Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Images of the Holocaust

I came across an article on BBC news that compares recent pictures of Auschwitz Concentration Camp with contemporary photographs, showing Jewish families arriving at the camp. These photographs are so haunting, perhaps even more so since it’s nearly seventy years since the camp was liberated. I still think the Imperial War Museum is worth visiting, and I’m looking forward to the Holocaust Museum in DC, however harrowing it may be. When I see these pictures, it’s impossible not to imagine who these people were, what were the names? Did they have children? How did they die?  

Never forget.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Pine Ridge Reservation Suing Beer Companies

In 2006, my family visited South Dakota, Colorado, Montana and Wyoming, travelling through stunning national parks, visiting Mount Rushmore and seeing how the other half live in expensive Jackson Hole. Great trip, but mixed in with these American landmarks was the side of America they don’t talk about. We drove around South Dakota, passing through the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It really is a depressing place. It was clear many Native Americans on this reservation lived in abject poverty, and memorials to the great warriors Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull were broken and derelict, when 50 miles down the road a huge Crazy Horse monument was being built. I read afterwards that Native Americans are more likely to commit suicide than any other minority in the United States, a chilling statistic.

This area has been in the news recently, as the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the reservation are suing a number of beer companies such as SAB Miller, Molson Coors Brewing Company and Pabst Brewing Company for $500m (£316m). They’re demanding the companies provide social services, rehabilitation and treatment for their alcoholism, which they argue, the companies have exploited. In Pine Ridge, roughly 25% of children are afflicted by alcohol abuse from birth. The town of Whiteclay, in Nebraska (which I’ve been to), has been signalled out in particular for having four beer stores to a dozen residents – but in 2010 over five million beer cans were sold. This is devastating enough, but the reservation has a law that bans alcohol in the first place. The lawsuit states the beer companies knew they would have a ‘target audience’, fully acknowledging that the beer would be taken illegally into the reservation. Tom White, a lawyer for the tribe, argued that “you cannot sell 4.9 million cans of beer and wash your hands like Pontius Pilate, and say we’ve got nothing to do with it being smuggled.” 

That’s not even the shocking part of this story. In the reservation, the life expectancy is between 45 and 52 years of age, the lowest in North America apart from the country of Haiti. The average for the rest of America is 77½ years. This is huge problem, one that cannot be ignored by the American government any longer. Washington has screwed the Native Americans for over three hundred years, and these social problems are a consequence of this. At this stage, getting angry and pointing the finger is worthless – more money, social care and support should be provided for this community. It will be interesting to see the progress of this lawsuit, BUT SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE NOW. I recommend a trip to Pine Ridge, if this doesn’t convince you of the problem then you’re walking around with your eyes closed. The government needs to work with local people to combat this problem – before it’s too late. 

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Australian Mugshots

My friend sent me this link the other day, a fascinating look at some mugshots of women in 1920’s Australia. Some of them are absolutely incredible – and also terrifying. These women committed a range of crimes, from murder to back street abortion in New South Wales between 1910 and 1930. 32 year old Dorothy Mort shot her former lover after he declared their affair was over, and Harry Crawford, alias Eugenia Felleni killed her wife after she spent most of her life pretending to be a man. Many of them were arrested on counts of failed abortions.

These photos are incredibly haunting – staring into their eyes is almost unnerving. Or maybe that’s because we know many of them are murderers?

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Greek Vandalism

Last week, a group of thieves looted the museum in Olympia, making off with over 60 historical artefacts. The thieves threatened a female employee, who refused to give them the artefacts, so they bound and gagged her after waving a gun in her face. There are literally no words to describe how I feel about this. I’ve visited the museum, and it has some incredible objects, all of which are priceless! Questions have been raised about museum security, as only a few weeks before the National Gallery in Athens was robbed of a Picasso painting The Mayor of Olympia has argued that there is a link between the economic crisis and the lack of security. (How about employing some of the 35% of young people who are currently out of work in Greece).

Museum officials are still unsure on what was taken. I really hope they find these horrible people and lock them up for a VERY long time, as well as the objects of course. These objects are literally irreplaceable, and it makes my blood boil when they are treated for their monetary value alone, which is presumably why they were stolen, instead of their incredible cultural significance. Bastards. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

WW1 letter uncovers soldier's heroism

A letter written in 1915 uncovers the hidden story of Captain Reggie Salomans’ heroism during the Gallipoli campaign. His ship, the HMS Hythe, tragically crashed into another Royal Naval vessel, and Salmomans died trying to save his men.

The author, one Major Alfred Ruston, an eyewitness, sent the letter to Salomans’ father detailing the heroic actions of his only son:

"At the beginning, the two vessels clung to each other for a few minutes and about 50 men and several officers scrambled across on to the other vessel…but though Captain Salomons was warned to get over also himself, he would not do so and I am sure that it was because he would see his beloved men off first."

Over 128 men died in the attack, all of whom were from Kent. Most of the men could not swim, and many did not have lifejackets. Captain Salomans gave his only lifejacket to one of his men.

A historian found the letter in a shop in Hastings, Sussex. The letter is going to be on display in a museum dedicated to the Salomans family, organised by Canterbury Christ Church University.

Mental note to self - must spend more time going to random antique shops.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Great War Centenary

This is a great site about the Great War Centenary (2014-2018) – it’s got some incredible photographs just on the first page! I love looking at old photographs like this. Who were these men? What did they think of the war? Each other? Did they have families?

Although I’ve studied American history since school, I was really interested in the First World War in Year 9 after we briefly studied the conflict and visited the battlefields in France and Belgium. It was only for a weekend, but it remains one of the best trips I have ever done. It was really emotional to see row upon row of headstones, the scars of trenches on the landscape, and to hear the Last Post Service at Menin Gate, where every night, the names of soldiers who died in the war are read. I’d really like to go back, as the Great War still fascinates me.

I didn’t watch the recent television programme Birdsong, though I read the book many years ago. I did watch an interview with Eddie Reymayne, who played the lead character in the series, about his reaction to visiting the tunnels and trenches of France. In one particular tunnel, they came across a poem written by a soldier, etched in chalk:

“If in this place you are detained, Don’t look around you all in vain, But cast your net and you shall find, That every cloud is silver lined… Still.”