Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Totalitarian Tourism

I went to Bavaria recently, and spent sometime visiting historical sites, including Dachau and the Nuremberg Nazi rally grounds, I ended my tour with a visit to the court room at Nuremberg. This wasn't really planned but I saw the cradle and the grave of Nazism and witnessed the beginning of their infamy, in beautiful 30+degree weather.


Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Catching up on the Discourse

I work twleve hour shifts alone and often the work load on really covers about three to four hours if organised rationally, and its even less on weekends and nights. Now being alone can be rather exhausting emotionally and physically but I've learned some coping mechanisms. One is to listen to podcasts, mostly history, with a few entertainment programs. I discovered a podcast about Anrachism in the UK by Ian Bone, but that was years out of date. It was interesting to hear about these groups and initiatives but they've all folded years ago.

One podcast I've gotten into recently is is the Discourse Collective. They're a group of radicals (about five or six if I'm counting right) from several different political currents. They cover three topics, theory, mostly reading texts and discussing them. Episode 5 with discussion about Engles the Principles of Communism is a personal favourite. Current Events, self expalanatory really they had an interesting episode on the Dutch Elections going through the political parties and how the Dutch system works. And culture mostly movie reviews so far, but they've moved onto the video game Night in the Woods.

They also have a lot of guests on from various different experiences and tendencies, I've heard anarchists, communists, a DSA organiser an Egoist etc. Despite my ideological disagreements I've found their contributions interesting.

A note on theory, I'm actually not very good when it comes to reading theory, I much prefer the histories and then going into the related theory afterwards. But I've found the theory episodes easier to get into, they're much easier to follow and have helped me get into the original works.

Sunday, 7 May 2017


BEFORE DESCRIBING WHAT HAPPENED TO those homosexuals who were caught in Himmler’s net and sent to concentration camps, I must confess that it is hard to maintain the necessary disinterest required for proper historical investigation. Several of the difficulties besetting anyone trying to grasp the enormity of the horror of the Third Reich have been outlined in the Introduction, and they do not have to be named again. Still, I must sound a fair and personal warning: to analyse the documents from the camps- official directives, police dossiers, hastily scribbled entrance-and-departure lists, the “Death Books,” often mangled and yellowed by time into illegibility- demands a formidable degree of dispassion.

When i spent time at the International Tracing Service in Arolsen, West Germany, its huge rooms piled to the ceiling with papers rescued from the camps- the records not yet completely catalogued- i often had to stop. Since it is impossible for any single person to review even a fraction of the material, I decided to concentrate mostly on the camp at Buchenwald, near Weimar, in what is today East Germany. Unlike many other camps, its files are comparatively intact, including those on pseudo-medical experiments administered to homosexuals by Carl Vaernet, the Danish hormone specialist. Several years earlier, a team of young German researchers under the direction of Rudiger Lautmann reviewed most of what was available from the thirteen or fourteen institutions that had incarcerated homosexuals. Lautmann and his researchers opened up a territory nobody had surveyed or mapped before. His pioneering study, the first statistical and sociological analysis of what happened to homosexuals in Nazi camps, based not only on the Arolsn documents, but also on the recollections of non-homosexual prisoners, was published in Germany in 1977. Nevertheless, Lautmann is the first to admit that his researchers were unable to obtain complete data. The Nazis never kept orderly books. There were also advantages to be had by compiling misleading statistics. In addition, collateral police blotters in East German and Russian centres were not and, as of this writing, are not accessible.

 All statistics must be regarded with caution. We do not know, for example, how many gays were detained in a specific camp during a specific month. No irrefutable figures are available. The Nazi penal bureaucracy was concerned with no more than a prisoner’s name, age, and reason for detention. Professional or marital status, place of residence, and arresting agency were not always noted. Some camps kept thorough records only during periods of comparative quiet; others lacked competent clerks who knew how to fill out official forms or how to spell a difficult name. And toward the end of the war, the SS burned countless documents.

Homosexuals constituted a very small minority, perhaps one of the smallest; only the categories of “emigrants,” “race defilers,” and “armed forces transfers” contained fewer men. For example, in Natzweiler-Struthof, a camp in Alsace-Lorraine, from 1942 to June 1944, the number of homosexuals varied between 20 and 50. In Mauthausen, from February 1944 to July 1944, the camp’s books list the names of between 50 and 60 gay prisoners. In Buchenwald, from January 1943 to March 1945, the tables show between 60 and slightly more than 150 gay inmates. For Dachau, Luatmann found 150 homosexual inmates for the period March 1938 through September 1938. These are partial statistics, with many months and even years missing. How many homosexuals were actually held in the camps remains uncertain, the various institutions detained at all times several hundred homosexuals. Later this increased to about one thousand. Altogether, somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 homosexuals perished behind barbed wire fences.

As i combed through the Arolsen files, I realised that just as the various camp registrars were not able to keep track of the prisoners’ names, especially those with names unfamiliar to the German clerks- in Eastern Europe the name Schwarz could be spelled in more than eighty ways- the bookkeepers, too, left out vital information. In Buchenwald, for instance, on a certain day there were noted down not sixty-one homosexuals as listed the previous day, but only fifty-eight. It is not clear whether the missing three died, were remanded to one of the Droa-Mittelbau labour units, or were sent to an altogether different camp. If, on a day soon after, there appear three additional numbers –no names- for the Buchenwald homosexual contingent, it is not possible to say whether these are the same three men omitted from the group of sixty-one listed before, whether they had been shipped to Buchenwald as first offenders, or whether they had been transferred from another institution. The same uncertainties still afflict researchers seeking precise data on the fate of other contragenics, especially Slavs. For many millions of Russian prisoners of war, the Nazis did not bother with detailed lists at all- they were to be eliminated too rapidly to bother recording their names. Nevertheless, maniacally obsessive archivists pressed on with their grisly task. In 1945, shortly before the surrender, while Allied guns could be heard clearly booming close to Buchenwald, some of them kept on scribbling entries for homosexual prisoners- all such numbers now being illegible.

Another essential source of information- the reminiscences of those fortunate enough to survive- runs very thin when it comes to homosexuals. Not many ere that lucky. Most memoirs are the work of former Jewish or antifascist prisoners. Except for Rudolf Hoess, no prominent executive of the Nazi penal system wrote his recollections. When Lautmann publicly invited those still living to come forward to be interviewed, only a small number accepted his offer. Those few who did insisted on anonymity =. Since then, the slightly improved political climate in West Germany has encouraged others to testify- that is, to allow scholars and journalists to question them about a time that most would rather forget. It must be remembered that until 1969, sexual acts between consenting adult males were still considered a crime under West German law. The few former pink-triangle survivors who had re-entered civilian life had usually concocted “cover stories” – for example, some claimed ti have been arrested as anti-Nazi resisters. A few had married; some had children and grandchildren; none wanted the past to re-emerge and threaten their present lives. Over the years, i have been able to interview only a handful of survivors willing to send me written testimonies. I have also drawn extensively on Lautmann’s work. What follows is only a beginning and cannot be considered the definitive chronicle of homosexuals kept behind the barbed-wire fences of the Third Reich.

Monday, 1 May 2017

The Japanese who died on the Spanish Front: Miyamoto Masao

An English translation from the Esperanto article on the life and death of the Japanese volunteer in the Spanish Civil War.
Note: I translated Miyamoto Masao's article from Esperanto and in doing so had to cut out his poetic narrative and focus on only the factual parts of the account. The EO original is worth reading if you can, this translation exists for the benefit of English speakers.

The following article was published in Sennaciulo 57/2 of February 1986, as part of a series of articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War.

This year the whole progressive world remembers the beginning of the Spanish revolution, in which disappeared and died many fighters from around the world. It is probably little known that among the many Spanish fighters was also one Japanese combatant. The information about him comes from our Japanese comrade Miyamoto Masao.

The 26th November 1936

In the afternoon the steamship Normandy left the quay at New York harbour, heading for Le Havre France. There was no one on the Quay to see off the passengers, 96 volunteers from the USA who rushed to volunteer for the Popular Front to help save Spanish workers, peasants and intellectuals. The weather was calm with a strong wind.

One of the 96 was a young man aged 36 remained standing on the foredeck watching the New York harbour recede on the horizon. Dressed in simple workmen’s clothes that gave away his migrant labourer past he contemplated the shrinking statue of Liberty and the grey sea. Thinking of his youth as an orphan in Hakodate, a port in the north of Japan and his eventual emigration to the United States he remained silent. As an associate of left wing unionists and political groups he supported himself in the kitchens of New York and was a skilled cook.

He went by the name Jack Sirai, but no one knew what his birth name was or that Sirai was his original family name, but it was the name he went by in the States and in Spain.
To the far horizon he gave a final salute, to both American and Japanese comrades he made in New York and in his heart cried !No Pasaran! The only Spanish words he knew before embarking on his journey. This limited knowledge of Spanish was shared by many of the volunteers from around the world making their way to Spain. Through La Havre, across the Pyrenees and through Barcelona and Valencia the volunteers ended their trek on the 6th of January in the city of Albacete, the base of the International Brigade. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade began conducting exercises their and absorbed Jack Sirai and his comrades into it. Although the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was by that time a very large force most of its recruits were totally inexperienced. They did have some veterans of WWI in their ranks including officers. The more well known Robert Merrimen who had been a member of his universities Reserve Officers Training Corps and the Thälman brigades Ludoviko Renn also became brigade officers.

After training Sirai was given the post of unit cook, a decision he was most displeased with. He had come to Spain to kill Fascists not cook meals. Despite the posting he would soon see combat.
The Battalions baptism of fire was the battle of Jarama one the banks of river near Madrid. The battalion did not meet with much success but the fierce fighting meant Sirai spent most of his time as rifleman and not as a cook.

A large formation of German bombers covered the Romanillos heights by carpeted bombing Republican positions. The Republicans would be at an air power disadvantage, one estimate had five planes against 20. The bombing was so severe that stretcher carrying of the wounded was restricted to twilight hours to provide cover for the removal of the wounded.

Sirai’s unit was based near Mosquito hill an important but exposed position in view of the Romanillos heights and several other Fascist positions, and German planes. As such it was deemed an important position to seize but also dangerous in the extreme to do so. On the 8th 9th and 10th of June the Lincoln Brigade fought a series of attacks on the position and moved closer to the summit of the hill, but they despite heavy casualties on both sides the Brigade could not advance further.
In addition the area had dried out under the harsh sun. Even the river Guadarrama had dried and offered only murky run off to drink. Many fighters suffered from a severe lack of water, and thirst was constant. In desperation Sirai and his comrades took to digging holes to find water underground. They eventually discovered some water and found temporary relief from muddy puddles. The issue of thirst was more serious for the Republicans as much of their transportation was done by Mules; they had a severe shortage of transportation trucks. During another dig for ground water Sirai’s position was bombed. He survived as did many of his comrades, the bombing was a prelude to an assault by the Fascist army. Infantry and tanks advanced on their position. Fortunately the commander of the attack expected the bombers to overwhelm the defenders, the surprise resistance including anti tank weapons drove the attack back across the river losing several tanks in the process.
However due to the disruption the battered defenders received no food or water rations that day. At six in the evening a lorry carrying supplies arrived and a man was tasked with delivering supplies to Sirai’s position. However the only route down to the front was open to enemy fire. The man carrying supplies stalled 25 yards away and refused to go any further. The men were outraged and desperate, Sirai volunteered to retrieve the supplies. He was soon struck in the head by an enemy bullet and died.

Later that night his comrades buried his body by an olive tree, he lays next to the grave of Oliver Law a black American volunteer who fought and died in the George Washington battalion.
Jack Sirai, born in Japan died 11th of July 1937. With respect to his homeland, his praise and his courage. Stands not on a high tombstone of an olive tree or earth mound !No Pasaran! The Cry that could not beat the Fascists but still echoes in our hearts, in our dearest memories about the perished ideal, with regret and indignation.

(From death in Spain by Isigaki Ayako, his collaborator in the US and The Civil War in Spain by Hugh Thomas.)
The 4th of December 1985
Miyamoto Masao

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