Hitler’s First Victims (Review)

I’ve often heard people ask one rhetorical question about the Holocaust in particular. How could such a thing happen in a modern, industrialized European nation?  It’s not as if the citizens were unaware of it, as some people have posited.   Actually, the citizens were quite aware of the gross abuses from the very beginnings of it in the 1930s.Hitler-01cover

Holocausts and ethnic cleansings have continued to plague mankind ever since then, and into our present times.  This problem is one reason I have remained fascinated with the German Third Reich and its crimes against humanity. Something deep inside me greatly wants to understand how the Holocaust was able to take root in a modern Western nation.

I want to be aware of the seeds of cultural cleansing as they begin to sprout, here at home. This is also one of the reasons I was pleased to finally read Timothy W. Ryback’s new book, Hitler’s First Victims: The Quest for Justice.

This utterly fascinating and graphic book is not for the faint of heart nor apologists for intolerance.  There are graphic descriptions of barbaric, repulsive, violent acts. This impeccably researched volume details the first perpetrators and victims at the Dachau Concentration Camp. The reader will better understand the degeneration of Germany before, during, and after 1933.

The framework of this enlightening story is made up of the written legal documents of one of the very few people who bravely stood up against the Nazi regime. Josef Hartinger was a Bavarian prosecuter working in the district near the former industrial plant named after the railway station, Dachau. This soft-spoken, diligent state bureaucrat investigated and kept copious notes about the first fatal incidents at Germany’s first concentration camp.Hitler-03Dachau

Ryback focuses attention on the shootings of four prisoners who were alleged to attempt escape from the detention center.  Attorney Hartinger was suspicious of the official alabis from the very start. He observed the deconstruction of the old governmental departments, and civil service as they were infiltrated by the Nazi party at all levels. To Hartinger’s dismay, he witnessed the phasing out of the state police overseeing of the Dachau detention center. His concern grew as he witnessed Dachau devolving into an operation and training center for the Schutzstaffel (SS) forces.

As more shootings attributed to escape attempts and questionable “suicides” increased, Hartinger’s suspicions were validated. He understood that the SS troops in charge were power hungry, sadistic criminals and the detainees were utterly helpless and terrorized.

To the best of their ability, Hartinger and autopsy expert Dr. Moritz Flamm, examined each victim and interviewed the camp commandant and relevant SS guards. The Hitler-02Dachaufindings were carefully documented then officially reported. Most of the documentary forensic evidence was preserved. Later, the documents were eventually used as incriminating evidence during the post war trials at Nuremberg.

Importantly, the local citizenry were aware of the deteriorating conditions and the increasing incidents of shootings taking place at Dachau.  There were numerous incidents involving citizens who spoke out against the Nazi regime being taken away and incarcerated at Dachau where they eventually were shot. The rumors of atrocities spread quickly  and widely across Germany already in 1933.   This knowledge cemented the necessary fear that was used to keep the public under control.

This reader noted that the circumstances of the 1930s shed light on a country on the edge of total tyranny.  A society in which civil liberties had been sacrificed in the name of homeland security.  The justice system increasingly became a tool of the political party, and the citizens went into denial about injustices.

Hitler’s First Victims is not only an excellent book for people interested in the history of the Third Reich, it is essential reading for all people who are concerned about human rights, and individual liberty. I highly recommend this book.

{ Hitler’s First Victims: The Quest For Justice by Timothy W. Ryback; 288 pages, published October 21, 2014 by Knopf Doubleday; ISBN:  978-0-385-35291-8 }

1984aThe Blue Jay of Happiness is concerned how the combination of today’s events and certain attitudes are eroding our society’s democratic, values and sense of justice.

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Feeling Sonder

Jorge and I finally found time to belatedly celebrate his birthday together.  His trucking route had been temporarily changed due to the vacation of one of his coworkers.  We were both eager to pick up from where we had left off a couple of months ago.

One night, Jorge said he had been browsing through his social media apps and realized that a peculiar word kept showing up in Reddit. He had never seen that word Sonder-01until now, so he decided to look up the definition.  One site defined sonder as the realization that each random passerby is living a life as complex and intense as your own. It’s an obscure word that is now becoming more frequently used.

Jorge said he has often felt this emotion but believed that it was an aspect of empathy. He didn’t realize that there was another way of expressing this almost sad feeling.  He asked what my experience has been with sonder.

The very first time I intellectually encountered this state of mind was during a classroom discussion in Psychology 101 in college. The instructor pointed out that extreme empathy usually relates to the epiphany that there are millions of people in the world who we will never meet, talk to, or ever personally know.  Each of them has a unique life in which they are the center of the universe. This epiphany is much deeper than a mere intellectual understanding.

After the instructor described this definition, I knew that I had come to this same realization in my teens during my very first existential crisis.  Carlos, the foreign exchange student our family hosted, was the catalyst of my own epiphany and state of mind.  Even though Carlos and I hashed this out, we didn’t have a technical name for it.  We only knew that we both understood empathy on the same level. We had both encountered this existential emotion. It was then that we became more humane and human. There was no turning back.

Jorge mentioned that his epiphany about this fact also happened during his late teens.  It was during his first real vacation away from Los Angeles.  His mentors had invited Jorge to accompany them on a road trip to Colorado.  The mental flash occurred when the three of them were hiking on a foot path in Estes Park. Jorge noticed that a man was engaged in meditation. The novelty of the situation, caused something to “click” in Jorge’s mind. An overwhelming wave of empathy washed over him at that moment.

My friend said that he doesn’t remember anything else about that hike in the forest.  There was only the mental experience that defied analysis.  Instantly, he had come to deeply understand that the meditating man was the center of the Universe, in that man’s world. Jorge said that day marked the first time that he felt absolute kinship with humanity.

I mentioned that my encounter with this type of empathy made me realize two things.  First, I deeply felt a melancholic sensation of my own insignificance. Second, it was the first time I actually felt like I was a part of humankind, as a whole. The feeling was a strange blend of sadness and joy.  It was probably the first positive assault upon my egoism.

Jorge and I looked at one another in silence for a few moments.  I nervously got up from my chair to refill our coffee mugs.  Jorge also stood up and reflexively hugged me.  The discussion about sonder had deeply moved him.

We both took sips of hot coffee from the refilled mugs.  Jorge, wondered aloud how many people have never experienced sonder or any authentic sense of empathy. How about our community and world leaders?  Have they really encountered sonder? There are so many politicians and religionists who speak and act as though they don’t trulySonder-02 understand their fellow humans. Their judgements are made only by words of law or doctrine.

I mentioned a recent book I was reading about the beginnings of the Holocaust. The level of brutality and sadism of the SS camp commanders at the Dachau concentration camp and that of the underlings and guards is beyond my comprehension.  There clearly are many people who have never deeply felt empathy nor sympathy.  Certainly they never encountered sonder. Or maybe they have.

A few years ago, also while pondering the Third Reich, I had wondered about the question of empathy and right-wing extremists like fascists and Nazis.  Perhaps they had experienced the epiphany of strong empathy. Maybe the wash of emotion and melancholy intimidated them. Perhaps they experienced an existential crisis and had to repress their empathy because it was just too much to deal with. Instead of allowing themselves to feel kinship with others, they closed themselves off and became ever more self-centered.

Jorge said he hypothesized about the problems caused by heartless people and came to the same conclusion. Empathy can be a very frightening emotion under certain circumstances.

Some people seem incapable of facing it.  Because neither of us have been formally trained as psychologists, we can only guess at the reasons for such behavior.  We don’t have the means to conduct a study about sonder. Perhaps someone will do so in the future.  Maybe there already is an arcane study about it.

We remained curious about sonder, so we decided to investigate it online. Apparently the word was created by the author of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. The word was made up or coined by that writer. He said, “Well, I wrote the original definition for sonder, so I guess that would make me the source. And I think it’d still be a great tattoo.”  Jorge and I laughed over this discovery. We agreed that sonder should become an “official, real” word.

Jorge says that he wishes that the people who advocate in favor of so-called “religious freedom” laws could somehow have a flash of sonder. If only they could deeply know Sonder-03that the people these laws target are living lives as complicated and vivid as their own.  Don’t they care that everybody has friends, family, routines, worries, and problems just like their own?

I agree.  Everybody has a life that is difficult enough. There is no need for people to hurt others or block people from living a free and joyful life.

Jorge shook his head. Most of the people who really need to understand empathy, just refuse to relate to the whole of humanity. Their egos know no limits.

I shrugged my shoulders and told Jorge I deeply understand his love of German chocolate cake. Would he like some? The time had come to center our conversation onto Jorge’s birthday. We would have to solve the world’s problems at a later time.

moi1986bThe Blue Jay of Happiness says that when you feel sonder, the entire mystery of humanity opens up to you.

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Miniature Planters …Floral Friday

From time to time, I come across vintage, small figural planters.  They are the sort of knick-knacks that aren’t quite kitsch and not quite art pottery.  They have a certain flair that makes them worthy of display.  Today, I have two recent finds and one that’s been around for several years.  As usual, I like to use my artifacts rather than keeping them empty.

Images are clickable.

Images are clickable.

The stylized blue bird is still unidentified.  At first I thought it might have been made by Shawnee, but the details and glaze say otherwise.  Tentatively, I’m thinking that it was manufactured by Royal Copely. Small coordinating blooms provide a low-key enhancement of the design.


Like most things from McCoy, this small planter, featuring two deer, is quite sturdy.  I placed some small evergreen sprigs into the opening then added tiny red details.  Even though I intended for this to be a year-around item, this will display especially well during the December holidays.


The charming ginger-haired children are the stars of a little wallpocket.  I couldn’t find a maker of this piece, but it appears to be of German origin.  The detailing has been carefully crafted and the glaze is especially pleasing.  I decided on a visually economical tri-color floral theme to simply enhance the small vase.

You might have a miniature planter tchotskie in your home.  Dust it off and enjoy it today.

bluejayThe Blue Jay of Happiness smiles at this quote from Trev Broughton:  “Knick-knacks, bric-a-brac, kickshaws, gimcracks, trifles, gewgaws: the very words have an inescapable patina of naffness and dust, and it is at first difficult to imagine how such items could ever have seemed worth the candle.”

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World Book And Copyright Day

book-01I have a dim memory of the first book I ever had. It was made out of cotton cloth, its few pages were stitched together with course thread.  It was The Little Engine That Could. That book along with a brown and tan teddy bear were my very favorite toys as a toddler. There was also a set of brightly colored small wooden blocks that were shaped like books designed to fit into a miniature bookcase that I enjoyed later. These toy books must be some of the reasons I love books.

I soon graduated to reading real books with the gift of several “Golden Books”. Later on, I liked to read old “Flash Gordon” outer space adventures and science fiction anthologies.  In later grade school, I was an avid fan of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.  Before long, I read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain. book-02Shortly afterwards I added The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn plus an anthology of other Twain writings.

As I entered eighth grade, William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich was my book of choice.  I’m sure Shirer’s book was a major influence upon my political orientation.

Without a doubt, books have been an integral part of my life. I cannot imagine living without several paper and ink volumes nearby.  There isn’t one day that passes, that I don’t pick up a book to read a passage. So, every day is a book day for me.

Today, though, is World Book and Copyright Day nearly everywhere else.  It is a continuation of UNESCO’s General Conference in Paris, on April 23, 1995, that paid homage to books and authors. The stated purpose of the commemoration is to book-03encourage everybody, particularly youth, to discover the pleasure of reading. The tribute aims to renew respect for the contributions of writers who have furthered the cultural and social progress of humanity and the copyright laws that protect them.

April 23rd is also the anniversary date of the birth or death of several authors. They include: Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Maurice Druon, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, Haldor Kiljan Laxness, Manuel Mejía Vallejo, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and William Shakespeare.

Today, World Book and Copyright Day, is the time to renew your interest and passion for wisdom and reading.

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a thought from Oscar Wilde. “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”

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The Surprising Project

Last Thursday morning, in the next room, something crashed and clunked onto the floor. I immediately stopped editing the blog post I had been working on to investigate the interruption.  The mirror-wall art was on the floor, possibly broken. Half of the frame remained on the wall. The front piece of the thermostat laid at my feet.

I reassembled the thermostat and made sure it still worked first. I wanted to save the chore of cleaning up and disposing of broken glass for last.  Then I saw that the mirror had somehow survived the fall.  I carefully checked all of the edges and discovered no chips at all.  The cheap, plastic poster frame must have absorbed the fall. I needed to reframe the mirror and rehang it.

Right-click images to enlarge them.

Right-click images to enlarge them.

Later in the morning, I pocketed my slim tape measure and set off to the Goodwill Store to see if they had a suitable, better replacement. Almost immediately, I spotted a possible candidate. My friend, Charlie, helped me measure the inner dimensions.  The size was exact. In fact, it was the only frame of that size in the store.  The Robert Wood print was an added bonus. The description on the backing said the picture was manufactured by Illinois Molding Company, Chicago 8, Illinois (aha, pre-Zip Code era). I paid $11 plus tax then brought it home.project04

Monday was the first opportunity I had to devote to assembling my surprise project.  I used my pocketknife to cut through the perimeter of the tan, protective kraft-paper backing of the picture so I could remove the print. Then, I discovered a wonderful prize that had been hidden inside.

A couple pages of old newspaper had been used as padding between the print and the kraft-paper.  One page was glued to the backing, but the other one was completely free and could be unfolded for me to read.  Right away, I located the name of the newspaper and its date.  It was part of the “Chicago Daily Tribune” from Tuesday, November 24, 1959. This gave me an approximate date that the frame and print had been originally assembled. I’m guessing right around January of 1960, give or take a few weeks.project05

Because I used to be a DJ, I noticed the disk jockey story, right away.  The “payola” scandal was one of the most infamous instances of record label-radio station wrongdoing in history.  During an investigation, authorities uncovered the crime of music “play for pay”.  DJs were bribed to give extra spins to certain records favored by unscrupulous record label promoters.  The most infamous case was that of Alan Freed of New York.

After I finished reading the payola story, I glanced to the left and found the item about Jawaharlal Nehru. The ever-present tensions in the Indian State of Jammu And Kashmir was in the news yet again. I was fascinated by this little tidbit of history.


On the same page is a story about the desegregation crisis in Alabama.  The shameful Jim Crow laws were still in force. A district judge upheld a local law that required blacks to sit in a separate section, apart from whites, on city buses.  However, the issue of civil rights was also mentioned in the piece.

One of the stories on the page that was glued to the kraft-paper dealt with a throwback to McCarthyism.  College students at 16 universities protested the requirement of a “loyalty oath” to be sworn before students could be approved for student loans.  Congress had earlier passed a law stating that loan candidates must swear an oath and sign an affidavit stating they would pledge loyalty to the United States and would never support any organization that aims to overthrow the government, ie. the Communist Party. The administration officials at the 16 schools came out in support of the students’ complaints.project06

Not only are the news stories fascinating, the advertising is quite entertaining and interesting, too. I especially enjoy the full-page ad for Polk Brothers electronics store. I was somewhat surprised at the high prices for their hi-fi gear. An AM/FM table radio or a reel to reel tape deck at $95.95 seems a bit steep, even in the 1959 market.  That figure is comparable to $779.59 in 2015 dollars.


The Motorola “3 Channel” hi-fi stereo console was advertised on sale for $550 in 1959. That amount of money has the same purchasing power as $4,469 in 2015 cash. My goodness, how times have changed! Console stereos aren’t even manufactured anymore. I did find a vintage one that recently sold on eBay for $266.67.


One other ad made me chuckle.  Evidently there used to be an after-shave product for men called “Man Tan”.  Supposedly, all you needed to do was to splash the product on your face, then you could have a “Caribbean Tan” in six hours.  I can imagine all sorts of problems with such a product. After I finished reading the “Chicago Daily Tribune”, it was finally time to finish my surprise project.  The “Bassett” black mirror, featuring a golden clipper ship, perfectly fit inside the vintage frame.  To protect the back of the mirror, I placed the Robert Wood print behind it, then restapled around the perimeter to secure everything in place.

The finished mirror project not only looks better than before, it is much safer, too.

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness is often amazed at what can be found inside of a thrift store.

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Hidden History (Review)

It just so happened that I decided to read from Donald Jeffries’ latest book, Hidden History: An Exposé of Modern Crimes, Conspiracies, and Cover-Ups in American Politics while I sat in the surgery waiting room during my sister’s elbow operation. The surgical procedure took longer than anticipated, so I had plenty of time to focus on Jeffries’ stories.  I was able to digest the first three chapters with rapt attention.

I selected the book earlier at the Norfolk (Nebraska) Public Library simply on the basis of testing my skeptical attitude towards conspiracy theories.  First, I examined the structure of the book. None of the pages contained footnotes nor was there a section of notes at all.  There was a brief acknowledgements statement at the back of the book, ahead of the index. As an avid reader of non-fiction, I’ve learned to refer to authors’ notes to help me further investigate topics raised in their books.

After I later finished reading Hidden History, I determined that it’s a good page-turner and enjoyable in a somewhat macabre way. Jeffries apparently doesn’t have a very high regard for any US President except for John F. Kennedy. There was a lot of anecdotal evidence and plenty of personal judgement calls regarding the chief executives.  At times, it seemed like I was reading political screed and not investigative journalism.HiddenHistory-03

I was disappointed that Jeffries leaned on the popular notions regarding Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush’s dimwittedness, Bill Clinton’s sexcapades, and Barack Obama’s supposed Kenyan birth. The presidential chapters were ornamented with “body counts”, that is murders supposedly connected to the government in nefarious ways.  The reader encounters plenty of airplane crashes, automobile accidents, questionable heart attacks, and “professional execution” shootings.

Hidden History is a breathtaking collection of exposés that should appeal to readers of tabloid newspapers, listeners of late night political talk radio, You Tube viewers, and folks who don’t like the government. There are pages full of fodder to get readers all riled up. It should be read with plenty of grains of salt.HiddenHistory-02

I am quite skeptical of official government and corporate accounts of tragic events.  I’m also quite leery of anthologies of conspiracies like Hidden History: An Exposé of Modern Crimes, Conspiracies, and Cover-Ups in American Politics.  I do enjoy reading them for their voyeuristic value, though.

This type of book is thrilling entertainment in the same vein as pulp fiction. I just don’t recomend that you read this book on an airliner, or in a hospital waiting room.

{ Hidden History: An Exposé of Modern Crimes, Conspiracies, and Cover-Ups in American Politics by Donald Jeffries; 384 pages; published November 2014 by Skyhorse Publishing; ISBN: 978-1-62914-484-9 }

1984aThe Blue Jay of Happiness not so secretly enjoys conspiracy theory stories. They’re mostly hyperbole and junk knowledge, but the temporary paranoia they inspire makes for cheap fun.

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The past couple of weeks the bare branches of trees and shrubbery have been filling out with foliage again.  I’ve been enjoying the new growth and greening unfolding this spring.  This time of the year brings out a sense of optimism from most people, too. manifestation-01Except for the increasing chances of tornadoes and other severe weather, life seems to get better in spring.

I’m feeling more upbeat these days, too. There’s a sense of inspiration and new beginnings.  It’s a sense that the cycle of life is on the upswing. There’s a more free-flowing awareness of motivation and even better health in my life.  Even though curiosity about new things courses through my brain most of the year, inquisitiveness really manifests in spring. It’s almost as if there is a rebirth of the desire to learn more, about more.

Many of us feel a new dedication to knowledge, wisdom, and the acquisition of new skills.  This is when we feel more engaged and can better concentrate on our interests and pursuits.  When it gets right down to it. the more knowledge and skills we develop, the better able we are to see the manifestation of our dreams and goals.

Regardless of our age, we feel better when we nurture a goal or project.  When we have something or someone to live for, we actually improve our health. People who relax too soon and become sticks in the mud, seem to have more complaints about other people and life, in general. Throughout life, it is a wise and wonderful practice to cultivate desire and enthusiasm around some sort of helpful, people-friendly goal.

I often cook up some sort of goal or scheme to improve my life in some way during the more sluggish times of the year. Now, this is the time of year I feel more energetic and feel more motivated to convert those ideas into reality.  I also feel more pragmatic and able to exercise common sense. This helps me weed out the plans in order to enable manifestation-02the manifestation of one or two of those goals. It’s the time to balance “pie in the sky” with a hefty dose of reality based thinking.

This is the time to solidify the process of physical creation by letting go of passivity. A person does need to let go of harmful and negative thought patterns.  This includes the habit of magical thinking.  Simply thinking nice thoughts and wishing for things to be true will not make those things manifest.  Positive thinking is the perfect tool to keep us motivated to get our hands dirty with the actual work of making things happen. Now is when we dedicate and commit ourselves to the responsibility to see our plans through to reality.

Manifestation includes our ability to mentally grow and expand.  One virtue is the letting go of outmoded beliefs and ways of thinking.  It’s easy to drift into a “default mode” of familiar attitudes.  Pushing past the boundaries of conventional, comfortable manifestation-03thought enables more awareness and a feeling of more aliveness.  “Compassionate curiosity” will not only make one feel better, it enables more effective social interaction. This is the time to let go of intellectual laziness.

It’s so very easy to fall back on short-term pleasures and habits instead of focusing on long-term, sustainable goals. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves to move beyond knee-jerk material satisfaction. It’s helpful to break from routines and find ways to re-energise and re-focus on what really matters in ones life.

To allow manifestation, we remember to stay focused on what we can actually achieve with a clear-headed, common sense, pragmatic approach. To let go of magical thinking and embrace solid thinking triggers positive action.

moi1986bThe Blue Jay of Happiness likes to ponder an idea from Kahlil Gibran. “Art arises when the secret vision of the artist and the manifestation of nature agree to find new shapes.”

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