nazi Tanks Push Toward Tobruk." Rommel's forces captured the crucial port on 20 June, taking over 33,000 Allied prisoners. The victory earned him promotion to Field Marshal.

The Heydrich story was more dramatic news: an assassination attempt, which, the magazine observed with satisfaction, meant that he had "reaped his just deserts." Like most  reports on the attack, this one was based on speculation or fragmentary and often inaccurate information. The magazine explains that Heydrich was wounded on 27 May but describes the incident as a shooting by a Czech patriot, implying a local resistance fighter. In fact, he was the victim of a bomb attack by Czechoslovak paratroopers. Because so little was known, the report hedges its bets by adding, "some say by Nazis." Although the assertion had no basis in fact, it was not quite as far-fetched as it sounds. The ruthless Heydrich had many enemies, and given the failure of the authorities to make any progress in tracking down the assailants, some Germans began to murmur that they must have come from within the Nazi hierarchy.

The report correctly notes Heydrich's role as Himmler's protégé and his reputation for brutality. Indeed, in February, his portrait was featured on the cover of Time magazine, surrounded by hangman's nooses.

However, the report incorrectly ascribes to him the creation of Dachau concentration camp. In fact, Heydrich's role in the Nazi terror apparatus was far greater. As head of the Reich Main Security Organization, not only was he responsible for the operations of the Security Service and Security Police: he also played a crucial role in the emerging Holocaust, a story that was not yet known and as yet had no name. In January, Heydrich had secretly convened a conference of top German officials, which decreed the extermination of the European Jews.

By the time the report appeared, Heydrich was in fact already dead, having succumbed to his wounds on 4 June. The vicious reprisals that followed would be a bigger news story than the assassination itself.

Further pieces on the Heydrich assassination