HOLOCAUST STORIES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I was born in New York City in 1949, just a few years after the end of WWII. My parents and grandparents, all Jewish, lived through WWII hearing horror stories about Jewish persecution and the concentration camps. They genuinely feared that if Germany won the war, a distinct possibility for much of the war, the ‘final solution’ for the Jews would spread all around the Nazi-controlled world. It was a scary time for everyone, but particularly for Jews, even in America.

My grandmother’s sister, Rachel had stayed in Russia, with one other sister, while her siblings and eventually her parents emigrated to the United States. They lived close to the western border, so when Hitler broke his pact with Russia and invaded, their town was one of the first to be taken. This was before the Russian army had even begun to mobilize. The Jews in their town were rounded up and put in the synagogue. The building was set on fire and anyone who tried to escape was shot.

Rachel’s oldest son was in school in Moscow at the time his family was murdered. After the war, organizations were formed all over the world to help Jews locate relatives and friends who were missing after the war. My grandmother spent years searching for her nephew, but no trace of him was ever found.

My grandmother as a young child (between her parents) with her siblings

My mother and grandmother were obsessed with the Holocaust when I was growing up. They read everything they could find on the persecution of Jews, and particularly about the concentration camps. I was given graphic books about the camps at around nine or ten years of age. Way too young, in my opinion.

But I also learned about the camps in another, more personal way. Two Czechoslovakian, identical twin sisters named Irina and Elena were good friends of my parents. They told us lots of stories about their time in concentration and work camps, including Auschwitz.

They were sixteen years old when they and their parents were put in overcrowded cattle cars, squashed together with other terrified Jews, and shipped to Auschwitz. They had no food, water or bathrooms for several days. People were crying and screaming. People got sick and died. The smells were unbearable. They arrived at the camp in horrible shape, physically as well as emotionally.

There was a line of Jews being processed into the camp. Dr. Joseph Mengele was at the front of the line with a whip which he used to indicate if a person should go to the left into the camp, or to the right, directly into the gas chambers.

He also picked people out of the line to be subjected to his horrible, sadistic ‘medical’ experiments – all done without anesthesia.

Dr. Josef Mengele, also called “The Angel of Death”

Irina and Elena tell how their lives were saved by a camp guard. The guard recognized that the girls were twins. He also knew that Dr. Mengele loved to do experiments on twins. This guard’s wife was also a twin so he took pity on the girls. He whispered to them that they should say that they were a year apart in age. Bewildered, the girls did as they were told and were sent to the camp, saving their lives. They also threw away their eyeglasses so they would be judged healthy and ready to work, thus avoiding the gas chamber.

I don’t remember all their stories about the camps. I remember that they were separated from their parents and didn’t know if they were even still alive till the end of the war. I also remember that a good friend of theirs, also a teenager, got sick. They tried to nurse her back to health. They even gave her part of their meager rations of food. But she died anyway and they were crushed.

They told us that they tried very hard to preserve some of their Jewish traditions – a reminder of life outside the camps. They feel this helped preserve their sanity and gave them the strength to survive. They and a few other friends would save up pieces of their daily bread so they could sneak off and have secret Shabbat ‘dinners’ and celebrate Passover at a makeshift Seder. They managed to find something to use as a tablecloth and maybe a candle, to make these celebrations as real as possible.

They were liberated by the Americans and the British at the end of the war. Miraculously, their parents survived (they had also been separated in the camp) and they were reunited. They were emaciated and weak and their heads had all been shaven. They went back to Czechoslovakia and began to recuperate and start a new life. Their hair began to grow back, which was a huge deal for the still young twins.

Tragically, Elena’s new life was cut short in 1948. She was arrested for being a communist, turned in by a ‘friend’. The Czech authorities shaved her head again and threw her into prison for another year. She had emotionally survived the camps but this was too much for her to handle. She had a complete mental breakdown in prison. She was mentally very fragile for the rest of her life. She went up and down emotionally and had many periods of serious meltdowns and crises. Her sister was at her side through all her problem periods, even when they lived in different parts of the world. They remained close the rest of their lives.

I made sure that my children understood the Holocaust, but in an age-appropriate way. When my daughter, Sarah, was around seven, we were in Germany and we visited the Dachau Concentration Camp, which is now a museum to the Holocaust. We answered any questions she had but didn’t push too much information on her. She came across a photo that got to her on a visceral level. It showed a child being torn away from its mother and the mother and child were frantically reaching for each other. Sarah was horrified when she realized that children were being separated from their parents. That’s what she could relate to at her age and it made an indelible impression on her.

Dachau Concentration Camp as a museum today

Both my children are adults now and know a lot about the Holocaust and World War II. Hopefully, they will make sure that their children never forget.

Hopefully, no one will forget.

THE JONESTOWN MASSACRE, 40th ANNIVERSARY – Marilyn Armstrong

The 40th Anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre


“He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon.” –
Old English proverb, 14th century.

There has been an upsurge of interest in Jonestown over the past few years. This post went by with little attention when I wrote it in 2012. Since then, it has developed a life of its own. Not surprising as Jim Jones and Donald Trump share many traits. More importantly, so do their followers.

This is a cautionary tale, an urgent warning for everyone. Talk is not harmless. Lies matter. Corruption kills. To all of you who blindly follow, I hope you’ve got that long spoon handy. I have a feeling you will need it. 


From Nothing, Something Terrible Comes – Remembering November 18, 1978


Jonestown_entrance_welcome

The story of the Jonestown Massacre is true. From it grew a saying everyone uses. “Drink the Kool-Aid” or “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.” I wonder how many people who say it so casually, referring to products, buying into a corporate culture, or political philosophy, realize to what they are referring?

I’ve written this before, but this is a major revision and it bears repeating. It’s true. It happened. We need to make sure it never happens again.

DRINK (OR DON’T DRINK) THE KOOL-AID

The popular expression “drink the Kool-Aid” has become a common verbal shorthand in American business and politics. Roughly translated, it means “to blindly follow or accept a set of beliefs.” At work, it means you endorse what your bosses tell you. In politics, it means you fully buy into the platform.

It carries a negative connotation, but not as negative as it ought.

Kool-Aid was the drink for children on summer afternoons in the 1950s. The saying is now just bland rhetoric, stripped of its context and thus the horror it ought to evoke.

THE PEOPLES TEMPLE

Jim Jones, cult leader, and mass murderer was a complex madman. A communist, occasional Methodist minister, he founded his own pseudo-church in the late 1950s. He called it the “Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church,” known in short as the “Peoples Temple.”

The lack of a possessive apostrophe was intentional. The name supposedly refers to “the people of the world.” Jones called it a church, but it was a twisted version of a Marxist commune. At first, it combined with miscellaneous Christian references Jones used in his diatribes, er, sermons.

jim_jones

It was not a church. The Peoples Temple was a straight-up cult requiring total personal commitment, financial support, and absolute obedience. The characteristics which define a cult.

Jones was the leader. A homicidal maniac, but he had positive qualities. Jones and his wife, Marceline, favored racial integration. They adopted kids from varying racial backgrounds and were the first white family in Indiana to adopt an African-American boy. They also adopted 3 Korean children, a Native American child, and a handful of white kids. They had one child of their own.

Jones called his adopted kids the “Rainbow Family.” He made a name for himself desegregating institutions in Indiana. Before you get all dewy-eyed, note that this climaxed in murdering these children.

The Peoples Temple expanded through the 1960s. Jones gradually abandoned Marxism. His preaching increasingly focused on an impending nuclear apocalypse. He specified a date — July 15, 1967 — and suggested after the apocalypse, a socialist paradise would exist on Earth. Where would the new Eden be?

Jones decided on Redwood Valley, California. Before the expected Big Bang, he moved the Temple and its peoples there.

When the end-of-the-world deadline came and went, Jones abandoned his pretense of Christianity and he revealed himself as a madman using religion to lend legitimacy to his views. He announced, “Those who remained drugged with the opiate of religion must be brought to enlightenment — socialism.” Prophetic words in view of the fact that Jones was a drug addict.

As media attention increased, Jones worried the Peoples Temple’s tax-exempt religious status was in danger. He was paranoid about the U.S. intelligence community — with good reason.

Jonestown aerial view

In 1977, Jones moved the Temple and its people again. This was a major relocation. He took them out of the United States and resettled everyone in Guyana, a poor South American nation. He modestly named it “Jonestown.”

It was a bleak, inhospitable place. On 4000 acres of poor soil with limited access to fresh water, it was too small for the number of people it had to support. Jones optimistically figured “his” people could farm the new utopia. He had put together several million dollars before getting to Jonestown, but didn’t share it with his followers. He barely used any of the money at all, and lived in a small, bare-bones shack.

ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE

U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown in November of 1978. Rumors of peculiar goings-on were leaking out of Jonestown. Ryan decided to investigate the allegations of human rights abuses in Jonestown.

Jonestown headline Milwaukee

Ryan didn’t go alone. He took a contingent of media representatives including NBC News correspondent Don Harris and other reporters, plus relatives of Jonestown residents. During his visit, Congressman Ryan talked to more than a dozen Temple members, all of whom said they wanted to leave. Several of them passed a note saying: “Please help us get out of Jonestown” to news anchor Harris.

If the number of defectors seems low (there were more than 900 people in Jonestown), but the congressional party was unable to talk to most of the “fellowship.” It’s impossible to know how many might have wanted to leave.

Ryan began processing paperwork to repatriate Temple members to go back to the States. In the middle of this, Ryan was attacked by Don Sly, a knife-wielding Temple member. This would-be assassin was stopped before injuring Ryan. Eventually, the entire Ryan party plus the group of Jonestown defectors drove to a nearby airstrip and boarded planes, intending to leave.

Jim Jones had other plans. He sent armed Temple members — his “Red Brigade,” after the Congressional party  These creepy “soldiers of the Temple” opened fire, killing Ryan, a Temple defector, 3 members of the media, and wounding 11 others. The survivors fled into the jungle.

jonestown massacre anniversary

When the murderers returned to Jonestown and reported their actions, Jones promptly started what he called a “White Night” meeting. He “invited” all Temple members. This wasn’t the first White Night. Jones had hosted previous White Night meetings in which he suggested U.S. intelligence agencies would soon attack Jonestown. He had even staged fake attacks to add a realism, though it’s hard to believe anyone was fooled by the play-acting.

Faced with this hypothetical invasion scenario, Jones told Temple members they could stay and fight imaginary invaders, or they could take off for the USSR. Another tempting alternative would be to run off into the Guyana jungles. Finally, they could commit mass suicide as an act of political protest.

On previous occasions, Temple members had opted for suicide. Not satisfied, Jones had tested their commitment and gave them cups of liquid they were told contained poison. They were asked to drink it. Which they did. After a while, Jones told them the liquid wasn’t poison — but one day it would be.

Jonestown Koolaid

Indeed Jim Jones had been stockpiling cyanide and other drugs for years. On this final White Night, Jones was no longer testing his followers. It was time to kill them all.

(DON’T) DRINK THE KOOL-AID

After the airstrip murders outside Jonestown, Jim Jones ordered Temple members to create a fruity mix containing a cocktail of chemicals that included cyanide, diazepam (Valium), promethazine (Phenergan — a sedative), chloral hydrate (a sedative/hypnotic sometimes called “knockout drops”), and Flavor Aid — a grape-flavored powdered drink mix similar to Kool-Aid.

jonestown_massacre

Jones urged his followers to commit suicide to make a political point. What that point was supposed to be is a matter of considerable conjecture.  After some discussion, Temple member Christine Miller suggested flying Temple members to the USSR.

Jones was never interested in escape. There was only one answer he would accept. Death. Lots of it. He repeatedly pointed out Congressman Ryan was dead (and whose fault was that?) which would surely bring down the weight of American retribution. An audiotape of this meeting exists. It is as creepy as you’d expect.

30-years-jonestown

Then it was time for the detailed instructions which the followers followed. I will never understand why. Probably it means I’m not insane.

Jones insisted mothers squirt poison into the mouths of their children using syringes. As their children died, the mothers were dosed too, though they were allowed to drink from cups. Temple members wandered outside where eventually more than 900 lay dead, including more than 300 children. Only a handful survived — primarily residents who happened to be away on errands when the mass suicide/massacre took place.

Jones, his wife, and various other members of the Temple left wills stating that their assets should go to the Communist Party of the USSR.

Jones did not drink poison. He died from a bullet to the head. It’s not clear if it was self-inflicted. Jones likely died last or nearly so. He may have preferred a gun to cyanide, having seen the horrendous effects of death by cyanide.

WHY KOOL-AID?

In the wake of the tragedy at Jonestown, the phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” became a popular term for blind (or not-so-blind) obedience. Temple members had apparently accepted their cups of poison without argument or objection. Various accounts say the beverage used at Jonestown was mostly Flavor Aid, sometimes “Flav-R-Aid”). It doesn’t matter, does it?

Kool-Aid was better known than Flavor Aid. It was introduced in 1927 in powdered form, so when Americans thought of a powdered fruity drink mix (other than “Tang”), “Kool-Aid” sprang to mind.

Jonestown-Tomb-Flower

Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were at Jonestown, but the phrase “(don’t) drink the Kool-Aid” is popular lingo. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Does it help sell Kool-Aid?

I never touch the stuff.

Trump and America’s Xenophobic Soul: Reblog – SHINBONE STAR

It started before the Revolution and despite the Civil War and Constitutional amendments, racism has never gone away. Those of us who are the targets of America’s hatefulness –all dark-skinned people, Native Americans, Jews, Muslims, Hispanic — basically, anyone whose ancestry was not white European– we all knew. Or should have known.

My mother tried to warn me, but I thought the bad old days were over and she was just being cynical.

I’m glad she isn’t alive. She would hate — and recognize — this “new” world. Because it’s not new. It’s creaking with age and cruelty.


 

THE SHINBONE STAR

In the 1956 movie “Forbidden Planet” the characters come to the realization the monster that’s been steadily kicking their ass is a projection of the id from the subconscious of the ridiculously pompous Dr. Morbius.

Since Donald Trump broke out with his bullshit about former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, professional and academic credentials and then still was elected president, I considered Trump to be a monstrous projection of white America’s id.

Nope. It’s way worse.

I think Trump is the embodiment of the Krell machines — (do yourself a favor and watch this film, it’s worth your time) channeling America’s id into a racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ 30 percent core of electoral malevolence called the GOP.

After these weeks of rolling outrage, it is obvious that everyone now blaming the president for this hostile environment is missing the point: Trump isn’t the disease, he is the symptom.

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A LOSS OF INNOCENCE – Garry Armstrong

A friend took me to a Red Sox Game at Fenway Park. It was the middle of April, so there was a chill in the wind. I layered up and topped it off with my retro Brooklyn Dodgers tee-shirt. It was Jackie Robinson day. Everyone was wearing the fabled #42.

red sox 42 jackie robinson day
April 15, 2016 – Fenway Park

April is the beginning of the new baseball season, when hope springs eternal. Anything could happen. The haves and have-nots are equally in the race. For me, it’s also when I open the cookie jar of memories, mentally racing around the bases to those days when I listened to our boys of summer on the radio.

Vin Scully was a 20-something rookie broadcaster, calling his first season of Brooklyn Dodgers games.

The Korean “conflict” dominated the radio news, which preceded the important stuff, baseball. The Brooklyn Dodgers were “America’s Team” in 1950. Vin Scully was a new breed of a sports broadcaster. He mixed in stories about President Truman’s desegregation of our Armed Forces and “discontent” about the integrated Dodgers’ team.

Scully used phrases like “Goodnight, sweet Prince,” after Jackie Robinson turned in another memorable game amid jeers from rabble-rousers. It was curious to this young fan who dreamed of becoming a teammate of Jackie Robinson, Peewee Reese, and Duke Snider. I’d wear Dodger Blue with pride, I promised myself.

I thought it would be wonderful if they played baseball all year round and the stories would always be about the Bums and the dreaded New York Yankees. How terrific to listen to Vin Scully and not those other people talking about grown-up stuff. Scully even mentioned things we were studying in school and made them sound exciting.

I’ll never forget his referring to April as “the cruelest month.” I’d steal that line a zillion times.

A couple of decades later, chance opened the door to meetings with Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and other fabled Boys of Summer. Campy was friendly and outgoing, eager to share stories with a newbie reporter. He would say, “Life is good, young fella. You gotta appreciate it.”

Jackie Robinson would glare at Campy as he wove the stories of good times with the Dodgers. Sometimes, he would interrupt Campanella with a sharp, “Enough, Roy. Enough of that fiction.”

72-Jackie-Robinson-Baseball-HOF_038

Robinson would turn to me, his eyes blazing, seemingly angry. “Life isn’t a ball game, young man,” he once said.  Then, he gently patted me on the shoulder, noting that I was a good conversationalist and listener.

It was a bit confusing. It happened that way several times.

People like Campy, Peewee Reese and even a reluctant Duke Snider would share that Jackie Robinson was an angry, complicated man on a mission. The inner turmoil, anger, frustration, and multiple health issues took Robinson from us way too early, at age 53.

1950. So long ago. A time of innocence for many young boys like me.


Almost two years have rolled around. It’s the beginning of October and the playoffs are about to begin. Our team is in them. It has been a record-breaking year, so regardless of what comes, we’ll remember 2018.

Vin Scully retired last year. I keep thinking “Maybe we can bring him back, just for this one final set of post-season games … because we need his eloquence.” The world is not running short of baseball commentators, yet I feel we need him.

Depending on how the mid-term elections go, so will go this country. It’s no small thing. It’s possible the future — our future — depends on what happens during the next few weeks. It’s daunting and frightening.

Baseball has been a saving grace for me during this otherwise disgraceful year of political ugliness and international ill-will. Could a World Series win fix this?

Somehow, I doubt it. We need something bigger than a ballpark win this year.

BE NICE – Marilyn Armstrong

I often feel like I should print a million t-shirts and bumper stickers that say: “BE NICE.” If I had the money, I’d do it and I’d stand on a busy street corner and hand them out.

Be nice and a better world will follow.

I don’t expect everyone to agree. I don’t even think having everyone agree is inherently a good thing. We need opposition. Controversy should be a positive development in politics and other areas of thought.

Phoenix sunset – Photo: Garry Armstrong

On the other hand, I believe civility would heal a lot of wounds. You don’t call people ugly names no matter what you believe because doing so is cruel, hurtful, and mean-spirited.

You don’t need a better reason. You don’t need “PC Police.” Keep a civil tongue in your head is a good enough reason.

I grew up in a household where we never, ever called anybody by any name that referred to their race or religion. This wasn’t only if someone of that race or religion was present. This was a general rule and applied 100% of the time, whether we were alone or in company. Nobody called names.

It was clearly and completely understood by everyone this was an absolute and rigid rule. No exceptions. Unless it was a literal quote and you were making a point about the speech, it was forbidden. Into my adulthood, I never heard anyone in my house — not kids or adults — racially or religiously insult anyone. Come to think of it, I didn’t hear it from any of my friends, either.

Sunset in the desert – Photo: Garry Armstrong

What anyone might have thought privately? I don’t know and I don’t care.

In our house, those words were never used. Garry says he was brought up the same way. Maybe if more parents refused to spout hateful words and made sure their kids didn’t use them either, the world would be a more civilized place for all of us.

FREE SPEECH ISN’T FREE – BY TOM CURLEY

As I’m writing this, there was a “free speech” rally that went on in Washington DC. It’s was held by a bunch of right-wing white supremacist neo-Nazis. They seem to feel that their civil rights are being violated because a whole bunch of people don’t like them.

Because they’re white, you see. They’re being persecuted because they are a superior race. Oddly enough, many people take umbrage with that claim.

The “rally” ended up consisting of a couple of dozen of these poor downtrodden racists and thousands of counter-protesters who believe that NAZIS ARE BAD!

These white supremacists seem to feel they’re being persecuted because they’re being denied their right to free speech. The super nut-job Alex Jones is crying and moaning because his shows have been taken off almost all the major social media platforms — like Facebook, YouTube, and ITunes.

Why? Because he spouts insane dangerous conspiracy theories. That the massacre of elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut was a “false flag” operation. It didn’t happen. The kids and parents were actors.

Because of this, those poor parents have been hounded by nut-jobs that believe this crap. They’ve received death threats. Some have had to move more than once to escape the harassment.

Think about that. Those poor people lost their five or six-year-old child and now they have to deal with this. The only good news is Jones is being sued by a lot of these families.

White supremacist groups and neo-nazis complain when they have a rally or publish hate-filled bullshit on social media platforms, the places at which they work see the posts — and promptly fire their asses.

They claim they’re being punished for exercising their First Amendment rights. This is bullshit. They’re being fired because they’re racist assholes.

Their problem is that they don’t actually understand how the First Amendment works.


Here’s what it says:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”


What does this mean?

No law can be passed by the government to prevent you from saying whatever you want in public, no matter how fucking dumb, sick, stupid, or racist it might be.

But here’s the way it actually works.

Just because you can say anything you want, doesn’t mean you should. Nobody has to listen to it or agree with it. I or anyone can say you’re an asshole because of the stupid racist thing you just said.

Social media platforms are not governments. They can deny you access to their service for any reason at all including NO reason. It’s in the service agreements on which you click on but never read.

A business can fire you for any reason they want and which includes no reason except they don’t like you (“You don’t fit into our culture”).

It’s not surprising that businesses, big and small, don’t want racist hate-spewing dick-wads working for them. Who can blame them? It’s bad for business.

Free speech means you can stand on a street corner and spout any kind of bullshit you want. But you need to understand — there may be consequences.

Like getting fired.

Or having thousands of people show up to exercise their First Amendment rights to say you’re an asshole.

Or, to put it in terms white supremacists can understand.


Your kind is not welcome here.

ROSEANNE (FINALLY, AT LONG LAST) GETS HER JUST DESSERTS – Ellin Curley

Everyone knows that Roseanne Barr’s new TV sitcom has been canceled because of racist/conspiracy theory tweets she made.

I am thrilled! It may be mean-spirited of me to wish bad things on people that I consider vile, misogynistic, racist and anti-fact. But this is particularly well deserved.

Roseanne Barr, the actress, is a Trump supporter and advocate of the worst conspiracy theories and racism that are promulgated by the right-wing media. One of her goals for her show was to reveal a more nuanced, more favorable and relatable image for the middle-class Trump supporter. Instead, she proved the worst that we liberals believe about the typical Trump/right-wing supporters.

I am very happy that Hollywood gave up a popular, lucrative show for moral/political reasons. Their values and the values that most Americans share turned out to be more important than profit. At least in this one, egregious case. Money did not talk. Profit was not the God to be worshipped. The ABC network put morality and decency above their bottom line.

Roseanne’s behavior obviously embarrassed ABC. She put them in the spotlight and subjected them to an avalanche of negative press and pressure from viewers and sponsors. But they could have resisted to save their number one show on TV. This shows ‘character’ if you can attribute human characteristics to a corporation. It also shows that decent people have clout when it comes to extreme racism and fact bashing. Maybe not every time, but I feel hopeful.

I watched Roseanne’s first episode and actually liked it. But I refused to watch it as my own personal, political statement. I didn’t want Trumpettes to get a reputation whitewash. I wouldn’t support that. Now I don’t have to cringe when I hear how Trump supporters are being portrayed as nice and decent, but struggling people.

You blew it, Roseanne! The truth is out! You are as bad as we liberals think you are!