The Second Russian Revolution
On August 21, 1991, a group of Communist Party Politburo members and Soviet officials attempted a coup d’etat. Mikhail Gorbachev, who had resigned and then agreed to continue as party secretary, was effectively overthrown by this committee, headed by Gennadi Yanaev. The future of the fledgling Russian Republic swayed in the balance, as tanks clanked through the streets. Russian President Boris Yeltsin stopped the coup, climbing aboard one of the tanks surrounding the Russian White House, and exhorted the Russian people, especially the Army, to resist the Communists – and took control of the government. Yeltsin ushered in an era of capitalism, in which ranking members of the government and the business community amassed fortunes. To this day, Gorbachev insists that, had his draft Union plan been adopted on schedule on August 19, there would not have been a coup attempt; more, if the reforms sought by his plan had been adopted , Russia today would be a more democratic society and, more prosperous.
I was spotted by a reporter, and asked why was I in Moscow. Fact is, the US Embassy and US intelligence were surprised by the attempted coup. Later revisionists would say that we knew.
But, I didn’t know and none of those I met with in the US Embassy during that period had prior knowledge. Some back in Washington did not believe me, noting that I was also “accidentally” in Athens when the Greek colonels pulled off their seizure of power. No comment.
Actually, I was in Moscow to meet with the KGB’s domestic and foreign intelligence departments, including some meetings in Felix Dzerzhinsky’s office in the Lubyanka; he founded the spy service which became the KGB; Lubyanka also housed the infamous Russian prison. Lore has it that the impressive clock in the office was stopped at the moment of Dzerzhinsky’s death; actually, it contains a camera and a microphone. At the time, there was great turmoil in Eastern European banking circles. Banks had issued letters of credit for substantial sums, the letters of credit backed by bearer bonds issued by the Weimar Republic. The Bundesbank had issued the 30-year bonds under pressure from Britain and France, which were redeemable in 1958. The Germans did not reveal that large quantities of the bonds were held in reserve. Although many bonds known to have been purchased by respected banks in Europe and elsewhere were redeemed in 1958, a large number of bonds began appearing in Eastern Europe. The Bundesbank was unsuccessful in stopping payment; it admitted in court that many bonds had “disappeared” when the Soviet Army over-ran Berlin. An investigation into the Eastern banks revealed that the bonds were used by former KGB officials and other Russians. The Russians were not cooperative: what bonds; what Russian Army, etc. Ultimately, the Bundesbank was relieved of having to pay, and Eastern banks stopped accepting the bonds as collateral. I still have a few of the bonds, one of which was converted by the Third Reich and carries the Nazi swastika stamp.
Stories were published this past week about two remarkable women. Both worth reading.
Coco Chanel was allegedly a spy for Nazi Germany. Nancy Wake was a spy for British intelligence.
PARIS — Coco Chanel: A fashion icon whose name has become shorthand for timeless French chic, a shrewd businesswoman who overcame a childhood of poverty to build a luxury supernova and … a Nazi spy?
A new book by a Paris-based American historian suggests Chanel not only had a wartime affair with a German aristocrat and spy, but that she herself was also an agent of Germany’s Abwehr military intelligence organization and a rabid anti-Semite. Doubts about Chanel’s loyalties during World War II have long festered, but “Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War” goes well beyond those previous allegations, citing as evidence documents culled from archives around the world.
The book, published in the U.S. on Tuesday by Knopf, has ruffled feathers in France, where the luxury industry is a pillar of the economy and Chanel is widely regarded as the crowning jewel. The House of Chanel was quick to react, saying in a statement that “more than 57 books have been written about Gabrielle Chanel…. We would encourage you to consult some of the more serious ones.”
Hal Vaughan, an 84-year-old World War II veteran and longtime journalist who previously wrote two other history books, insists that he is serious. “Sleeping with the Enemy” is the fruit of more than four years of intense labor born out of an accidental find in France’s national police archive, he said. “I was looking for something else and I come across this document saying ‘Chanel is a Nazi agent, her number is blah, blah, blah and her pseudonym is Westminster,”‘ Vaughan told The Associated Press. “I look at this again and I say, ‘What the hell is this?’ I couldn’t believe my eyes! “Then I really started hunting through all of the archives, in the United States, in London, in Berlin and in Rome and I come across not one, but 20, 30, 40 absolutely solid archival materials on Chanel and her lover, Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, who was a professional Abwehr spy,” Vaughan said.
Born in 1883 in a hospice for the poor in France’s western Pays de la Loire region, Gabrielle Chanel had remade herself into the famed couturiere and proudly independent Coco Chanel by the outbreak of World War II. During the conflict, she holed up with von Dincklage – a dashing German officer 12 years her junior who was one in her long string of lovers – in Paris’ Ritz Hotel, which was then under Nazi control. The book alleges that in 1940, Chanel was recruited into the Abwehr – her nom de guerre borrowed from another of her lovers, the Duke of Westminster. A year later, she traveled to Spain on a spy mission – on condition that the Nazis release her nephew from a military internment camp – and later went to Berlin on the orders of a top SS general, the book says.
It also suggests that Chanel’s alleged anti-Semitism pushed her to try to capitalize on laws allowing for the expropriation of Jewish property to wrest control of the Chanel perfume lines from the Wertheimer brothers, a Jewish family who’d helped make her Chanel No. 5 a worldwide best-seller.
The Chanel statement refuted the claim, although it added that company officials have yet to read the book and had only seen media excerpts. “She would hardly have formed a relationship with the family” – which currently owns the entire Chanel brand empire – “or counted Jewish people among her close friends and professional partners,” it says. A US-based organization of Holocaust survivors said it was “shocked” by the book’s allegations and called on Chanel to launch an independent investigation into the book’s claims.
Nancy Wake died this past week at the age of 98. The Economist reviewed her life.
Convivial, and not averse to a drink, Nancy Wake could often be found cheering up a cocktail bar. In the late 1940s, and again towards the end of her life, it might have been the American Bar of the Stafford Hotel, just across the road from The Economist’s offices in London. In 1940, when she was living as a newlywed in Vichy France, it could have been another American Bar, this one in the Hôtel du Louvre et de la Paix in Marseilles. It was a chance encounter here with an English officer, interned by the French authorities but that day on parole, which led to her membership of the resistance, and then to her role as an agent of the British Special Operations Executive in occupied France. Of the 39 SOE women infiltrated into France, 11 of whom would die in concentration camps, she was perhaps the most redoubtable.
She enjoyed her new life of luxury while it lasted, but she was no flibbertigibbet. Soon after meeting the interned British officer, she was helping to get similar Allied airmen, refugees and escaped prisoners-of-war out of occupied France and into Britain. She took a flat, ostensibly for a lover, in fact for the resistance, sheltered men on the run and became a crucial part of the southern escape line to Spain, travelling all over southern France from Nice to Nîmes to Perpignan, with clothing, money and false documents.
Inevitably, she was arrested. Beaten up and questioned for four days, she revealed nothing. It was this steadiness and loyalty to her comrades that most appealed to the British officers who later agreed to train her to become an SOE agent.
Other qualities were evident by then. Her femininity was never in doubt. It helped her escape capture, not just because she could on occasion flirt her way out of trouble, but also because her Gestapo pursuers assumed any woman as skilful in evading them must be a butch matron (though because of her ability to scuttle off the Germans called her “the White Mouse”). When she was with the Maquis, silk stockings and Elizabeth Arden face cream were often dropped for her by parachute, along with Sten guns, radios and grenades. Yet she conformed to no stereotype, swearing in the vernacular in the coarsest of terms, living for months in the woods and fighting, in the words of a confrère, not like a man but “like five men”.
Her fearlessness seemed to come from a total lack of self-doubt. The certainty with which she held her beliefs—she hated the Nazis, having seen them whipping Jews in Vienna before the war, loved France and was intensely loyal to Britain—freed her of any sense of guilt. This in turn enabled her to act as though she were utterly innocent, even when claiming to be the cousin of an imprisoned Scottish captain, or chatting to a Gestapo officer with 200lb of illegal pork in her suitcase.
It was sheer guts, though, that got her over the Pyrenees in her espradilles when the Germans were at her heels. And back in Britain in 1943 it was her character rather than her skills or physical abilities that got her through her training in grenade throwing, silent killing and parachute jumping. As for violence, she hated it—until she became hardened.
That began in April 1944, when Captain (as she now was) Wake and another SOE agent were parachuted into the Auvergne in south-central France. Their immediate job was to work with the local Maquis to cause as much disruption as possible before D-day five weeks later. Now the fighting began, and Captain Wake showed herself more than willing to take part, readily joining raiding parties, blowing up local Gestapo headquarters and ambushing German patrols.
She did not enjoy killing a German sentry with her bare hands, but she was unsentimental. Likewise, she saw the necessity of killing a German woman captured by some of her Maquis colleagues who admitted to being a spy. Though she had been raped and tortured, Captain Wake ordered her to be shot—or, if the captain’s later suggestion is to be believed, she herself shot her, since the Maquisards’ sense of honour permitted her rape but not her killing.
In spite of such horrors, and in spite of such feats as bicycling over 500km in under 72 hours to find a radio operator, Captain Wake was having the time of her life. She was still only 26, a woman among 7,000 (mostly) admiring men, carrying out daily acts of derring-do and revelling in a job she had plainly been born for. Although she lived with the constant possibility of capture, it held no fear for her, and she did not yet know that her husband, rather than betray her, had been arrested by the Gestapo, tortured and killed. Decorations galore—from Britain, France, America and Australia—awaited her, but life would never be as good again
While trekking through the Serenghetti plain of East Africa, I came across an elephant grave yard. My driver urged me not to go closer, but I went up to the edge. Old elephants, who have lost their teeth and have impaired digestive tracts, seem to know this location without benefit of GPS, and lay down to die. The air is redolent with the odor of decay, the flesh so putrid that not even the jackals and hyenas will venture within the area. As if every diaper service in the world dumped its worst at this one site.
Remains #1 in my book. Close behind: the Hotel Russia, at the foot of Red Square. One of the Seven Sisters built by Stalin, the urine and feces smell from the ground floor restrooms would stymie a goat. Contending in third place: the restrooms at the training site for the University games in Taiwan. I suggested to the manager they wire it with C-4; his command of English was almost as limited as my ability to speak in any Chinese dialect; he thought I was threatening to demolish their brick outhouse. The US girls refused to enter. My #4 goes to the bathrooms at Huntington Beach. Beautiful city; the restrooms down at the beach are well-maintained — but, the softball fields are a public shame. Perhaps municipal authorities in California don’t recognize that girls/women have different needs. The facilities at Harvard Park are woefully inadequate; also at Barber Park.
Too Gross to Digest
Until I received the latest copy of New York, my vote for the grossest dinner would be Gene Hackman’s lunch in a gangster flick with Lee Marvin, mostly memorable for young Sissy Spacek’s nude scenes; Hackman, at a cattleman’s barn, was eating fried guts. Even dining however unknowingly on raw python in the jungles of Indonesia stood second, and third was secured by eating monkey meat washed down with bull’s blood in Tanganyika. But, the magazine offered the PLACENTA COOKBOOK, WITH ILLUSTRATIONS. “For a growing number of young mothers,” the author says, “ there’s no better nutritional snack after childbirth than the fruit of their own labor.” ‘Twas a time when some mothers would bury the placenta and plant a tree over it. If you plan on eating the placenta, the author suggests simmering it with ginger, lemon and a jalapeno pepper. And, be sure your guests know your menu.
Do not intend to watch this show. Still have memories rooted in the Southern tradition of household help. My mother was in and out of hospitals during WWII, so, in addition to a beloved aunt, we had hired help. Some did housework, some helped with the three children; all would get failing grades. (To be historically accurate, the most intriguing household helper was hired after I was married; “No Nose” Hawkins as she was known, had a silver cup like Kid Shaleen; came in second in a knife fight.) When we were small, an I-beam for a gymnasium fell on me, knocking out my left eye. The “help fainted; my sister dragged me into the house, and called Central; this was before dialup phones. Since my father was quite well known, in a matter of minutes he was contacted and I was whisked to a local clinic. The doctor put 21 stitches in my eye socket but didn’t have the equipment to discern that the optic nerve had been sliced – and has been deteriorating ever since. Cost me a commission. We also had a yardman named Hankins; he would show up on Monday, bleary-eyed, hungover. My father once asked him why he got wasted every weekend; Hankins told my father he wouldn’t understand because he had never lived in a ghetto on Saturday night. (I cleaned that up a bit.) Thus, I learned at an early age that there was not just a color line in the South and Southwest, but distinction in culture rooted in differences in education, social and economic opportunity. Many people of color came to the funerals for my parents; many told me of especially generous treatment and kindness by both; as one old man said, “The judge was a good man with a favor or a fiver.”
Gino on languages
Liberals are jeering, conservatives are cheering, after the proprietor of a well-known Philly steak house decided that only English would be spoken in his restaurant – in a multi-cultural neighborhood.
Doughnuts for Trivia Buffs
I asked players at Premier about the origin of the donuts they were eating. No clue.
Doughnuts have a disputed history. One theory suggests that doughnuts were introduced into North America by Dutch settlers, who were responsible for popularizing other American desserts, including cookies, apple and cream pie, and cobbler. Indeed, in the 19th century, doughnuts were sometimes referred to as one kind of olykoek (a Dutch word literally meaning “oil cake”), a “sweetened cake fried in fat.”
Hansen Gregory, an American, claimed to have invented the ring-shaped doughnut in 1847 aboard a lime-trading ship when he was only sixteen years old. Gregory was dissatisfied with the greasiness of doughnuts twisted into various shapes and with the raw center of regular doughnuts. He claimed to have punched a hole in the center of dough with the ship’s tin pepper box and later taught the technique to his mother.
According to anthropologist Paul R. Mullins, the first cookbook mentioning doughnuts was an 1803 English volume which included doughnuts in an appendix of American recipes. By the mid-19th century the doughnut looked and tasted like today’s doughnut, and was viewed as a thoroughly American food.
Political Wisdom (very timely today)
Will Rogers: Mixing politics and religion is like mixing manure and ice cream. It doesn’t do much to the manure, but it surely does ruin the ice cream.”
Chris Johnson – who?
Sporting News says Tennessee Titan running back Chris Johnson is holding out because he wants to be the highest paid running back in NFL history.
Incredible! Just watched an ESPN/NFL collaboration identifying the allegedly greatest players at the skill positions. Can Johnson’s name even be mentioned when discussing Eric Dickerson, Gayle Sayers, Jim Brown, and their counterparts, or even those on a slightly lower tier like John Riggins, OJ, etc.?
Turning the Other Cheek
Italian friars prayed that a thief who stole Bibles from their church be stricken with a plague of diarrhea. A friar said, “We couldn’t put up with it any longer. The Lord and the faithful will understand.” I am watching this situation, because I would like to be able to point a finger at drivers speeding down Baron Road and give them instant diarrhea. Bet they would slow down or find another shortcut.
Whoops: reached my 5-page limit and have not discussed criticisms of the Martin Luther King statue in Washington, or the competition among some exposure tournaments to provide improved commo.