January 12, 2010

Miep Gies Dies at Age 100

Miep Gies
15 February 1909 – 11 January 2010
From NPR.org:
Miep Gies, who helped Anne Frank and her family avoid capture by the Nazis for more than two years and safeguarded the young Holocaust victim's famous diary for posterity, has died at age 100.
From CNN.com:

Gies was among a team of Dutch citizens who hid the Frank family of four and four others in a secret annex in Amsterdam, Netherlands, during World War II... She worked as a secretary for Anne Frank's father, Otto, in the front side of the same Prinsengracht building.

The family stayed in the secret room from July 1942 until August 4, 1944, when they were arrested by Gestapo and Dutch police after being betrayed by an informant. Two of Gies' team were arrested that day, but she and her friend, Bep Voskuijl, were left behind -- and found 14-year-old Anne's papers.

From BBC.co.uk:

It was Mrs Gies who collected up Anne's papers and locked them away, hoping that one day she would be able to give them back to the girl.

In the event, she returned them to Otto Frank, who survived the war, and helped him compile them into a diary that was published in 1947.

... "We did our duty as human beings: helping people in need."

January 11, 2010

Survivor of Two Atomic Bomb Blasts Dies at Age 93

On Jan 6, 2010, Tsutomu Yamaguchi died. Mr Yamaguchi had the distinction of being the only officially recognized survivor of atomic bombings at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Sometime last year, while I was looking through the World War II Air Force photos collection and doing some research on those first atomic bombs, I came across Akira Iwanaga and Kuniyoshi Sato (there is a slightly shorter version republished in March of 2009 with a couple of photos here.) Parry explained that,
"In 1945, they were working in Hiroshima, where the world's first atomic bomb exploded on August 6... One hundred and forty thousand people died as a result of the explosion; by chance, Mr Yamaguchi, Mr Sato and Mr Iwanaga were spared. Stunned and injured, reeling from the horrors around them, they left the city for their home town, Nagasaki, 180 miles to the west. There, on 9th August, the second atomic bomb exploded over their heads."
These survivors' descriptions of the scenes during and after the bombings are vivid and shocking and provide a powerful reminder of just how terrible a weapon an atomic bomb is.

Some of the photos of the aftermath of the atomic bomb blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki have a similar effect:

Page 1; Black and White and Color Photographs of U.S. Air Force and Predecessor Agencies...
'View of Hiroshima taken from Red Cross hospital building about a mile from focal point of blast."

Page 1; Black and White and Color Photographs of U.S. Air Force and Predecessor Agencies...
Nagasaki: "A street through a formerly congested residential area... 1,000 ft. northeast of atom bomb burst."

Hopefully stories like Mr Yamaguchi's will be retold and remembered so that they will never be repeated.

January 5, 2010

The Tangled Tale of Topsy the Elephant

Yesterday marked the 97th anniversary of the electrocution of Topsy the elephant.

For those of you not familiar with Topsy's sad story...

Topsy was a domesticated elephant who, as a baby, was popular with children, but got into trouble later in life. Reports say that she, "killed two men in Texas and a third in Brooklyn borough after he had fed her a lighted cigaret."

Topsy was part of a circus at Coney Island's Luna Park and her owners decided that she should be put to sleep and that they could take advantage of the opportunity. They announced that she would be executed for murder and invited people to come see the spectacle.

The original plan seems to have been to hang Topsy, but either the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals objected, or Topsy wouldn't walk out onto the gallows, or both, so a new plan was required.

At the time, Thomas Edison was busy trying to get people to adopt his Direct Current (DC) as the standard for electricity by electrocuting animals using the rival Alternating Current (AC) advocated by Nicola Tesla and Westinghouse. Topsy's case must have seemed the perfect opportunity for Edison and he proposed execution by electrocution.

On January 4, 1903, Topsy was wired up, fed some poisoned carrots (just in case) and then had 6,600 volts of AC passed through her. Within seconds, as the Atlanta Constitution reported, "Topsy, the man-killer, was no more," but she became a national celebrity.

As many as 1,500 people witnessed the event and newspapers around the country reported it.
Baby Elephant Topsy Killed
The Atlanta Constitution

Poison and Electricity for New York Elephant
San Francisco Chronicle

Rogue Elephant Is Electrocuted
Chicago Tribune

To help with his campaign, Edison filmed the event and showed the film to audiences around the country. Today, Edison's movie is available on YouTube:

You can learn more about Topsy on Wikipedia, from this article at Wired, or from this interesting webpage about Coney Island's Luna Park. Those with a darker sense of humor may enjoy the blog Topsy: the Electrocuted Elephant.