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

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.

 

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

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.

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

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.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Free Online Physics Cours­es

Leonard Susskind Teach­es You “The The­o­ret­i­cal Min­i­mum” for Under­stand­ing Mod­ern Physics

125 Great Sci­ence Videos: From Astron­o­my to Physics and Psy­chol­o­gy

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

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.

Color Footage of Winston Churchill’s Funeral in 1965

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.

British Actors Read Poignant Poetry from World War I

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

“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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