A child prodigy, Dmitry Shostakovich, born 25 September 1906, completed the first of his fifteen symphonies at the age of nineteen. During the early years of Stalin’s rule, he and fellow artists enjoyed a period of creative freedom but Stalin brought this period to an abrupt end in 1932 when all forms of avant-garde creativity were banned.
Muddle Not Music
It was in 1932 that Shostakovich’s second opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsenk District, was first performed to gushing reviews. It survived for four years enjoying unqualified success until, approaching the height of the Great Terror, in 1936, Stalin decided to attend a performance. (1936 was a difficult year for Shostakovich’s family – both his brother-in-law and mother-in-law were arrested that year). Shostakovich was in the audience and from the corner of his eye, watched in horror at the expressions of distaste on the dictator’s face. Obliged to take a bow at the end of the performance, Shostakovich looked ‘as white as a sheet’.
Within days, a review appeared in Pravda entitled ‘Muddle Not Music’, widely believed to have been penned by Stalin himself: ‘Snatches of melody, the beginnings of a musical phrase, are drowned, emerge again, and disappear in a grinding and squealing roar. To follow this “music” is most difficult; to remember it, impossible.’ (Click for the full text of the Muddle Not Music review).
The opera was immediately withdrawn and reassessed. The authors of rave reviews now rushed to publish revised reviews condemning the work and apologising for failing to see its inadequacies first time round. Shostakovich’s fall from grace was spectacular. With his works banned and labelled as an enemy of the people, he fully expected to be arrested at any moment and reportedly slept fully clothed with a packed suitcase at hand.
Born c.1029, Tostig Godwinson, the third son of Earl Godwine, was exiled with the rest of the family by England’s Edward the Confessor in 1051. On their return in the following year, Tostig married Judith of Flanders who bore him two sons; Skuli and Ketil. The couple were well-known for their generous alms-giving and devotion, including, in 1061, a pilgrimage to Rome.
In 1055 Tostig became the earl of Northumbria. An area known for its lawlessness, Tostig was able to subdue Northumbria by implementing new laws and severely punishing offenders. He ruled until 1065 when rebellion broke out and he was accused of increasing brutality and misrule. His lands were confiscated by the king and Tostig was forced to take refuge in his wife’s native home in Flanders.
Battle of Stamford Bridge
Shortly after his brother’s, Harold II, coronation in January 1066, which Tostig did not attend, he visited Duke William of Normandy in the hope of forming an alliance. He was unsuccessful but eventually persuaded King Harald Hardrada of Norway to undertake a joint invasion of England.
They arrived on the English coast in early September and plundered the local towns and villages. They defeated the armies of the northern earls at the Battle of Fulford Gate and were able to take the city of York.
(Pictured: brothers Tostig and Harold (the future King Harold II) fighting, bottom right, at a feast hosted by King Edward the Confessor).
On 25 September 1066, Tostig and Harald met the English army at Stamford Bridge. King Harold offered to reinstate Tostig’s lands if he switched sides but Tostig refused. He was killed during the battle, alongside Harald Hardrada.
Following the death of Harald Hardrada, shot in the throat with an arrow, Harold II renewed his offer of reconciliation. Again, Tostig refused and picked up the Norwegian battle standard. It took the alleged gruesome decapitation of Tostig Godwinson by his own brother, Harold, to end the battle.
For more about the Norman Invasion see 1066: History In An Hour
published by Harper Press.
See also articles on the Battle of Hastings, Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror.
I was first alerted to the possibilities behind the story, Operation Kingfisher, by a friend called Tony who has a keen interest in Inland Waterways, both in the UK and in France, writes Hilary Green. He has his own narrow boat, which is currently moored on one of the French canals. It was Tony who asked me if I knew that during the Second World War the French canal network had been used as a way to smuggle POWs and downed airmen out of the country. When I expressed my interest he sent me some photocopied pages from a book, Keeping Afloat by John Liley. These contained a reference to an extraordinary event which occurred in April 1943.
After the Allied invasion of North Africa the Germans, fearing an attack on the south coast of France, decided to move some of their warships from the North Atlantic to the Mediterranean. Rather than taking the long sea route they decided to use the French canal system. French canals are considerably wider than the ones in the UK and carry much heavier traffic. The vedettes (small boats) were brought down the River Yonne and the intention was to take them through the Canal de Bourgogne to connect with the River Saone and thence to the Mediterranean.
However, when they reached Laroche Migennes, where the Canal de Bourgogne meets the Yonne, they discovered that the locks on that canal were too short to accommodate the ships. A new route had to be devised and 1,500 young men were pressed into service to rebuild roads, so that the ships could be moved overland. Buildings were demolished, bends straightened out and gradients eased. The nearest slipway was in Auxerre and the residents of that town were astounded to see the spectacle of these huge craft being hauled out of the river. They were loaded onto two 48-wheeled chariots, pulled by three giant tractors, with four more at the rear to provide braking power.
It was forbidden to photograph these events but there are, nevertheless, several pictures taken clandestinely to bear witness to this amazing undertaking. Ironically, the RAF was alerted to what was happening and not one of the ships ever reached the Mediterranean!
These events form the background to Hilary’s new novel, Operation Kingfisher, due for publication on 29 November 2013.
Hilary’s novel, The Last Hero, is available now.
See also Hilary’s articles on the Women of the SOE, Entertainment during World War Two and the Riddle of the ClayTablets.
Proclaimed on 23 September 1943, the Italian Social Republic was a short-lived state headed by fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini.
The war had been going badly for Mussolini’s Italy, so much so that a meeting of the Fascist Grand Council on 25 July 1943 voted to have Mussolini removed. One of those who voted against Mussolini was his son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano. The following day, Mussolini was dismissed by the Italian king, Victor Emmanuel III: ‘My dear Duce, it’s no longer any good. Italy has gone to bits… The soldiers don’t want to fight any more… At this moment you are the most hated man in Italy.’
Mussolini was immediately arrested and imprisoned. His successor, Pietro Badoglio, appointed a new cabinet which, pointedly, contained no fascists. The Italian population rejoiced.
On 8 September, Italy swapped sides and joined the Allies and, on 13 October 1943, declared war on Germany.
Meanwhile, Mussolini was kept under house arrest and frequently moved in order to keep his whereabouts hidden. On 26 August, he was moved into the Campo Imperatore Hotel, part of a ski resort high up on the mountains of Gran Sasso in the Abruzzo region of central Italy. It was here, on 12 September, that Mussolini was dramatically rescued.
On Hitler’s orders, Mussolini was returned to German-occupied northern Italy as the puppet head of the Italian Social Republic, based in the town of Salo on Lake Garda, hence it was often referred to as the Salo Republic. Mussolini wasn’t keen; much preferring the idea of being allowed to slip away into quiet retirement but Hitler had no intention of letting the now reluctant dictator so easily off the hook.
Having established his make-believe republic, Mussolini’s first priority was to deal with his son-in-law and other ‘traitors’ who had voted against him at the Fascist Grand Council meeting in July. Ciano had gone to Germany only to be forced back to Mussolini’s new republic. Despite the pleas of his daughter and Ciano’s wife, Edda, Mussolini had Ciano and five colleagues tried in Verona in January 1944, and five, including Ciano, were executed by firing squad on the 11 January. To add to the humiliation, they were tied to chairs and shot in the back. Ciano’s last words were ‘Long live Italy!’ Continue reading
The Jim Crow Laws were created in 1876 simply to segregate black people from the white population. Some English Dictionaries define ‘Jim Crow’ as the name for an implement that can straighten or bend iron rails; or, along with ‘Jim Crowism’, systems or practices of racial discrimination or segregation. The American English Dictionary suggests that the name only emerged in dictionaries in 1904, but it was clearly used generally in 1876, at least.
The origin of Jim Crow goes back to the 1820s and is credited to a song-and-dance man, Thomas Dartmouth ‘Daddy’ Rice. He implied that he had seen a limping black slave singing the following verse:
‘Come listen all you galls and boys
I’m going to sing a song
My names is Jim Crow
Weel about and turn around and do jis so,
Eb’ry time I weel about and jump Jim Crow.’
In 1828 Rice was the first man to blacken his face, dress as a plantation slave and perform such a routine, using his own compositions. As he gained fame he expanded his repertoire and gradually penned forty-four verses, most of them extremely insensitive. Indeed, his mockery of black people grew to the extent that his derogatory Jim Crow verses helped deepen the gulf between black and white communities. In 1838, the Southern States passed various laws of racial segregation, focused against the black sectors. By the turn of the century those laws were called the Jim Crow laws, both north and south.
Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, a grandson of a slave, became a highly respected pioneer who, alongside Martin Luther King, strove for civil rights for African Americans.
Abernathy was born on 11 March 1926 in Linden Alabama. He was one of William L. Abernathy’s twelve children and the family lived on his 500-acre farm. Well respected, William was the first black man to serve on a grand jury in his county. Ralph attended the Linden Academy, a Baptist school founded by the first Mount Pleasant District Association. Whilst there he led his first demonstration – protesting against the dire state of the college’s science lab.
During World War Two Abernathy enlisted in the army. Before the war he had not been aware of the blatant and widespread hostility towards black people and was stunned by the strict black and white segregation. Despite the disadvantage of his skin colour he achieved the rank of Platoon Sergeant; but a bout of rheumatic fever finished his army career. He was given an honourable discharge and a flight back to America.
After the war Abernathy enrolled at the Alabama State University; where he gained a Science Degree in Mathematics (with honours). Also, he earned a Master of Science Degree in Sociology while building the foundations of the Civil Rights Movement with Martin Luther King, Jr. His thesis, The Natural History of a Social Movement: The Montgomery Improvement Association, was later published in book form entitled The Walking City-the Montgomery Bus Boycott 1955-1956. During his studies Abernathy joined the ministry, delivering his first sermon on Mother’s Day, 1948.
On 18 September 1931, a 23-year-old woman was found dead in a sumptuous nine-room Munich apartment, a single shot wound into her heart. Her name was Geli Raubal, the apartment was rented to Adolf Hitler, and the young woman happened to be Hitler’s niece. Cause of death – suicide. Naturally.
Geli Raubal was the daughter of Hitler’s half sister, Angela. Angela and Adolf grew up together; both products of the same father, Alois Hitler, and his second and third wives respectively.
In 1928, Hitler offered his sister the position of housekeeper in his Bavarian mountain retreat. Angela arrived with her two daughters, Elfriede and nineteen-year-old Angela, known as Geli. Hitler immediately took a shine to the carefree Geli and, in order to remove her from her mother’s watchful eye, installed her into his Munich apartment. Nineteen years Hitler’s junior, she was, according to one of Hitler’s aides, ‘of medium size, well developed, had dark, rather wavy hair, and lively brown eyes… it was simply astonishing to see a young girl at Hitler’s side.’
Geli, who called Hitler ‘Uncle Alf’, had been born in Linz; the town Hitler always considered his hometown, on 4 June 1908.
Hitler liked to be seen with his attractive niece, taking her to meetings, and to restaurants and theatres, but their relationship was a stormy one. Both were consumed by jealousy – Geli of Hitler’s relationship with a seventeen-year-old Eva Braun, a model for Hitler’s photographer, Heinrich Hoffman; and Hitler by Geli’s flirtatious conduct and numerous admirers. Indeed, Hitler once told Hoffman, ‘I love Geli and could marry her.’
Instead, Hitler controlled her life and dictated whom she was allowed to see and when. Geli found her uncle’s overbearing influence suffocating. He refused Geli permission to move to Vienna to study music (Vienna was where, as a young man, Hitler twice unsuccessfully applied to the art academy).
Born in the German town of Dresden on 14 April 1862, brought up in Lithuania, and studied in St Petersburg, Pyotr Stolypin was to be Russia’s great reformer until an assassin’s bullet did its work.
Stolypin’s parents well certainly well-to-do – his father was a successful Russian landowner while his mother was the daughter of a Russian general.
Pyotr Stolypin began his political career with various provincial appointments, including a spell between 1903 – 06 as the governor of the Saratov province. Saratov, a city that sits on the River Volga, was brimming with radicalism. Stolypin dealt harshly with dissenters and potential revolutionaries, often by castration – seen as a means of diminishing testosterone-fuelled revolutionary fervour.
Stolypin’s success in Saratov brought him to the attention of the tsar, Nicholas II. In April 1906, Nicholas appointed Stolypin minister of the interior.
Great and profound sorrow
Following the outbreak of violence in Russia during 1905, and in particular the events of ‘Bloody Sunday’ in St Petersburg, then Russia’s capital, the tsar (pictured) responded by introducing much needed reform to his empire’s political make-up. On 30 October 1905, he announced his ‘October Manifesto’:
Dred Scott was a slave who, through the courts, tried to obtain his and his family’s freedom. Eventually, in 1857, after eleven years of fighting, the US Supreme Court found against him, declaring that as an African descendent he was not an American citizen and therefore could not use the courts to sue for freedom. The decision further widened the gulf between the pro and anti-slavery movements. Less than three years after the decision, the US was at war.
Born in Virginia about 1799, Dred Scott was born a slave and brought up on the St Louis estate of his master, Peter Blow. In 1832, Blow died and Scott was purchased by an army surgeon, Dr John Emerson. In the course of his work, Emerson was posted to various different posts, and each time he took Scott with him. From Missouri, Emerson was posted to Illinois, a free state, then, after a stay of two and a half years, to the Wisconsin Territory, a free territory. It was in Wisconsin that Scott met fellow-slave, Harriet Robinson. Upon their marriage, Robinson also became the property of Dr Emerson. The Scotts were to have two children.
After several years away, Emerson, and his new wife, Irene, returned to Missouri, a slave state. Dr Emerson died in 1843, and Scott attempted to buy his freedom from Emerson’s widow, offering her the princely sum of $300. She refused.
Scott v Emerson
Not to be thwarted, in 1847, Dred and Harriet Scott took their case to court, arguing that as they had resided in two free states they, and their children, should be rendered freed from the bonds of servitude. The Scotts lost the case on a technicality but, in 1851, they were allowed a re-trial within the lower court. This time, the court agreed with the Scotts and granted them their freedom. But in 1852, the higher court, the Missouri Supreme Court, overturned the decision. Mrs Emerson moved away from Missouri, leaving her late husband’s estate, including its slaves, to her brother, John F A Sanford.
Dated 16 September 1919, the ‘Gemlich letter’ is the first known written statement of Hitler’s anti-Semitism.
Following the end of the First World War, Hitler, based in Munich, remained in the army and was being groomed as a political instructor, to ensure that the soldiers had not been overly influenced by the communists.
In August 1919, encouraged by his mentor, Captain Karl Mayr, the thirty-year-old Adolf Hitler went on a training course and there discovered his talent for speaking. His speeches were so well attended he became a star turn. When Captain Mayr was asked, by letter, by a fellow trainee, Adolf Gemlich, to clarify the position on the ‘Jewish question’, Mayr passed it on to Hitler for a response.
In his letter to Gemlich, Hitler writes that the ‘ultimate objective must … be the irrevocable removal of the Jews in general,’ for which a ‘government of national strength … is necessary.’ He states, as ‘fact’, that ‘Jewry is absolutely a race and not a religious association.’
(Captain Mayr was later to renounce Hitler and died in Buchenwald concentration camp in February 1945).
The original letter is now stored at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
Click for the full text of the Gemlich letter.