Understanding

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“We might understand each other better if we had more frank conversations between Britons and Americans. You must bear in mind that we are, on the whole, more emotional, vociferous and intolerant than you. We’ll go to a baseball game or a football match and shout for the blood of the referee, and on occasion, fling beer bottles at him. Our domestic controversies are conducted in strong language, with much name-calling — in short, we’re inclined to say what we think, even when we have not thought very much.”

— Edward R. Murrow, speaking to Britons from London during World War II, quoted in Citizens of London (2010) by Lynne Olson

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By Hand

baseballs

Baseballs painted by former major league umpire George Sosnak, picturing great events in the history of baseball, from The Art of Baseball (1996) postcard book.

Curious

“There were eccentric characters in the hotel. The Paris slums are a gathering-place for eccentric people — people who have fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves of life and given up trying to be normal or decent. Poverty frees them from ordinary standards of behaviour, just as money frees people from work. Some of the lodgers in our hotel lived lives that were curious beyond words.

“There were the Rougiers, for instance, an old, ragged, dwarfish couple who plied an extraordinary trade. They used to sell post cards on the Boulevard St. Michel. The curious thing was that the post cards were sold in sealed packets as pornographic ones, but were actually photographs of chateaux on the Loire; the buyers did not discover this until too late, and of course never complained.

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The Rougiers earned about a hundred francs a week, and by strict economy managed to be always half starved and half drunk.”

— From Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) by George Orwell

Priorities

“After Chamberlain and the French prime minister handed over much of Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler at Munich in September 1938, Kennedy remarked happily to Jan Masaryk, the Czechoslovak minister to Britain: ‘Isn’t it wonderful? Now I can get to Palm Beach after all.'”

— U.S. Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, quoted in Citizens of London (2010) by Lynne Olson

Gilded

“He’s all right; he won’t lure you into any gilded dens of infamy. If you look at him you will see he has a kind, innocent face.”

— Salcombe Hardy assuring Miss Twitterton that she is safe with Lord Peter Wimsey in “The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man with No Face” by Dorothy L. Sayers, collected in Blood on the Tracks: Railway Mysteries (2018)

Leipzig, 1945

In the closing days of World War II, with the German military collapsing on every front, U.S. forces reached the city of Leipzig. The 2nd Infantry, 69th Infantry and 9th Armored Divisions entered the city on April 18th and, after house-by-house combat, they secured it on April 19th. The next day, war correspondents and photographers followed; one of the first was Margaret Bourke-White. She later wrote:

“On Friday morning, April 20, Life‘s Bill Walton hunted me out, his hair standing up from excitement in little fire-coloured whorls. ‘Hurry to the Rathaus before they clean it out,’ he said. ‘The place is like Madam Tussaud’s waxworks!’

“We rushed in the jeep over the Zeppelin Bridge and… drew up before the Leipzig City Hall. Here the siege had been intense, and the deeper carvings of artillery were added to the outlines of the fine old Rathaus. Bill and I raced up three flights of stone steps, climbed over a tumbled bust of Frederick the Great and a scattering of other fallen Prussians, and burst through a pair of padded, sound-proof doors.”

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“Inside was a Baroque office, hung with sentimental landscapes and furnished in the heavy style which represented the nineteenth-century German’s idea of luxury. Reclining on the ponderous leather furniture was a family group, so intimate, so lifelike, that it was hard to realize that these people were no longer living. Seated at the desk, head bowed on his hands as though he was resting, was Dr. Kurt Lisso. On the sofa was his daughter [Regina, still wearing her German Red Cross armband], and in the overstuffed armchair sat his wife [Renata]. The documents for the whole family were laid out neatly on the desk, beside a bottle of Pyrimal by which they had evidently chosen to die. Dr. Lisso had been Stadkammerer, Leipzig City Treasurer, with one of those low Party numbers which indicated that he was among the early faithful.

“In nearby rooms, seated in an equally lifelike circle, was Mayor Alfred Freiberg, Ober-burgermeister, with his wife and pretty daughter, Magdalena. Adjoining rooms held similarly peaceful and silent characters, of whom the most striking was the Commander of the Volkssturm in his fine uniform, with a portrait of Hitler beside him.”

Waves of such suicides accompanied the last days of the Nazi regime, prompted by many factors: Nazi propaganda promising horrors should Germany be defeated,  attachment to the ideals of the Nazi Party, anticipated imprisonment, and executions of those held responsible. Life magazine (May 14, 1945) noted:

“In the last days of the war the overwhelming realization of utter defeat was too much for many Germans. Stripped of the bayonets and bombast which had given them power, they could not face a reckoning with either their conquerors or their consciences. These found the quickest and surest escape in what Germans call selbstmord, self-murder.”

One account claimed that cyanide pills were distributed by Hitler Youth during the last concert of the Berlin Philharmonic on April 12, 1945. During the Battle of Berlin, almost 4,000 Berliners killed themselves. And yet, there are still people in the world who think a war can turn out well.

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Photograph by Margaret Bourke-White from Bourke-White (1988), a catalog of a traveling exhibition of her work. Her quote is from Swansong 1945: A Collective Diary of the Last Days of the Third Reich by Walter Kempowski.