September 23


I am confused. In my father's memoir, which we wrote together in conversation and by email in the early 1990s, he was in no doubt that the reaminder of our Polish family, Aunty Yeta and Aunty Brunya and cousin Boruch whose tale I later retold in "Tall Tales & Short Stories", were taken to the Lodz Ghetto (Boruch was second-in-command of the Judenrat there), and thence to Auschwitz.

But all my research since says that the Lodz deportees went to Chelmno; which was much more logical anyway. Chelmno (Chełmno nad Nerem to give it its full name) was just 40 miles north of Lodz; why shlep them all the way to Auschwitz?

And then, today, looking up this date in history, I came upon a piece on Höss, Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss, the man who was given the task of resolving the final solution chemically; it describes him recycling exhaust fumes back into the Jew-transporters, and the passengers in question are from the Lodz ghetto, and their destination is given as Auschwitz - or is this just sloppiness and presumption by the writer, the use of Auschwitz as a generic term, a synonym for Shoah? But no, it can't be - Höss was the Commandant of Auschwitz.

Exhaust fumes anyway proved ineffective, and were replaced by Zyklon-B, a pest- and germicide originally, manufactured by Degesch, a subsidiary of I.G. Farben, and later by Tesch-Stabenow as well. Zyklon-B was a pellet that carried the gas hydrocyanic acid, and it became lethal when exposed to the air; the first known use of HCN for killing people was on Death Row in Arizona in the 1920s; the first use by the Nazis was today in 1941, at Auschwitz.

HCN is not in fact a terribly effective pesticide, because it works best on warm-blooded creatures, which Jews are of course, in both senses. To kill lice, for example, you would require 16,000 parts per million, with an exposure time of 72 hours; for people, a mere 300 ppm and only fifteen minutes is sufficient.

So significant (to me anyway) is this discovery, I have added a short fragment to my novel "The Flaming Sword", the first serious edit to that text in twenty years.

Amber pages

Euripides, Greek dramatist, born today in 480 BCE. Has there ever been a moment in history equal to this one, when the three Greek dramatists - and there were dozens of others, but these three in particular - were operating contemporaneously; Aeschylus and Sophocles being the other two? Shakespeare, Jonson, Marlow in Elizabethan England, perhaps. Racine, Corneille, Molière in 17th century France. Beckett, Pinter, Miller in our epoch. Maybe.

Augustus (Gaius Octavius) Caesar, Roman emperor, born today in 63BCE

Neptune discovered, by Johann Gottfried Galle, today in 

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