August 16

1845, 1913, 1923


1845: Louis Daguerre, the inventor of what would become photography, is well known (see January 2), but not Gabriel Lippman, the Frenchman from Luxembourg who took the basic Daguerrotype and turned it into genuine colour photography. Born today in 1845, and clearly he wasn't just a first-rate physicist, but had a superb aesthetic eye as well - the illustration is his "Le Cervin", taken sometime in the 1890s.


And then there are the heroes who are also villains - another case-study for my argument with Hannah Arendt (see January 11), who wants Evil to be a noun (banal or otherwise), in order to remove it from the human realm, and leave us merely passively complicitous when it befalls us - and thereby exonerating Hitler, who had a miserable childhood, war-trauma, suffered so personally in the economic recession, wanted to be an artist but couldn't get the breaks or recognition, and then, poor, sad, Adolf, along came the external power of Evil and drove him to do such terrible things...

But I am supposed to be writing about Menachem Begin, former Israeli Prime Minister, who was born today in 1913, and died on March 9th 1992 with his Nobel Peace Prize held firmly in his hand. And yet:

* Wanted as a terrorist by the British.

* The Dir Yassin massacre and his part in the bombing of the King David Hotel.

* Sabra and Shatila on his watch (see September 16).

* His derogatory opinions about "chak-chaks"

* His responsibility for Israel becoming a theocracy

* The deliberate economic destruction of the kibbutzim, without which Israel would never have come into being.

And yet, also the co-signatory of Camp David, and like his policies or not, a passionate and loyal defender of his nation, fighter for it (even if you are an anti-Zionist, you probably support the idea of patriotism in your own country, and in the countries that you do approve of: so what's the difference?)

And how strange a coincidence that, ten years to the day later, August 16th 1923, there should be born another of the great patriotic servants of the Jewish state, several times Prime Minister, once President, and a man who, let's be honest, actually achieved absolutely nothing through the entire seventy years of his political career. Nothing. Oh, he was part of governments that did, served in an army that did. But himself? Personally? Failure after failure. The hugely, and deservedly, respected, Shimon Peres.


Amber pages 

Today in 1896, gold was discovered in the Klondike region of the Yukon territory, and what a wonderful excuse for a literary gold-digger and pan-handler like me, to go mining among the poems of Robert Service and the tales of Jack London, and quarry its infinite blackness. I hereby stake out my claim to this prospect.




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August 14


Amber pages



John Galsworthy, novelist, born today in 1867, and sadly set aside by most English curriculum-setters, literary critics, even would-be-writers looking for significant influences. The Forsyte Saga may not be "A La Recherche du Temps Perdu", but it's probably as close as an English writer, obstacled as he is by all those factors that make him English, is ever likely to get to it.

I must find the DHL essay on Galsworthy, so that I can quote his opening paragraph, which is the clearest summary of "what is criticism" that anybody ever wrote. And then talk about the 1960s TV series, which completely put me off the book as a young man; until decades later my daughter read it, and talked about it with such enthusiasm I downloaded it to my Kindle and realised I had missed out on one of the truly great English novels of the first half of the 20th century. Soames is horrible, and the rape is dreadful; the artist brother is splendid, and the portrait of Victorian-Edwardian England, Europe indeed, covering every aspect of human life and the human condition, without the depth of insight of Proust, without the lyrical prose-poetry of Proust, but very much in that league of endeavour. Maybe I should be putting this in Private Collection, rather than here.



Today in 1880, Cologne Cathedral, the largest Gothic church in northern Europe, was completed... dead on schedule too, no delays, just as the architects and builders promised when they started the work - on August 15th 1248. Churchill was less successful in keeping his promise, which was to destroy as much of Germany as he could: fourteen direct hits on the Cathedral, and it turned out the church was indeed built upon a rock. Nor was the failure to flatten it surprising, given the quality of the allied equipment. "It took 108 B-17 bombers, crewed by 1,080 airmen, dropping 648 bombs, to guarantee a 96 per cent chance of getting just two hits inside a 400 by 500 feet area", according to one pilot (click here)


And what would we be speaking across Europe if Churchill hadn't managed even that much flattening?

Eerste Esperanto-conventie, vandaag in 1910

Don't mock, that's how you say it in Esperanto (according to Googletranslate anyway; who am I to argue with the fuehrers of the googlereich?) - though it looks and sounds remarkably like Dutch to me, or even Double-Dutch, albeit that its inventor was Polish. "First Esperanto convention, today in  1910" in case you hadn't worked it out for yourself. And this de derde keer, the 3rd time, Esperanto has or will come up in this almanac (see July 26, and December 15 when I get around to writing it). 

But what point Esperanto anyway (maar welk punt Esperanto hoe dan ook)? Is the aspiration now (at last, denke al-Lah) dead? We have to hope so, but probably not; there is always an element of humanity that wants to reduce the infinite variety that makes our world so interesting and curiosity-inspiring to everyone living in the same country, under the same despot, using the same currency, wearing the same clothes, thinking the same thoughts, holding the same beliefs and opinions, buying the same goods, and speaking the same language... boring enough to yearn for global warming and a dinosauric end.





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August 13


Amber pages:


Strange day, today, for this blogger anyway:



William Caxton, the first English printer, was born today in 
1422; but what matters is what he printed, and for that I already have a piece on March 8

The death, today in 
1881, of Edward John Trelawney, English traveller and author, the man who should have been steering Shelley's boat but alas he forgot his license, the man who put his hand into the fire of cremation and took out what probably was not Shelley's heart, the man who went with Byron to Missolonghi, and abandoned him there, the man who... but I have written about this negligible nobody in my life of Byron, "A Small Drop of Ink", and in my travel piece "Running Wild in Charleston" in "Travels In Familiar Lands", so no need for a piece about him here.

Fidel Castro, Cuban leader, born today in 1927; but I already have pieces about the 1959 revolution (
here), and his Presidency (here), and he crops up so often on so many pages.



And then, today in 1961, the Soviets began building the Berlin Wall... but the date that interests me is November 9th, 1989, the day the Berlin Wall was sledgehammered into oblivion and the charlies at the checkpoint free to make their own ways through (no link to that page yet, but there will be; in the interim, click here)


Which leaves: major headline, today in 1831: "Blue sun observed throughout the South" - of the USA I presume; by somebody hallucinating, I presume; or a good prank-story for a slow news-day, maybe; or maybe it's the science of colour, permeated by dust...


Which leaves only one item on this page that is even likely to be taken out of amber, into green, and when will that happen: when the moon does what the sun did, and turns blue.






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August 11


Amber pages



Frederick Douglass, runaway slave, first spoke in public, today in 1841.

Which is an extraordinarily empty and meaningless statement, not worth recording in almanac or blog, let alone encyclopedia, though perhaps useful as a piece of knowledge on "Who Wants To Be A Proof-Reader for Wikipedia" or the pub-version of "Third Rate Polytechnic Challenge". 

But then you add "and this is what he said, and to whom, and why it mattered", and the entire entry is transformed. I will return to this page, and attempt to do that, as soon as I have completed setting up the other amber pages.


The same for "Asaph Hall, US astronomer, discovered the two moons of Mars, today in 
1877". I will return to that as well, but can tell you, in the meanwhile, for my bonus answers, having asked a friend for the former and used a lifeline for the latter, that one is named Phobos and the other Deimos.






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August 10


The Smithsonian Institute, the epitome and apogee of American intellectual culture, established, in response to a bequest by James Smithson, today in 
1846


What follows below is adapted from my novel "A Journey In Time":



Although his will established the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, James Smithson was in fact an Englishman, born in Paris in 1765, and died in Genoa, on June 27th, 1829.

His father was Hugh Smithson Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland – one of the great English families, founded by William de Percy who came to England with the Conqueror in 1066, and including Baron Richard, who was a principal figure in the Magna Carta; Henry, who fought Robert the Bruce; the famous Harry Hotspur lionised by Shakespeare; Sir Thomas who put Henry Bolingbroke upon the throne after calumniating the good and honest Richard II for a sodomite; and on, and on, through Anne Boleyn's lover and the Percy who financed the Gunpowder Plot: indeed, a history of Europe told through the lives of the Percy family would leave out very little - and his mother Elizabeth Keate Macie, a lineal descendant of that other usurper of a falsely calumniated king, Henry VII. Smithson was educated at the University of Oxford, where he was said to have been the best chemist and mineralogist in his class. During his life he eventually published twenty-seven scientific papers, on subjects as diverse as mineralogy, chemistry and geology, and including such abstruse and esoteric interests as the chemical content of a lady's teardrop, the crystalline form of ice, and an improved method for making coffee. On the recommendation of Henry Cavendish and others, he was admitted to the Royal Society at the age of only twenty-two. The mineral Smithsonite, a carbonate of zinc, was named for him, after he proved that zinc was not an oxide, as had always been believed, but in fact a true carbonate material.

Like his own parents, Smithson never married, but spent much of his life in Europe, where he came to know the leading scientists. His substantial fortune, inherited chiefly through his mother's family, he left to a nephew, Henry James Hungerford, who died without issue. Under the terms of Smithson's will, the entire estate went "to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge."

Why America? And why specifically Washington? Resentment over his illegitimate birth must have been one factor, but only in his refusal to live in, or leave his bequest to, that nation of hypocrites the British. But there has surely to be more to it than this. He was an Enlightened scientist, born in Paris four years before the revolution, who lived through the epoch of Napoleon and the Romantic movement, the era of Byron and Shelley, of Hugo and… and especially Napoleon. Where else was Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité being dreamed than in America? Where else was Liberty Bell being chimed into law, except in Washington DC? Certainly not in stuffy Oxford or the panelled bar-rooms of the Royal Academy where personal wealth and influence, personal status and power, meant far more than contributing to the advancement of knowledge – the great hero of the day, Lord Admiral Nelson, owed every post he ever held, from his first and juniorest to his elevation to the admiralty, not to ability but to family connections. Aghast at the swindle of nepotism, Smithson had written, "My name shall live in the memory of man when the titles of the Northumberlands and Percys are extinct and forgotten." Another Icarene flight of fancy, but one which he was able to see fulfilled. In 1904 Smithson's remains were brought to the United States under an escort that included Alexander Graham Bell and were interred in the original Smithsonian building, an extraordinary fairy-tale of a folly, easily mistakeable for a Methodist chapel, except that the towers came from ruined Norman castles and the turrets from the main mosque in Damascus, circus-tents appended.

In fact, when the bequest was first made, it was held by several members of Congress, including John Caldwell Calhoun - one of the two famous "warhawks" who preferred war to the "putrescent pool of ignominious peace" and convinced the House of Representatives to declare war on Great Britain on June 27th 1812 - that the federal government had no power to accept such a gift, though their reasons for wishing to decline it are conundrums at the very least: perhaps an unwillingness to see so staunchly aristocratic an English family enshrined in the independent colonies, and with a hold on its intellectual and its cultural life at that. In spite of them it was finally secured, largely through the efforts of John Quincy Adams, America's 6th President and son of John Adams, its 2nd, who died, by curious coincidence, on the same day and just a few hours later than Thomas Jefferson, who succeeded him as America's 3rd President, and by even more curious coincidence, on July 4th, American Independence Day, itself. As to the Smithsonian Institute, it was finally established by congressional act at Washington DC on the anniversary of Smithson's deathdate, June 27th 1846. 

The bureaus under the administration of the Smithsonian Institution include the Archives of American Art, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, the Freer Gallery of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the International Exchange Service, the John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Armed Forces Museum Advisory Board, the National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of American Art, the National Museum of History and Technology, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Zoological Park, the Radiation Biology Laboratory, the Science Information Exchange, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery for Asian and Middle Eastern art, the National Museum of African Art, and the National Museum of the American Indian. 




On several pages of this Book of Days, in other writings too, I have scathed America for all manner of its vices, flaws and failings. But then there are these little pockets, in Asheville North Carolina, on Manattan Island, in both Taliesins, in Millennium Park in Chicago, in Yerba Buena in San Francisco, in Bilbao Park in San Diego - findable, if you are willing to go in search of them. I spent a year going in search of the Smithsonian, weekend after weekend of my stay in Baltimore, and what is most extraordinary is that they invite you in to almost all of it for free. Socialised Culture, in the United States of AynRandism! 



August 9


Amber pages


Jean Piaget, Swiss child psychologist,born today in 
1896



Philip Larkin, English poet, born today in 1922 


Persia defeated Sparta at Thermopylae, today in 
480 BCE


In the history of humanity, even including the number of bombs dropped on his own people by Bashir al-Assad of Syria, even including the amount of mustard gas breathed in the trenches of World War I, or the Zyklon-B extruded from the showers in World War Two, no nation has used biological and chemical weapons on the scale of that bastion of freedom, liberty and human rights the United States of America, including 
the deliberate destruction of North Korea in 1946, and the even more deliberate devastations of Vitnam and Cambodia in the 1970s, the latter mostly with napalm.

Three days ago (August 6) I described the bombing of Hiroshima as "the greatest war crime in the history of humanity", but sadly it took the Americans just three days to set that crime in the shadows, transforming a human city into a science laboratory with 
that little "Fat Man" the hydrogen bomb, dropped on Nagasaki (11:02 am - local time), today in 1945.


Against which, the murder of Sharon Tate and four other members of Charles Manson's cult, today in 1969, is hardly significant enough to merit mentioning.




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August 8


Amber pages


There are actors, and then there are people who put on costumes, learn lines, and pretend to be other people. Actors are rare, very rare. So rare that, in any generation, you can name the half-dozen at most without having to really stop and think about it. Eddie Romayne. Laurence Olivier. Ben Kingsley. Vanessa Redgrave. Billie Whitelaw. By all accounts Richard Burbage and David Garrick. One way you can tell that this is an actor and not just an overpaid celebrity in make-up, is that you are half-way through the movie on your TV, which you switched on after it had done the opening credits, and you came to it by chance, so you have no idea what it's called, but it looks worth watching, and George Clooney is playing George Clooney, as he always does, and Anthony what's-his-name, that Welshman who got knighted, ditto, and that voice-over is obviously Gielgud's - shame he had that amazing voice but was dead from the throat down - and there's six more stars looking exactly as they always look, sounding as they always sound, creating a character who is the same person they always play, the only character they know, themselves - but who is that? Best character in the movie, the only one who's fully 3-dimensional - but who is it? And you watch to the end, and you still can't figure it, not a single give-away, and then the credits come up and you go, bloody hell, I should have known it was Dustin Hoffman. I saw him in Tootsie, and I saw him in Rain Man and I saw him on stage as Shylock, and as Willie Loman, and do you remember The Graduate, and Kramer vs Kramer... born today, in 1937. The illustration's him as Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy


Today in 1940, German Luftwaffe began daylight raids on Britain. Blitzkrieg. Mum's evacuation to Luton, then south Wales. Dad's Streatham stories before he got calle up to the RAF. Personal history.


Richard Nixon announced his resignation, today in 1974 - another Hall of Famer for GER Day (see May 2).







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August 7


Amber pages

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle,  World War I Dutch spy, better known as "Mata Hari", born today in 1876 - but see October 15, the day of her execution. Her stage-name, incidentally, means "Eye of Dawn" in Indonesian and Malay (some say it means "Mother of God" in Sanskrit, but God is a Christian concept, and not terribly common among Hindus or Buddhists: to which deity then was she the mother?)


Louis Leakey, British archaeologist and anthropologist, born today in 1903. Which is true, but to write about him it is necessary to write about Mary Leakey as well, born February 6th 1913, because they worked together, and discovered together, some of the most important discoveries ever made by those who pologise for the anthro and ologise for the archae.

Vostok 2, piloted by Gherman Stepanovich Titov, orbited the earth today in 1961... and yes, we know that John Glenn had already achieved the first orbit, but yah-boo-sucks to you Americans, he only went round three times, where our man, our proof of the superiority of Communist science, he went round a dizzying seventeen times, so there!



And yah-and-boo-and sucks back to you Ruskies, because you forgot that it was us, today in 1959, our Explorer VI, which took the very first photograph of Earth taken from space... and here it is (can't see Russia on that photo anywhere, must be on the dark side...)




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August 6


Amber pages


Alfred Lord Tennyson, English poet, born today in 
1809 


Sir Alexander Fleming, Scottish discoverer of penicillin, born today in 1881 


I am committed to only recording the positives, but there are negatives of such powerful impact that they simply cannot be left out. So, today, the greatest war crime in the history of humanity, the deliberate, pre-meditated dropping of an atomic bomb on a civilian population (it took 
 44.4 seconds from plane to explosion, and actually detonated 580 metres above the ground - much more effective that way), in an area where there were no significant military targets of any kind. 

The bomb was dropped at 8:15 am, local time in Hiroshima, and American almanacs and historical accounts confirm that 80,000 non-combatants were killed in the immediate imact. This, however, does not accord with other reports, which reckon a higher number, and more importanly it does not include those who died slow and miserable deaths, mostly cancerous, as a consequence of radiation. Out of a total population of 225,000, 135,000 are reckoned to have died in the aftermath of the bomb (this figure excludes those who had left Hiroshima the day before, to take a vacation, or for business or family reasons, in Nagasaki).


I wonder if the Americans chose the date deliberately - the sort of thing lobbyists in the NRA would certainly approve of if they did - because it was the anniversary of the first ever execution by electric chair, a man named William Kemmler, in New York, today in 1890. Another of the great achievements of Thomas Edison (see July 24), though this one doesn't tend to get remembered when people biographise him: how strange!
   
As to what actually happened on the day, which led to one of those present commenting "they could have done a better job with an axe", "The Washington Post" tells the horrible tale in all its gruesome and shameful detail here


And finally, today in 1825, Bolivia gained independence from Spain - another item that requires a list, combined in one single entry: all the independences that were ever granted, and how long did they endure. But of course such a list can only start in modern times, leaving out the billion conquests and independences that happened along the millennia,  only to be unhappened, or rehappened, or modified, by the next piece of conquest and/or liberation. And there will therefore be multitudes of countries whose names appear more than once (my own ancestral Poland for absolute certain: conquered, divided, liberated, absorbed, partitioned, independent, over and over again throughout the last seven hundred years)





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August 4


Amber pages



Knut Hamson, the other famous Norwegian writer, the one who wasn't Ibsen, born today in 1859 



The first satellite launched from a manned spacecraft - Apollo 15 - took place today in 1971.


Walter Pater, the Vasari of the modern world, born today in 
1839 

Supplementary to my June 12 page, today in 1944 was the one on which the hidey-hole at Prinsengracht 263, Amsterdam ceased to be effective: the arrest of Anne Frank and her family



And today in 1962, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, in those days just a pain-in-the-zitvlak kaffir lawyer who needed to be taught a lesson, was arrested, and began a long, long stint on Robben Island.



I asked this with Lenny Bruce, just a day or two ago - which is the right date on which to commemorate somebody? Mandela's birthday is the one most likely to get the tribute events, public holidays, etc, or maybe his deathdate, but these are random, arbitrary events, none of his making in either case, and not in his power to control them. The day he became President would work for me (May 10th 1994), or even the day that he was finally released from custody - officially February 11th 1990 except that, in his case, that was a slow process of staged releases over a period of time, while he was negotiating the surrender of apartheid, so it would be quite difficult to pin it down to any specific. But not the day of his arrest... at the moment I don't have anything on Feb 11, just the fact of his release...



Whereas Raoul Gustaf Wallenberg, Swedish architect, born today in 
1912, can only be this date, in part because we still have no idea if he is still alive, or if not, then when or how or where he died; but we do now what he did, again and again, on any of very many days of his life, again too many to pin down, but why need to, when what we have to (have to, obligation, have to) commemorate is the fact that such a man lived at all, that in the realm of human blind-eye-turning, passive complicity, responsibility-denial and victim-collaboration, here was a man who simply got on with the business of saving human lives, and didn't expect the world to care or notice, certainly didn't expect awards or honours, just did it, because that is what a decent human being should, but alas we rarely do. And why not? Why not?..


(1964, start of the bombing of North Vietnam by the Americans; a negative event about which I have no intention of writing any more than this; but it needs to be here, as one of the answers to the question suspended like a man from a gallows at the conclusion of the last paragraph).






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June 12

1929



Anne Frank, diarist, born today - and died, on March 12th 1945, as far as precise dates can be pulled from the fires of Auschwitz - actually she and her sister Margot died at Bergen-Belsen, not Auschwitz, and of typhus, not gas or cremation, and quite probably some weeks before the official date...

I like making connections, especially the ones that are not generally made. So I see the name Anne Frank and I immediately think of the sinking of the Titanic - and you are going, what? was there someone who happened to be called Anne Frank on the Titanic? And maybe there was - but it isn't that. I see the name Anne Frank and I think of her dad, Otto, who survived the Holocaust, and arranged the publication of her diaries, to some degree with the assistance of, to a considerable degree with the cajoling of, his old study-mate at college, one Nathan Straus Jr (the connection can be found here) ... 


...my thanks to the splendid Joan Adler - who runs the Straus Historical Society, and whose book "For the Sake of the Children, The Letters Between Otto Frank and Nathan Straus Jr" is available here - for producing the society's regular newsletters, from which I have gleaned all the information that follows.

"In 2007", Joan writes, in one of those updates, "a file of letters was found in the archives of YIVO: The Institute for Jewish Research. The letters revealed for the first time that Otto Frank, diarist Anne's father, tried desperately to get his family out of war torn Holland in 1941, fifteen months before they went into hiding in the now famous attic at Prinsengracht 263, Amsterdam." The letters also show the lengths that Nathan Straus Jr went to, in his capacity as Housing Administrator under President Roosevelt, to help. "But the tightening restrictions of the U.S. State Department," Joan explains, "along with the deteriorating conditions in Europe, prevented even those with powerful connections and money from securing the necessary documents that would allow the Frank family to immigrate."

An entirely different article in the Society's February 2002 newsletter describes the efforts made by Nathan Straus Snr, the co-founder of Macy's department store in New York, and his wife Lina Straus, to bring the newly discovered concept of pasteurisation to the world. "Nathan and Lina were in Heidelberg in 1908," 
Joan writes, "where the Nathan Straus Pasteurization Laboratory was located at Grabengasse No. 8, across the plaza from the university. At that time Nathan was giving talks all over Europe in an effort to interest other municipalities in the health benefits of this process."

When they left for Europe their son Charles Webster Straus, later known as Nathan Straus Jr, was enrolled at Princeton University in New Jersey, but unhappy there, and so he decided to accompany his parents to Germany, and then liked it so much that he stayed on for a year at Heidelberg, where sharing college rooms in pairs was normal, and he found himself randomly allocated a roommate by the name of Otto Frank.

Carol Ann Lee, in her book "The Hidden Life of Otto Frank", quotes a letter from Nathan Jr to Eleanor Roosevelt in 1957, telling how he first met Otto Frank through members of his mother's family from Mannheim who "knew the Frank family intimately." According to that letter, Nathan and Otto attended classes together and spent many evenings with Nathan's parents. Nathan Jr calls Otto his "closest friend" during his three semesters in Heidelberg, and he comments that his parents "liked Otto the best" of all his friends. 

Otto's family were living in Frankfurt at that epoch. At Heidelberg he was studying economics, but found the courses too theoretical, and at the end of the year, when his roommate went back to Princeton, he gave them up to return to Frankfurt, to work at his father's bank. Then, in 1909, Nathan Straus Snr invited Otto to come to New York to work at Macy's. A letter of December 29th of that year, to his younger sister Helene (Leni), finds him dating New York debutante Eugenie Blum, and commenting that he had a "good relationship with Charley" - Nathan still went by his birth-name in those days, and Otto continued to call his friend Charley throughout their lives. Eight months later he reports his "happiness" at finding "an adequate room" on West 71st Street, very close to the Straus home at what is now Straus Park.

"Otto made several trips back to Germany," another of Joan's newsletters reports, "but returned to New York where he continued working at Macy's, and then at a New York bank. His social life revolved around the Straus family." But in mid-1911 he decided to return to Germany, and took a job with a Dusseldorf bank, remaining in Europe thereafter. Probably it was the death of his father in 1909 that prompted his return; and his feeling of responsibility toward his family in Frankfurt that kept him there. Whatever the reason, the outbreak of World War One settled the matter; Otto fought till fighting ended, then took a senior position in the family bank, and married Edith Holländer on May 12th, 1925. Their first child, Margot, was born on February 16th, 1926.

Neither war nor time nor distance diminished the friendship between Otto and Charley, and in June 1928 Otto and Edith enjoyed a vacation with him and his family at a villa in Sils-Maria, Switzerland. Second daughter Annelies Marie - our diarist with her full name - was born the following year, on June 12th 1929.

But then conditions for Jews in Germany began to change, First the Great Depression, which forced Otto to move his family out of the fashionable centre of Frankfurt into somewhat smaller accommodation in a non-Jewish suburb. And then reduced them further when their bank was forced to close. And of course discrimination, creeping in, but not yet formalised.

In 1933 they moved to Amsterdam, where Otto opened a branch of Opetka, a spice and pectin firm. But new law after new law added restriction upon restriction. “It is easy to wonder,” Joan does precisely that in her newsletter, “from the perspective of 2007, why Otto Frank and his family didn't leave Germany sooner. Or why they remained in the Netherlands while conditions there were deteriorating.” But who could have predicted what even the Nazis had not decided yet, that their preferred solution to the “Jewish problem” was extermination? “While Jews were being deprived of their property and livelihood and becoming more socially isolated, they continued to live in relative security. Dutch Jews, in particular, were able to carry on their businesses throughout mid-1940, before increased restrictions were forced upon them.”


And the raids on Amsterdam's Jewish quarter that were initiated in February 1941, ended as abruptly as they started because the Dutch Trades Unions rejected them; and anyway, the Franks were not living in the Jewish quarter, and there was no pressure for Jews to move there so that it could be reconstituted as a ghetto.

"In other words," I am still following Joan's account, "in Otto Frank's case, neither the push nor the pull factors were as strong in 1940-41 as they had been in 1933. Hence he preferred what seemed to him like the nuisances that encumbered an otherwise comfortable life under Nazi occupation in the Netherlands to the insecurity of life as a double refugee in a new country, even if a new country could be found."


Even if a new country could be found.



"In 1937," Joan's account resumes, "Otto began investigating business opportunities in Great Britain, where he had cousins. Unfortunately nothing came of this. His cousin Millie Stanfield in London urged Otto to send the children to her. He responded, 'Edith and I discussed your letter. We both feel we simply can't do it. We couldn't bear to part with the girls.' In 1938 he applied for immigration visas in Rotterdam for himself and his family. He wanted to emigrate to the United States. But the waiting list by1939 contained more than 300,000 names. As Germans living in the Netherlands, Otto fell under the American quota for Germans. The family felt somewhat protected since Germany had not yet invaded the Netherlands. Otto and his wife Edith tried to protect their daughters from as much discrimination as possible.

"But anti-Jewish regulations were narrowing their world," wrote Carol Ann Lee. "By 1940 immigrants were flooding the United States and the Latin American countries. Fears of spies and subversives began to surface. By June tightening visa control closed the options for would-be immigrants. They had to show they were unlikely to engage in radical activities and have sufficient means to support themselves in their new country. It was not enough to show they had good reason to leave Europe. They also had to show that they had a good reason to enter the United States. People could be sponsored by relatives who had to guarantee their successful assimilation with a large sum put in the bank in their name."

Then a moment of carelessness changed everything - if this were a commercial novel I would say that "it sealed their fate", but I really don’t want to reduce this tragedy to cliché. This is how Joan tells it:


Otto Frank employed many people at his pectin and spice company. He made a careless remark to the husband of one of them about the inability of Germany to win the war. This man was a Nazi sympathizer and Gestapo courier who then reported Otto's remark to the Gestapo. On April 18th the man made his first blackmail payment demand. Realizing the severity of this new situation, Otto Frank wrote to Nathan Straus Jr on April 30th 1941, asking for assistance in leaving the Netherlands. 

"I would not ask if conditions here would not force me to do all I can in time to be able to avoid worse. ... It is for the sake of the children mainly that we have to care for. Our own fate is of less importance." 

In response, Helen Sachs Straus wrote to Augusta Mayerson, Acting Director of the Migration Department of the National Refugee Service on May 28th: 

"After all the letters - requests for help we've had from people we hardly know, the enclosed one from Mr. Frank - from my husband's best friend during their university years - an extraordinarily fine man - as you can tell from the letter." 

She asked what could be done to help the Frank family. At the time one needed an affidavit from someone in the States willing to sponsor him as well as a trust fund placed in his name. Recognizing that a relative would have more influence than a family friend, Nathan suggested that Edith Frank's two brothers, Julius and Walter Hollander, who were living in Massachusetts, would more likely meet with a favorable result if they sponsored the Franks. The Boston Committee for Refugees was contacted. They located both brothers, investigated their living conditions, income and business prospects. 

Since both brothers had only recently immigrated, and did not have sufficient income to show they could support the Frank family, Nathan offered to put up the necessary money. There was concern that too many people wanted to be sponsored at the same time. Julius and Walter's two employers submitted affidavits of support for Margot and Anne. Julius and Walter would sponsor their mother, Rosa Hollander, who was living with the Franks. On June 11th Nathan sponsored Otto and Edith. It took more than a week for each letter to reach its recipient. Then, every suggestion of assistance had to be researched and acted upon. Then the return letter would be sent. In many cases, in this short time the political situation changed and a new set of requirements was in effect. 

Nathan Jr turned to the National Refugee Service for assistance. It was their role to cut through the many layers of red tape and to sort through all of the requirements in order to get the Frank family to America. On June 16th Ms Mayerson wrote to the Strauses that a new regulation would go into effect after July 1st. All documents would have to go to the Department of State in Washington DC for review before being sent to Europe. It was likely that a new form of affidavit would be required. Since the Frank's documents were prepared and ready to leave, Ms. Mayerson suggested that they be retained in the US until the new regulations were enacted. On June 30th Otto wrote to Charley, 

"I received your kind letter of June 14th and have to thank you again and again for all you are doing. You already did more than I thought could be done. I know that you are not a friend of long talks, but you certainly know quite well how I feel about it. It is a pity that for the present all efforts will be useless as the AMERICA CONSULATE at ROTTERDAM is leaving and nobody knows as yet if things will be handled further or not. So we have to wait. Bad luck, but cannot be helped. Let us hope that conditions will get more normal again. As soon as I hear that there are chances still I shall let you know and you certainly will be informed still better than I am about the possibilities which remain." 

The American Consulate General suspended action on these visas on June 30th. 

On July 1st Nathan wrote to Otto, " I have taken up the matter of your immigration to this country with the National Refugee Service. I have also discussed it with the State Department officials as I would very much like to help you. I am afraid, the news is not good news." 

People were not being issued visas unless they could show that they already had their ship's tickets to the US. Because of this new requirement, new visa applications had to be made and each new application form was sent to Washington for screening. By mid July 1941 the German consulates in America were ordered closed. Germany retaliated by closing all American consulates in their country and in all their occupied territories. Otto Frank and his family would now have to reach a consulate in a neutral country before being able to leave for America. Spain or Portugal had the closest open consulate. But the Franks were unable to travel there without exit visas from the Netherlands and transit visas to travel through the countries on their route to Portugal. 

Nathan wrote to Otto on September 11th, "I am prepared to submit the necessary affidavits of support just as soon as you are able to assure me that you can leave Holland and get permission to go to a country where there is an American Consul." 

Under the new America visa regulations, Otto did not qualify for an American visa because he had relatives remaining in the German territories. Back in the United States, Nathan, Jr. was working diligently to accumulate the information necessary to apply for sponsorship for Otto Frank and his family. Otto had already concluded that the Franks would not be permitted to go to the United States directly. At the time Cuba was allowing people to enter on tourist visas. On September 8, 1941 Otto wrote to Nathan, "The only way to get to a neutral country are visas of other states such as Cuba ... and many of my acquaintances got visas for Cuba." 

The fee was steep; $250 per person in direct payment and $2,500 per person for the visa and bonds. The $2,500 was to be refunded when the person left Cuba. The letters in the newly discovered Otto Frank file show that Nathan Straus Jr, Julius and Walter Hollander, and the National Refugee Service were investigating this option. 

On September 17th Julius Hollander wrote to Nathan, Jr., "I have information that transit visas for Cuba are available again. I would appreciate it if you would assist me in obtaining a visa for Mr. Otto Frank as soon as possible. My brother and I will share expenses with you." 

On October 6th Julius wrote, "Referring to your last letter, I suggest that you get in touch with the German-Jewish Children Aid, Inc. in regards to bringing over the Frank children from Amsterdam... My brother and I will pay for the boat ticket and Cuban visas for Mr. Frank. If you give the necessary deposit to the Cuban Government for Mr. Frank, I promise you that it will be returned to you untouched..." 

On September 17th Ms. Mayerson of the National Refugee Service wrote to Julius and Walter Hollander, "We are informed by the German Jewish Childrens Aid Incorporated, that it is almost impossible for them to bring out children at this time from Amsterdam ... In view of the ultimate plan which is, as we understand it, to bring the family to the United States, there is a real question as to the wisdom of helping Mr. Frank to immigrate to Cuba alone. The fact that his wife and two children remain in occupied area abroad would militate against his application for the United States visa from Cuba." 

Letters and cables continued to be sent between the National Refugee Service, the Boston Committee for Refugees, Joodsche Raad Voor Amsterdam (Jewish Council for Amsterdam), Nathan Straus, Jr., Julius Hollander and Otto Frank. In each case there was agreement. Everyone wanted to help the Frank family reach America. And yet, nothing could be done to expedite their departure. On October 12th the Joodsche Raad Voor Amsterdam wrote to the National Refugee Service:

"As Mr. Straus has written himself that the State Department will accept his affidavit, Mr. Otto Frank is of the opinion that he perhaps need not at all go to Cuba, so that the money deposited for the irrevocable credit as well as for the landing deposit, may be returned unused after Mr. Frank and his family have received their U.S.A. visas to be secured by Mr. Nathan Straus and the members of the Frank-Hollander family." 

Otto wrote to Nathan on October 19th: "Only after having received a cable of this sort one can apply for the permit to leave Holland and after having received this one gets the Transitvisum Spain. It is all much more difficult as one can imagine and is getting more complicated every day." 

Letters throughout November work out the details of how Otto Frank could obtain the Cuban visa. The Strauses agreed to arrange the bond and pay for transportation costs. The Hollander brothers would pay the attorney fees, visa fees and outgoing passage fees from Cuba. Ms. Mayerson wrote to Julius Hollander on November 12th: "It takes from ten to twenty-one days to obtain a legal Cuban visa. We have recently been informed that persons in occupied areas are being denied exit permits. It may be therefore that even after the Franks have obtained Cuban visas they may fail to obtain the necessary exit permits from Holland." 

On November 18th Julius Hollander wrote to the Strauses: "The National Refugee Service, Inc. informed me on November 12 of your decision to contribute in a generous way to the immigration of Mr. Otto Frank and family ... The most important issue for the time being is the providing of the exit permits. Because I was advised not to pay for the Cuban Visa before I would be informed by my brother-in-law that exit permits would be granted, I sent a cable to Amsterdam asking him to make sure that the permits are available." 

He then wrote to the National Refugee Service on the 22nd: "Whereupon I cabled again to make positively sure, that exit permits would be given, before I would be able to deposit amount for visas and tickets." 

Otto Frank's travel agent in Amsterdam cabled, "Exit permit can only be given after Cuban visa is sent over. Please care only for Otto Frank for the time being to confine financial risk." 

On the 28th Julius Hollander ordered the Cuban exit permit. Conditions around the world were deteriorating. The doors to immigration were closing. Americans began to fear that anyone with family left behind would be coerced into acting as a spy or saboteur. Otto thought that he could get to Cuba and then send for his family. Although his single visa was finally issued on December 1st, no one knows if it ever reached him. When Germany and Italy declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941, Cuba cancelled its visa program and the Franks had no other options. What happened next is recorded in Annelise's diaries.




On June 22, 1945 a letter by G. V. Saxl of the Migration Department describes Julius Hollander's efforts to contact his family. He had been advised that they were in Paris. Apparently he did not know at that time that only Otto Frank had survived. 

On June 26, 1945 a letter by Ann S. Petluck, director of the Migration Service states, "We have been advised that the above mentioned family reached France recently and are supposedly residing at the above address." By January 31, 1946 Ms. Potluck wrote, "... we are in receipt of a report advising us that Otto Frank is reputed to be living at 263 Prinsengroocat, Amsterdam. They mentioned that Mrs. Edith Hollander is deceased and that the daughters are still missing." 

On September 24, 1945 Otto Frank wrote to Nathan Straus, Jr. who was president of WMCA radio, a New York based radio station, 

"Dear Charley, you told me once that I am the only one who calls you by this name, but I feel more like the old relations between us if I still call you by that name." 

On October 25, 1945 Nathan Straus Jr wrote to Otto at Prinsengracht 263 in Amsterdam: "Both Helen and I were glad to receive your letter and thus have direct personal news of you. Of course, ... we have heard indirectly of the tragic events that have befallen your family. Words are quite useless in such a situation as this. In fact, the huge scale of the tragedy which has befallen innocent people is almost beyond the human mind to encompass." 

Otto's response is dated November 14, 1945. 

"I am delighted having received your kind letter of Oct. 25 and to get personal news from you and Helen. It always does good if one feels that there are old friends who still care for you. I must not complain. In the meantime the bank called up and handed me the amount you spoke of. Well, I do not know how to thank you even if you wrote; forget it! I know you dont like me to speak about it but nevertheless I thank you with all my heart. Even if I am not really in need, I don't own much and the amount will help me and others along, as I always use part of what I earn for others, especially orphans at the moment, who want to join their families abroad or to go to Palestine. Apart from business I am very busy copying the diary of my younger daughter (which was found by chance) and to find an editor for it. I am going to let you know more about it later ... I dont give up and try to build up again. Let us hope that it will be possible to meet again one day. I never forget you and I never forget your parents." 

Otto Frank worked with several translators and editors until he was satisfied with the manuscript. It was first published in book form in 1947 under the title, "Het Achterhuis" (The Out House). After several unsuccessful releases and more editing the diary was re-released. It quickly became one of the world's best selling books. By the time of Otto's death in 1980, more than 14 million copies had been sold in 50 languages. 

After he had seen the 1955 New York stage-version, penned (and involving a lengthy law-suit at which he served as a character witness for Otto) by Meyer Levin, "Charley" wrote to Joseph Schildkraut, the actor who portrayed Otto Frank, telling him that he had just witnessed what he considered "one of the highlights of the American theatre in the last half century... congratulations on a magnificent portrayal! You have the voice, the manner & the very personality of Otto - who is and was one of my most cherished friends. I am deeply moved."

Otto Frank spent the rest of his days celebrating the life of his daughter Anne through her diary. He wanted her words to bring tolerance and compassion to a world that had seen so much hatred and war. And he wanted it to show that the human spirit could not be destroyed. In 1957 he established the Anne Frank Foundation, whose aim is to foster "as many contacts as possible between young people of different nationalities, races and religions." In 1957 Nathan Straus Jr donated $10,000 to the Dutch student housing foundation. He is quoted in a New York Times article of July 21st: "The kindness shown by the people of the Netherlands to the victims of the Nazi terror has touched me personally ... Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank, is one of the oldest friends I have in the world, our friendship dating back to the time when we were both students at Heidelberg University in 1908 and 1909."





Amber pages:

1941, Chick Corea, musician (which allows me to talk about Hollywood Boulevard and the Haitian restaurant on South Beach - though I think the latter's in The World Hourglass already); and then Al di Meola and Paco di Lucia...

1963, Medgar Wiley Evers, civil rights leader, assassinated.







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