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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/08/03 -- Vol. 21, No. 6
Table of Contents
Oddly Familiar (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
You might want to take a look at http://tinyurl.com/ixdn. Am I the only one who is getting just a little bit nervous because just as Mars is approaching its nearest point in 60,000 years, suddenly there are mysterious clouds on the planet's surface? Doesn't this all have a sort of familiar feel like something out of H. G. Wells? I suggest every household have a flashlight, some bottled water, a portable radio, and some duct tape. Also it might be good to get some chain to trip tripods. I am sure you will not need to use it, but you may feel more secure if you have it. [-mrl]
My Uncle's War Story (article by Mark R. Leeper):
On our last major trip Evelyn and I visited the 45th Infantry Division Museum in Oklahoma City. Part of the exhibit is a room on the liberation of the concentration camp Dachau. I thought they could have devoted a little more space to it, but it was good it was there. This got me wondering about an old family story. My uncle Stanley Leeper, when he was nineteen, was a soldier in Europe. He was nearby when one of the camps was liberated. I knew that he had saved the lives of two people who have since become prominent. I never heard the whole story so I went to two of his sons, my cousins, to find out what I did not know. I found it compelling enough reading that I wanted to share it. Usually I write the editorials, but today I am going to let my cousins Aaron and Barry Leeper tell the story. I will mostly just piece the story together, scissors and paste style, from e-mail from the two, along with excerpts from a letter written by my uncle himself.
Aaron: I actually could not recall the numbers for the units my father served with, but when I saw the stylized 71 in the red circle I immediately recognized it. My father was in an artillery unit, the 607th. I recall thinking as a child that such numbers were so large because they were so obscure and unimportant.
The hostilities were over almost before my father, an impressionable nineteen-year-old, even reached Europe. He said that they only engaged the enemy once, when they flushed out some German soldiers hiding under the straw in a farm building. No shooting was involved, just more prisoner-taking. My father manned a machine gun mounted on top of a truck or half-track. He said he never needed to fire it. Instead of war, he reached Europe in time to witness the aftermath of war. He was there for cleanup detail. The mess was ugly and depressing.
Stanley: Our division, the 71st Infantry, was a latecomer to the European Theater, and even though the war there was in its last days, the harshness of war revealed itself in all its ugliness and brutality. As we advanced in our supply truck, the roads were lined with dead, and even the pastures were filled with dead cattle.
Near the small town of Schwandorf in Germany we approached a railroad siding with boxcars loaded with human bodies in striped clothing. The living were crawling from the piles and there were pits in the surrounding fields that were filled but not yet covered with dirt because of the haste in which the German army was fleeing.
I had been asking civilians all across France and Germany if there were any Jews still living in their towns, and of course the answer was negative. But at last I did find the Jews I had been seeking.
Upon entry into the town of Lambach, Austria, we sought dwellings and were billeted. The next day our entire organization moved out and left two of us in the supply truck behind so we would not have to double back the next day to get daily supplies.
Aaron: When two emaciated Jewish kids, exactly his own age, both nineteen years old, came to him for help, he responded heroically. It was one of his proudest moments. I can just picture it.
The boys my father rescued were first in Auschwitz. It's because of their time there that Yehuda Bacon, the artist, with his photographic memory, was able to give testimony at the Eichmann trial. Near the end of the war, as liberating armies were approaching and the tide was turning, the prisoners of these camps were moved around from place to place so the exterminations could go on without interference. These two boys were shipped by train right through Prague, their hometown, on their way to their next destination, Mauthausen. Some time after they arrived in Mauthausen it was bombed from the air and they were again on the move. This time it was a forced march to Gunskirchen. This camp was outside of Wels, Austria.
When the German guards fled, those survivors who could walked toward Wels to look for food. Wolfgang Adler [he later took the name later "Sinai Adler"] led Yehuda in the opposite direction looking for the American soldiers that were in the area because Yehuda was too sick and weak to compete with the crowd.
According to Sinai, as they walked away from Gunskirchen, in the direction of the conquering American soldiers, they came to some railroad boxcars that they hoped would have food in them, but instead of food, they found a shipment of German uniforms. The boys had been dressed in rags so long that the thought of clean warm clothes, no matter what they looked like, was too powerful to reject the uniforms. There was also some flea powder there, so they covered themselves in flea powder and put on the uniforms. They were already sick with typhus and they were so emaciated that the uniforms were ridiculously large on them.
Sinai related that they continued onward until Yehuda could no longer walk because the typhus had weakened him to that extent. Sinai hid Yehuda and eventually reached a group of American soldiers who were guarding German soldier prisoners. The prisoners were being forced to sweep the streets and when Sinai approached he was ordered to take a broom and join the other German soldiers. He showed the American soldier the tattoo on his arm, and it was obvious by his physical condition as well that he was not a German soldier. Sinai asked in broken English if there was a Jew among the American soldiers. He was directed up the street to some other soldiers, among whom was my father.
Stanley: At dusk, two bedraggled young men in German uniforms approached as I spoke in broken German to the owner of the house in which we were billeting. They overheard my conversation and asked if I was Jewish. I showed them my pocket prayer book in Hebrew and English. It was a surprise to learn that they were Jewish and in German uniforms.
What had happened was that the two teen-age boys, Yehuda Bacon, weighing 65 pounds, and Wolfgang Adler, weighing about 80 pounds, had left a liberated concentration camp, Gunskirchen Lager, and in their flight passed a German warehouse where they picked out clean uniforms to rid themselves of the striped clothing which they had worn for months.
One of our sergeants had become drunk and commandeered a German hay wagon going in the direction of Lambach. He saw the two and made them get on the wagon as German prisoners. The sergeant felt the wagon was going too slow and jumped off to walk. The boys jumped off, too, to follow him on foot, and this led to where I was standing.
Aaron: They came across men from my father's unit who were guarding captured German soldiers and Sinai asked if among these American soldiers there were any Jews. He was directed to my father, who was the only Jew in his unit. Sinai spoke to my father and asked him if he was a Jew. Without a word in reply, my father pulled his army issue Hebrew-English prayer book out of his pocket and showed it to Sinai. Tears ran down Sinai's face. He was overcome by the sight of my father and the proof. Here stood before him a strong, hefty, well-fed, brave and proud Jew in an American Army uniform -- the first Jew he had seen in years who wasn't a skeleton in rags and hollow eyed with fear, disease, and hunger.
They spoke to each other in German and Yiddish. Sinai led my father back to Yehuda. My father scooped Yehuda up and took him and Sinai to the room he was given for sleeping quarters. That night, my father gave them his own bed and he slept on the floor. This was another gesture that made an everlasting impression on them. (Yehuda especially remembered the gesture, and the first time I slept at his house during a visit long ago, he gave me a bed to sleep in. He saw great significance in being able to provide a bed for the son of the man who had given up his own bed to him.) I don't recall where it fits into the story, but because Yehuda was so weak and emaciated my father found a baby crib for Yehuda to sleep in afterwards. The American soldiers had requisitioned sleeping quarters in the homes of the village, and a crib was found for Yehuda.
Stanley: I asked the two to stay with me and I made them some bouillon and they ate very little because of their emaciated condition, which forbade bulky food.
We lit candles and made a blessing to their freedom. I took them with me the next morning for supplies and we joined with our outfit later in the day. I took them into the Austrian house and found some nice-looking clothing for them. Yehuda I put into a baby crib that night, he was so thin. They both became very ill with temperatures of over 104 degrees. They had contracted typhus. I had to take them to a nearby hospital. I visited them in the hospital several times until our outfit moved from the area. I wrote them letters of introduction to be given to any American soldier, and after moving I did not return to the hospital because I was afraid they would die.
Aaron: The boys had typhus, and Yehuda's case was already debilitating. As my father related this story, he brought Sinai and Yehuda to the hospital and threatened the staff that they had better treat the pair or else. My father's unit must have remained in the area for a while, because my father was able to go back and check up on them at least once as they were recovering. (The officer my father went to for permission to drive these survivors to a convent/hospice in the area to have them treated may also have been Jewish, but I'm not positive.)
Barry: As I understood it, my father's regiment was under strict orders not to pick up any refugees, as typhus and other diseases could infect the troops. My father was speaking Yiddish with his sergeant, and was overheard by Sinai Adler, who was hiding at the time in the nearby underbrush. He approached my father, asking if he was Jewish, and my father produced a prayer book. My Dad attempted to gain permission from his sergeant, to take Yehuda and Sinai to the Red Cross Camp, that Aaron mentioned. His sergeant held my Dad to the strict orders, but my Dad would not hear of it. He stood to be reprimanded, however he insisted that his sergeant allow him to accompany the two boys, taking them to the Red Cross facility for treatment.
My father returned to the Red Cross Shelter some weeks later, hoping to see both boys in better health, and upon the discovery that they had not progressed to his expectations, my Dad went to the Red Cross director, a German. My father told me the story of how he wasn't getting the cooperation and respect he expected from the Red Cross director. So he literally picked the guy up by his collar and demanded that both Yehuda and Sinai be treated properly, and that he would hold the director personally responsible for their full recovery. When I think back on the guts it took for my father to have overridden his superior officer, taken the Red cross Commander to task and demanding that he personally see to it that both boys returned to good health, and actually gave them papers that both carried with them all the way to the Promised Land, I feel such pride in his accomplishment.
My Dad created papers for both Sinai and Yehuda to use, in absence of citizenship documents, explaining their origins and in the handwritten document, he asked that the individuals be given special care, allowing them to return to good health.
Text of the letter:
To whom it may concern:
This boy's name is Wolfgang Adler. He is a Jewish boy liberated from the crematorium at Birkenau where thousands of German prisoners were burned to death. This boy witnessed his father and mother being burned. His father was a devout Rabbi in Prague the birthplace of this boy. Please find him a place to sleep so he can store up enough strength to make the trip to Prague. You may wonder how and why he has good clothing. I saw to it that he found some good clothing. He has no identification other than the tattoo on his arm, which was a slave number given to him by the Germans. Please treat him kindly and you shall be rewarded for your kindness, as helping him will give you God's blessing.
Pfc. Stanley E. Leeper
607th F.A. Bn APO#560
P.S. He will probably have another boy with him, Judah Bakon, also of Prague
In the margin is another note:
UNRRA - Take care of this fellow g.s.o.
Aaron: The identity papers and letters requesting safe passage for Yehuda and Sinai are handwritten. I have copies stored away for safe keeping somewhere around here. The most impressive thing about them is that the handwriting is so distinctively Dad's and the language is so mature and appropriate. It was written when he was only nineteen, before he'd ever met Mom, before we were born, before his life unfolded (before he ever wrote letters to our teachers asking them to excuse us). The documents were so important and so significant to Sinai that he has kept and preserved them to this day. I don't know how far they got the boys in actuality, but that they reached Israel together with Yehuda and Sinai and are still extant today attests to their importance. For me, beholding them is like viewing an original manuscript in the Smithsonian.
Stanley: They both survived and eventually reached Israel where they are now living. Yehuda is a renowned artist and teaches at Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem. Wolfgang, now Sinai Adler, is the chief rabbi of Ashdod, a newer town on the southern coast of Israel.
Aaron: [On Amazon.com] is reference to a book written by Rabbi Sinai Adler entitled "Your Rod and Your Staff." In it he [Rabbi Adler] wrote about their terrible ordeal in the concentration camps and about their eventual rescue by my father's unit. My father is mentioned by name toward the end of the book. If you can get your hands on a copy of this book you will learn a great deal about the camps in general, and about the one(s) my father liberated. I [Aaron] personally have a copy of the book in its original Hebrew, autographed by the author. [The original Hebrew title "B'gai Tzel-Mavvet" literally means "In the Valley of the Shadow of Death"].
My father's heroics are in the part he played in seeing to it that these boys survived the aftermath of the war. My father had seen stacks of bodies by this point at other locations -- stacks of Jews. It haunted him then and it haunted him forever. To have the opportunity to do something for two fellow Jews, when up to that point all he had encountered were stacks of Jews beyond rescue, he wasn't going to let the opportunity go by.
Barry: Aaron and I visited Yad Vashem (Israel's museum and memorial to the Jews who died in the Holocaust), and attempted to get into the library to look up Yehuda's testimony at the Eichmann Trial. Our student group was going through the exhibits at the time, and Aaron and I were hoping to find some details about my father's story in the archives. We were forbidden from entering the library, for some reason. Aaron and I wouldn't take no for an answer, and we went to the highest authority at Yad Vashem to ask for permission to enter the Library. The director of Yad Vashem ushered us into his office, where Aaron and I sat down to relate our father's story. When we began explaining the story of Yehuda Bacon, the man was quite moved at hearing the story. He then told us that the painting over our shoulders, as we sat in his office, was one painted by Yehuda himself. He personally knew Yehuda, and granted us permission to review the Eichmann trial archives. It was a moment I'll always remember.
They both survived and eventually reached Israel where they are now living. Yehuda is a renowned artist and teaches at Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem. Wolfgang, now Sinai Adler, is the chief rabbi of Ashdod, a newer town on the southern coast of Israel.
For more information about what the 71st found at Gunskirchen see the pamphlet: "The Seventy-First came to Gunskirchen Lager" produced by the 71st Infantry of the US Army in May 1945. It may be found at http://www.remember.org/mooney/gunskirchen-intro.html. See also http://www.gusen.org/dok/gk/gk01x.htm> for more information about the Gunskirchen Lager liberation. [-mrl]
WINGED MIGRATION (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This documentary follows many species of birds as they go through their lives and especially as they migrate. We see it almost literally "up close and personal." Much of the film is jaw-dropping and more than a little is genuinely funny. Give this one a chance and almost certainly you WILL like it. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), low +3 (-4 to +4)
I had a chance to see this film at the Toronto International Film Festival and I asked myself how good would a film about flying birds be. I passed it up and when it was too late heard other people really enjoyed it. Now I have seen it and I cannot imagine anyone seeing it and not being at the very least mildly positive. The value of some films is a matter of taste. Some films are just plain good and if someone doesn't like then it is his failing. WINGED MIGRATION is a film that I think should be enjoyed by nearly anyone who gives it a chance.
What are we talking about here? WINGED MIGRATION is a film showing birds migrating. It also show them courting, mating, taking care of their young, fighting, and doing just about anything birds do that does not leave a white residue. This is a documentary about birds performing the amazing feat of migrating. And it is hard to see this film and not be left in awe of this remarkable feat of flying thousands of miles. It is an amazing feat we see through the eye of a camera that flies in among the birds, closer than we could imagine. A goose flies with as much grace and power as any human shows in the Olympics. That it has the strength to fly like this for thousands of miles is quietly astounding. This film, which took four years to make, shows us what it is like to fly in with the birds.
This is a film of very few words. It tells us very little about the migration process and most of what it tells the viewer already knew. How many people do not know that birds fly the same route each year? But it is a film for the eye rather than the ear (though the musical score is appropriate and very pleasant). Most of the visuals seem to be the film just as it came from the camera. Each minute of film is chosen from over two hundred minutes shot. There is some digital work playing with images, but those scenes are obvious. When you see a bird flying over a land mass that is the shape of an entire continent, you know the picture has been digitally enhanced. But much of the film is showing the viewer birds that are inches from the camera and in a photographic feat that seems almost impossible. In fact, birds were raised from eggs to be unafraid of airplanes so that cameras could be placed in among the migratory birds.
The backgrounds are from all over the world from arctic to the tropics to the Antarctic. We see geese, eagles, parrots, penguins, grebes, and terns, to list just a few. Not all the birds shown in the film migrate. Some swim rather than migrate by wing, but the film is an appreciation of how birds migrate and inquiry as to not just why, but what is it like.
Director, co-writer, and narrator Jacques Perrin allows himself some editorializing. (Perrin was one of the producers of MICROCOSMOS.) We see close-ups of ducks shot in flight by hunters. (How do they do that without endangering the cameraman?) The ducks in an instant go from this graceful shape in air to pieces of feathered wreckage. We also see some pollution and how it harms the birds. There is not a lot of time spent on this, but it certainly is there.
This is not a Walt Disney "True Life" adventure. It is an impressive documentary took four years to make and now it has arrived it rivets and fascinates the viewer. A film like this raises the bar for upcoming documentary filmmakers. It will be a hard feat to match. I give WINGED MIGRATION an 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +3 on the -4 to +4 scale.
Sony Classics International maintains a very good web site for the film with information about the birds and their migration patterns and some impressive video of the birds in flight. It may be found at http://www.sonyclassics.com/wingedmigration/home.html. [-mrl]
THE MAGDALENE SISTERS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
[This review ran in the 02/14/03 issue after its screening during the Toronto International Film Festival, but since the film is opening in theaters this week, we are re-running it.]
CAPSULE: This may be an authentic expose of conditions for penitents in convents, but really comes off like a women's prison film. What makes this film different from some is that it is no fictional imagining though the frequency of the outrages may be exaggerated. This film is made more meaningful after the various sex scandals in the Catholic Church that have occurred since the film was produced. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)
THE MAGDALENE SISTERS won this year's top prize at the Venice film festival and the Volkswagen Discovery award at Toronto. Still, I find it to be in some ways hackneyed. Writer/director Peter Mullan claims that though the names have been changed to protect the innocent, everything we see in this film actually happened. Of course, it makes a stronger and perhaps distorted statement to have all these horrors happen to a small number of women over a short period of time. Nevertheless, it really is damning that they occurred at all.
This is a film is about life in a convent, but it is no THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S. The young women committed by their families to the Magdalene convents are essentially imprisoned without trial. They are totally subject to the will and apparently non-existent mercy of the nuns. Mullan suggests that the system is a corrupt and sadistic as any prison system anywhere.
Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff) was raped at a wedding by her own cousin. Bernadette (Nora-Jane Noone) was attractive and was getting too much attention from the boys. Rose (Dorothy Duffy) was an unwed mother. None of these women in their late teens was criminal, but each was sent by her family or warders to the convent as penitents. There they seem to be part of a Dickens story where they are cruelly and brutally mishandled by repressed and hateful nuns. They are subject to beatings and abuse. They are essentially slaves with all choices taken from them. In one scene there is lesbian abuse. Even the local priests sexually abuse them with impunity.
There is no sympathy or any positive emotions shown by any of the nuns. Any humanity we see comes from the girls themselves. The help and support the girls give each other is the core of the film.
With only a few minor substitutions this could be the sort of women's prison film Ida Lupino could have directed. Instead it is about women committed by their families to work in convents as penitents. This is pretty strong stuff when you realize all the abuses in it are based on fact and actually happened to somebody. But the film still never really rises above prison melodrama or as lurid expose. This is a strong film about a shameful period in recent Church history, made all the more timely by events since the completion of the film. I rate it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
[This review ran in the 02/14/03 issue after its screening during the Toronto International Film Festival, but since the film is opening in theaters this week, we are re-running it.]
CAPSULE: Based on Jane Smiley's novella "The Age of Grief," the film has an intriguing title, but is just not very interesting overall. It is a character study of a not-very-believable dentist who suspects his wife, also a dentist, of infidelity. There is just not enough story to keep an audience interested. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), 0 (-4 to +4)
Most stories have a beginning that sets up the premise, a middle in which the plot develops, and an end in which the premise is resolved. This film is no different except that the plot stands stock still in the middle act.
In the first ten minutes we establish that the main character believes his wife--both are dentists--is having an affair. He sees her preparing for a performance of in an amateur opera company and imagines her making love to a man she is performing with.
Then we are to the middle act in which he toys in his mind with the possibility, he discusses the possibility with his worst instincts made corporeal, and he takes care of his family through a bout of the flu. But none of this advances the plot. Except for the adding of texture to the story this could have been a short. The greatest interest in the film comes in some philosophical voice-overs about the nature of teeth, but the film never overcomes its static plot. We see David and Dana Hurst at home, helping the family through a bout of vomiting influenza. And we see business as usual while David mulls over his fears. At first lets his paranoia get the better of him, getting his advice from his own worst fears, which he sees personified as a particularly unpleasant patient. He behaves strangely. Later he gets back into his routine. Mostly we just see his family life.
There is not enough humor to keep this film amusing and though there is texture there is very little substance here. I rate it 4 on the 0 to 10 and a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Mark recently gave me the new translation of Jules Verne's THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND. Now, this was one of my favorite books when I was young--at age thirteen I read my family's Scribner's edition over and over until it fell apart. But would I still like it, years later, in a different translation, with all the cuts restored?
[Spoilers follow. Page numbers are from the Wesleyan University Press edition.]
Yes, it turns out, I would. I enjoyed even though as an adult I could see that it was not a very realistic novel. The island seems to be populated with a much bigger variety of animals than one would expect for an island that small and isolated. How did they (or rather, their ancestors) all get there? And how would they have a large enough breeding population (particularly the larger predators who would need more territory per animal)? It has all the necessary minerals, as well as an assortment of useful plants. All on a island described as the size of Malta (122 square miles, though Smith's perimeter of a hundred miles would seem to contradict this.)
And all the characters would make Heinlein proud--they know everything and can do everything. Smith knows what the longitude of Washington, D.C. is, and very conveniently Spillett's watch never stopped running, nor did he forget to wind it.
I also had forgotten just how much "infodump" was present in this novel. Had I retained it all, I would make a capital botanist, zoologist, or metallurgist today! (Although the repeated use of the word "amphibian" to describe seals, and other similar errors, must be considered errors.)
And of course, as an adult I also see a lot of "goofs" that I don't remember noticing or being aware of then. The best-known one, of course, is that Nemo manages to predecease himself by dying in 1869 here and showing up quite alive years later in TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. Actually, even in this one book the dates are clearly off: On page 592, Nemo talks about having picked up the castaways (in TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA) in November 1866 and their escaping on June 22, 1867. Nemo then "lived for many years" cruising beneath the sea, eventually coming to Lincoln Island and living there for six years before the castaways in THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND show up--in 1865! And though I'm unfamiliar with CAPTAIN GRANT'S CHILDREN, that also ties in with this story and the dates don't match up either.
(Note: Verne has the arrival and departure dates of the castaways be the same, March 24. Verne died thirty years after writing THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND--on March 24, 1905. Add that coincidence to Shakespeare's birth and death, and the death of Cervantes, all on April 23, and the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on July 4, 1826.)
But even internally there are problems. On pages 4 and 5, the castaways slash the ropes to cut the basket away from the balloon. But they had previously thrown everything out to lighten the load, "even the most useful objects," and later "the last objects that still weighed them down, several provisions they had kept, everything, even the knick-knacks in their pockets." And later they have no knife until they break Top's collar. So what did they cut the ropes with? (And how did Smith snap a tempered steel collar into two pieces?)
On pages 9-11, we find out that Cyrus Smith from Massachusetts got Neb as a slave in his estate, but emancipated him. This is not just unlikely, but impossible, since Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1783, thirty-seven years before Smith was born. Clearly Verne, as a Frenchman, didn't bother to find out what the various laws in the United States were.
And even the editor notes that Union prisoners of war in Richmond were not given the freedom of the city (page 12).
By page 121, they have pottery wheels, with no clue as to how they managed that. (Which is doubly interesting when you consider that quite a while later, on page 298, there is mention that they built a potter's wheel!)
Still, this is being picky. I would recommend this edition, not only because it is complete, but also because it includes all the original illustrations. And it's shorter than the latest "Harry Potter". [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: You can't legislate intelligence and common sense into people. You can't broaden a man's vision if he wasn't born with one. --Will Rogers
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