30 October 2011

Language Documentation Hiatus

My slow and erratic progress on documenting Numbami, the language I did fieldwork on in Papua New Guinea in 1976, suddenly gained traction on October 1, when I imported my old Numbami dictionary file into a new software package I had just been introduced to. Now dictionary work has taken precedence over blogging, photography, and other hobbies as I tediously clean up the many import errors and add many cross-references and reverse-entry keywords. After the cleanup, I'll have a printable Numbami-English and English-Numbami lexicon and be ready to digitize the text, glosses, and translations of several wonderful narratives I transcribed (in pencil) 35 years ago.

Before I imported the dictionary data, I had begun to retranscribe one of my best narratives whose pencil transcription had gone missing many years ago. A couple years ago, a language documentation specialist at the University of Hawai‘i (my old alma mater) had converted my old cassette tapes to digital media (.WAV and .MP3 format), so I could use Transcriber to align the audio with the transcription.

While underemployed in 1991, I had first input all my manual Numbami wordlist cards into Shoebox. In 2006, a friend helped me convert the Shoebox database into SIL's new and improved Toolbox. Now I have imported the Toolbox data into SIL's latest language documentation software package, FLEx, and have begun cleaning and recoding it.

One of the best things I did during my fieldwork was to record and transcribe in the field a good range of narratives: two well-organized procedural texts about women's work cooking food and about the communal work of processing sago palm starch; two personal tales about experiences being civilians on the front lines during World War Two; and a couple of traditional tales, including an origin myth that combines elements from both coastal and inland cultures. (I translated and blogged a passage from one of the war stories here.)

My host father (long deceased) was a retired schoolteacher and village kaunsil (elected representative to the local government council). He told me that a portion of the timber royalties from village land was allocated to help pay for the education of village youths, who had to leave the village even to attend elementary school. Timber royalties also helped pay for the small diesel vessel that carried people and goods back and forth along the mountainous coast, which lacked an overland highway.

It was not until the 1990s that a Tok Ples (Vernacular) Skul was established in the village to teach basic literacy in the local language, before children went away to elementary school, where Tok Pisin was the lingua franca. I made a tiny contribution to getting it started by sending enough linguistic materials on Numbami to show that it had a workable orthography, which was a prerequisite for any Tok Ples Skul. But my work on the language was otherwise aimed at other linguists, for whom I hope eventually (after I retire) to finish a reference grammar of the language.

But my priorities shifted over the past year from language description to language documentation, thanks to new technologies and new relationships. One factor was the new language documentation software mentioned above. The other was making new contacts via Facebook with well-educated grandchildren of my host father who have mastered English and Tok Pisin well, but know very little Numbami. They are my new target audience, not linguists and not people in the village who still speak the language (to the extent they do).

Numbami is the village language of only one village on the face of the earth. In the 1970s, that village had fewer than 300 people, and even there more people spoke Tok Pisin than Numbami. If the elders had to write, they wrote in Jabêm, the Lutheran mission lingua franca in which all but one old lady had been educated. My host father was educated in Jabêm schools, had taught in them, was an acknowledged authority on the language, and managed to get me interested enough to make Jabêm the standard of reference for much of my analysis of Numbami. (Many years later, I sidelined my Numbami reference grammar to translate Otto Dempwolff's grammar of Jabêm after I met by chance online a potential cotranslator in Romania whose German was much better than mine.)

The first paper I published after returning from my fieldwork in Papua New Guinea was on multilingualism and language mixture among the Numbami. If village residents want to find spouses they're not related to, they generally have to marry someone from a different language group. Unless both spouse and children live in the village, they don't learn more than the rudiments of the village language. The kids grow up speaking Tok Pisin, in any case. If they pursue education and job opportunities in town, they learn English, too.

Nothing I can do will affect language use in the Numbami village. If people end up abandoning that language in favor of others more useful, I can't blame them. Villagers have been shifting language loyalties throughout the human history of New Guinea, for all sorts of reasons. The articles I've published so far are of little use to anyone except other linguists. But the dictionary I'm now editing may be useful both to a few linguists and to a few educated, town-dwelling people of partial Numbami heritage who want to learn more about their lost ancestral language, but who are accustomed to learning through the medium of English. Finally, the narrative texts may also be of at least historical interest to a third tiny audience of people who learned to speak Numbami in the village and to read it in the Tok Ples Skul.

25 September 2011

Effects of the Papal Visit to Cuba in 1998

From Looking for History: Dispatches from Latin America, by Alma Guillermoprieto (Vintage, 2001), pp. 97-99:
The issue of Granma I acquire from a vendor in front of the cathedral is eight pages thick, tabloid-size. There is such a severe paper shortage in Havana these days that toilet paper is nonexistent, and, for lack of anything to buy in bookstores or anything to buy books with, better-off Cubans, having already sold or bartered their best furniture, their cutlery, their paintings, their picture frames, the statues on their family crypt, their jewelry, and their garden ornaments, have now taken to delivering the contents of their bookshelves to the used-book dealers who operate stalls in front of the former Palacio de los Capitanes Generales. The toilet paper problem and the Granma problem are not unrelated; in poor countries, squares of newsprint are a common substitute for toilet paper, but in Cuba the skinny—and scarce—issues of Granma are not enough to fill the need, and so I wonder if the stacks of Marxist literature that are said to go for a song these days are being put to good use—I dare not ask my friends. In any event, the coverage of the papal visit in the current issue of Granma makes interesting reading, for beyond the live broadcasts, it is the only information about the visit to which most Cubans have access. In today's Granma, for example, they learn that the world media "classifies the meeting between Fidel and Pope John Paul II as 'historic,'" that a congressman in El Salvador "classified the visit as transcendental," and that the Jamaican daily The Observer "writes that the visit ... is an example of rejection towards the U.S. embargo policies." The front page describes at length yesterday's meeting between the pope and representatives of Cuban culture—among them, movie directors whose works have been censored and intellectuals who have learned to keep their opinions about Fidel Castro closely to themselves. Without quoting him directly (or any other Church hierarch by name), Granma tells us that the pope "underlined that in Cuba one can speak of a fertile cultural dialogue, which is the guarantee for more harmonic growth and an increase in the initiatives and creativity among the members of a civil society." A further article describes with some sense of color the enthusiastic reception given to the pope by the youth of Camagüey. If memory serves, there is no significant difference between these stories and those describing earlier state visits by, say, Michael Manley or Pham Van Dong.

At the newly refurbished Hotel Ambos Mundos (the words "where Hemingway used to stay" are invariably attached to its name), we sit at the bar and watch the end of this day's mass. It is being broadcast live from Santiago, the eastern city that prides itself on its militant nationalistic spirit, and where Fidel's 1953 assault on the Moncada barracks kindled the armed rebellion that would bring him to power in 1959. It is easy to forget that the Cuban nation is not yet a century old, but in Santiago the long fight for independence from Spain and freedom from United States dominion, and the central importance of the Sierra Maestra in the Fidelista revolution, are never forgotten. The pope's Cuban advisers have no doubt suggested that Santiago is the perfect place to address the question of patriotism and the nation during his homily.

The crucial words of the day, in fact, are not spoken by John Paul or even by the cardinal of Havana, Jaime Ortega, who as a young priest spent some time in the notorious work camps where in the mid-1960s Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, militant Catholics, and even unruly youths such as the now-hallowed singer Pablo Milanés were sent to have their thinking corrected. The statement that will echo the longest—and that may well be the first statement critical of the Revolution to be distributed by a state-controlled medium in the last thirty years or so—comes in the course of a salutation to the pope by the bishop of Santiago, Pedro Meurice, who now holds the same position as the lifesaving bishop Pérez Serantes of so long ago. The heart of Meurice's impassioned declaration, much quoted since then, comes when he talks of a "growing number of Cubans who have confused the fatherland with a single party, the nation with the historical process we have lived through during the last few decades, and culture with an ideology."

Friends familiar with Catholic policy say that the Vatican probably decided from the first that the pope, in his role as head of state, should not be the one to refer specifically to the problems of the Catholic Church in Cuba, and that Cardinal Ortega should also remain above the fray, leaving Meurice to vent the feelings of the priests and other Catholics during his official salutation to the pope. Foreign journalists read into Meurice s speech the Vatican's statement of defiance, but a complementary interpretation is possible: together with the fact that the pope chose to bring up the issue of political prisoners—there are hundreds of them—only at a meeting he knew would not be televised, it could stand as evidence of the diligence with which the Church is seeking to avoid a counterproductive confrontation with Fidel, his party, or his faithful during this trip. This is not to say that the Church ignored the impact Meurice s words were likely to have. He is known as a firebrand, and Santiago, the fiery town, is said to be the place where anti-Castro sentiment is running strongest. It is here that the first loud chants of' "Libertad! Libertad!" will be heard during the mass.

Friends who were there will tell me later that significant numbers of Fidelista Cubans walked out during Meurice's speech, that significant numbers of Catholics cheered wildly, and that in general in the plaza the feeling was that something enormous and irrevocable had taken place. But in the streets of downtown Havana, Meurice's words have had no immediate impact that I can see. The hotel bar opens out onto the street, and as we sit in front of the TV set, Cubans stroll by and stop to watch the screen. A mass is an unfamiliar event for most of them. Unless it is the pope himself, they have little sense of who is at the microphone (or up at bat, or on stage, as they would probably say, since a public gathering to them would suggest the national sport or a dance concert but not the liturgy). Meurice is unknown beyond Santiago. Cardinal Ortega is not recognized when he walks down the street ...

24 September 2011

Initial Soviet Attitudes toward Israel

From Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder (Basic Books, 2010), Kindle Loc. 6369-6392 (pp. 345-346):
After the Second World War, it was much harder for the Soviet leadership to control the mental world of Soviet citizens. Although the apparatus of censorship remained in force, too many people had experienced life beyond the Soviet Union for Soviet norms to seem like the only norms, or Soviet lives necessarily the best sort of lives. The war itself could not be contained within a Fatherland, be it Russian or Soviet; it had touched too many other peoples and its aftermath shaped not just a country but a world. In particular, the establishment of the State of Israel made Soviet political amnesia about the fate of the Jews impossible. Even after the Holocaust, more Jews lived in the Soviet Union than in Palestine, but the latter was to become the national homeland of the Jews. If Jews were to have a national state, would this be a blow to British imperialism in the Middle East, to be supported, or a challenge to the loyalty of Soviet Jews, to be feared?

At first, the Soviet leadership seemed to expect that Israel would be a socialist state friendly to the Soviet Union, and the communist bloc supported Israel in ways that no one else could. In the second half of 1947, about seventy thousand Jews were permitted to leave Poland for Israel; many of them had just been expelled from the Soviet Union to Poland. After the United Nations recognized the State of Israel in May 1948 (with the Soviets voting in favor), the new state was invaded by its neighbors. Its nascent armies defended itself and, in dozens of cases, cleared territories of Arabs. The Poles trained Jewish soldiers on their own territory, then dispatched them to Palestine. The Czechoslovaks sent arms. As Arthur Koestler noted, the weapons shipments “aroused a feeling of gratitude among the Jews towards the Soviet Union.”

Yet by the end of 1948 Stalin had decided that Jews were influencing the Soviet state more than the Soviets were influencing the Jewish state. Spontaneous signs of affection for Israel were apparent in Moscow, and in Stalin’s own court. Muscovites seemed to adore the new Israeli ambassador, Golda Meir (born in Kiev and raised in the United States). The high holidays were observed with enormous fanfare. Rosh Hashanah saw the largest public gathering in Moscow in twenty years. Some ten thousand Jews crowded in and around the Choral Synagogue. When the shofar blew and people promised each other to meet “next year in Jerusalem,” the mood was euphoric. The anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, 7 November 1948, fell during the Days of Awe, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Polina Zhemchuzhina, the wife of the commissar for foreign affairs Viacheslav Molotov, saw Golda Meir that day, and encouraged her to continue to go to synagogue. What was worse, Zhemchuzhina said this in Yiddish, the language of her parents and of Meir's—in that paranoid setting, a suggestion of national unity among Jews across borders. Ekaterina Gorbman, the wife of another poliburo member, Kliment Voroshilov, was heard to exclaim: "Now we too have our own homeland."

22 September 2011

Che's African Farce, 1965

From Looking for History: Dispatches from Latin America, by Alma Guillermoprieto (Vintage, 2001), pp. 81-82:
Che was unable to deal with his disapproval of the course that Fidel was taking and his simultaneous love for the man; with his disillusionment with the Soviet Union and the self-satisfaction of the burgeoning Cuban bureaucracy; with the palace intrigues of the new regime (particularly those of Fidel's brother Raúl); and, probably, with the gnawing awareness of his own failings as a peacetime revolutionary. It seems reasonable to interpret his decision to leave Cuba as Castañeda does—as the result of his need to get away from so much internal conflict. (In the course of explaining this decision, Castañeda provides an extraordinary account of the ins and outs of Cuban state policy, Cuban-Soviet relations, and Castro's dealings with the United States.) Che was leaving behind a second wife, six children, his comrades, his years of happiness, and the revolution he had helped give birth to; none of these were enough to convince him that he belonged.

Guevara's original intention was to return to his homeland and start a guerrilla movement there. A 1965 expedition to the Congo, where various armed factions were still wrestling for power long after the overthrow and murder of Patrice Lumumba, and his last stand in Bolivia, Castañeda writes, followed improbably from Fidel's anxious efforts to keep Che away from Argentina, where he was sure to be detected and murdered by Latin America's most efficient security forces. Castro seems to have felt that the Congo would be a safer place, and the question of whether it was a more intelligent choice doesn't seem to have been addressed either by him or by the man he was trying to protect. (In Cairo, Jon Lee Anderson notes, Gamal Abdel Nasser warned Che not to get militarily involved in Africa, because there he would be "like Tarzan, a white man among blacks, leading and protecting them.")

As things turned out, the Congo episode was a farce, so absurd that Cuban authorities kept secret Che's rueful draft for a book on it—until recently, that is, when one of his new biographers, Taibo, was able to study the original manuscript. Guevara was abandoned from the beginning by Congolese military leaders, such as Laurent Kabila, who had initially welcomed his offer of help. He was plagued by dysentery and was subject to fits of uncontrollable anger, and emerged from seven months in the jungle forty pounds lighter, sick, and severely depressed. If he had ever considered a decision to cut bait and return to Cuba, that option was canceled weeks before the Congo expedition's rout: on October 5, 1965, Fidel Castro, pressed on all sides to explain Che's disappearance from Cuba and unable to recognize that the African adventure was about to collapse, decided to make public Che's farewell letter to him: "I will say once again that the only way that Cuba can be held responsible for my actions is in its example. If my time should come under other skies, my last thought will be for this people, and especially for you."

Guevara was sitting in a miserable campsite on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, bored, frustrated, and in mourning for his mother, when he was told that Fidel had publicized the letter. The news hit him like an explosion. "Shit-eaters!" he said, pacing back and forth in the mud. "They are imbeciles, idiots."

Guevara's final trek began at this moment, because once his farewell to Fidel was made public, as Castañeda writes, "his bridges were effectively burned. Given his temperament, there was now no way he could return to Cuba, even temporarily. The idea of a public deception was unacceptable to him: once he had said he was leaving, he could not go back." He could not bear to lose face.

A few months later, having taken full and bitter stock of his situation, he made the decision to set up a guerrilla base—intended as a training camp, really—in southern Bolivia, near the border with Argentina. From there, he convinced himself, he would ultimately be able to spark the revolutionary flame in Argentina and, from there, throughout the world.

14 September 2011

Competitive Victimology in the Bloodlands

From Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder (Basic Books, 2010), Kindle Loc. 7393-7441 (pp. 402-403):
Without history, the memories become private, which today means national; and the numbers become public, which is to say an instrument in the international competition for martyrdom. Memory is mine and I have the right to do with it as I please; numbers are objective and you must accept my counts whether you like them or not. Such reasoning allows a nationalist to hug himself with one arm and strike his neighbor with the other. After the end of the Second World War, and then again after the end of communism, nationalists throughout the bloodlands (and beyond) have indulged in the quantitative exaggeration of victimhood, thereby claiming for themselves the mantle of innocence.

In the twenty-first century, Russian leaders associate their country with the more or less official numbers of Soviet victims of the Second World War: nine million military deaths, and fourteen to seventeen million civilian deaths. These figures are highly contested. Unlike most of the numbers presented in this book, they are demographic projections, rather than counts. But whether they are right or wrong, they are Soviet numbers, not Russian ones. Whatever the correct Soviet figures, Russian figures must be much, much lower. The high Soviet numbers include Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltics. Particularly important are the lands that the Soviet Union occupied in 1939: eastern Poland, the Baltic States, northeastern Romania. People died there in horribly high proportions—and many of the victims were killed not by the German but by the Soviet invader. Most important of all for the high numbers are the Jews: not the Jews of Russia, of whom only about sixty thousand died, but the Jews of Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Belarus (nearly a million) and those whose homeland was occupied by the Soviet Union before they were killed by the Germans (a further 1.6 million).

The Germans deliberately killed perhaps 3.2 million civilians and prisoners of war who were native to Soviet Russia: fewer in absolute terms than in Soviet Ukraine or in Poland, much smaller countries, each with about a fifth of Russia’s population. Higher figures for Russian civilian losses, sometimes offered, would (if accurate) permit two plausible interpretations. First, more Soviet soldiers died than Soviet statistics indicate, and these people (presented as civilians in the higher numbers) were in fact soldiers. Alternatively, these people (presented as war losses in the higher numbers) were not killed directly by the Germans but died from famine, deprivation, and Soviet repression during the war. The second alternative suggests the possibility that more Russians died prematurely during the war in the lands controlled by Stalin than in the lands controlled by Hitler. This is very possibly true, although the blame for many of the deaths is shared.

Consider the Gulag. Most of the Soviet concentration camps were located in Soviet Russia, far beyond the zone occupied by the Germans. Some four million Soviet citizens were in the Gulag when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. Soviet authorities sentenced more than 2.5 million of their citizens to the Gulag during the war. The NKVD was at work everywhere that the Germans did not reach, including besieged and starving Leningrad. Between 1941 and 1943, the deaths of some 516,841 Gulag inmates were registered, and the figure might have been higher. These hundreds of thousands of additional deaths would presumably not have happened had the Germans not invaded the Soviet Union: but those people would not have been so vulnerable had they not been in the Gulag. People who died in Soviet concentration camps cannot simply be counted as victims of Germany, even if Hitler’s war hastened their deaths.

Other people, such as the inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine, suffered more under both Stalin and Hitler than did inhabitants of Soviet Russia. In the prewar Soviet Union, Russians were far less likely to be touched by Stalin’s Great Terror (though many of them were) than the small national minorities, and far less likely to be threatened by famine (though many were) than Ukrainians or Kazakhs. In Soviet Ukraine, the whole population was under German occupation for much of the war, and death rates were far higher than in Soviet Russia. The lands of today’s Ukraine were at the center of both Stalinist and Nazi killing policies throughout the era of mass killing. Some 3.5 million people fell victim to Stalinist killing policies between 1933 and 1938, and then another 3.5 million to German killing policies between 1941 and 1944. Perhaps three million more inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine died in combat or as an indirect consequence of the war.

Even so, the independent Ukrainian state has sometimes displayed the politics of exaggeration. In Ukraine, which was a major site of both Stalin’s famine of 1932-1933 and the Holocaust in 1941-1944, the number of Ukrainians killed in the former has been exaggerated to exceed the total number of Jews killed in the latter. Between 2005 and 2009, Ukrainian historians connected to state institutions repeated the figure of ten million deaths in the famine, without any attempt at demonstration. In early 2010, the official estimation of starvation deaths fell discretely, to 3.94 million deaths. This laudable (and unusual) downward adjustment brought the official position close to the truth. (In a divided country, the succeeding president denied the specificity of the Ukrainian famine.)17 Belarus was the center of the Soviet-Nazi confrontation, and no country endured more hardship under German occupation. Proportionate wartime losses were greater than in Ukraine.

Belarus, even more than Poland, suffered social decapitation: first the Soviet NKVD killed the intelligentsia as spies in 1937-1938, then Soviet partisans killed the schoolteachers as German collaborators in 1942-1943. The capital Minsk was all but depopulated by German bombing, the flight of refugees and the hungry, and the Holocaust; and then rebuilt after the war as an eminently Soviet metropolis. Yet even Belarus follows the general trend. Twenty percent of the prewar population of Belarusian territories was killed during the Second World War. Yet young people are taught, and seem to believe, that the figure was not one in five but one in three. A government that celebrates the Soviet legacy denies the lethality of Stalinism, placing all of the blame on Germans or more generally on the West.

11 September 2011

Rosa's Route to Apostasy

From Looking for History: Dispatches from Latin America, by Alma Guillermoprieto (Vintage, 2001), pp. 33-35:
[Rosa's] family was well off by the standards of the provincial backwater she was brought up in, but her father, a devout Catholic, had strong sympathy for the labor movement. One of her first memories is of learning the songs of the Fifth Regiment of the Spanish Republican Army from activist priests who taught at her school. They told her about Dolores Ibarruri, "La Pasionaria," the Basque miner's daughter who during the Civil War exhorted the Republican troops to fight for liberty and face down death. Rosa was barely a teenager when she took to singing the Civil War hymns herself, to cheer on workers during strikes. At university, swept up in the radical fervor of the times, Rosa and her friends were soon helping campesino organizations coordinate invasions of privately owned ranches, set up roadblocks, and stockpile whatever weapons they could find for the coming revolution.

Although the FARC already existed, it was seen by many as old hat and insufficiently idealistic, and new guerrilla groups, and what used to be called "preparty formations," multiplied. The Ejército de Liberación Nacional, or ELN, as well as the Quintín Lame, an armed Indian rights group; the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores; the M-19—all came into being. By the late seventies Rosa was closely identified with another of the groups to emerge from the university crucible, the Ejército Popular de Liberación, or EPL. The group was strong in the area of Cordoba, where in those days the population was fairly clearly divided between poor campesinos and the people with money who owned cattle ranches and farms where bananas and oil palms were grown.

How Rosa's destiny took her from the EPL to the heart of paramilitary power is, in her telling, a long, breathtaking, and not always reliable story, but she is only one of many defectors from the fanatic left to join the ranks of the murderous right. The autodefensas claim that fully one-third of their troops are former guerrillas, and even if one disputes the figures, there is no doubting the general trend. Rosa's life, however, is unusual even in Colombia, where reality always seems to flow out of someone's dream, or nightmare.

The first thing that bothered Rosa about her leftist associates was what one might describe as their impact on the political ecology of the departamento of Córdoba. At the height of the revolutionary ferment, there were six different guerrilla organizations prowling around the hills in Rosa's region, each one demanding that the campesinos pay "taxes" to finance their coming liberation. "If a campesino had five cows, he had to give up one," Rosa says. "The guerrillas were eating up all the money from the NGOs [nongovernmental organizations]. They were hijacking mules. They were emptying out the community stores."

None of these organizations, however, was capable of defending the campesinos when the ranchers—including many drug traffickers turned aspiring landed gentry—began organizing assassination squads to deal with guerrilla collaborators. "Those people were terrible masacradores," Rosa says. "The rank and file were ranch guards, ranchers, drug traffickers, and everything you've heard about the [murders committed with] chainsaws, axes, and machetes is true." Although the guerrillas could not defeat the paramilitary squads, they did rather well when it came to turning on each other. One guerrilla group, the ELN, tried to dispute the EPL's local hegemony, Rosa recalls. "The ELN wanted to rule," she says. "And they killed whoever didn't obey."

One day the campesinos decided they'd had enough of multiple taxes and the conflicting, deadly demands on their political loyalties. The first one to rebel was a fisherman who turned on an ELN patrol that had approached him for money. In Rosa's description, the fisherman hacked a young man and a young woman guerrilla to death. "Campesinos don't know how to kill," Rosa observes dryly, having dwelt on the scene in some detail. "And when someone kills who doesn't know how to do it, he kills monstrously."

As for her own apostasy from the revolutionary cause, Rosa says it took place sometime after she was kidnapped in 1991 by one of the leaders of the antiguerrilla squads, the paramilitares. She had already decided by then that her commitment was to the campesinos and not the guerrillas, she says. Then came the kidnapping. She was abducted, she told me, after participating in a land invasion of a ranch owned by a well-known paramilitar. Her captors took her to a camp where "a fat man" was put in charge of torturing her to get information about the guerrillas. He broke off her teeth with pliers. (She paused in her narrative to show me that all her upper teeth had caps.) She was tied down while the fat man jumped on her stomach. She was forced to stand, bleeding, through the rest of the night, wondering when her execution would take place. At dawn, she was told to start walking. The bullet in the back she was expecting never came ("maybe because I never gave them the information they wanted, and they got tired of torturing me"). She kept walking and eventually found her way to her parents' house.

The lesson she appears to have drawn from this episode is not what one would expect. "After that time," Rosa explains, she and her kidnapper respected each other. "Me on this side, you on that one, we both agreed." "It's funny how life is," she said, in conclusion to her narrative. "Because the guy who ordered the fat man to torture me and I are now pretty good friends." Presumably, this is because a few months after her abduction she crossed over to her enemy's side.

By then, Rosa says, a majority of the guerrilla group she was involved with, the EPL, had decided that a revolutionary war could not successfully be fought in Colombia, and had turned their weapons in, changing their organization's name, but not its initials, to Esperanza, Paz y Libertad (Hope, Peace, and Liberty). Peace was not forthcoming, however, because the FARC guerrillas soon appeared with their own guns and tried to establish control in the void they perceived had been created by the despised pacifists. The FARC began executing former EPL guerrillas. The survivors and their campesino supporters felt they had no option except to join forces with the right-wing paramilitary leaders who had tortured Rosa and murdered many other comrades.
This dispatch was dated April 13, 2000.

10 September 2011

Wordcatcher Tales: Menbei, Yuzusco, Hakugei

While we were shopping for light, comestible omiyage (souvenirs) to bring back from Japan this summer, we came across three products of linguistic as well as gustatory interest.

mentai + senbei = menbeiMenbei < mentai senbei – Korea is the source of one well-known item of Hakata (Fukuoka) cuisine, 辛子明太子 karashi mentaiko 'spicy cod/pollock roe'. The name mentai apparently derives from Korean 명태 myeongtae 'Alaskan pollock'. Its genus (Theragra) is different from that of the Atlantic pollock (Pollachius), but both fall within the highly prolific family Gadidae (< Gadus 'cod') 'cod, haddock, pollock, whiting'. We bought a few boxes of spicy mentai-flavored rice crackers to share with our colleagues at work. Their pungent aroma caused some comment. As soon as you opened the little plastic wrapper that enclosed each cracker, you could smell it halfway across the room.

Yuzusco & ShogascoYuzusco < yuzu 'citrus' + (taba)sco – The fresh taste of yuzu (柚子) is very popular in Japanese cuisine and is used to flavor many different things: from savory chawanmushi to sweet honey, bitter tea, vinegar, wine, and even bath oil. We brought back some tiny jars of yuzu pepper paste and two hot sauces marketed as under the brand names Yuzusco and Shogasco (< shouga 'ginger' + -sco). I'm not sure if the makers of Tabasco have licensed just the last three letters of their registered trademark, but they apparently encourage co-branding. Nor am I sure where these products rank on the Scoville scale of spicyness.

Sampler of five types of shochu
Hakugei 'White Whale' – At a duty-free shop at Fukuoka Airport, we got a sampler of five small bottles of shochu, a longtime Satsuma (Kagoshima) specialty. (The cashier unboxed them and put them in little transparent baggies so we could take them through security!) They included 麦わら帽子 Mugiwara Boushi 'barley-straw hat', made from barley; two types of Satsuma 白波 Shiranami 'white wave' made from sweet potato (my favorite) with dark and light molds; 白鯨 Hakugei 'white whale', made from white rice; and 蕎麦蔵 Sobagura 'buckwheat granary', made from buckwheat. Shiranami is perhaps the most famous brand name of Satsuma shochu, but the other brand names were well chosen to reflect their ingredients. As one might expect, Hakugei tasted the most like sake. I prefer sweet potato shochu myself.

08 September 2011

The Making of Evita Duarte

From Looking for History: Dispatches from Latin America, by Alma Guillermoprieto (Vintage, 2001), pp. 6-8:
The facts of Evita's early life coincide nicely with those of the poor she came to represent: she was, like so many others, born of a destitute woman who found it expedient, and possibly gratifying, to take a wealthy and powerful lover. (Juan Duarte was a landowner and small-town caudillo, or political boss, in a rural area about ninety miles west of Buenos Aires, and he was properly married. Juana Ibarguren was a woman he spent many nights with and was the mother of five of Duarte's children, of whom Eva Maria, born in 1919, was the youngest.) Like so many children born of these arrangements in a country where upper-class snobbery reaches extremes of refinement and viciousness, Eva was humiliated by her bastard status. (Juana Ibarguren and her children, who lived in a one-room house, were kept away from Juan Duarte's elegant funeral, but were allowed to say a quick farewell to the corpse at the wake.) Eva migrated on her own from the sticks to Buenos Aires at age fifteen, and, like so many of the expanding capital's other new residents, she looked for opportunity and found it lacking. She shared with her class a gnawing, all-encompassing resentment that was the precise counterpart of the seething contempt the ruling class cultivated for the plebes. Most important, neither she nor her fellow poor were inclined to be fatalistic. The Argentina that Eva Duarte grew up in was a nation of recent immigrants—Italian anarchist farmers, Spanish socialist shopkeepers, conservative German merchants—who had brought their politics with them when they migrated, and who firmly believed that they deserved the better life they were willing to work so hard for.

Perón—himself born out of wedlock, and pursuing upward mobility through an army career—was their catalyst. He was a cynical politician who systematically played off his followers against one another, often with tragic results, and his authoritarian approach to government probably grew out of his intense admiration for Franco and Mussolini. It may well be the case that he (and Eva) provided shelter for Nazis fleeing Europe after the Axis collapse, in exchange for a significant part of the Third Reich's treasure—Dujovne works hard to try to prove it in her biography—but generations of Argentines have remained impervious to these accusations, because of what Perón gave them: a political movement that legitimated and ennobled the working poor, and a decisive restructuring of the state which—by nationalizing key resources, establishing generous social-welfare programs, and institutionalizing a crony relationship between organized labor and the government—transformed Argentina from a sugar daddy for the rich into a sugar daddy for the poor. Perón was only one of several upstart colonels when Evita thanked him for existing, and his speeches did not then, or ever, reveal the kind of substantial political thinking that gets translated into lasting programs or gets used to interpret reality in other parts of the world, but he cannot simply be written off as a demagogue. He had a vision of a free Argentina: a nation that under his verticalista guidance would steer clear of both sides in the Cold War, and in which law and order would prevail, government would be responsive to the needs of its citizens, and workers would get the respect their efforts deserved. In that sense, he was revolutionary, and Eva Duarte, like millions of others, responded instantly to his appeal. As for his aloof, diffident personality (he liked to describe himself as "a herbivorous lion"), it, too, was a virtue, for it turned him into an empty vessel that Evita could fill with her faith.

Eva Duarte's role in history was determined within months of her first encounter with the colonel. One day she was a source of hilarity for upper-class women, who made a point of tuning in to her "Famous Women" broadcasts. ("What a daily pleasure, this nasal voice who played [Catherine of Russia] with rural tango accents!" one said.) The next, she had secured her movie role in Circus Cavalcade, because she was already the established mistress of Juan Perón, a man not known for passion, who had nevertheless rented an apartment in Eva's building so that he could be near her without violating the moral code. His new lover was not easy or pleasant to live with—she threw tantrums, demanded in public that he marry her, and soon displayed her contempt for all but his most slavishly devoted political associates—yet despite these defects she was the perfect woman for him, because she pushed him beyond his own apathy.
This book was one of my last two purchases from my local Border's before it went out of business. My favorite history shelves were still much fuller than many of the other shelves in the sad-looking store.

07 September 2011

Soviet Contributions to the Holocaust

From Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder (Basic Books, 2010), Kindle Loc. 6313-6365 (pp. 343-345):
During the war, the Soviets and their allies had been in general agreement that the war was not to be understood as a war of the liberation of Jews. From different perspectives, the Soviet, Polish, American, and British leaderships all believed that Jewish suffering was best understood as one aspect of a generally wicked German occupation. Though Allied leaders were quite aware of the course of the Holocaust, none treated it as a reason to make war on Nazi Germany, or to turn much special attention to the suffering of Jews. The Jewish issue was generally avoided in propaganda. When Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt issued a "Declaration Concerning Atrocities" in Moscow in October 1943, they mentioned, among other Nazi crimes, "the wholesale shooting of Polish officers," which was a reference to Katyn, actually a Soviet crime; and "the execution of French, Dutch, Belgian or Norwegian hostages" and "Cretan peasants"—but not Jews. The "peoples" of Poland and the Soviet Union were mentioned, but the Jewish minority in each country was not named. By the time that summary of atrocities was published, over five million Jews had been shot or gassed because they were Jews.

In its more enlightened form, this reticence about racial murder reflected a principled hesitation to endorse Hitler’s racist understanding of the world. The Jews were not citizens of any one country, went the reasoning, and thus to group them together, went the fear, was to acknowledge their unity as a race, and to accept Hitler’s racial view of the world. In its less enlightened form, this view was a concession to popular anti-Semitism—very much present in the Soviet Union, Poland, Britain, and the United States. For London and Washington, this tension was resolved with victory in the war in 1945. The Americans and the British liberated no part of Europe that had a very significant Jewish population before the war, and saw none of the German death facilities. The politics of postwar economic, political, and military cooperation in western Europe had relatively little to do with the Jewish question.

The territory of Stalin’s enlarged state included most of the German killing fields, and that of his postwar empire (including communist Poland) the sites of all of the German death factories. Stalin and his politburo had to confront, after the war, continued resistance to the reimposition of Soviet power, in ways that made the wartime fate of the Jews unavoidable as a matter of ideology and politics. Postwar resistance in the western Soviet Union was a continuation of the war in two senses: these were the lands that the Soviets had won by conquest in the first place, and the lands where people had taken up arms in large numbers to fight them. In the Baltics and Ukraine and Poland, some partisans were openly anti-Semitic, and continued to use the Nazi tactic of associating Soviet power with Jewry.

In this situation, the Soviets had every political incentive to continue to distance themselves and their state from Jewish suffering, and indeed to make special efforts to ensure that anti-Semites did not associate the return of Soviet power with the return of Jews. In Lithuania, once again incorporated into the Soviet Union, the general secretary of the local branch of the Soviet communist party counted the Jews killed in the Holocaust as “sons of the nation,” Lithuanians who died as martyrs for communism. Nikita Khrushchev, politburo member and general secretary of the party in Ukraine, went even further. He was in charge of the struggle to defeat Ukrainian nationalists in what had been southeastern Poland, a place that before the war had been densely settled with Jews and Poles. The Germans had killed the Jews, and the Soviets had deported the Poles. Khrushchev wanted Ukrainians to thank the Soviet Union for the “unification” of their country at the expense of Poland and for the “cleansing” of Polish landlords. Knowing that the nationalists wanted ethnic purity, he did not want Soviet power to stand for anything else.

Sensitive as he was to the mood of the population, Stalin sought a way to present the war that would flatter the Russians while marginalizing the Jews (and, for that matter, every other people of the Soviet Union). The whole Soviet idea of the Great Patriotic War was premised on the view that the war began in 1941, when Germany invaded the USSR, not in 1939, when Germany and the Soviet Union together invaded Poland. In other words, in the official story, the territories absorbed as a result of Soviet aggression in 1939 had to be considered as somehow always having been Soviet, rather than as the booty of a war that Stalin had helped Hitler to begin. Otherwise the Soviet Union would figure as one of the two powers that started the war, as one of the aggressors, which was obviously unacceptable.

No Soviet account of the war could note one of its central facts: German and Soviet occupation together was worse than German occupation alone. The populations east of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line, subject to one German and two Soviet occupations, suffered more than those of any other region of Europe. From a Soviet perspective, all of the deaths in that zone could simply be lumped together with Soviet losses, even though the people in question had been Soviet citizens for only a matter of months when they died, and even though many of them were killed by the NKVD rather than the SS. In this way, Polish, Romanian, Lithuanian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian deaths, sometimes caused by the Soviet rather than the German forces, served to make the tragedy of the Soviet Union (or even, to the inattentive, of Russia) seem all the greater.

The vast losses suffered by Soviet Jews were mostly the deaths of Jews in lands just invaded by the Soviet Union. These Jews were citizens of Poland, Romania, and the Baltic States, brought under Soviet control by force only twenty-one months before the German invasion in the case of Poland, and only twelve months before in the case of northeastern Romania and the Baltics. The Soviet citizens who suffered most in the war had been brought by force under Soviet rule right before the Germans came—as a result of a Soviet alliance with Nazi Germany. This was awkward. The history of the war had to begin in 1941, and these people had to be “peaceful Soviet citizens.”

Jews in the lands east of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line, so recently conquered by the Soviet Union, were the first to be reached by the Einsatzgruppen when Hitler betrayed Stalin and Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. They had been shielded by the Soviet press from knowledge of German policies toward Jews of 1939 and 1940. They had virtually no time to evacuate since Stalin had refused to believe in a German invasion. They had been subject to terror and deportation in the enlarged Soviet Union in 1939-1941 during the period when Stalin and Hitler were allied, and then terribly exposed to German forces by the breaking of that alliance. These Jews in this small zone made up more than a quarter of the total victims of the Holocaust.

04 September 2011

Wordcatcher Tales: Dorui, Kangou, Funkyuubo, Fujo

The first tourist site we visited on our most recent trip to Japan was Yoshinogari Historical Park in Saga Prefecture, on a stretch of open countryside that turned up lots of artifacts from the Yayoi-period (roughly 300 B.C. to A.D. 300), including many large burial jars, when developers began to prepare the ground for a large shopping center. The site was then turned into an historical park featuring "one of Japan's largest moat-encircled villages and ancient ruins." In fact, another pair of visitors we met there were from Perth, Australia, a mother and her daughter who had won a national essay contest by presenting the case for Yoshinogari to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The signs describing the major features of the park were quadrilingual—in Japanese, English, Korean, and Chinese (simplified characters)—and one of the guides we met was a young lady from Dalian, China, who spoke some English and Russian in addition to Chinese and Japanese. (She was eager to practice her English, which was full of reading pronunciations.) Thanks to the helpful furigana on those signs, I learned a few new Japanese words and readings that were not even in my old Canon Wordtank G55 electronic dictionary. Here's a sample.

土塁 dorui 'earth fort, earthworks' – The earliest forts in Japan apparently consisted of earthworks, palisades, and moats. The character 塁 'fort, rampart' can be a synonym for 砦 toride 'fort, stronghold, entrenchment', but is now much more common in baseball, where it means 'base', as in 塁審 ruishin 'base umpire' or 塁打 ruida 'base hit'.

環濠 kangou 'ring trench' – The usual word for the 'moat' around Japanese castles is 堀 hori 'ditch, canal', related to the verb horu 'to dig'. By itself, 濠 gou is better translated 'trench' (also 'dugout, foxhole'), another product of digging. The character 環 kan 'ring, circle, loop' also occurs in 環境 kankyou 'environment, circumstances' (lit. 'circle boundary') and 環礁 kanshou 'atoll' (lit. 'fringing sunken-rock').

墳丘墓 funkyuubo 'mound-hill-grave' – The common word for 'grave' is 墓 haka (Sino-Japanese bo) as in 墓石 boseki, hakaishi 'tombstone' or 墓堀 hakahori 'grave digger'. A normal-sized grave mound is 墳墓 funbo 'mound grave, tomb', but a seriously hill-sized grave mound is 墳丘墓 funkyuubo (with 丘 'hill', read oka in many placenames). Grave-mound building was carried to even greater extremes during the next major period of Japanese history, the Kofun 古墳 ('old tomb') period (c. 250–538).

巫女 fujo, miko 'shaman, sorceress, shrine maiden' – After immigration from the Korean peninsula began, but before Buddhism was established (during the 8th century), the chief spiritual practitioner in Japanese villages was a shaman, who was usually female, although the etymology of 神子 miko lit. 'god-child' is gender-neutral.

31 August 2011

Half the People of Belarus Killed or Deported in WW2

From Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder (Basic Books, 2010), Kindle Loc. 4671-86 (p. 250):
Of the nine million people who were on the territory of Soviet Belarus in 1941, some 1.6 million were killed by the Germans in actions away from battlefields, including about 700,000 prisoners of war, 500,000 Jews, and 320,000 people counted as partisans (the vast majority of whom were unarmed civilians). These three general campaigns constituted the three greatest German atrocities in eastern Europe, and together they struck Belarus with the greatest force and malice. Another several hundred thousand inhabitants of Soviet Belarus were killed in action as soldiers of the Red Army.

The Soviet partisans also contributed to the total number of fatalities. They reported killing 17,431 people as traitors on the terrain of Soviet Belarus by 1 January 1944; this figure does not include civilians whom they killed for other reasons, or civilians whom they killed in the following months. In all, tens of thousands of people in Belarus were killed by the partisans in their own retribution actions (or, in the western regions taken from Poland, as class enemies). A few more tens of thousands of people native to the region certainly died after arrests during the Soviet occupation of 1939-1941 and especially during the Soviet deportations of 1940 and 1941, during the journey or in Kazakhstan.

A rough estimate of two million total mortal losses on the territory of present-day Belarus during the Second World War seems reasonable and conservative. More than a million other people fled the Germans, and another two million were deported as forced labor or removed from their original residence for another reason. Beginning in 1944, the Soviets deported a quarter million more people to Poland and tens of thousands more to the Gulag. By the end of the war, half the population of Belarus had either been killed or moved. This cannot be said of any other European country.

Theatre of the Macabre in Minsk

From Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder (Basic Books, 2010), Kindle Loc. 4205-4253 (pp. 225ff):
Minsk was transformed by the Germans into a kind of macabre theater, in which they could act out the ersatz victory of killing Jews.

In Minsk in autumn 1941, the Germans were celebrating an imaginary triumph, even as Moscow held fast. On 7 November, the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Germans organized something more dramatic than mere mass shootings. On that morning, they rounded up thousands of Jews from the ghetto. The Germans forced the Jews to wear their best clothes, as though they were dressing up for the Soviet holiday. Then the Germans formed the captives into columns, gave them Soviet flags, and ordered them to sing revolutionary songs. People had to smile for the cameras that were filming the scene. Once beyond Minsk, these 6,624 Jews were taken in trucks to a former NKVD warehouse in the nearby village of Tuchinka. Jewish men returning that evening from forced labor assignments found their entire families gone. As one recalled: “Out of eight people—my wife, my three children, my elderly mother, and her two children—not a soul remained!”

Terror itself was nothing new. People had been taken from Minsk to Tuchinka, in the black ravens of the NKVD, not so long before, in 1937 and 1938. Yet even at the height of Stalin’s Great Terror of those years, the NKVD was always discreet, taking people by ones and twos in the dark of night. The Germans were carrying out a mass action in the middle of the day, made for public consumption, ripe with meaning, suitable for a propaganda film. The staged parade was supposed to prove the Nazi claim that communists were Jews and Jews were communists. It followed from this, to the Nazi way of thinking, that their removal not only secured the rear area of Army Group Center but was also a kind of victory in itself. Yet this hollow expression of triumph seemed designed to disguise a more obvious defeat. By 7 November 1941, Army Group Center was supposed to have taken Moscow, and had not.

Stalin was still in the Soviet capital, and was organizing his own victory celebrations. He had never abandoned the city, not during the initial offensive of Operation Barbarossa of June 1941, not during the secondary offensive of Operation Typhoon of October. Lenin’s embalmed corpse was sent away from the Kremlin for safekeeping, but Stalin remained and ruled. Leningrad was besieged, and Minsk and Kiev were taken, but Moscow defended itself under Stalin’s obstinate command. On the 6th of November, Stalin spoke defiantly to Soviet citizens. Noting that the Germans called their campaign a “war of annihilation,” he promised them the same. He referred, for the one and only time, to the Germans’ murder of the Jews. In calling the Nazi regime an empire eager to organize “pogroms,” however, he fell far short of a true description of the ongoing mass murder. The Minsk Jews taken to Tuchinka on 7 November (the Soviet holiday) were shot on 9 November (the National Socialist holiday). Five thousand more followed on 20 November. Traditional empires had never done anything like this to Jews. On any given day in the second half of 1941, the Germans shot more Jews than had been killed by pogroms in the entire history of the Russian Empire.

The German murder of Jews was never going to play much of a role in the Soviet vision of the war. From a Stalinist perspective, it was not the killing of Jews that mattered but the possibilities for its political interpretation. The German identification of Jews with communism was not just a Nazi conviction and a pretext for mass murder; it was also a propaganda weapon against the Soviet Union. If the Soviet Union was nothing more than a Jewish empire, then surely (went the Nazi argument) the vast majority of Soviet citizens had no reason to defend it. In November 1941 Stalin was thus preparing an ideological as well as a military defense of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was not a state of the Jews, as the Nazis claimed; it was a state of the Soviet peoples, first among whom were the Russians. On 7 November, as the Jews marched through Minsk to their deaths, Stalin reviewed a military parade in Moscow. To raise the spirits of his Soviet peoples and to communicate his confidence to the Germans, he had actually recalled Red Army divisions from their defensive positions west of Moscow, and had them march through its boulevards. In his address that day he called upon the Soviet people to follow the example of their “great ancestors,” mentioning six prerevolutionary martial heroes—all of them Russians. At a time of desperation, the Soviet leader appealed to Russian nationalism.

Stalin was associating himself and his people with the earlier Russian Empire, which just one day before he had mentioned in connection with pogroms of Jews. As the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union summoned the heroes of prerevolutionary Russian history, he had to negotiate with their ghosts. By placing Russians at the center of history, he was implicitly reducing the role of other Soviet peoples, including those who suffered more than Russians from the German occupation. If this was a “Great Patriotic War,” as Stalin’s close associate Viacheslav Molotov had said on the day of the German invasion, what was the fatherland? Russia, or the Soviet Union? If the conflict was a war of Russian self-defense, what to make of the German mass murder of the Jews?

Hitler’s public anti-Semitism had placed Stalin, like all the leaders of the Allies, in a profound dilemma. Hitler said that the Allies were fighting for the Jews, and so (fearing that their populations might agree) the Allies had to insist that they were fighting to liberate oppressed nations (but not Jews in particular). Stalin’s answer to Hitler’s propaganda shaped the history of the Soviet Union for as long as it existed: all of the victims of German killing policies were “Soviet citizens,” but the greatest of the Soviet nations was the Russians. One of his chief propagandists, Aleksandr Shcherbakov, clarified the line in January 1942: “the Russian people—the first among equals in the USSR’s family of peoples—are bearing the main burden of the struggle with the German occupiers.” By the time Shcherbakov uttered those words, the Germans had killed a million Jews east of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line, including some 190,000 Jews in Belarus.

30 August 2011

Uniqueness of the Minsk Ghetto

From Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder (Basic Books, 2010), Kindle Loc. 4295-4349 (p. 231ff):
Minsk was an unusual city, a place whose social structure defied the Nazi mind as well as German experience in occupied Poland. Here, in a Soviet metropolis, the history of Jews had taken a different turn than in Poland. Twenty years of social opportunity and political coercion had done their work. The urbane Jews of the city were not organized in any sort of traditional community, since the Soviets had destroyed Jewish religious and communal institutions in the 1920s and 1930s. The younger generation of Jews was highly assimilated, to the point that many had “Belarusian” or “Russian” inscribed as their nationality on their Soviet documents. Although this probably meant little to them before 1941, it could save their lives under German rule. Some Minsk Jews had Belarusian or Russian friends and colleagues who were ignorant of or indifferent to religion and nationality. A striking example of the ignorance of Jewish origins was Isai Kaziniets, who organized the communist underground throughout the city of Minsk. Neither his friends nor his enemies knew that he was Jewish.

Soviet rule had brought a certain sort of toleration and assimilation, at the price of habits of subordination and obedience to the commands of Moscow. Political initiative had not been rewarded in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Anyone responding with too much avidity to a given situation, or even to a political line, was at risk when the situation or the line changed. Thus Soviet rule in general, and the Great Terror of 1937-1938 in particular, had taught people not to take spontaneous action. People who had distinguished themselves in the Minsk of the 1930s had been shot by the NKVD at Kuropaty. Even when it must have been clear in Moscow that Soviet citizens in Minsk had their own reasons to resist Germans, communists understood that this would not be enough to protect them from future persecution when the Soviets returned. Kaziniets and all local communists hesitated to create any sort of organization, knowing that Stalinism opposed any sort of spontaneous action from below. Left to themselves, they would have endured Hitler for fear of Stalin.

An outsider, the Polish-Jewish communist Hersh Smolar, helped spur Minsk communists and Jews to action. His curious combination of Soviet and Polish experience provided him with the skills (and, perhaps, the naiveté) to push forward. He had spent the early 1920s in the Soviet Union, and spoke Russian—the main language of Minsk. After returning to a Poland where the communist party was illegal, he grew accustomed to operating underground and working against local authorities. Arrested by the Polish police and imprisoned, he had been spared the experiences of Stalinist mass shooting that weighed so heavily in Minsk. He was behind bars during the Great Terror of 1937-1938, when Polish communists were invited to the Soviet Union in order to be shot. Released from Polish prison when the Soviet Union invaded Poland in September 1939, Smolar served the new Soviet regime. He fled the Germans on foot in June 1941, and got as far as Minsk. After the German occupation of the city, he began to organize the ghetto underground, and persuaded Kaziniets that a general city underground was permissible as well. Kaziniets wanted to know whom Smolar was representing; Smolar told him truthfully that he stood for no one but himself. This denial seemed to have persuaded Kaziniets that Smolar was actually authorized by Moscow to work under deep cover. Both men found a large number of willing conspirators within and without the ghetto; by early autumn 1941 both the ghetto and the city were thoroughly penetrated by a dedicated communist underground movement.

The underground subverted the organs of German control over Jewish life, the Judenrat and the Jewish police. In the occupied Soviet Union, as in occupied Poland, German rule forced Jews into ghettos, which were administered by a local Jewish council typically known by the German term Judenrat. In the cities of occupied Poland, the Judenrat was often composed of Jews of some standing in the prewar community, often the same people who had led the Jewish communal structures that had been legal in independent Poland. In Minsk, such continuity of Jewish leadership was impossible, since the Soviets had eliminated Jewish communal life. The Germans had no easy way to find people who represented Jewish elites, and who were accustomed to making compromises with the local authorities. It seems that they chose the initial Minsk Judenrat more or less at random—and chose badly. The entire Judenrat cooperated with the underground.

In late 1941 and early 1942, Jews who wished to flee the ghetto could count on help from the Judenrat. Jewish policemen would be stationed away from places where escape attempts were planned. Because the Minsk ghetto was enclosed only by barbed wire, the momentary absence of police attention allowed people to flee to the forest—which was very close to the city limits. Very small children were passed through the barbed wire to gentiles who agreed to raise them or take them to orphanages. Older children learned the escape routes, and came to serve as guides from the city to the nearby forest. Sima Fiterson, one of these guides, carried a ball, which she would play with to signal danger to those following behind her. Children adapted quickly and well, but were in terrible danger all the same. To celebrate that first Christmas under German occupation, Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, the Higher SS and Police Leader, sent thousands of pairs of children’s gloves and socks to SS families in Germany.

Unlike Jews elsewhere under German occupation, Jews in Minsk had somewhere to run. In the nearby forest, they could try to find Soviet partisans. They knew that the Germans had taken countless prisoners of war, and that some had escaped to the forests. These men had stayed in the woods because they knew that the Germans would shoot them or starve them. Stalin had called in July 1941 for loyal communists to organize partisan units behind the lines, in the hope of establishing some control over this spontaneous movement before it grew in importance. Centralization was not yet possible; the soldiers hid in the forest, and the communists, if they had not fled, did their best to hide their pasts from the Germans.

The Minsk underground activists, however, did try to support their armed comrades. On at least one occasion, members of the ghetto underground liberated a Red Army officer from the camp on Shirokaia Street; he became an important partisan leader in the nearby forests, and saved Jews in his turn. Jewish laborers in German factories stole winter clothes and boots, meant for the German soldiers of Army Group Center, and diverted them to the partisans. Workers in arms factories, remarkably, did the same. The Judenrat, required to collect a regular “contribution” of money from the Jewish population of the ghetto, diverted some of these funds to the partisans. The Germans later concluded that the entire Soviet partisan movement was funded from the ghetto. This was an exaggeration arising from stereotypical ideas of Jewish wealth, but the aid from the Minsk ghetto was reality.

28 August 2011

Wordcatcher Tales: Japanese Fish Names

During our recent travels to far-outlying corners of Japan we came across several local specialties that I had never heard of before. When I solicit the names for new dishes in Japanese, I often end up learning new fish names in English, just as I did long ago doing linguistic fieldwork in a coastal village in Papua New Guinea. Here is a sample of new fish we tried at izakaya last month.

At the fine Umaya Restaurant beside JR Kumamoto Station, we ordered kibinago sashimi. After failing to find kibinago in my old Canon Wordtank G55 electronic dictionary, I asked the waitress if she could find out what to call it in English. She came back and showed me the gloss in her electronic dictionary, 'silver-stripe round herring'. This slender sprat, Spratelloides gracilis, is often used as a bait fish, but also makes a very attractive dish of sashimi.

On the way up from Kyushu, we stopped overnight at Shin-Yamaguchi, an old railway junction city (Ogōri) that was renamed and upgraded to a Shinkansen station but still proudly displays memorabilia from the old days. The owner of the izakaya we had dinner at was a train buff and the walls of our booth were covered with posters and photos of old steam locomotives. Among the novelties we ate there was shako sashimi, mantis shrimp (Squilla sp.) with ginger mustard sauce to counter the fishy taste. This creature I could find in my electronic dictionary, so I tortured the waitress with questions about old trains. We both recalled the days when the steam locomotive whistle would signal an upcoming tunnel, and we would quickly close the window so as not to get a faceful of soot. The next day we boarded the Super-Oki limited express bound for the Japan Sea coast and up the San'in Main Line.

Dojou karaageAfter making a quick visit to Tottori's famous sand dunes just in time for the sunset, our taxi driver called his contacts at Daizen, a busy new izakaya that he recommended when I asked where we could find a place that served local specialties. We ordered fried gobo chips, which are gaining popularity, and we ate two fish that were new to us. One was loach, 泥鰌 dojou (lit. 'mud-loach') 'dojo loach', Misgurnus anguillicaudatus, also called 'weatherloach', a member of the carp order (Cypriniformes). The other was broiled nodoguro (lit. 'black throat') 'rosy sea bass', Doederleinia berycoides (also called 赤鯥 akamutsu 'red gnomefish') in the family Acropomatidae (lanternbellies, Jp. hotarujako 'firefly fry').

At a small mamasan-without-papasan izakaya next to our hotel in Tsuruga, we tried mejina nitsuke 'poached nibbler'. The Japanese name, 眼仁奈 mejina applies to both the genus Girella and the subfamily Girellinae 'nibblers', members of the Kyphosidae (sea chub) family in the order Perciformes. We spent a long time talking with everyone else there: the very hospitable self-employed proprietor, who served as her own buyer, cook, and waitress (and single mother); a very talkative traveling digger and inspector of wells and tunnels; and three ladies from Shikoku on a hiking trip, one of whom had a daughter just back from Ethiopia with JICA.

Our second evening in Tsuruga we went to a much larger izakaya that had been too busy by the time we showed up the night before. There we had suzuki sashimi, which our waitress described as light and tasty when I asked what kind of fish it was. I hadn't heard suzuki as a fish name, but in Japanese taxonomy, 鱸 suzuki 'Japanese sea bass or sea perch', Lateolabrax japonicus seems to be the type species or genus for a whole suborder and order of bony fish, the equivalent of Perc- in Percoidei (スズキ亜目) and Perciformes (スズキ目).

25 August 2011

POW Extermination Camps on the Eastern Front

From Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder (Basic Books, 2010), Kindle Locs. 3362-76, 3409-40, 3501-18 (pp. 176, 179, 183):
When the Wehrmacht transported Soviet prisoners by train, it used open freight cars, with no protection from the weather. When the trains reached their destinations, hundreds or sometimes even thousands of frozen corpses would tumble from the opened doors. Death rates during transport were as high as seventy percent. Perhaps two hundred thousand prisoners died in these death marches and these death transports. All of the prisoners who arrived in the eighty or so prisoner-of-war camps established in the occupied Soviet Union were tired and hungry, and many were wounded or ill.

Ordinarily, a prisoner-of-war camp is a simple facility, built by soldiers for other soldiers, but meant to preserve life. Such camps arise in difficult conditions and in unfamiliar places; but they are constructed by people who know that their own comrades are being held as prisoners by the opposing army. German prisoner-of-war camps in the Soviet Union, however, were something far out of the ordinary. They were designed to end life. In principle, they were divided into three types: the Dulag (transit camp), the Stalag (base camp for enlisted men and noncommissioned officers), and the smaller Oflags (for officers). In practice, all three types of camps were often nothing more than an open field surrounded by barbed wire. Prisoners were not registered by name, though they were counted. This was an astonishing break with law and custom. Even at the German concentration camps names were taken. There was only one other type of German facility where names were not taken, and it had not yet been invented. No advance provision was made for food, shelter, or medical care. There were no clinics and very often no toilets. Usually there was no shelter from the elements. The official calorie quotients for the prisoners were far below survival levels, and were often not met. In practice, only the stronger prisoners, and those who had been selected as guards, could be sure of getting any food at all.


It was the Wehrmacht that established and ran the first network of camps, in Hitler’s Europe, where people died in the thousands, the tens of thousands, the hundreds of thousands, and finally the millions.

Some of the most infamous prisoner-of-war camps were in occupied Soviet Belarus, where by late November 1941 death rates had reached two percent per day. At Stalag 352 near Minsk, which one survivor remembered as “pure hell,” prisoners were packed together so tightly by barbed wire that they could scarcely move. They had to urinate and defecate where they stood. Some 109,500 people died there. At Dulag 185, Dulag 127, and Stalag 341, in the east Belarusian city Mahileu, witnesses saw mountains of unburied corpses outside the barbed wire. Some thirty to forty thousand prisoners died in these camps. At Dulag 131 at Bobruisk, the camp headquarters caught fire. Thousands of prisoners burned to death, and another 1,700 were gunned down as they tried to escape. All in all at least thirty thousand people died at Bobruisk. At Dulags 220 and 121 in Homel, as many as half of the prisoners had shelter in abandoned stables. The others had no shelter at all. In December 1941 death rates at these camps climbed from two hundred to four hundred to seven hundred a day. At Dulag 342 at Molodechno, conditions were so awful that prisoners submitted written petitions asking to be shot.

The camps in occupied Soviet Ukraine were similar. At Stalag 306 at Kirovohrad, German guards reported that prisoners ate the bodies of comrades who had been shot, sometimes before the victims were dead. Rosalia Volkovskaia, a survivor of the women’s camp at Volodymyr Volynskyi, had a view of what the men faced at the local Stalag 365: “we women could see from above that many of the prisoners ate the corpses.” At Stalag 346 in Kremenchuk, where inmates got at most two hundred grams of bread per day, bodies were thrown into a pit every morning. As in Ukraine in 1933, sometimes the living were buried along with the dead. At least twenty thousand people died in that camp. At Dulag 162 in Stalino (today Donetsk), at least ten thousand prisoners at a time were crushed behind barbed wire in a small camp in the center of the city. People could only stand. Only the dying would lie down, because anyone who did would be trampled. Some twenty-five thousand perished, making room for more. Dulag 160 at Khorol, southwest of Kiev, was one of the larger camps. Although the site was an abandoned brick factory, prisoners were forbidden to take shelter in its buildings. If they tried to escape there from the rain or snow, they were shot. The commandant of this camp liked to observe the spectacle of prisoners struggling for food. He would ride in on his horse amidst the crowds and crush people to death. In this and other camps near Kiev, perhaps thirty thousand prisoners died.

Soviet prisoners of war were also held at dozens of facilities in occupied Poland, in the General Government (which had been extended to the southeast after the invasion of the Soviet Union). Here astonished members of the Polish resistance filed reports about the massive death of Soviet prisoners in the winter of 1941-1942. Some 45,690 people died in the camps in the General Government in ten days, between 21 and 30 October 1941. At Stalag 307 at Dęblin, some eighty thousand Soviet prisoners died over the course of the war. At Stalag 319 at Chełm some sixty thousand people perished; at Stalag 366 in Siedlce, fifty-five thousand; at Stalag 325 at Zamość, twenty-eight thousand; at Stalag 316 at Siedlce, twenty-three thousand. About half a million Soviet prisoners of war starved to death in the General Government. As of the end of 1941, the largest group of mortal victims of German rule in occupied Poland was neither the native Poles nor the native Jews, but Soviet prisoners of war who had been brought west to occupied Poland and left to freeze and starve. Despite the recent Soviet invasion of Poland, Polish peasants often tried to feed the starving Soviet prisoners they saw. In retaliation, the Germans shot the Polish women carrying the milk jugs, and destroyed whole Polish villages.


The German prisoner-of-war camps in the East were far deadlier than the German concentration camps. Indeed, the existing concentration camps changed their character upon contact with prisoners of war. Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, Mauthausen, and Auschwitz became, as the SS used them to execute Soviet prisoners of war, killing facilities. Some eight thousand Soviet prisoners were executed at Auschwitz, ten thousand at Mauthausen, eighteen thousand at Sachsenhausen. At Buchenwald in November 1941, the SS arranged a method of mass murder of Soviet prisoners that strikingly resembled Soviet methods in the Great Terror, though exhibiting greater duplicity and sophistication. Prisoners were led into a room in the middle of a stable, where the surroundings were rather loud. They found themselves in what seemed to be a clinical examination room, surrounded by men in white coats—SS-men, pretending to be doctors. They would have the prisoner stand against the wall at a certain place, supposedly to measure his height. Running through the wall was a vertical slit, which the prisoner’s neck would cover. In an adjoining room was another SS-man with a pistol. When he saw the neck through the slit, he would fire. The corpse would then be thrown into a third room, the “examination room,” be quickly cleaned, and the next prisoner invited inside. Batches of thirty-five to forty corpses would be taken by truck to a crematorium: a technical advance over Soviet practices.

The Germans shot, on a conservative estimate, half a million Soviet prisoners of war. By way of starvation or mistreatment during transit, they killed about 2.6 million more. All in all, perhaps 3.1 million Soviet prisoners of war were killed. The brutality did not bring down the Soviet order; if anything, it strengthened Soviet morale. The screening of political officers, communists, and Jews was pointless. Killing such people, already in captivity, did not much weaken the Soviet state. In fact, the policies of starvation and screening stiffened the resistance of the Red Army. If soldiers knew that they would starve in agony as German captives, they were certainly more likely to fight. If communists and Jews and political officers knew that they would be shot, they too had little reason to give in. As knowledge of German policies spread, Soviet citizens began to think that Soviet power was perhaps the preferable alternative.

Stalin's Great Terror as Nationalist Counterrevolution

From Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder (Basic Books, 2010), Kindle Loc. 2120-2174 (pp. 107-108):
In these years of the Popular Front, the Soviet killings and deportations went unnoticed in Europe. Insofar as the Great Terror was noticed at all, it was seen only as a matter of show trials and party and army purges. But these events, noticed by specialists and journalists at the time, were not the essence of the Great Terror. The kulak operations and the national operations were the essence of the Great Terror. Of the 681,692 executions carried out for political crimes in 1937 and 1938, the kulak and national orders accounted for 625,483. The kulak action and the national operations brought about more than nine tenths of the death sentences and three quarters of the Gulag sentences.

The Great Terror was thus chiefly a kulak action, which struck most heavily in Soviet Ukraine, and a series of national actions, the most important of them the Polish, where again Soviet Ukraine was the region most affected. Of the 681,692 recorded death sentences in the Great Terror, 123,421 were carried out in Soviet Ukraine—and this figure does not include natives of Soviet Ukraine shot in the Gulag. Ukraine as a Soviet republic was overrepresented within the Soviet Union, and Poles were overrepresented within Soviet Ukraine.

The Great Terror was a third Soviet revolution. Whereas the Bolshevik Revolution had brought a change in political regime after 1917, and collectivization a new economic system after 1930, the Great Terror of 1937-1938 involved a revolution of the mind. Stalin had brought to life his theory that the enemy could be unmasked only by interrogation. His tale of foreign agents and domestic conspiracies was told in torture chambers and written in interrogation protocols. Insofar as Soviet citizens can be said to have participated in the high politics of the late 1930s, it was precisely as instruments of narration. For Stalin’s larger story to live on, their own stories sometimes had to end.


The Soviet Union was a multinational state, using a multinational apparatus of repression to carry out national killing campaigns. At the time when the NKVD was killing members of national minorities, most of its leading officers were themselves members of national minorities. In 1937 and 1938, NKVD officers, many of whom were of Jewish, Latvian, Polish, or German nationality, were implementing policies of national killing that exceeded anything that Hitler and his SS had (yet) attempted. In carrying out these ethnic massacres, which of course they had to if they wished to preserve their positions and their lives, they comprised an ethic of internationalism, which must have been important to some of them. Then they were killed anyway, as the Terror continued, and usually replaced by Russians.

The Jewish officers who brought the Polish operation to Ukraine and Belarus, such as Izrail Leplevskii, Lev Raikhman, and Boris Berman, were arrested and executed. This was part of a larger trend. When the mass killing of the Great Terror began, about a third of the high-ranking NKVD officers were Jewish by nationality. By the time Stalin brought it to an end on 17 November 1938, about twenty percent of the high-ranking officers were. A year later that figure was less than four percent. The Great Terror could be, and by many would be, blamed on the Jews. To reason this way was to fall into a Stalinist trap: Stalin certainly understood that Jewish NKVD officers would be a convenient scapegoat for national killing actions, especially after both the Jewish secret policemen and the national elites were dead. In any event, the institutional beneficiaries of the Terror were not Jews or members of other national minorities but Russians who moved up in the ranks. By 1939 Russians (two thirds of the ranking officers) had replaced Jews at the heights of the NKVD, a state of affairs that would become permanent. Russians became an overrepresented national majority; their population share at the heights of the NKVD was greater than their share in the Soviet population generally. The only national minority that was highly overrepresented in the NKVD at the end of the Great Terror were the Georgians—Stalin’s own.

This third revolution was really a counterrevolution, implicitly acknowledging that Marxism and Leninism had failed. In its fifteen or so years of existence, the Soviet Union had achieved much for those of its citizens who were still alive: as the Great Terror reached its height, for example, state pensions were introduced. Yet some essential assumptions of revolutionary doctrine had been abandoned. Existence, as the Marxists had said, no longer preceded essence. People were guilty not because of their place in a socioeconomic order but because of their ostensible personal identities or cultural connections. Politics was no longer comprehensible in terms of class struggle. If the diaspora ethnicities of the Soviet Union were disloyal, as the case against them went, it was not because they were bound to a previous economic order but because they were supposedly linked to a foreign state by their ethnicity.

The link between loyalty and ethnicity was taken for granted in the Europe of 1938. Hitler was using this very argument, at this very time, to claim that the three million Germans of Czechoslovakia, and the regions they inhabited, must be allowed to join Germany. In September 1938 at a conference in Munich, Britain, France, and Italy had agreed to let Germany annex the western rim of Czechoslovakia, where most of those Germans lived. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared that the arrangement had brought “peace for our time.” French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier believed nothing of the sort, but he allowed the French people to indulge the fancy. The Czechoslovaks were not even invited to the conference, and were simply expected to accept the result. The Munich agreement deprived Czechoslovakia of the natural protection of mountain ranges and the fortifications therein, leaving the country vulnerable to a future German attack. Stalin interpreted the settlement to mean that the Western powers wished to make concessions to Hitler in order to turn the Germans toward the East.

23 August 2011

Wordcatcher Tales: Gyorai 'fish thunder'

One of the most fun things about exploring far-outlying places in Japan is the conversations you fall into. We had several such conversations in Tsuruga, the Japan Sea port city closest to Osaka and Kyoto, which for that reason became the terminus of one of Japan's first railway lines. (The other two connected the port of Yokohama with Tokyo and the port of Otaru with Sapporo.)

On a visit to the Kehi Matsubara pine grove and beach, we stopped at a shady refreshment stand to get some cool drinks. Near the vending machine sat two elderly men, one grizzled and talkative, the other silent and dignified. The grizzled man seemed to have saved up many things he wanted to share with English-speakers, starting with his futile attempts to learn our language. His teachers had concentrated too much on grammar, he said, and the only English phrase he could reliably remember for all his trouble was "I forgot." He said Chinese speakers had much greater success learning English because of the similarities in word order between the two languages, and that Mongolian sumo wrestlers learned Japanese much more quickly than the European wrestlers for similar reasons.

He was originally from Kochi (formerly Tosa) in Shikoku, and when I asked about the famous Tosa fighting dogs, he launched into a long disquisition on their virtues (such as silently enduring pain like samurai) and superiority over Akita dogs, which might be larger but lacked the same degree of fighting temperament.

His dignified companion, who never got a word in edgewise, was a former officer in the Imperial Japanese Navy who was recruited by the Occupation authorities to clear mines from the harbor. The word (new to me) that Mr. Grizzly used for 'naval mine' was 魚雷 gyorai lit. 'fish-thunder', which more commonly refers to torpedoes, as in 魚雷艇 gyoraitei 'torpedo boat'. (Torpedoes are also called "fish" in anglophone sailor slang.) Aerial torpedoes are 空雷 kuurai 'air-thunder' and a torpedo attack is 雷撃 raigeki 'thunder-attack'.

The generic word for 'mine' is 機雷 kirai 'device-thunder'. Naval mines are 水雷 suirai 'water-thunder' and land mines are 地雷 jirai 'earth-thunder', as in 地雷原 jiraigen 'minefield'.

This encounter reminded me of a story my Uncle Murray told for the first time back in April, when I had the chance to attend a brief reunion of my father and his only two surviving brothers. Uncle Murray reached draft age right at the end of World War II and he was on his way to invade Japan in August 1945 when Japan surrendered and his ship put into Midway to await a change of orders. His unit was then rerouted to the Philippines, where they assembled Japanese POWs as they surrendered and then put them to work helping to dismantle and destroy military stockpiles near Manila. His POWs would load electrical equipment onto amphibious ducks, which he would then drive out to sea, where the POWs would drill holes in the batteries and dump them in the ocean, often getting very seasick in the process. Much of Manila had been destroyed during the war, and Uncle Murray said his unit's battery disposals must have destroyed a lot of life in the surrounding seas as well.

15 August 2011

Japanese Hopes for Germany, 1940

From Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder (Basic Books, 2010), Kindle Loc. 3152-77 (p. 164):
Thirteen months after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had alienated Tokyo from Berlin, German-Japanese relations were reestablished on the basis of a military alliance. On 27 September 1940, Tokyo, Berlin, and Rome signed a Tripartite Pact. At this point in time, when the central conflict in the European war was the air battle between the Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe, Japan hoped that this alliance might be directed at Great Britain. Tokyo urged upon the Germans an entirely different revolution in world political economy than the one German planners envisioned. Rather than colonizing the Soviet Union, thought the Japanese, Nazi Germany should join with Japan and defeat the British Empire.

The Japanese, building their empire outward from islands, understood the sea as the method of expansion. It was in the interest of Japan to persuade the Germans that the British were the main common enemy, since such agreement would aid the Japanese to conquer British (and Dutch) colonies in the Pacific. Yet the Japanese did have a vision on offer to the Germans, one that was broader than their own immediate need for the mineral resources from British and Dutch possessions. There was a grand strategy. Rather than engage the Soviet Union, the Germans should move south, drive the British from the Near East, and meet the Japanese somewhere in South Asia, perhaps India. If the Germans and the Japanese controlled the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean, went Tokyo’s case, British naval power would cease to be a factor. Germany and Japan would then become the two world powers.

Hitler showed no interest in this alternative. The Germans told the Soviets about the Tripartite Pact, but Hitler never had any intention of allowing the Soviets to join. Japan would have liked to see a German-Japanese-Soviet coalition against Great Britain, but this was never a possibility. Hitler had already made up his mind to invade the Soviet Union. Though Japan and Italy were now Germany’s allies, Hitler did not include them in his major martial ambition. He assumed that the Germans could and should defeat the Soviets themselves. The German alliance with Japan would remain limited by underlying disagreements about goals and enemies. The Japanese needed to defeat the British, and eventually the Americans, to become a dominant naval empire in the Pacific. The Germans needed to destroy the Soviet Union to become a massive land empire in Europe, and thus to rival the British and the Americans at some later stage.

Japan had been seeking a neutrality pact with the Soviet Union since summer 1940; one was signed in April 1941. Chiune Sugihara, the Soviet specialist among Japanese spies, spent that spring in Königsberg, the German city in East Prussia on the Baltic Sea, trying to guess the date of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Accompanied by Polish assistants, he made journeys through eastern Germany, including the lands that Germany had seized from Poland. His estimation, based upon observations of German troop movements, was mid-June 1941. His reports to Tokyo were just one of thousands of indications, sent by intelligence staffs in Europe and around the world, that the Germans would break the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and invade their ally in late spring or early summer.