As you’ve probably heard by now, Google is shutting down Google+ in the near future. I’ve gone ahead and deleted my Google+ account, removed the Google+ link from the social widget at the top of the page, and disconnected the option to share my posts to Google+. Out of the hundreds of visitors this site gets every day, I’m sure the two of you who actually use Google+ will be disappointed. But this is out of my hands.
Also, over the next couple weeks, I’m going to be moving my “random pictures site” from Ello to Tumblr. You may remember that Ello launched as a Facebook competitor in 2014, as a response to [whatever thing Facebook was doing at the time that made everyone mad and promise to quit the site]. It wasn’t successful, so transitioned to a Pintrest-like site for artists. Since I don’t actually “create” anything – just repost pictures of pretty models & actresses and land- and cityscapes – I feel like I don’t “belong” there any more. I have some visitors coming in from out of town next week, and once they’re gone I’m going to sign up with Tumblr, find a decent theme, and move my old posts there. I’ll keep you posted!
Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945. Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies on May 7, 1945. Between those two dates, the last battle of the European theatre happened. And it was one of the strangest battles in history.
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There’s a small village of around 400 people in western Austria called Itter. Itter would be a completely unremarkable place, except for a castle on the edge of town. Given the imaginative name Schloss Itter (which literally means “Castle Itter” in German), the building dates to at least 1241, although sources indicate that the castle may have been built by 1204, and there were likely other buildings on the same spot as far back as the 900s.
In the 1930s, the castle was owned by a man named Franz Grüner. After the Nazis annexed Austria in the Anschluss of March 12, 1938, Grüner rented the castle to the German government, which held meetings and retreats there. For a few months in 1942, it was home to the “German Association for Combating the Dangers of Tobacco”, who no doubt held the most boring parties ever.
However, on February 7, 1943, SS Lieutenant General Oswald Pohl seized the castle outright on orders of his boss, Heinrich Himmler. Himmler wanted to turn Schloss Itter into a prisoner-of-war (POW) camp.
But not just any old POW camp. This was a POW camp for VIPs, and some of the earliest inmates included former French president Albert Lebrun, former Italian prime minister (and anti-Fascist) Francesco Nitti and André François-Poncet, who had been the French ambassador to both Germany and Italy in the run-up to the war. These people were quickly transferred elsewhere, however.
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During the invasion of France, the Germans captured a number of high-profile French citizens. They would later uncover several ministers of Vichy France who were secretly plotting with the Allies.
Thus, prisoners at Castle Itter included former premiers (prime ministers) Édouard Daladier and Paul Reynaud, Michel Clemenceau, son of former premier Georges Clemenceau, former army commanders-in-chief Maxime Weygand and Maurice Gamelin, right-wing leader François de La Rocque, trade union leader (and future Nobel Peace Prize winner) Léon Jouhaux, Charles De Gaulle’s eldest sister, Marie-Agnès Cailliau, and Jean-Robert Borotra, one of the most famous tennis players in France, who had served as Minister for Sport for Vichy France before trying to escape and join the Allied forces. In addition to these VIPs, many of their wives were imprisoned too, and the Germans had transferred a handful of Eastern Europeans from Dachau to Itter to handle household tasks like cooking, cleaning and gardening.
Castle Itter was no paradise, but by all accounts, if you were going to be trapped in a German POW camp in World War II, Itter was the place to be. VIP prisoners were given the nicest rooms and had free reign to walk anywhere on castle grounds, including the extensive library. The food was reportedly the best of any POW camp. And the 25 SS soldiers charged with guarding the place – mostly older men with little or no combat experience – were later described by prisoners and “nice” or “friendly”. Perhaps the guards were well aware of what a cushy posting they had, and didn’t want to screw it up.
Despite this, the French prisoners were openly hostile to each other. Reynaud and Daladier were sworn enemies, so it was like having Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at your office’s mandatory team-building retreat. What’s more, both Reynaud and Daladier couldn’t stand Weygand, who had surrendered the bulk of France’s army to the Nazis on June 17, 1940. And it should go without saying that the right-wing La Rocque and the Communist union leader Jouhaux didn’t get along, either. The VIPs split into three groups and avoided each other as much as possible. At meal times, the prisoners sat at different tables: the Weygands, the Borotras, and La Rocque at one table, Reynaud, Christiane Mabire (Jouhaux’s secretary and future wife), Gamelin, and Clemenceau at a second table and everyone else – “the neutrals” – at a third. Continue reading “The Last Battle”
I watched a Danish series on Netflix a while back – The Rain – and noticed that the lead actress, Alba August, vaguely reminds me of someone from my past.
The Swedish Girl moved in to my neighborhood the summer between junior and senior year. She was 15½, and thus needed rides to and from school until she could get her license. Since she was cool and lived just down the street, I offered.
And that’s what our relationship was: I picked her up (some mornings) and brought her home (most afternoons). For several weeks. That’s about it.
Now I’m not gonna lie and say I didn’t have any feelings for this girl. But here’s the thing: for one, she was younger, 15½ and still firmly in school, while I was about to graduate. We lived in the same neighborhood, so there was the possibility of post-break-up awkwardness . And, to be honest, I was sick of the Duluth High School drama by that point: why date someone at your school and deal with the 90210 bullshit when you can avoid it entirely by dating someone from a different school?
Having said that, I loved every second I spent with The Swedish Girl. I took her to school and brought her home, and we made each other laugh and listened to cool tunes along the way. Sometimes she’d draw me pictures as a thank you for toting her. It was probably the sweetest, most innocent relationship I’ve ever had: a cute Swedish Girl was drawing pictures for me and it was fucking adorable.
But then I did something – insulted a friend of a friend of The Swedish Girl. I think? I never really knew, which is kinda what pissed me off so much when she dumped me as a friend: I never knew why it had to end.
My last interaction with The Swedish Girl came a year or two later.
It was a Saturday, and my friend Jamie and I had gone to Little Five Points for lunch and to check out the action. Heading back to Gwinnett, we got on the Downtown Connector northbound at Boulevard. I got over a couple lanes, then had to brake for traffic. I looked over at the car to my right, only to see The Swedish Girl. She pulled down her sunglasses and raised her eyebrows a couple times in a faux flirt. I, amazed by the coincidence, just smiled at her like a moron. The Swedish Girl then gestured at the traffic ahead and mouthed the words “Wanna race?”
Still stuck in idiot mode, I nodded.
So The Swedish Girl just flooredit. She had one of those nicer Accords – the “sporty one” is, I believe the correct Man Term for it. Within seconds, she was off like a rocket, weaving through traffic. It took my Jetta a bit to catch up, but when I finally did, it was neck and neck.
Up the Connector.
Past North Druid Hills Road.
Past Clairmont Road.
Past Shallowford Road.
Doing 90+ mph through it all, dodging cars like they were asteroids in a video game.
The Swedish Girl and I would sometimes look at each other as we passed the other, sometimes smiling, sometimes smirking. It was like a really, really bizarre type of flirting:
It was also one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done in a car. And I’m not proud of it now. I coulda killed someone. But hey, at the time, it was just Saturday fun.
Fun, that is, until I finally came to my senses sometime after 285 but before Jimmy Carter Boulevard. There was a bottleneck in traffic, and The Swedish Girl and I had to pass a car. She broke right, while I broke left around the car. But I chose incorrectly: traffic in that lane had slowed considerably, with no way to switch lanes. I was boxed in and could only watch while The Swedish Girl sliced through traffic ahead. She was soon gone from my sight completely.
Which was fine, actually. I remember turning to Jamie, my heart pounding a hundred miles an hour, and saying something like “Oh my God! What did we just do? Man, if the cops had caught us I woulda been screwed. What the hell was I thinking?”
So that’s that. I saw The Swedish Girl turning into, or out of, my neighborhood from time to time, but that was all. If The Swedish Girl ever stumbles across these words, I genuinely hope you’ve had a wonderful life. Because, for a couple months in 1988 you were the coolest.
There was a resort in the north Georgia mountains my family used to go to when I was a kid. The resort eventually went bankrupt. My dad’s best friend was friends with the caretaker, so after the resort closed, my dad and his friend would sometimes slide the guy a couple hundred bucks to let us stay for a weekend.
It wasn’t too strange at first. It was the same old resort… just with my family and our family friends being the only people there. But as time went on, it got creepy: the golf course, once so carefully maintained, went to seed. The tennis courts started to crack, and weeds started poking up through them. The water in the swimming pool, once an inviting shade of blue, slowly turned a sickening green.
To my young self, the creepiest thing of all was the resort’s dining room. Like a failing restaurant, the resort shut down without warning, so that employees couldn’t make off with cases of Scotch and lobster. So the dining room sat – perfectly preserved, as if ready to serve dinner that night – for years. There were bread plates, water glasses, silverware, ash trays and cloth napkins, carefully fanned into peacock shapes, on every table. Silk flowers sat in vases frozen in time. The dining room bar remained perfectly stocked with whiskey, gin and vodka.
The (golf) pro shop was the same: perfectly still, with boxes of golf balls and sets of clubs sitting patiently on the shelf, awaiting purchase by people who would never come. And, by the cash register, a stack of scorecards and an acrylic box full of those tiny pencils – still carefully arranged vertically, point side down – as if the club pro had simply stepped away for a few minutes.
I was probably 3 or 4 when we started going there and maybe 6 or 7 when the club shut down. We went 4-5 times after that, when I was 8-10. And yes, I did walk around the resort by myself, pretending some disaster had happened, and I was trying to find a safe hide-out. Walking Dead-style. Still, I’ll never forget looking in that dining room. The doors were locked, of course, so I had to stand on my tip-toes to see inside through the wall of windows that faced the 18th green. And the windows got grimy with time, so even the ghostly dining room itself eventually faded from view.