Ravensbrück, Hitler’s death camp for women


This video is called Holocaust: Ravensbruck and Buchenwald, part 1.

These two videos are the sequels.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

If This Is a Woman: Inside Ravensbrück, Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm – review

Ravensbrück is a camp relatively unknown because it doesn’t fit the Holocaust narrative. The hundreds of survivors’ stories in this account bear witness to the terrifying heterogeneity of Nazi crimes

Early in 1938 Heinrich Himmler began to plan a concentration camp for “deviant” women: prostitutes, abortionists, “asocials” and socialists, habitual criminals, communists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, among others. He chose a site near the village of Ravensbrück in the picturesque Lake District of Mecklenburg, an hour away from Berlin, where one of his best friends in the SS had a country house. Male prisoners were sent from Sachsenhausen and built the new camp; on 15 May 1939 the first 867 women arrived, and 130,000 more would follow before Ravensbrück was liberated by the Red Army in April 1945. Himmler had been warned from the start that the camp – grotesquely crowded, holding 50,000 at its peak – would be too small.

Sarah Helm’s first book was about Vera Atkins, who worked in the French section of the Special Operations Executive and after the war traced some of the female agents she had lost in action to Ravensbrück. Helm is a tireless researcher. She has recovered the testimony of scores of women, many from eastern Europe, many of whom had until now been silent; she describes the Nazi medical experiments at the camp from the perspective of its terrified victims; and she recovers the history of the ancillary children’s camp nearby. She makes unimaginable suffering seem almost graspable through hundreds of intimate stories. She rightly says her book is the first exhaustive “biography of Ravensbrück beginning at the beginning and ending at the end”.

That said, Ravensbrück is not “still today, hidden away, its crimes unknown, the voices of its prisoners silenced”, as Helm claims. Far from it. A bibliography published in 2000 has almost a thousand entries; the camp became a memorial in the German Democratic Republic in 1959 and since 1993 has become part of a new, larger commemorative site. Two of the Ravensbrück doctors, Herta Oberheuser and her boss Karl Gebhardt, were among those convicted in the well publicised Nuremberg Doctors’ trial of 1946, and the records of the trials, conducted by British occupation authorities, of another 21 women and 17 men for war crimes committed at Ravensbrück, have been open for decades. The camp has been well known and intensively studied for almost half a century. But Helm is nonetheless getting at something; well known for what?

Not for the sheer numbers murdered there. An exact accounting is impossible, but orders of magnitude are clear: 5,000-6,000 died in a gas chamber hastily built in late 1944 when Auschwitz stopped taking new arrivals, and several thousand more in the gas chambers of a nearby Nazi euthanasia centre. Between 30,000 and 50,000 died from cold, starvation, shooting, beatings, lethal injections, disease and medical experimentation; tens of thousands were sent east to be murdered. But, in the quantitative league tables of Nazi crime, these numbers scarcely register. In Auschwitz, 400,000 Hungarian Jews were gassed during six weeks of the summer of 1944 alone; the purpose-built killing factory at Treblinka murdered between 870,000 and 925,000 Jews in just over a year, between July 1942 and November 1943.

Ravensbrück is also not seared into the western visual imagination. Unlike the British liberation of Bergen-Belsen, Ravensbrück’s was not recorded by a professional film crew; unlike Dachau, Buchenwald or Orhdruf, no iconic photographs were taken there: no tiers of emaciated prisoners on bunks, no German civilians made to see what they had wrought, no shocked American generals standing over corpse heaps.

Ravensbrück does not fit well into the Holocaust story. In the first place, the number of Jews there was always relatively small in comparison with other categories of prisoners; Himmler declared it Judenfrei after the last thousand or so Jewish women were sent to Auschwitz in late 1942. It did not stay that way – some Hungarian Jewish women who had escaped the summer roundups of 1944 ended up in Ravensbrück as did the survivors of the infamous winter death marches from the east – but the camp does not figure prominently in the story of genocide. For a time its role, however small, was almost forgotten. Two recent books on Jews at Ravensbrück now restore it to memory by bearing witness on a human scale. In neither is the argument quantitative. One estimates that Jews constituted about 20% of a total of 132,000 prisoners; the other, after an exhaustive survey, identifies 16,331 Jewish prisoners — probably a low number — of whom 25% are known to have survived. The author, Judith Buber Agassi, provides a compact disc with their names and other information.

More importantly, Ravensbrück is an outlier to the Holocaust narrative because the question of who counts as a Jew, not measured by Nazi racial laws but by more subtle markers of identity and memory, is more exigent there than in any other camp. Helm implicitly recognises this in her account of the life and death of the camp’s most famous victim: Olga Benário Prestes, Jew and communist. Benário was the model for Die Tragende (“Woman Carrying”), a statue of an emaciated woman carrying a comrade which stood over the East German memorial site at Ravensbrück. For the communist regime she represented anti-fascist heroism and brought the camp into line with the official state narrative which held that all the perpetrators were in the west and all the resisters in the east. Perhaps her statue does not portray adequately a “tortured wife and mother”; it certainly elides her Jewishness and yet, according to Helm, she lived and died in the camp as a Jew.

The truth is more complex. Olga was so deeply estranged from her German Jewish family that her mother refused to take the infant daughter to whom Olga gave birth in prison. Luckily for the baby, Anita Benário Prestes, she was taken by her Brazilian grandmother and is now a retired professor of history in Rio. Her father was the Brazilian insurrectionist communist leader, Luís Carlos Prestes. He was jailed and his wife, Olga, was betrayed by British intelligence services to the Brazilian authorities who put her on a closely guarded boat to Germany as a goodwill gesture to Hitler. The SS took her off in Hamburg and threw her in prison. International pressure got her released for a time; then came the war, re-imprisonment, this time in Ravensbrück, and finally death.

Benário was, without question, not taken to Ravensbrück as a Jew; like another famous prisoner with whom she was gassed, the Austrian socialist Käthe Pick Leichter, she was a political prisoner who was Jewish; she wore a yellow star but also a red badge.(Some sources say that her other badge was black to label her an “asocial”, intended to make the communist prisoners shun her. They did not.) …

Even her end is difficult to fit into a Holocaust narrative. She and Leichter were among 1,600 women gassed over the course of a few days: Jews, yes, but also infirm and weak prostitutes (the asocials, who wore black triangles) and criminals (who wore green triangles). “All sorts” were taken by the end, reports a witness. They were killed in one of the clandestine euthanasia centres where the Aryan mentally ill and disabled were taken, from the institutions where they had lived, to be murdered; relatives were sent notices that they had died of natural causes. This is what happened in the case of Herta Cohen, a Jew among the 1600, who was in Ravensbrück because she had had sex with a Dusseldorf police officer in violation of racial hygiene laws. The camp commandant wrote a letter to local authorities saying that Cohen had died of a stroke and asked them to find her sister to inform her of Herta’s death, and to inquire whether there was a space in a local cemetery to receive her ashes. If there was no word within ten days her remains would be tossed away; Leichter’s ashes were sent back to Vienna along with a last letter. We have only a letter of Benário’s to her family, sent on the eve of her murder. …

The deepest problem in knowing Ravensbrück has to do with gender. Helm aims to “throw light on the Nazis’ crimes against women”, and at the same time to show how “what happened at the camp for women can illuminate the wider Nazi story”. Of course there were Nazi crimes against women qua women and Helm exposes them in great detail: in prison for prostitution, they were then forced to be prostitutes; a midwife imprisoned for performing abortions, illegal in Germany, performed them on inmates. …

In the first place, Ravensbrück was unique: the only camp especially for women in the entire murderous Nazi archipelago. Helm never explains why the regime kept it up. They did so, it seems, in part because Ravensbrück trained female guards for other camps. They also needed a place for all sorts of special prisoners: Gemma La Guardia Gluck, sister of the famous New York mayor; SOE agents; spies; members of the French resistance; Polish aristocrats and Scandinavian nationals whom Himmler hoped to bargain away.

Lusitanian toadfish sings to keep intruders away


This video is about a Lusitanian toadfish and other fish.

From New Scientist:

Zoologger: Bagpiper fish keeps intruders away with song

15:52 01 April 2015 by Mary Bates

Species: The Lusitanian toadfish (Halobatrachus didactylus)

Habitat: Bottom-dwelling, in rock crevices or muddy sediments on the floor of the Atlantic ocean and Mediterranean sea

It whistles, grunts and croaks. The Lusitanian toadfish is quite musical for a fish. It makes at least five kinds of calls, and males even sing in choruses to attract mates with their boatwhistles – long, rhythmical, tonal sounds.

Now it seems the boatwhistle has another function: keeping intruding males away. Lusitanian toadfish can reach over half a metre in length and weigh over 2 kilograms. They have large, flat heads and wide mouths, giving them the toad-like appearance that they’re named after.

During the mating season, from May to July, males create nests under rocks and then sing to attract females. Males are territorial and they defend their nests from intruders. After mating, females leave their sticky eggs in the nest for the male to care for until the young are old enough to fend for themselves, at about three to four weeks.

Although boatwhistles were already thought to act as a keep-out signal to other males, there was no direct evidence of this. So Clara Amorim, from ISPA University Institute in Portugal and her colleagues decided to test this hypothesis by muting male toadfish and seeing what happened.

Shushing a noisy fish

Lusitanian toadfish call by contracting muscles on their swim bladders, which releases air. Different sounds result from different contraction rates. Think of it as an underwater bagpiper.

Amorim and her colleagues muted some toadfishes by cutting and deflating their swim bladders under anaesthesia. These fish could still contract their muscles, but couldn’t make any sound.

They found that the nests of muted males were more likely to be intruded upon, probably because they were unable to sing. Their results suggest that boatwhistles are effective keep-out signals, reducing the risk of territorial intrusions and therefore nest takeovers.

“Boatwhistles are a cheap way to exclude intruders without engaging in a fight,” says Amorim. “Seeing that a nest is occupied is not as effective as hearing that there is a male in the nest eager to defend its territory.”

Some aspects of toadfish boatwhistles, such as frequency and pulse interval, are associated with the size of the fish, meaning that others can use it to assess the quality of potential mates or the fighting ability of rivals.

The Lusitanian toadfish is not unique in making underwater noise. Herrings fart to find each other in the dark, clown fish chatter by clacking their jaws together to warn intruders to stay away and another species of toadfish cries like a baby.

Journal reference: Journal of Experimental Biology, DOI: 10.1242/jeb.116673

Poet Benjamin Zephaniah on British general election


This video from Britain says about itself:

21 February 2009

Benjamin Zephaniah reads his poem ‘Money’ on the hoof in Newcastle city centre, back in 1991. Now even more topical, this poem is from his 1992 Bloodaxe collection CITY PSALMS.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Benjamin Zephaniah

Wednesday 1 April 2015

If I were Prime Minister: I’d order a review of all deaths in custody and dismantle the honours system

Our series in the run-up to the General Election – 100 days, 100 contributors, but no politicians – continues with the poet, writer and musician

I’m an anarchist. So maybe I shouldn’t be here. After seeing what politicians of all persuasions have done to our country (and our world), there was no other way to go for me. People need to understand just how much they can do for themselves, so if I were forced to do the job I’d abolish the post of Prime Minister.

Before I put myself out of a job I’d get rid of every bit of privatisation in the NHS and have a radical shake up of health services. I’d introduce a new 999 service – for emergency mental health issues. Between 20 to 30 per cent of all police call outs relate to people with mental health problems, problems that the police are not trained to deal with.

I’d introduce new health awareness programmes for things like prostate cancer and HIV. There’s a lot of ignorance and fear and that can mean people die needlessly. Most black men, for instance, have no idea that prostate cancer is racist! 1 in 4 of them will get prostate cancer, compared to 1 in 8 men overall. Prostate Cancer UK’s Men United campaign aims to tackle that injustice through research and making sure men know their risk, and are informed about their own health. I’ve already written a comedy about prostate cancer, so I’d back Men United in research and in getting its messages out to people through football, music, comedy – any way they can.

With HIV there’s been huge advances in research and treatment since the eighties and nineties, when it was considered a death sentence. But attitudes haven’t changed. Like prostate cancer it’s still a taboo subject for some. So I’d aim to get families and communities talking about these things, understanding risks, and learning that early diagnosis can save lives. I’m currently heading an awareness campaign in the West Midlands that I would roll out all over the country. HIV, three letters, not a sentence.

A lot of this comes down to education and I would turn all schools back into good old-fashioned schools for all pupils. Forget academies, free schools, foundation schools and all those other fancy names, I’m talking about good schools, with well paid, creative teachers. There’d be excellent universal education for every student, paid for by all of us, for all of us. Everyone would have the same opportunities, and education would be wide-ranging.

I would order a review of all deaths in custody. That’s in police stations, prisons, hospitals, the lot. And that would be part of a comprehensive prison reform. My new prison system would be based on preparing prisoners for life beyond their sentence. Rehabilitation would be the top priority.

I might end up pushing up the prison population though, because I’d make it a criminal offence for employers to pay women less than men. The Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970, but forty-five years later and men still earn 17% more than women on average per hour. I’d give mandatory prison sentences to bosses who discriminated against female staff.

I’d also put a value on the work done in the home. Housework and caring for family members would be factored into the Gross National Product. There are people working very long hours at home who get no recognition for their role in underpinning the economy – I’d have to change that.

I would stop sending young men and women to fight in foreign lands, and I would get them building hospitals and trains for a nationalised rail service instead.

I would abolish the House of Lords and make all them so called Baronesses and Lords apologise for thinking they were better than us, and then I would recognise the State of Palestine. I would also get all those police officers that beat me up in the seventies and eighties to apologise to my mother, and then stand in a truth and reconciliation commission to confess their sins.

I would get rid of that Trident nuclear war machine, tax banks appropriately, make sure that big companies don’t use loop holes and trickery to avoid paying their share of tax, stop wasting money paying for the monarchy and politicians’ privileges, and I would invest in the green economy. The green economy is the future no mater what anyone says, it really is just a matter of how long we delay it, and how many lives are lost before we wake up.

I would dismantle the honours system. That would include abolishing the post of Poet Laureate. Poets should be poets of the people and shouldn’t be paid to work for the monarchy, writing about living or dead tyrants, or for so called state occasions. Poets should be free spirits. They should spend their time seeking truth, beauty, and attending sex parties.

Benjamin Zephaniah is Professor of Creative writing at Brunel University. He latest novel for young adults is Terror Kid.

USA: Texas could cut $3 million from HIV prevention programs in favour of abstinence education: here.

London bird news


This is a green sandpiper video from England.

From the Twitter account of the London Bird Club today:

Brent Reservoir: L[ittle] R[inged] Plover, 12.35 to 13.10 – flew N[orth], Gr[een] Sandpiper, 3 Snipe, Heron Hide, Water Rail, Chiffchaff (Andrew Verrall)

Holocaust denying ultra-right Catholics’ war against Pope Francis


Women sat on one side of the aisle, their heads – even the youngest girls – covered in scarves. Photograph: Jonathan Watts for the Guardian

This photo shows women during the illegal ordination of a priest in Nova Friburgo in Brazil by ultra-right Roman Catholics. The women sat on one side of the aisle, their heads – even the youngest girls – covered in scarves. This tendency within Roman Catholicism is Islamophobic. However, one hears their fellow Islamophobes far more about similar seating in some mosques (definitely not in all mosques) than about these Catholic fanatics.

Unfortunately, the existence of these fanatics has nothing to do with it being April Fools’ Day now …

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Ultra-traditional Catholics rebel against pope in Brazil: ‘He is less Catholic than us’

In Dutch there is a proverb: ‘To be more Roman than the pope’, meaning fanatical extremism.

Hailing from around the world, a group led by an excommunicated bishop call themselves a ‘resistance’ movement against Vatican reforms. The response from the Vatican was swift and unequivocal: ‘Excommunication is automatic’

Jonathan Watts in Nova Friburgo and Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Rome

Wednesday 1 April 2015 11.00 BST

In a secluded monastery in south-eastern Brazil, a breakaway group of ultra-conservative Catholics gathered to participate in an act of rebellion against the pope.

The setting could hardly have been more tranquil: rolling green hills, purple-glory trees, palm leaves swaying in the wind and a temporary chapel made of breeze block walls and a tin roof left partially open to the elements.

But the 50 or so priests, Benedictine monks, nuns and other worshippers who file into Santa Cruz monastery on Saturday were no ordinary congregation. Hailing from Europe, the US and Latin America, they described themselves as a “resistance” movement against Vatican reforms.

In favour of Latin services – and fiercely opposed to ecumenism, freedom of religion and closer relations with Judaism – they had come to defy the authority of Rome with the ordination of a new priest by an excommunicated bishop, Jean-Michel Faure.

It was the second such ceremony in the past month: Faure was consecrated here without papal approval only two weeks ago by the Holocaust-denying British bishop Richard Williamson. In response, both clerics were automatically ejected from the church, but this has not stopped the group’s drive to build an unsanctioned clergy.

The ceremony harked back to an earlier, more conservative age. Women sat on one side of the aisle, their heads – even the youngest girls – covered in scarves. Over three hours, the liturgy was almost entirely in Latin, as were the hymns sung by a choir of monks accompanied by a nun on an electric organ.

Before his ordination, brother André Zelaya de León prostrated himself before the altar and then rose to his knees for a blessing on his tonsured head by Faure. At times, the prayers were so quiet that they almost drowned out by the cicadas and birds in the trees.

Apart from the digital cameras, cellphones – and the electric organ – the ceremony would have been recognisable to centuries of Catholic believers before what today’s ultra-conservatives consider to be the wrong turn taken by the Catholic church with the democratising reforms of the 1962 Second Vatican Council.

After the mass, Faure told the Guardian the Vatican was smashing tradition, and going against the teachings of Pius X, a staunch conservative who was pope between 1903 and 1914.

“We do not follow that revolution. The current pope is preaching doctrine denied by Pius X. He is less Catholic than us,” he said. “He does not follow the doctrine of the faith that are the words of Jesus Christ.”

The Vatican’s response to the ordination was unequivocal.

“Excommunication is automatic,” a spokesman said. He added: “For the Holy See, the diocese of Santa Cruz in Nova Friburgo does not exist. Faure can say what he wants, but a Catholic, and even more so a bishop, obeys and respects the pope.”

Faure, a French cleric who has worked in Mexico and Argentina, said he did not accept this ruling.

“Canon Law states that excommunication is valid if it follows a mor[t]al sin. But ours is not a mortal sin. We’re just following our religion. To do this, we need priests, and to have priests we need bishops.”

He compared his situation to that of other Catholics in history, such as Joan of Arc, who were initially excommunicated but later recognised for their contribution to the Church. “Although we are a minority now, if you look at history, we are a majority. There [are] all the saints, 250 popes and all the Catholics who think exactly as we think.”

Faure said he only reluctantly become a bishop in case Williamson died in an accident, which would leave the group without the means to ordain priests.

Though he did not say it, the French bishop may also be replacing his British counterpart as a spokesman for the movement. Williamson has repeatedly stirred up controversy with comments denying the Holocaust, … warning that Muslims are taking over Europe, and claiming that women are dominating corporations and the military because they are not fulfilling their natural role “making babies”.

Williamson was one of four bishops illegally ordained in 1988 by a French Roman Catholic archbishop called Marcel Lefebvre, the founder of the Society of St Pius X and an outspoken critic of the liberalisation of certain church practices following the Second Vatican Council, including the widespread use of vernacular language rather than Latin in mass, inter-faith dialogue and efforts to communicate with the secular world.

Lefebvre and all four bishops were immediately excommunicated for participating in the illicit ordinations, but their movement has been a thorn in the Vatican’s side ever since.

Only about one million Catholics – or .01% of the Catholic population – describe themselves as followers of St Pius X, but successive popes have attempted to heal the rift with them.

In 2009, Pope Benedict ignited controversy by lifting the excommunication of the four bishops and even promised the rebel group autonomy from bishops they considered too liberal.

This quickly backfired when it was revealed that Williamson had alleged that no Jews were killed in gas chambers, that the US orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks and that freemasons were conspiring to destroy Catholicism.

The Vatican said at the time that Benedict had not been aware of Williamson’s views on the Holocaust. …

In contrast to his predecessor, Pope Francis has paid little attention to the ultra-conservatives.

Williamson has declared that he does not intend to start a new society, but the movement has now created a new bishop and a priest, and Faure claimed that there were at least two bishops in the Society of St Pius X who sympathised with the self-styled “Resistance”.

“If Bishop Lefebvre makes a deal with Rome, many people will leave the society. They won’t accept capitulation,” he said.

In conversation, the traditionalists appear to be hoping for a divine and dramatic intervention. Williamson, who describes himself as a “bloody-minded Brit”, has said he expects a “gigantic chastisement” such as Noah’s flood.

Faure talks more of a coming third world war.

“It would be horrible, but it would change the world. But the day after wouldn’t be like the day before,” Faure said, pointing to the conflicts in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq. “It would change many things in the world. It would be a new approach in many aspects and why not, in religion.”

For the moment, however, their group of roughly 55 rebel clergy has to rely on stubborn faith.

René Trincado, a priest from Chile, who was expelled from the Society of St Pius X in 2013 because he opposed an accord with the Vatican, is among those at the Santa Cruz monastery, which he described as the base of the resistance operations in Brazil.

“We’re not afraid of excommunication. It has no validity,” he said.

Additional reporting by Shanna Hanbury