Category Archives: Germany

Fate of Crimean Karaites

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle pp. 274-276:

History had taught the Karaites that it was better if the world didn’t find out too much about them. Tiriyaki took my pen and drew a tree in my notebook, its trunk forking into three branches.

‘Those,’ he said, pointing to the roots, ‘are the commandments.’

‘These’ – the three branches – ‘are the New Testament, the Talmud, and the Qur’an.’

‘This’ – the trunk – ‘is the Torah. Our only scripture. Karaites believe in the Jewish faith as it was when Jesus Christ was born and before other things were subsequently added.’

The Karaites had never accepted the Talmud. This had isolated them from all other Jews, who had never really known what to make of the Karaites. This had worked to their advantage in the Russian Empire – unlike other Jews, the Karaites had not been subject to restrictions on the professions they could pursue. A few of them had made large fortunes, especially in the tobacco trade. This wealth was visible in the old kenesa – the Karaite synagogue in whose hall I was sitting with Tiriyaki, a sumptuous religious complex with vine-draped colonnades, marble tombs, carved wooden interiors, and warm stained-glass windows.

When the Nazis invaded Crimea in the war, they didn’t know what to think of the Karaites either. Were they Jews? The Nazis commissioned an assessment by a Polish Jewish historian who, against his better judgement, declared the Karaites to be non-Jews, clearly to spare them the fate he would later suffer himself: he perished in the Warsaw Ghetto. His scheming paid off, however. The Nazis murdered the Crimean Jews but they spared the Karaites, whom they classified as a Turkic people.

Not long afterwards, the Karaites had a second stroke of luck. Their lenient treatment by the Germans could well have been a good reason for Stalin to have them deported alongside the Tatars, especially as the two minorities spoke very similar languages. Yet this cup too passed over them. For Stalin, the Karaites appeared to be Jews.

The kenesa in Yevpatoria had been closed down after the war, just like Crimea’s churches, mosques, and Jewish synagogues. The historic religious complex had been converted into a ‘museum of atheism’, and the outbuildings were used as grain silos. The community hall had become a nursery, which Tiriyaki had gone to as a boy, knowing full well that his grandmother had still been praying in the kenesa only a few years earlier.

There were now only a few hundred Karaites living in Crimea. Many had emigrated to Israel in the 1990s. The devout core of his community, Tiriyaki said, consisted of forty people.

We had been talking for less than half an hour when the old community leader began to give me signals that he’d said everything he was prepared to say. ‘If you have no further questions …’

But I do, I longed to cry, hundreds of them. Yet Tiriyaki’s expression was so forbidding that I confined myself to the central question whose insolubility had saved the Karaites’ lives twice. Where were they from? Were they a Turkic people that had converted to Judaism in the distant past? Or were they Semitic immigrants who had only become Turkicspeaking in Crimea? I knew that this matter was controversial among the Karaites too.

Tiriyaki stared at me impassively. His face was hard to read – not so much as the twitch of a muscle.

‘Origins are a card that politicians love to play. They are of no consequence to the faithful.’

He stood up and offered me his hand. I was already halfway to the door when he uttered a few final words as a send-off.

‘The Karaites lived here under the Tatar khans, under the tsars, the Soviets, the German occupiers, the Ukrainians, and now the Russians again. No one could drive us out. We are still here. That is all that counts.’

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Albania and Montenegro: Tough Transitions

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 247-248:

Because the decades of Communist autarky only further decimated the already weak polity, the 1990s saw massive corruption and bouts of anarchy undermine an embryonic democratic system that was buffeted by social upheaval, as masses of people deserted the countryside and rushed into the cities. But near the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century, a more nuanced picture began to emerge amid dramatically higher living standards among part of the population, and a commercial transformation and revitalization of the cities. Albania had joined NATO in 2009 and was possibly on a path toward membership in the European Union. It had avoided ethnic and religious conflict and had proper, peaceful relations with its Balkan neighbors—no mean feat considering the epic and bloody past.

Nevertheless, organized crime and endemic corruption had become major elements of daily life. Albania, as I write, is still a deeply divided and weak democracy. An opposition leader has accused the government of promoting “narcotraffickers, pimps, even killers as Members of Parliament.” The U.S. State Department and Europol have declared Albania the largest producer of cannabis and the key gateway for heroin into Europe. In 2016 Albanians “came second only to Syrians as asylum seekers in Germany and France. More than 42 per cent of the population live on less than $5 a day,” reports Besart Kadia, executive director of the Tirana-based Foundation for Economic Freedom. While the long, historical ages of extreme isolation have receded, Albania remains a world removed from Italy, less than fifty miles to the west across the narrowest point of the Adriatic.

Albania and Montenegro both are, in developmental terms, places where Europe ends and also begins. Geographically they are unquestionably part of Europe, even as their mountainous topographies have tempered the influence of the Mediterranean. Moreover, historically and culturally they have been mightily shaped by the long centuries of often weak rule by the Ottomans, whose imperial footprint was planted mainly in the Near East. These are in many respects Europe’s borderlands, which Europe cannot disown. If Europe makes any claim to universal values, it has no choice but to find a way to spiritually incorporate these two far-flung outposts of imperial Venice.

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Slovenia, Misfit in Yugoslavia

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 149-150:

Ljubljana: known in German as Laibach, a place more historically associated with the Habsburg Empire than with any particular nation-state. Here in 1821, one of the crucial congresses was held to stabilize Europe after the Napoleonic Wars. Thus, in the very sound of its name Laibach recalls such personages as Metternich and Castlereagh. I was last in Ljubljana in October 1989, just a few weeks before the Berlin Wall fell, on a concluding trip through Yugoslavia, from where I had reported often during the 1980s. This was still twenty months before the start of the war there. But I would ultimately leave Slovenia out of the final version of Balkan Ghosts, even though it had been a member of the Yugoslav federation, while I would include Greece in the manuscript though it was a long-standing member of NATO. Greece, I had argued to my editors, was Near Eastern despite its ties to the Western alliance, while Slovenia was Central European despite being for so long a part of the largest Balkan country.

Ljubljana in 1989 has left a deep imprint on my memory. A section of my diary from the period, published as a travel essay in The New York Times, records: “Mornings are a blank canvas. Not until 9:30 or so does the autumn fog begin to dissolve. Then the outlines of steep roofs, spires, leaden domes, statues, and willows and poplars emerge like an artist’s first quick strokes. At first it is a pen-and-ink with charcoal. By mid- or late morning come the richer colors of the palette: facades of orange and yellow ochers, pinks, sandy reds, and dazzling greens. As for the architecture itself,” I went on, “it is not only baroque and Renaissance but also Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and so forth. This was partly because, with the exception of five years of Napoleonic rule, Ljubljana between 1135 and 1918 was inside the Habsburg Empire, and thus artistic influences from the far-flung domain filtered in.” Truly, I was infatuated with the city.

But there is even more from my notebooks about Ljubljana that I did not publish at the time: Men smoking in the damp and cold hotel restaurant while waiters talked and ignored customers amid loud rock music (Blood, Sweat & Tears singing “Spinning Wheel”). People had ravaged eyes under matted hair, without the blow dryers and designer glasses that were already ever-present in nearby Austria at the time, and everyone with bad-quality shoes. It was a place where people began to drink early in the day. And yet one after another of the persons I interviewed back in 1989 complicated those initial impressions. For Yugoslavia was already starting to fall apart, even if it wasn’t yet in the news. “The Serbs look backward while we look forward: away from the archaic system” of Tito’s Yugoslavia. “In Slovenia, Tito [a half-Slovene] has been completely forgotten.” “Slovenes are like conscientious objectors in the Yugoslav federation.” “We watch Austrian television, not Serbian television.” “We are a small country that looks out, Serbia is a great country that looks in.” All in all, in October 1989, Slovenia was a poor and downtrodden place by Western standards that, nevertheless, evinced a distinct bitterness about having to prop up the even poorer and yet more powerful states within the Yugoslav federation, notably Serbia. Yugoslavia had, in a political and cultural sense, dragged Slovenia southward into the Balkans, and away from its rightful place in Central Europe, to which Slovenia’s own Habsburg legacy entitled it. Indeed, it was Slovenia’s very resentment over that fact which caused it, like Poland and Hungary, to fiercely aspire towards membership in the West, and thus towards liberalism and free markets.

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What Was Italy from 476 to 1861?

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 36-38:

I look at more maps in my hotel room in Ravenna: those of the greater Adriatic. Rome is eventually replaced by Western Rome and Eastern Rome; then by the Visigoths, the Ostrogoths, the kingdom of Odoacer, and Eastern Rome, all elbowing for territory; then, in turn, by the Arians and the papacy, though by the sixth century the Adriatic is all Eastern Rome. In the early eighth century the division is between the Lombards and Eastern Rome, in the early ninth between the Franks and Byzantium. In the Middle Ages the Normans, Hungarians, and Serbs, as well as the German Empire, Salerno, Naples, and Venice, all gain prominence; until by the late fifteenth century, as the Renaissance reaches full flower, it is Venice facing off against the Ottoman Empire, even as northern Italy is divided among Savoy, Milan, Genoa, Mantua, Florence, and Siena, and southern Italy between the Papal States and the kingdom of Naples.

Later on, all of these polities, too, will become shades: disappearing, literally, into the past. Voltaire said Rome fell “because all things fall.” Indeed, empires are not illegitimate simply because they eventually collapse: the wonder is that so many have lasted as long as they did. Rome’s universal civilization, with its cruel yet rational, i.e., charmed-conservative paganism, ultimately became impossible to sustain in the hinterlands; and Rome’s breakup led to the panoramic migrations, coupled with the religious passions and particularism, that we associate with Late Antiquity and the Dark and Middle Ages, with all of their attendant political-territorial complexity. Still, the geographic breadth of Rome, lasting as it did for so many centuries, remains an astonishment: an imperial domain impossible to imagine reassembled in any form. Only world governance could equal or surpass it.

In sum, the passage from antiquity to Late Antiquity registers a more confused ethnic and territorial map, with the big shifts that merit chapter breaks in history books barely noticed at the time. For example, the deposition in A.D. 476 of Romulus Augustulus by the barbarian Odoacer—an Arian Christian soldier of vague Germanic and Hunnish descent—is commonly marked as the end-point of the Roman Empire in the West, though the event elicits little mention by any chronicler of the era: its significance becomes apparent only much later in hindsight. After all, Odoacer, rather than eviscerate what remained of the empire, actually restored some facade of order and stability to it, even as he reconquered Sicily from the Vandals in A.D. 477 and annexed Dalmatia in A.D. 480. The real break with the classical past occurs only later with the Gothic War of A.D. 535–554, which devastated much of Italy with famine and chaos, and was quickly followed in 568 by the Lombard invasion, so that Italy was at war for more or less seventy years until 605. Italy would never again be united until modern times. The Lombards, a Germanic confederation with a strong Arian element that included Saxons, Gepids, Bulgars, Sueves, and others—a fascinating horde first recorded by Tacitus—truly herald the passage of Late Antiquity into the so-called Dark Ages.

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U.S & Japan Negotiate in German, 1945

From When the Shooting Stopped: August 1945, by Barrett Tillman (Osprey, 2022), Kindle pp. 206-207:

Thousands of American servicemen crowded both sides of the landing strip, watching the historic moment. Military police could barely restrain them from swarming the two planes, seeking a closer look or perhaps souvenirs.

With minimal fanfare the Japanese disembarked from the two bombers and approached MacArthur’s personal transport, the gleaming aluminum C-54 dubbed Bataan in memory of his Philippine service. Leading the delegation was Lieutenant General Torashiro Kawabe, sporting a long sword and spurs. Besides Kawabe and a major general were six other army officers including two interpreters, a rear admiral with four other navy men, and three civilians. The senior diplomat present, Katzuo Okazaki, had been a runner in the 1924 Paris Olympics.

The Douglas Skymaster loaded its human cargo and headed 920 miles south.

In Manila, skirting angry Filipino crowds, the entourage motored to an apartment building that, unlike City Hall, had survived the liberation relatively intact. The Japanese received a pointed message from the conqueror: they were not present to negotiate. Their purpose was simply to learn the specifics as to the terms of surrender and protocol of the impending ceremony. Keeping himself remote from the discussion as befitted a budding emperor, MacArthur allowed his intelligence chief, Major General Charles Willoughby, to conduct much of the meeting. Willoughby asked Lieutenant General Kawabe, vice chief of the Imperial Army, what language they should speak, to which the multi-lingual general replied, “German.” That suited Willoughby – he had emigrated from Germany as a child in 1910.

The details were thrashed out with minimal problems. MacArthur’s staff intended to land at Atsugi in four days, to which the Japanese objected for practical reasons. It was a kamikaze base and “a hotbed of revolt against the cease-fire.”

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ULTRA vs. IJN Submarine I-29, 1944

From Ultra in the Pacific: How Breaking Japanese Codes and Ciphers Affected Naval Operations Against Japan, 1941-45 (The Secret War), by John Winton (Sapere Books, 2022), Kindle pp. 294-296:

ULTRA betrayed not only convoys but single blockade runners. The fate of I-29 was a perfect ULTRA coup. I-29, named Matsu, was the submarine which rendezvoused with a German U-boat off Madagascar in April, 1943, embarked Subhas Chandra Bose, the leader of the movement for Indian independence and self-styled C-in-C of the Indian National Army, and took him to Penang. I-29 (Cdr T. Kinashi) left Penang, bound for Europe, early in November, 1943, and sailed from Lorient, bound for Japan, on 16 April, 1944. Among the passengers were four German technicians and thirteen Japanese Army, Navy and civilian personnel. The cargo included German anti-submarine counter-measure equipment, acoustic and magnetic torpedoes, radar apparatus, plans for the latest high-submerged-speed submarines, and influenza virus.

I-29’s passage was traced through intercepted signals from Berlin, and a Singapore broadcast in diplomatic code, addressed to I-29 only on 3 July, indicated its presence in the Indian Ocean. An ULTRA from Anderson on it July read: ‘Friendly sub [identified as probably I-29] scheduled to pass through Sunda Strait on morning of 12 July, and arrive at eastern entrance to Singapore at 1200 on 14th.’ It was later confirmed by ULTRA that I-29 had indeed arrived that day.

On 17 July, 1944, a decrypted message from Berlin to Tokyo listed I-29’s cargo in detail: five ‘special weapons’, various radar apparatus, 20 Enigma coding machines, ordnance parts, rocket-type launching apparatus, bomb sight plans, pressure cabin parts and plans, parts of a British Mosquito plane, and atabrine ampoules and tablets. Two days later, in a decrypted message, Berlin congratulated Tokyo: ‘It is indeed gratifying to learn that the MATSU has arrived safely at Singapore with her passengers and cargo. We pray for her safe voyage to Japan.’

But on 20 July Kinashi broadcast a fatal signal giving full details of his route to Japan: leaving Singapore at 1500 on the 22nd, arriving Kure at 1000 on 30 July, and giving his noon position for the 26th as the Balintang Channel [between Formosa and Luzon]. CincPac’s Bulletin for 24 July read: ‘I-29 recently arrived Singapore from Europe carrying samples and plans of many recent German developments in fields of radar, communications, gunnery, aeronautics and medicine. Left Singapore 22 July en route Kure. Believe very important cargo very likely still aboard. Will pass through posit 15 N., 117 E., at 251400 and through Balintang Channel at 261200, speed 17 arriving western channel of Bungo Channel at 291000.’

On 25 July I-29 signalled that a surfaced enemy submarine had been sighted (possibly the ‘cover story’) and gave the position, about 300 miles west of Manila. On the 26th Sawfish (Cdr A. B. Banister, leader of ‘Banister’s Beagles’) signalled: ‘He did not pass. At 0755Z [1655 local time] in posit 20-12 N., 121-55 E. [Balintang Channel] put three fish into Nip sub which disintegrated in a cloud of smoke and fire.’

On 7 August a mournful Tokyo broadcast to Berlin was intercepted: ‘All her passengers had proceeded to Tokyo from Singapore by plane, but her cargo had been left aboard. Though it is indeed regrettable, we can no longer hope for her safety. Despite the fact that we received, through your great efforts and the understanding cooperation of the Germans, many articles which were to strengthen the nation’s capacity to prosecute the war, our inability to utilize them owing to the loss of the ill-fated ship is truly unfortunate and will have a great effect throughout the Imperial Army and Navy.’

I’m pleased to see that Cdr. T. Kinashi’s name is spelled consistently in this book, and that this remarkable naval officer has a detailed article in English Wikipedia (linked above). Several other Japanese names are handled quite sloppily. For instance, the IJN destroyer Kuroshio (‘Black Current’) is consistently misspelled Kurishoyo six times on pp. 276-278, and Lt. Gen. Kuribayashi, the Japanese Army commander on Iwo Jima, is transliterated correctly on p. 304, then misspelled as Kuribayasha twice on p. 306. (The Hawaiian place name Wahiawa is also misspelled as Wahaiwa on p. 158.)

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Reaction to Germans in Crete, 1944

From Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper (New York Review Books, 2013), Kindle loc. 3060ff.

Anoyeia, well known as a centre of defiant resistance, had been united under the leadership of Stefanoyanni Dramoundanis. Shortly after Paddy had stood godfather to his daughter, the Germans had encircled the village and caught him. With his hands tied, Dramoundanis jumped over a wall and tried to escape, only to be shot in the back by the enemy. Normally, Paddy would have been welcomed; but since he was still in the uniform of a German corporal, he was given a taste of the Anoyeians’ hatred for the occupiers. Doors and shutters slammed, while the warnings rang out from house to house: ‘The black sheep are in the wheat!’ – ‘Our inlaws have arrived!’ At the café the old men fell silent, pointedly turning their backs. He did not reveal himself till he found the wife of the priest, Father Charetis, who was terrified. ‘It’s me, Pappadia!’ he whispered. ‘It’s me, Mihali!’ – ‘Mihali? I don’t know any Mihali!’ she cried, backing away. She finally recognized him by the gap between his front teeth, and hustled him and George into the house.

Paddy’s godbrother George Dramoundanis soon arrived, along with Father Charetis, and couriers were found to take messages to Sandy Rendel to the east, and to Tom Dunbabin, who was the other side of Mount Ida. It was a matter of vital urgency to get news of the abduction to Cairo, so that the BBC could broadcast the announcement and the RAF drop leaflets.

Meanwhile Billy and Manoli, guided by Strati, had brought the General within sight of Anoyeia though they could not risk entering the village. It had been a long night. They had found no water till 3 a.m., and the General moved slowly – his leg had been badly hurt, he said, as he was dragged from the car. He was also very hungry, having had no lunch: yet what upset him most was the loss of his Knight’s Cross, won in the push against Leningrad on the Russian front. Strati went up to the village and made contact with Paddy, and returned with a basket of food and wine. The kidnappers had to scramble up to a small cave with the General when they heard that Germans were in the village, a warning no doubt set off by Paddy in his corporal’s uniform.

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Leigh Fermor’s Intelligence Training, 1940

From Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper (New York Review Books, 2013), Kindle loc. 2085ff.

On release from hospital in early February, Paddy went to stay with his sister Vanessa. He had high hopes of joining the Karelian campaign, in which the Finns were fighting off a Soviet invasion. He had heard about a unit that was going to support the Finns and he was keen to join, but was still too weak; Finland was then forced to concede to Russia’s demands. The Intelligence Corps, on the other hand, were very interested in the fact that Paddy spoke French, German, Rumanian and Greek, and with the situation in the Balkans developing fast they offered him a commission. If he took it, he would be spared any more training at the Guards Depot, but he still clung to the hope of a commission in the Irish Guards.

He had an interview with the regiment’s commander. There was no opening for him in the Irish Guards at present, Lieutenant Colonel Vesey told him; indeed, he might have to wait for months before the opportunity arose. Although most regiments at this time were desperate for young officers, Vesey was in no hurry to commission this particular cadet: one of Paddy’s reports had described his progress as ‘below average’. The Intelligence Corps, on the other hand, were offering immediate employment and the opportunity to return to Greece.

The Intelligence Corps uniform was not very romantic, and he disliked the cap badge – a pansy resting on its laurels, as it was disparagingly known. But the lure of Greece was strong, and financially he could not afford to wait for a place in the Irish Guards. Paddy began his officer training in the Corps in early May, stationed at the 168th Officer Cadet Training Unit at Ramillies Barracks, Aldershot. Here he learned how to keep records of enemy movements, how to read and make maps, and how to assemble and coordinate intelligence. There was also much to absorb about the formation of the German army, and he tried to learn the Gothic deutsche Schrift. One of his fellow trainees was Laurens van der Post. Years later, on a television show with Paddy, van der Post recalled the moment they heard about the fall of France. The news left everyone shocked and aghast, van der Post recounted, except for Paddy ‘who was writing a poem about a fish pond in the Carpathians, and he didn’t really take it in until he had finished the poem’. Slightly embarrassed, Paddy added, ‘Well, I was pretty smitten after that.’

Soon Free French soldiers who wanted to continue fighting began to appear at Ramillies Barracks, and word went round that the Corps was looking for people who would be willing to be parachuted into occupied France. Paddy volunteered, and was rather offended when they rejected him. He spoke the language fluently and was widely read in French literature: why was he passed over? That the selectors were looking for quiet, inconspicuous people seems not to have crossed his mind. His training finished on 12 August. The final, prophetic remarks on Paddy’s report were written by his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel R. C. Bingham: ‘Quite useless as a regimental officer,’ he wrote, ‘but in other capacities will serve the army well.’ Paddy himself had very mixed feelings about his future. ‘I looked forward to my new life with interest and misgiving. It was rather like going to a new school.’

Second Lieutenant Fermor was ordered to proceed to the Intelligence Training Centre in Matlock, Derbyshire, where he was to take two month-long courses: one on war intelligence, and another on interrogation. The training centre, filled with polyglot officers, was housed in Smelton’s Hydro – ‘a castellated, bleak and blacked-out Victorian pile perched high above the rushing Derwent’. His initial reaction to the place was ‘Bedlam in a Morte d’Arthur setting’, made more depressing by the fact that all the windows were blacked out; but there were compensations. One of the perks of being an officer was that Paddy now had a batman, Geoffrey Olivier – ‘my first soldier-servant. It was peculiar to think that I would probably never shine a button or spit and polish a toe-cap again.’

The war intelligence course was hard work. Lectures were interspersed by long spells ‘scrambling over the Derbyshire hills . . . making out strategical and technical plans for advancing to, holding, or withdrawing from various features, holding improvised conferences . . . which invariably ended with the Major saying: “Now Leigh Fermor . . . What information have we about the enemy in the sector 22314567 to 4678?”’

In between one course and the next, there was a week’s break which Paddy spent in blitz-torn London. He saw three fires blazing in Piccadilly, while in Berkeley Square, ‘the blaze of an explosion revealed two sides of that sentimental quadrangle in a disordered wreckage of wood and stone. Only one thing remained standing. Perched three stories high on a tottering pinnacle was a white marble privy, glowing shyly in this unaccustomed radiance.’

Thanks to the services of anti-Nazi and Jewish volunteers, much of the interrogation course was conducted in German. One of the secrets of a good interrogation, he learned, was to conduct it while the prisoner had an empty stomach and a full bladder. With friends such as Gerry Wellesley and Osbert Sitwell at Renishaw close by, the high point of this happy time came when someone decided to organize a ball. One of the instructors, Henry Howard, brought over a spectacular couple from nearby Chatsworth: a tall young ensign in the Coldstream Guards, and an incredibly beautiful girl. He was Andrew Cavendish, who in 1950 was to become the 11th Duke of Devonshire; while she was Deborah Mitford, whose sister Diana and her husband, Sir Oswald Mosley, were in prison as pro-Nazi sympathizers. ‘Funny, Howard bringing that Mitford girl,’ said someone when they had gone. ‘After all, this is meant to be the Intelligence Training Centre, and there is a war on.’

Another of the Matlock instructors was Stanley Casson, ‘donnish, witty and slightly disreputable’, a Greek scholar and archaeologist who had had a lot to do with the British School of Archaeology in Athens. Casson, who always spoke to Paddy in Greek, was one of the moving spirits of what was to become the Greek Military Mission. The Italians had invaded Greece on 28 October 1940, and Paddy followed their rapid advance with anxiety. When the Greek army began to turn the Italian tide a few weeks later, ‘It was joy and agony mixed’, as he put it: joy that Greece was acquitting herself so well, agony because he was not there. Stanley Casson went to London, and soon after Paddy was told to join Casson’s Greek Military Mission.

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Meeting a Transylvanian Rabbi, 1934

From Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Middle Danube to the Iron Gates, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 2, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 210-213:

My interlocutors looked bewildered when I tried to explain my reasons for not staying at home. Why was I travelling? To see the world, to study, to learn languages? I wasn’t quite clear myself. Yes, some of these things, but mostly—I couldn’t think of the word at first—and when I found it—“for fun”—it didn’t sound right and their brows were still puckered. “Also, Sie treiben so herum aus Vergnügen?” The foreman shrugged his shoulders and smiled and said something in Yiddish to the others; they all laughed and I asked what it was. “Es ist a goyim naches!” they said. ‘A goyim naches,’ they explained, is something that the goyim like but which leaves Jews unmoved; any irrational or outlandish craze, a goy’s delight or gentile’s relish. It seemed to hit the nail on the head.

The initial reserve of the other dwellers in these mountains had not lasted long; nor did it here: but the Jews had other grounds for wariness. Their centuries of persecution were not ended; there had been trials for ritual murder late in the last century in Hungary and more recently in the Ukraine, and fierce deeds in Rumania and pogroms in Bessarabia and throughout the Russian Pale. Slanderous myths abounded and the dark rumours of the Elders of Zion had only been set in motion fifteen years earlier. In Germany, meanwhile, terrible omens were gathering, though how terrible none of us knew. They came into the conversation and—it seems utterly incredible now—we talked of Hitler and the Nazis as though they merely represented a dire phase of history, a sort of transitory aberration or a nightmare that might suddenly vanish, like a cloud evaporating or a bad dream. The Jews in England—a happier theme—came next: they knew much more than I, which was not hard; and Palestine. Sighs and fatalistic humour spaced out the conversation.

Everything took a different turn when scripture cropped up. The book in front of the Rabbi was the Torah, or part of it, printed in dense Hebrew black-letter that was irresistible to someone with a passion for alphabets; especially these particular letters, with their aura of magic. Laboriously I could phonetically decipher the sounds of some of the simpler words, without a glimmer of their meanings, of course, and this sign of interest gave pleasure. I showed them some of the words I had copied down in Bratislava from shops and Jewish newspapers in cafés, and the meanings, which I had forgotten, made them laugh; those biblical symbols recommended a stall for repairing umbrellas, or ‘Daniel Kisch, Koscher Würste und Salami.’ How did the Song of Miriam sound in the original, and the Song of Deborah; David’s lament for Absolom; and the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley? The moment it became clear, through my clumsy translations into German, which passage I was trying to convey, the Rabbi at once began to recite, often accompanied by his sons. Our eyes were alight; it was like a marvellous game. Next came the rivers of Babylon, and the harps hanging on the willows: this they uttered in unfaltering unison, and when they came to ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,’ the moment was extremely solemn.

By this time the other-worldly Rabbi and his sons and I were excited. Enthusiasm ran high. These passages, so famous in England, were doubly charged with meaning for them, and their emotion was infectious. They seemed astonished—touched, too—that their tribal poetry enjoyed such glory and affection in the outside world; utterly cut off, I think they had no inkling of this. A feeling of great warmth and delight had sprung up and the Rabbi kept polishing his glasses, not for use, but out of enjoyment and nervous energy, and his brother surveyed us with benevolent amusement. It got dark while we sat at the table, and when he took off the glass chimney to light the paraffin lamp, three pairs of spectacles flashed. If it had been Friday night, the Rabbi said, they would have asked me to light it; he explained about the shabbas goy. This was the Sabbath-gentile whom well-off Jews—“not like us”—employed in their houses to light fires and lamps and tie and untie knots or perform the many tasks the Law forbids on the Seventh Day. I said I was sorry it was only Thursday (the Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday) as I could have made myself useful for a change. We said good-night with laughter.

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Emblematic Attire in Transylvania, 1934

From Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Middle Danube to the Iron Gates, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 2, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 156-158:

But all along my itinerary the chief difference between country Hungarians and Rumanians had been the wide-skirted tunic or shirt, caught in by a wide belt, which the Rumanians wore outside their trousers. Both dressed in white homespun linen, but the Hungarians’ shirts always buttoned tightly at the throat; their trousers were unusually wide from the waist down and sometimes pleated, which almost gave them the look of long skirts. Gatya Hosen, István called them; these were often replaced by loose black breeches and shiny knee-boots. But here the peasants, almost to a man, wore narrow white homespun trews like tights stitched together out of felt. Across the Hungarian plain and in Transylvania, the women’s clothes had been varying all the time. Each village and valley enjoined a different assembly of colours and styles: braids, tunics, lace, ribands, goffering, ruffs, sashes, caps, kerchiefs, coifs and plaits free or coiled: a whole array of details announced whether they were betrothed, brides, married, spinsters or widows. Sometimes coifs framed these heads like spathe and spadix; among Saxons, they shot up in stiff scarlet cylinders. There were bodices, flowing or panelled sleeves, embroidery, gold coins at brow or throat or both, aprons front and back, a varying number of petticoats and skirts jutting at the hips like farthingales, and occasionally these were accompanied by coloured Russian boots. This village finery gave all gatherings a festal air, especially as the level of beauty among Hungarian and Rumanian girls was very high. Populations were inclined to remain aloof; but the more they overlapped and mingled—Magyar, Rumanian, Serb, Slovak, Saxon, Swabian and sometimes Armenian and perhaps some Ruthenes in the north—the more striking they looked. Their everyday dress was a sober version of their gala outfits; but these exploded on feast-days and at weddings in ravishing displays. Clothes were still emblematic, and not only among peasants: an expert in Rumanian and Hungarian symbols, looking at the passers-by in a market-place—a couple of soldiers, a captain in the Ros, iori [= Roșiori], an Ursuline prioress, a sister of St. Vincent de Paul, a Poor Clare, an Hasidic rabbi, an Armenian deacon, an Orthodox nun, a Uniat archimandrite, a Calvinist pastor, an Augustinian canon, a Benedictine, a Minorite friar, a Magyar nobleman, an ostrich-feathered coachman, a shrill-voiced Russian cab-driver, a bear-leading Gypsy with his spoon-carving fellow-tribesmen, a wool-carder, a blacksmith, a drover, a chimney-sweep, a woodman or a waggoner, and above all, women from a dozen villages and ploughmen and shepherds from widely scattered valleys and highlands—would have been able to reel off their provenances as swiftly as a herald glancing along the flags and surcoats of a fourteenth-century battle.

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