Mother, daughter reunited after being split up during WWII

 margot bachmann

After more than 70 years, Margot Bachmann, born in the midst of World War II, finally got to meet her mother, ending a lifetime of questions and uncertainty.

Bachmann’s mother had been recruited to work in Nazi Germany during World War II while Italy and Germany were still allied. When Italy switched sides following its capitulation to the Allies, her status became that of forced laborer.

She fell in love with a German soldier, became pregnant and gave birth to her daughter Margot in October 1944. In late 1944, the Nazi “Welfare and Juvenile Office” denied the 20-year-old mother her right as guardian, and Margot was taken to a children’s home, according to the International Tracing Service. The ITS’s mission includes tracing the fate of family members persecuted by the Nazis and their allies.

At war’s end in 1945 the mother returned to Italy under the assumption that her daughter and the father had died in the conflict’s waning months.

What Bachmann’s mother didn’t know is that the German soldier was already married. He not only survived the war but his family took Margot out of the children’s home.

Margot would grow up with seven half-brothers and sisters. Questions about Bachmann’s biological mother were strictly forbidden by her father, who wanted her to believe that her mother had died.

Although Bachmann suspected that the facts didn’t add up, it was only after her father died two years ago that she gathered the courage to try to find out what happened to her mother.

With the help of her own daughter, Bachmann found her baptismal certificate, which included the name of her mother. They then inquired at the German Red Cross, which passed her inquiry on to the International Tracing Service, where staff members were able to find information in its archives that made it possible to locate her mother, now 91 and living in Novellara, a small town in northern Italy.

Bachmann then wrote a letter to her mother:

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Youth gets up close and personal with $1.5 million painting

I don’t know what’s worse: to be the above kid, or his mother.

A 12-year-old Taiwanese boy, touring a Leonardo da Vinci show in Taipei with his mother Sunday, stumbled and accidentally tore a hole in a 17th century painting worth nearly $1.5 million. Surveillance video (above) captured the incident.

Paolo Porpora's 17th century work "Flowers," damaged Sunday.

Paolo Porpora’s 17th century work “Flowers,” damaged Sunday.

The youth, meandering through the tour while drinking a carbonated beverage, lost his footing next to Paolo Porpora’s oil painting “Flowers,” stumbled over the safety rope and pressed his can or cup into the painting as he tried to steady himself.

Andrea Rossi, the exhibition curator, asked that the boy not be blamed for the damage. The family will not be asked to pay the restoration costs.

The rare piece, which belongs to a private collector, is insured and will be shipped back to Italy for further restoration this week, Focus Taiwan, a local news agency, reported.

Porpora (1617–1673) was an Italian painter of the late-Baroque style, specializing in floral still lifes.

Mussolini’s bid to recreate empire had fateful results for Italy

March_on_Rome

Of the three most infamous dictators from World War II, Benito Mussolini definitely takes a backseat to his more merciless fellow despots, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.

Mussolini, in fact, comes across like a bit of a buffoon, given his fateful decision to side with the Nazis, his nation’s performance during the conflict and his ultimate fate (captured trying to escape to Switzerland, executed by firing squad and then hung upside down in a town square where his body was pelted with stones by his fellow Italians).

Il Duce dreamed of recreating a Roman empire reminiscent of the great Caesars, to the point of enacting ancient laws totally out of step with the 20th century.

He went so far as to revive the Code of Diocletian, writes Rebecca West in her masterful 1941 work Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, which recounts her travels through Yugoslavia in the late 1930s.

“(Mussolini) retrieved, whether from the half-comprehended talk of a clever comrade or by skimming a volume in the threepenny box outside the bookshop, the Code of Diocletian; and being either unaware or careless that Diocletian had perished of despair in his palace at Split, because he had failed to check the descent of ruin on the Roman earth, he enforced that Code on his country,” West writes. “This was a comical venture.”

She adds that Diocletian had “some excuse for seeking to stabilize by edict the institutions of an empire that had lasted for over a thousand years,” but it was idiotic for Mussolini “to attempt to fix the forms of a country that had been unified for less than a century and was deeply involved in a world economic system which was no older than the industrial revolution.”

Ultimately, Mussolini’s reign would be an even greater failure than Diocletian’s (284-305 AD).

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Lesser-known Dutch Golden Age artist no less magnificient

A View of St. Bavo's Haarlem

One is staggered by the quality and quantity of work produced during the Dutch Golden Age of art.

Lasting roughly the entire 17th century, the epoch produced such luminaries as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Franz Hals, Jan Steen and Pieter de Hooch.

A testament to the excellence of work created during this period is the fact that many gifted individuals have largely been neglected – except by those inside the art world – because of the glut of talented painters from the era.

Among these was Gerrit Berckheyde, a Haarlem painter who was one of the early Dutch specialists in townscapes.

I came across Berckheyde this past weekend while at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. His 1666 work, A View of St. Bavo’s, Haarlem, is a strikingly detailed effort that shows a Protestant church (and former Catholic cathedral) on the central market square in the Dutch city of Haarlem.

A View of St. Bavo’s is a work one can study endlessly. It possesses many intricate features: the cobblestones in front of the church; the cracks in the structure’s brick walls, and the mortar used to repair those cracks, particularly around and between the windows; and the slate tiles on the church roof, to name just a few.

The image at the top of this post doesn’t do justice to the crisp clarity evident in Berckheyde’s work. Of course, the details are so exacting that many are only visible in person or through a high-definition photograph.

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Local schools: If it’s inconvenient, then it’s not worth doing

Helicopter-Parents

Summer reading lists have been around for eons, it would seem. Until this year, that is, at least in my neck of the woods.

When my girls, who are going into the 10th, ninth, ninth and seventh grades, finished school last May they told me they didn’t have any required summer reading. Seeing how each of them independently told me the same story, and there was no information about summer reading on their respective schools’ websites, I was forced to accept this as truth.

However, as each had been given reading lists since at least the third grade previously, I found the change perplexing.

I told them, though, that they would be reading at least one book that I would pick out for them. My girls have varying levels of interest in reading: One is an avid bookworm and is never without something to peruse; another is a social butterfly and, while an excellent writer, would rather do just about anything than sit down and read.

The four start school tomorrow and over the summer between them managed to read 18 books. This, however, is not broken down evenly. One of my twins read nine books, including The Scarlet Letter, which I picked out for her. The youngest read six books, including Little Women, which was my choice. The oldest read two books – All Things Bright and Beautiful and Animal Farm – the first of which I chose because of her love of animals, and the second she chose because she thought it was about a farm (I didn’t disabuse her of that notion when she showed it to me initally). My other twin managed to get through one book, To Kill a Mockingbird, which I chose for her.

Obviously I would have preferred for the latter two to have spent more time reading and less time playing on their cell phones, but they only live with me part of the time so I’m glad they accomplished what they did.

What I found rather discouraging was the reason their schools didn’t assign reading lists, which I learned only this past weekend.

My three older girls were told at the end of last year that students weren’t being assigned summer reading “because kids won’t do it.” This was verified by another student who attends a different area school.

As an aside, my children are fortunate enough to attend classes in one of the best public school districts in South Carolina.

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Stupidity: A never-changing constant throughout history

southern 2-8-2 Mikado Locomotive

Among history’s reassuring staples is man’s ability to act like an idiot.

We’re not talking about odious acts or abhorrent misconduct – though there has been that aplenty over the millenia. I’m referring to the garden-variety foolishness that seems rampant today thanks to the Internet and social media. We may be better able to track today’s idiocy than in the past, but it’s unlikely the spirit behind such inanity is different from that of yesteryear.

Consider a story that appeared in the Spartanburg (SC) Herald in the late summer of 1939.

Under the headline “’Borrowed’ Locomotive Wrecks and Two Union Men Land in Jail Cells,” the paper detailed an incident in which a couple of (figurative) clowns went for a joyride on a 284,000-pound steam engine, with the locomotive ending up in a ravine in Union, SC.

The unnamed pair – it doesn’t mention just how liquored up they might have been – were walking across the Upstate South Carolina town at night looking for something to do when they noticed a Southern Railway locomotive sitting on a track at the rear of a water works plant.

One of the two decided he wanted to blow the train’s horn.

The duo climbed into the engine’s cab and pulled a lever, but instead of sounding the horn, the train, which likely had been left idling so that it would be ready to go the following morning, began moving backward.

The pair, unable to stop the locomotive, jumped from engine, which continued moving backward, picking up speed. It eventually travelled 600 yards to the end of the spur, near the old Union Mills warehouse.

It then left the tracks and plunged into an earthen embankment.

It took approximately 24 hours for railroad workers to get the engine up and back on the tracks.

The two men were confined to the hoosegow – one in the county jail, the other in the city jail – while Union police officers conferred with railway police to determine what charges to lodge against the duo.

They were eventually fined an undisclosed amount.

What may have helped lessen the severity of their penalty was that the incident took place on Aug. 31, 1939, and made the papers the following day. Attention was likely drawn away from the two knuckleheads shortly thereafter by events in Europe, as Nazi Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, officially initiating World War II.

(Top: A Southern Railway 2-8-2 locomotive, likely similar to what a pair of lugnuts inadvertently drove off the rails in the late summer of 1939 in Union, SC.)

Researchers close in on solving American chestnut blight

American-chestnut

The American chestnut once dominated Eastern North America, with the total number of trees estimated at 4 billion a little more than a century ago.

They were the prevailing species in many areas, particularly in the Appalachia region, where 25 percent of trees were chestnuts.

“Entire communities in Appalachia depended on the chestnut for everything,” said Marshal Case, former president of the Asheville, NC-based American Chestnut Foundation. The nonprofit has been leading the effort to re-establish the trees.

Chestnut trees were integral to everyday life in Appalachia and were known as “cradle to grave trees,” Case told National Geographic.

“Craftsmen made baby cradles and coffins from the rot-resistant hardwood. The trees were also used to build houses, telephone poles, and railroad ties,” he said. “Wildlife thrived on the trees, which each year produced bumper crops of nuts.”

The American chestnut was dealt a near-death blow with the introduction of Chinese chestnuts into the New York Botanical Gardens, now known as the Bronx Zoo. The Chinese chestnut brought with it a blight that, while it didn’t affect its carrier, was devastating to the American chestnut.

First identified in 1904, the blight, a fungus, infected and killed about 99.9 percent of the American chestnuts from Georgia to Maine and west to the Ohio Valley within 50 years.

New shoots often sprout from the roots when the main stem dies, so the species has not yet become extinct. However, the stump sprouts rarely reach more than 20 feet in height before blight returns.

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