No Man’s Land

Cheshire_Regiment_trench_Somme_1916

I read somewhere recently that you are to write what your readers want to read. Further, they noted that if you do not, then you might be the only one reading your blog. But, who out there knows that I love World War II history? I said all of that to say, because of this WWII thing, you have to know that if at any time I learn any new information, or find a new show on television I have to share. Well….did I ever find a new series. It’s on the History Channel entitled “World Wars,” have you seen it? Since I just found it, I have to play “catch up.” Last Sunday, I watched the first episode which began with WWI in 1914. Were you aware that although many countries were to blame for beginning this war, Germany too, played a part. What I learned in this show, and the fact I need to share set my head spinning. Of course, this is concerning the most infamous monster of the early twentieth century, Adolph Hitler. Unfortunately, I do believe this had to serve as the very first incident that proved providence in this fiend’s mind.

Have you heard the name Henry Tandey? I had not, because I’ve never watched, or read anything really with regard to WWI. I did read A Farewell to Arms, but that had nothing to do with history. This Ernest Hemingway story simply involved a love affair, with WWI as a backdrop. Moving on, Mr. Tandey served as a foot soldier in a British regiment, and received a Distinguished Conduct Medal, and a Victoria Cross for his service. I sat, mouth agape as I listened to the happening involving Hitler and Tandey. Hitler, in case you didn’t know served as a messenger during this war; having to run notes, and orders, or what have you to the different stations in an elaborate labyrinth of trenches. These ditches served as sleeping, and eating quarters for the soldiers – foreign as well as for the allies. The grounds up above, and between the two canals were called “No Man’s Land.” Hitler moving through No Man’s Land carrying a message, runs into Henry Tandey. Henry had his rifle aimed, and from what I understand, Hitler never raised his gun. After a few seconds, what did Henry do? He lowered his rifle, allowing every future event we know of, fruition. The historian explaining the event said, “Imagine how history would have been changed if he (Henry) had only pulled the trigger.

Then, my brain began running all of the different scenarios on just how everything would have been different, and wondering what he thought later on once the atrocities began. Think about it. I would love to know if there were any journals, or letters belonging to Henry putting his emotions to paper. I have to say, put yourself in his position. Would you get to a point where you couldn’t even turn your head to peek as you walked by the mirror? Would you have this conversation with yourself on a daily basis,

“Could I have prevented this? Why didn’t I pull that trigger? But, how could I have known? What made me spare his life? Could it have been divine providence? But, how could a direction of human affairs by God involve such violence?”

Unfortunately, none of us will ever know, and I must say – I am very happy I never had to live with something of this magnitude on my conscience. Can you imagine? But, as I think more about it, could Henry have not known? At first I thought there may have been the possibility he didn’t connect any of this. But, it had to be him that informed someone – yes? So, he had to have known. Which takes me back to my original observation. In some way, I would have almost experienced guilt as though I had a small part in all this, wouldn’t you think? Like the driver of the trains, almost. All I can add here is the old adage, “Sorry it was you Henry, but glad it wasn’t me.” Any thoughts?

Info courtesy of History Channel, Wikipedia & Amazon

2125 Cypress Street

Cypress 2 croppedOn the street in the picture, through the years has become more like an alleyway. Although, I’m certain, at one time it resembled any other city street – one with tall trees filled with leaves, but back in 1939 surely appeared as shrubbery. Now, you ask who lived at this address, and what significance does it have to anything? Again, if you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you know I not only have a soft spot in my heart for my own African-American history – I also have this unusual pull to the accounts surrounding World War II, and Europe. Now, I’m confident you don’t need me to fill you in on the happenings in that part of the world during that time frame (1939 that is). With that said, I have to mention a remarkable couple who occupied that Cypress Street address in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Have you ever heard of Gilbert & Eleanor Kraus? Mr. Kraus, an attorney haunted by a mission took his compulsion, and his wife, leaving their two children behind while they ventured off to Nazi riddled Germany and Austria. Why, you ask? This served as his contribution, if you will – his way of liberating fifty children that he did not know, had never met; enabling them to taste freedom. And, although only a few met up with their parents later on, they were all given a sentence to live by coming to America. Also, only a small number of those children had relatives already here who could take them in, the majority were entrusted to foster parents.

Could I have – would I have been able to do such a thing? Who would have the courage to travel to a place ripe, and ready to explode at any given moment into chaos. I would think that travel by train through any part of this region at the time could be likened to, well….hell.  Now, the Kraus’ were elite – while they moved through the dark, so to speak to get the work done, they dined at the best restaurants, stayed in a high-end hotel, and traveled on the famed Orient Express. But, how would one pull that off? I can’t imagine spending any time in such a threatening place, during one of the most sinister periods in history. Which tells you the burning desire Mr. Kraus had to have had. I will always remember something my mother told me. I had this thing continuing to bug me for probably a two-year period. It would come to mind, I’d think about it, and say – I need to do that. But, I never did.  Now, it didn’t pester me constantly, but each time it came to me, it had more urgency than the time before. Finally, I simply had to succumb. So, I said to myself, “Self, you’ve just gotta get this done.” She explained, that when anything is bugging you like that, and won’t leave you be, you know it’s from God. She explained that’s how a man of God gets the call – God knocking on the door of your heart, as it were. Therefore, I definitely understand Mr. Kraus’ need.

I have watched countless hours of documentary, as well as devoured page upon page having to do with this era. From Hitler’s taking of the government to the Einsatzgruppen paramilitary (the first method used in his twisted plan) to American and British POWs being held, and released from Colditz Castle. I’ve listened to Hitler’s personal secretary, Traudl Junge talk of her time with him. I heard her confess that if she knew what would happen, she would have never taken the job. I caught the story of the Kindertransport program (a movement that took Jewish children from Germany to foster homes in Britain). I’ve witnessed stories being told by survivors who had to assist in the clean-up; tales that choked them up as well as their audience. Through all of this I have always managed to keep dry eyes. However, this particular rendering struck at the pit of my gut, and moved me in a way that broke me, this time. Okay, all with the exception of The Boy With The Striped Pajamas – could anyone keep a dry eye while watching that movie?

As I think about it, maybe observing a senior break down as she explained how she remembered the day to look when she left, and then, tell of how she never laid eyes on her parents again. It could have been the intrigue of how they got the children out, like a great espionage building, and building to a final point where it’s such a great relief. It may have been thinking about the fact that they could then, go to school, have the freedom to move about as they wanted, yet all the while missing their parents. I really can’t say what did it. But, if World War II history interests you in the least or even if it doesn’t, you must find and watch, 50 Children: Rescue Mission of Mr. & Mrs. Kraus. Then, come back and tell me what you thought.

Image courtesy of Google Earth

Other links courtesy of Wikipedia & The New York Times