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Alice Herz-Sommer, the Oldest Holocaust Survivor (Thanks to the Power of Music), Dies at 110

in History, Life | February 24th, 2014

On Sunday, 23 February 2014, Alice Herz-Sommer, thought to be the oldest Holocaust survivor, died in London. She has been an inspiration to many people as the story of her life is shown in the Oscar-nominated documentary called “The Lady in Number 6” (the video above is the official trailer).

Alice was born in Prague – then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – in 1903. She started playing the piano as a child and took lessons with Conrad Ansorge, a student of Liszt. At 16, she attended the master class at Prague’s prestigious German musical academy. Later, Alice became a respected concert pianist in Prague. Through her family, she also knew Franz Kafka. All of this changed when the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Along with other Jews living in Prague, Alice was initially forced to live in Prague’s ghetto before being deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1943, along with her five-year-old son Raphael. Eventually her whole family, including her husband, cellist Leopold Sommer, and her mother, was sent to Auschwitz, Treblinka and Dachau, where they were killed.

Alice and her son survived Theresienstadt because the Nazis used this particular concentration camp to show the world how “well” the inmates were treated. A propaganda film by the Nazis was shot and a delegation from the Danish and International Red Cross was shown around in 1943. To boost morale, Alice and many other imprisoned musicians regularly performed for the inmates. Despite the unimaginable living conditions, Alice and her son survived. They moved to Israel after the war, where she taught music. In 1986, she moved to London. Her son died in 2001 (obituary here).

The way Alice dealt with those horrible times is particularly inspiring. She says about the role of music: “I felt that this is the only thing which helps me to have hope … it’s a sort of religion actually. Music is … is God. In difficult times you feel it, especially when you are suffering.” When asked by German journalists if she hated Germans, she replied: “I never hate, and I will never hate. Hatred brings only hatred.”

Extra material:

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

 

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Rare Recording of Controversialist, Journalist and American Literary & Social Critic, H.L. Mencken

in Politics, Writing | September 4th, 2013

Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956) was a famous American journalist, essayist, critic of American life and culture, and a scholar of American English. An expert in so many fields, he was called “the Baltimore Sage.” At the age of 22, Mencken became managing editor of the Morning Herald in his hometown of Baltimore. But it was not only through his work as a journalist that he was “as famous in America as George Bernard Shaw was in England.” The influential literary critic helped launch the Southern and Harlem literary renaissances. With his literary journal The Smart Set, Mencken paved the way for writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Eugene O’Neill, Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser, and James Joyce. He also wrote several books, most notably his monumental study The American Language.

“The two main ideas that run through all of my writing, whether it be literary criticism or political polemic are these: I am strong in favor of liberty and I hate fraud.” (source) His spirited defense of the freedom of speech and of the press almost landed him in jail when he fought against the banning of his second literary journal, The American Mercury.

This interview above was conducted by Mencken’s colleague Donald Howe Kirkley of The Baltimore Sun in a small recording room at the Library of Congress in Washington on June 30, 1948. It gives you a rare chance to hear his voice.

Bonus material:

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

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An Animated History of Physics Introduces the Discoveries of Galileo, Newton, Maxwell & Einstein

in Animation, Physics, Science | August 22nd, 2013

How can you present scientific ideas to an audience of all ages — scientists and non-scientists alike — so that these ideas will stick in people’s minds? Since 2012, BBC Two has been trying to answer this question with its series “Dara Ó Briain’s Science Club.” Irish stand-up comedian and TV presenter Dara Ó Briain invites experts to his show to tackle the biggest concepts in science in a way that is understandable to non-experts as well. Film clips and animations are used to visualize the ideas and concepts dealt with in the show.

In 2012, Åsa Lucander, a London-based animator originally from Finland, was approached by the BBC with the task of creating an animation about the history of physics. The result is as entertaining as it is instructive. The clip deals with the discoveries of four major scientists and the impact of their findings: Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein.

Bonus material:

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

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Fascinating Kodachrome Footage of “Victory over Japan Day” in Honolulu, 1945

in History | April 9th, 2013

When Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel signed Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945 in Berlin (footage here), the Second World War may have been over for Europe, but the war on the Pacific front waged on as Japan refused to surrender. Only after the fateful decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and after the Soviets invaded Japanese-held Manchuria, did Emperor Hirohito accept the hopelessness of the situation and agree to surrender on August 15. When the official radio announcement (recording here) was broadcast – due to time zone differences on August 14 in the U.S. – the news spread like wildfire and the day became known as “Victory over Japan Day”, or simply as “VJ Day.” Spontaneous celebrations erupted all over the United States, but especially on Hawaii, where the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 leading the US to officially enter World War II.

One of these spontaneous celebrations in Honolulu was captured on Kodachrome 16mm film and has been digitally restored. One commenter on Vimeo has identified all of the exact locations here.

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

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Speaking in Whistles: The Whistled Language of Oaxaca, Mexico

in Language Lessons | March 31st, 2013

Whistled language is a rare form of communication that can be mostly found in locations with isolating features such as scattered settlements or mountainous terrain. This documentary above shows how Dr. Mark Sicoli, Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University, conducts field studies among speakers of a Chinantec language, who live in the mountainous region of northern Oaxaca in Mexico. The Summer Institute of Linguistics in Mexico has recorded and transcribed a whistled conversation in Sochiapam Chinantec between two men in different fields. The result can be seen and heard here.

The most thoroughly-researched whistled language however is Silbo Gomero, the language of the island of La Gomera (Canary Islands). In 2009, it was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The UNESCO website has a good description of this whistled language with photos and a video. Having almost died out, the language is now taught once more in schools.

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

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Color Footage of Winston Churchill’s Funeral in 1965

in History | February 19th, 2013

On January 24 1965, Sir Winston Churchill, the man who led Britain through the dark hours of the Second World War, died aged 90 at his London home. By decree of Queen Elizabeth II, his body lay in state for three days in the Palace of Westminster and a state funeral was held at St Paul’s Cathedral on January 30. Churchill was the first statesman to be given a state funeral in the 2oth century – a funeral that saw the largest assemblage of statesmen in the world until the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005. That day, the BBC reported that “silent crowds lined the streets to watch the gun carriage bearing Sir Winston’s coffin leave Westminster Hall as Big Ben struck 09:45. The procession travelled slowly through central London to St. Paul’s Cathedral for the funeral service.”  After the service, his coffin was taken by boat to Waterloo Station, where a specially prepared railway carriage took Churchill to his final resting place at Bladon near Woodstock, close to his birthplace at Blenheim Palace.

This color footage of Churchill’s funeral is narrated by Walter Thompson, Churchill’s former bodyguard.

Bonus material:

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

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Orchestral Manoeuvres in North Korea Prove Yet Again That Music is Universal

in Music | January 10th, 2013

In November 2012, the Munich Chamber Orchestra and its conductor Alexander Liebreich had the rare chance to travel to Pyongyang to work with the students of the local Kim Won Gyun Conservatory. The Goethe Institut Korea arranged the visit and invited German filmmaker Nils Clauss to shoot a documentary about this moment of cross-cultural musical cooperation. Joint orchestra rehearsals were held, but the German musicians also conducted one-on-one chamber music classes with the North Korean students. At the end of their visit, the German-Korean ensemble performed a concert at the conservatory.

Nils Clauss’s documentary shows in a beautiful and unobtrusive way how musicians from two very different worlds quickly overcame the language barriers and let only the music speak. Alexander Liebreich described in an interview with the BBC how much had changed since his last visit to North Korea in 2002.

You can enjoy parts of the final concert here:

Plus find bonus material here:

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

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British Actors Read Poignant Poetry from World War I

in History, Literature, Poetry | January 3rd, 2013

The First World War (1914-1918) changed Britain to a degree that was unthinkable in 1914. Pre-war certainties and values such as honor, fatherland and progress disintegrated on the battlefields and trenches in France and Belgium. New technology such as tanks, machine guns, grenades, flame throwers and poison gas were used to destroy the enemy; constant fire for days on end was intended to break the soldiers in the trenches. Unspeakable horrors led to psychological problems of unknown proportions.

Coping with these horrors during and after The Great War (as it’s still called in Britain today) seemed like a Herculean task to poets – how do you put the unspeakable into words? Some poets, e.g. Rupert Brooke, still celebrated the heroism of the English soldiers (e.g., 1914 II. Safety), whereas others, such as Wilfred Owen, tried to describe the horrors of this war (e.g., Dulce et Decorum Est).

Every year on the Sunday closest to November 11, Britain remembers the dead of the First World War. For Remembrance Day 2012, famous British actors were asked to recite First World War poetry. The finished clips were to be shown on TV that day. The video above shows three actors reciting four poems by Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen (click the names of the actors for information about them and the titles of the poems for the full text):

  1. Sean Bean reads Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth
  2. Gemma Arterton reads Wilfred Owen’s “Arms and the Boy
  3. Sophie Okonedo reads Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier
  4. Sean Bean reads Wilfred Owen’s “The Last Laugh

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By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

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The Normandy Invasion Captured on 16 mm Kodachrome Film (1944)

in Film, History | November 14th, 2012

The Normandy Invasion, otherwise known as “Operation Overlord,” was launched by the Allies on June 6, 1944. On that day — D-Day — American, British and Canadian troops landed on five separate beachheads in Normandy, on the western shores of France. By the end of August 1944, the Allies had liberated all of northern France and started marching towards Nazi Germany.

At the time, the filmmaker George Stevens (1904-1975) was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps. Dwight D. Eisenhower, tasked with planning and carrying out the Allied invasion of Normandy, wanted film crews present at the invasion to provide footage for a documentary film. Stevens took charge of the Special Motion Pictures Unit and gathered a group of cameramen and writers dubbed the “Stevens Irregulars”. They used the standard Army motion picture stock, 35 mm black and white newsreel film. But they also brought along a hand-held camera and some 16 mm Kodachrome color film. Stevens shot several hours’ worth of color footage from France, Belgium and Germany. The scenes from the liberation of Dachau concentration camp are particularly shocking and left their mark on the lives of the cameramen. In 1994, Stevens’ son used this film footage to assemble the documentary George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin.

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By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

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Neil Armstrong’s Parents Appear on the Classic American TV Show “I’ve Got a Secret,” 1962

in Astronomy | October 4th, 2012

“I’ve Got a Secret” was an American game show aired by CBS. By asking a series of questions, a panel had to determine the secret of contestants. On September 17, 1962, Stephen Koenig Armstrong and Viola Louise Engel Armstrong came on the show and harbored this secret — their son was one of nine men made an astronaut that very day. Almost seven years later, on July 20, 1969, Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon. This is why host Garry Moore’s question is all the more amazing: “Now, how would you feel, Mrs. Armstrong, if it turned out – of course nobody knows – but if it turns out that your son is the first man to land on the moon? How would you feel?”

Neil Armstrong died on August 25, 2012 in Cincinnati, at the age of 82. Here is NASA’s tribute to his life and achievements.

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

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