Romania WWII: The White Squadron


The White Squadron


26 November 2014

In the pages prefacing Daniel Focşa’s writing, “The White Squadron”, Neagu Djuvara praises the author’s idea to reinstate, in historical order, the heroic deeds from the time of the war, “obscured or twisted until yesterday, so that, most of the times, the new generations completely ignore them”.

Being one of the infantrymen who walked their boots through hundreds of miles of dust or mud all the way to Odessa, Neagu Djuvara pays tribute to aviators, which he considers super humans not daring to compare himself to: “And when it comes to women aviators, my admiration is even higher”. Although regarded with wonderment or even disbelief, “there were a few extraordinary characters, like in the novels”, says the well-known Romanian historian, diplomat, philosopher, journalist and novelist, inciting us to marvel at the proverbial scenes, at the risks these heroines took, at the challenges and physical suffering they went through all the way to Kuban or above the hell of Stalingrad and read this book as a novel.

We open, therefore, a serial-story columns through which we try to pull out from the old chest-of-drawers true stories about the history of aviation, unique and savory details coming straight from the source, which come from the very ladies who wrote the legend of the White Squadron, hoping that these testimonies will inspire younger generations…

In 1938, the political atmosphere in Europe was increasingly tense – the armies of the Third Reich were marching, USSR threats, simultaneous and combined with those of Germany’s, resulted in frequent incidents caused by Soviet Russia at the border, pushing the Romanian Army to take important measures. Among other things, at the military maneuvers which took place in the fall of that year, in Galaţi, five aviatrixes (Mariana Drăgescu, Virginia Duțescu, Nadia Russo, Marina Știrbey and Irina Burnaia) had been invited to participate, for the first time, to be put to test and see how they would manage under war. It was about simulating dogfights, liaison missions against the clock, night flights – a sort of playing in the air, would say some; but it was one as serious as possible. And the fact that these women managed admirably the two weeks of exercises determined the headquarters to declare them fit for mobilization.

At the end of these maneuvers, Marina Ştirbei, daughter of Prince George Ştirbei and cousin of the more famous aviator Constantin Cantacuzino, revealed to her flying comrades her intention of setting up a squadron of sanitary planes with female pilots only. By that time, she had won a certain number of aviation competitions in the country and had even put her talent to the test, covering over two thousand miles in a raid that took her all the way to the Scandinavian countries. She would keep her word and, as the war became a certainty, Marina Ştirbei submitted a memorandum for the creation of this squadron to the Ministry of Air. It was approved on June 25, 1940, and so, the highest rated female pilots took a step forward, joining the army as lieutenants and getting access to Polish manufactured RWD-13 airplanes.

The squadron was registered in the Romanian Army documents under the “Sanitary Squadron” title and its purpose on the Eastern Front was to transport seriously wounded soldiers, who needed immediate surgery. In April 1942, the squadron will be renamed “Easy Transport Squadron 108”, but entered public consciousness as “The White Squadron”, a nickname disputed by several authors, which, in fact, belongs to the Italian journalist Curzio Malaparte, the author of the book “Coup d’état: the technique of revolution”. While he was researching on the Romanian front, he was inspired by the color of the Polish aircraft, originally painted white, with the red cross on the fuselage and the wings, which is why soon enough they have earned the reputation of air ambulances. Because the Soviets did not respect that these were sanitary planes and bombarded them, the small RWD-13 were painted in camouflage colors later on.

During World War II, Romania was the only country in the world that had sanitary airplanes piloted by women, although Marina Ştirbei’s idea had started from Finnish paramilitary Lotta Svärd group, made up exclusively of women, auxiliary to the army.

The “White Squadron” aviators were not exactly fighters, but their missions in hostile airspace were as dangerous as possible, always being stalked by antiaircraft artillery, by the isolated shooters and, especially, by the sharks of the air which had, however, much better equipped devices than theirs. They made quite an impression at the time and even became, in 1944, subject and inspiration source for the Romanian-Italian artistic movie “Squadriglia Bianca”, directed by Ion Sava, starring Claudio Gora, Lucia Sturdza-Bulandra and Mariella Lotti, former King Michael’s girlfriend. With or without this movie, there was still not enough done to reveal the true value of this adventure called “The White Squadron”. Moreover, after the communist regime was installed, the fate was so unfair to these daring girls, so famous during the war that not only they entered complete anonymity, but they even ended up in prison, or in the best case they were removed from aviation and marginalized.

It seems, therefore, natural to dig in the past and bring their admirable front experience to the light. The first page of our serial is dedicated to Mariana Drăgescu, so make sure you do not miss it in our next edition.

Translated by Ancuţa Gălice

Politically Correct

Politically Correct

Good morning my friends. Today I wish to speak with you about political correctness. This subject matter touches each and every one of our lives. In its simplest form political correctness is the attempt to avoid offending anyone about any subject. I believe that when most of us hear the words politically correct a smile crosses our face if nothing else than because we know we are about to experience something that is just plain stupid, usually introduced by PhD’s. What new phrases have replaced some of our old standards, the geek ignorance is quite amusing at times. There was a time when the use of common descriptions didn’t bring out a law suit, C-4, or an M-60. In the past we could describe a dirty old man in simple terms, but, not anymore. The age of political correctness has changed the description of him into a sexually focused, chronologically gifted individual. Laziness is now referred to as motivational deficient. Friends, we are no longer short, those two inches I have shrunk since high school didn’t really happen, I can’t have that, it might hurt my feelings. It is comforting now to know that when I was in school that I wasn’t having trouble with Algebra after all, I was achieving a deficiency in equations.


We could just sit back in our recliners take another toke and grin at all the stupidity. But, do you know something a little scary? There is an entire subculture that takes this humor as their gospel. Trouble is these kooks get on school boards and try to get their gospel of re-education into our nations schools. At almost all of our college campuses some form of “re-education”, like Ebonics for example, are now part of the Freshman orientation but they are usually called by some generic name like “diversity education”. It is an attempt to please everyone all of the time and to not offend anyone any of the time. All sane people know that this is a total impossibility, even most of us folks who have lost our rockers knows that much about reality. In our country these days we dare not speak the truth about anything for most certainly it will offend someone or hurt someones feelings, or get us arrested or sued. Friends isn’t this just another way of saying we must constantly and habitually lie?


For those who might think (that alone is becoming a novel thought as we are now always being told what we are to think) that the stupidity that is political correctness is a by-product of the 60’s and 70’s drug culture, I do have to disagree with you. Yet my beliefs are ancient, they go back to when people actually got an education when they went to school. These days kids graduate high school and can’t even read or make change for a dollar and then some school districts want to add this stupidity into the mix of the non education of the public school systems. Political correctness has been around and practiced within other cultures since at least WWI. In my opinion, political correctness is a lot like classical Marxism. If we compare the basic tenets of political correctness with classical Marxism the parallels of the two are very obvious. When Marxist Communists take over a country such as Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba or the U.S., ( oops, did I say that), personal freedoms simply go away, they cease to exist. Look what being politically correct did for Germany back in the 1930’s and 40’s. It is more than a little bit scary for those of us who are of gray hair who see so plainly how political stupidity takes away our freedom, and all forms of basic common sense.

Turkish Journalists Sentenced to Life in Prison



‘They Fear Pens, Not Guns’: Turkish Journalists Sentenced to Life in Prison

Demonstrators on World Press Freedom Day in Turkey, 2013. Image by Amnesty International Turkey.

After spending just over a year behind bars without charge, Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yucel was released from a Turkish jail on February 16. Just hours later, six other journalists in the country were issued a life sentence for “or attempting to overthrow the constitutional order”.

With 155 journalists serving jail time because of their work, these days of highs and lows are beginning to feel routine for Turkey’s embattled independent media community.

BBC described Deniz Yucel’s imprisonment as a long-standing “irritant” in the relations between the two countries. His release came shortly after Turkish PM’s visit to Germany this week.

Deniz Yucel was arrested exactly 367 days ago on suspicion of “inciting the people to racial hatred and enmity” and “spreading the propaganda of a terrorist organization”.

Soon after his release was announced, crowd gathered outside the jail, where Yucel joined his wife who was waiting for him:

But the ordeal is not yet over. Yucel was charged and indicted upon his release, with the prosecution demanding that he be sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Same court that ordered ‘s release has apparently accepted an indictment calling for up to 18 years imprisonment.

Not quite clear what is going on, but a key issue is whether he is being allowed to travel abroad.

In ordering Deniz Yücel’s release, the court also accepted his newly issued indictment. He faces 4 to 18 years in prison. 

While colleagues and friends celebrated the news of Yucel’s release, another court decision came down, this time affecting the fate of a different group of journalists.

A Turkish court has jailed for life journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Nazli Ilicak & Fevzi Yazici & one other defendant for seeking to “overthrow the constitutional order” in alleged coup plot 

Esas hakkındaki savunmalar tamamlandı

Haberin detayları için tıklayın

Awful news coming in from Silivri jus now. & faced a trial in which no credible evidence was presented beyond their words. This verdict does not pass the test of international human rights law. 

Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Nazli Ilica, Yakup Şimşek, Fevzi Yazıcı and Şükrü Tuğrul Özsengül were handed a lifetime prison sentence after being convicted of involvement with Turkey’s 2016 coup, despite a lack of direct evidence.

Five of the six defendants are journalists and intellectuals all had strong ties with opposition news outlets in the past. Ahmet Altan is the former editor-in-chief of Taraf newspaper and his brother, Mehmet Altan is an academic and journalist who once wrote for Hurriyet. Nazli Ilıcak has written for Hurriyet, in addition to other newspapers, and briefly served as an MP for the Virtue party.

Yakup Şimşek and Fevzi Yazıcı worked with Zaman newspaper, which was one of Turkey’s largest independent daily newspapers until 2016, when the government seized its operations, alleging that the outlet had ties to Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.

Anadolu Agency reported that six people were convicted for attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and of having communicated with associates of Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the July 2016 failed coup.

In addition to facing legal threats, all of these journalists have been subject to extralegal harassment. One year ago, President Erdogan called Yucel a terrorist in one of his televised speeches.

Bu konuşmayı tam 1 yıl önce çekmiştim. Deniz sonunda özgür. Darısı Alman vatandaşı olmayan gazeteci arkadaşlarımızın başına.

I filmed this speech one year ago. Deniz is finally free. I wish the same for the rest non-German citizen journalists friends of mine.

Video clip translation:
 They are hiding this German terrorist, this spy at the embassy. They hid him for a month. And German Chancellor asked him from me. She said to release him. I told her we have an independent judiciary. Just like your judiciary is independent so is mine. It is [the judiciary] objective. That is why I am sorry to say, you won’t take them from us. Finally, he was brought to court. He was arrested. Why? Because he is spy terrorist. Who cares he is a German citizen. It doesn’t matter whose citizen you are, if you are spreading terror in Turkey, if they are secretly spies, they will pay the price.

Supporters in Turkey and around the world tweeted their shock at the decision:

Today’s verdict & sentences of life without parole for , & mark an apex of the disintegration of the in . Judge ignored a binding Turkish Constitutional Court decision. The European Court of Human Rights must act.

As Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak are given “aggravated life sentences”, it is worth remembering what that sentence is.

It is life without parole, with up to 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. Forever and ever, amen.

On February 12, both Ahmet and Mehmet Altan were thrown out of the courthouse, for demanding to read the constitutional court decision which ruled for their releasein January. The two brothers demanded that the decision which was overturned within 24 hours by the ruling of the 27th High Court is put on the record.

The next day, on February 13, speaking from high-security prison via video link, Ahmet Altan in his defense said the following:

Those in political power no longer fear generals. But they do fear writers. They fear pens, not guns. Because pens can reach where guns cannot: into the conscience of a society.

When the verdict was handed to Altan brothers today, one observer said cries and screams filled the courtroom.

Meanwhile, there are at least four other German Turkish citizens behind bars in Turkey, while the total number of imprisoned journalists and writers since the coup has now surpassed 150.

German car makers spark outrage with exhaust tests on humans




German car makers spark outrage with exhaust tests on humans

Diesel exhaust tests evoke gas vans used by the Nazis in the Holocaust; major manufacturers disavow study

The exhaust pipes of a VW Diesel car are seen in Frankfurt, Germany, on August 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

The exhaust pipes of a VW Diesel car are seen in Frankfurt, Germany, on August 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

Public criticism of the German auto industry has escalated on reports that diesel exhaust tests were carried out on both monkeys and humans.

The tests were reportedly carried out by a research group funded by major German auto companies. The German government on Monday condemned the experiments and Volkswagen sought to distance itself from them, with its chairman saying that “in the name of the whole board I emphatically disavow such practices.”

The tests from German companies are particularly striking, as during the Holocaust the Nazis killed people by pumping exhaust gas into sealed “gas vans.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

“Monkeys and humans forced to inhale toxic diesel car emissions to demonstrate no health impact” as emissions research for German car manufacturers 
This was the same gassing test technique perfected by the Nazis’ gas vans ? @FT

Revelations of the tests add a twist to the German auto industry’s attempt to move past Volkswagen’s scandal over cheating on diesel tests and the resulting questioning of diesel technology across the industry.

Volkswagen Chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch said the tests must be “investigated completely and without reservation,” the dpa news agency reported.

A report by the New York Times found that the research group financed by top German car manufacturers commissioned experiments in which one group of monkeys was exposed to diesel exhaust from a late-model Volkswagen, while another group was exposed to fumes from an older Ford pickup.

Hans Dieter Poetsch, chairman of the board of directors of the Volkswagen stock company, prior to the annual shareholders meeting in Hannover, Germany, May 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, file)

The experiments were carried out in 2014 before Volkswagen was caught using software that let vehicles cheat on emissions tests. They were intended to show modern diesel technology had solved the problem of excess emissions, but according to the New York Times report the Volkswagen car in the tests was equipped with illegal software that turned emissions controls on while the car was on test stands and off during regular driving.

Volkswagen admitted using the software in 2015. The Volkswagen scandal led to public scrutiny of diesel emissions as regulators discovered that other companies’ vehicles also had higher emissions on the road than during testing, though not necessarily through illegal rigging. The industry has had to fend off calls for diesel bans in German cities with high pollution levels.

Daimler AG said it was “appalled by the nature and extent of the studies,” and said that, though it did not have any influence on the studies’ design, “we have launched a comprehensive investigation into the matter.”

BMW said that it “did not participate in the mentioned study” on animal “and distances itself from this study.” It said it was investigating the work and background of the research group.

People leave the Volkswagen factory at Gate 17 in Wolfsburg, Germany. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

The Times report said the group that commissioned the studies, known by German initial EUGT, got all its funding from the three automakers. Volkswagen said in a statement, the founders were Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler and components and technology firm Bosch.

The New York Times report was followed by one in Monday’s edition of the Stuttgarter Zeitung daily that the now-closed research group also commissioned tests in which humans were exposed to nitrogen dioxide, which belongs to a class of pollutant known as nitrogen oxides. The group reportedly said the tests showed no effect on the subjects.

The human study, carried out by Aachen University, involved studying the effects of exposing 25 subjects, mostly students, to low levels of nitrogen dioxide like those that could be found in the environment — from a 40-liter bottle, not a diesel engine. The individuals gave informed written consent for the study, which was approved by the ethics committee of the university’s medical faculty, according to the study. The university said the study had no relation to the diesel scandal.

The German government condemned the reported tests on animals and humans. Transport Minister Christian Schmidt “has no understanding for such tests… that do not serve science but merely PR aims,” spokesman Ingo Strater told reporters in Berlin.

He called for the companies concerned to provide “immediate and detailed” responses, and said a ministry commission of inquiry that was set up after the emissions scandal broke will hold a special meeting to examine whether there are any other cases.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at the headquarters of her Christian Democratic Union in Berlin for coalition talks, on January 28, 2018. (AFP Photo/Odd Andersen)

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said that “the disgust many people are feeling is absolutely understandable.”

“These tests on monkeys or even humans can in no way be ethically justified,” Seibert said. “They raise many critical questions for those behind these tests, and these questions must urgently be answered.”

He questioned the aims of the tests. “The automakers have to reduce emissions of harmful substances further and further,” he said. “They should not be trying to prove the supposed harmlessness of exhaust with the help of monkeys or even humans.”

Seibert said that the supervisory boards of the companies concerned “have a particular responsibility.”

The governor of the German state of Lower Saxony, a major shareholder in Volkswagen, added his voice to calls for quick answers.

Stephan Weil, who sits on VW’s supervisory board, stressed that “the behavior of the company must in every respect fulfill ethical demands.” He said he had not known about the tests.


President Trump Is Correct About Putting America First



As anyone who reads the Blog surely knows by now, I am not at all a fan of Donald Trump. It is difficult for me to think of a civil word in the concept of describing this person. Those who follow this Blog also know that I am not a fan of Hillary Clinton so I hope that you understand this article today is not about being a Democrat or a Republican as I am neither. So far though I do believe that the Republican Party is bringing much harm to themselves by standing behind this President. I do believe that if the Republicans have not gotten the guts to stand with the Democrats and to impeach Trump from Office before the November 2018 Mid-term Elections they are going to get slaughtered in those Elections. On a side note, I also feel that the Christians who are standing with this President are doing a great dishonor to Christ and His Holy Name as there is nothing holy about Mr. Trump. It is right and correct to pray for our Leaders but it is sinful to back sinful policies in the name of Christianity.


Now to the main headline of today’s commentary. Ever since Mr. Trump in his Campaign started using the slogan ‘America First’ he has drawn a lot of fire and anger from ‘the left, Democrats and liberals’. To me this anger is total stupidity! I do totally believe that Mr. Trump is a total racists but I do not at all consider this ‘slogan’ to be racist in any way. If Mr. Trump was saying something along the lines of ‘Whites First’ then yes, that would be totally racist. Yet any Leader or want to be Leader of any country who doesn’t create policies to put his own Nation first has no business being a Leader of that Nation. Think about it for a moment, if Mr. Trump’s slogan was ‘China First, or Russia First’, do you think that the American people would have elected him?


If Chancellor Merkel of Germany vocally or via policies said her goal is to put the EU before Germany should be voted out of Office? If Prime Minister May of England did the same thing, should she be the Prime Minister? How about President Jinping of China, if he was pushing a policy of Japan first, would he still be the President of China? How about Mr. Putin of Russia, if he was saying ‘America First’, would he still be the President of Russia? What I am saying is, of course Mr. Trump should put the interest of America first, if he didn’t, wouldn’t he then be a traitor to his own Country? What I am saying is, just because you or I believe this person (I have a hard time calling him a man) to be ignorant self-centered scum of the Earth, it does not mean that everything he says is wrong nor from his racist Soul.

Mercedes-Benz used by Adolf Hitler to be auctioned in Arizona



An infamous Mercedes-Benz used by Adolf Hitler to be auctioned in Arizona

A Mercedes-Benz that was used to shuttle Adolf Hitler around Nazi Germany will be auctioned in Arizona early next year and could be worth millions, if anyone steps up to bid on it.

The 1939 Mercedes-Benz 770K Grosser Offener Tourenwagen’s anonymous owner will offer the car to bidders at the Worldwide Auctioneers event in Scottsdale on Jan. 17, during the city’s annual classic car extravaganza.

While any Nazi symbols on the vehicle were removed long ago, the ghosts of its past remain.

(Original Caption) Storm Troopers, with arms linked, hold back the crowds, as the leader of the Reich, Adolf Hitler, returns to Berlin after the triumph of his Armies in France. He returned on July 6th, 1940, after having visited conquered Paris. The street is strewn with flowers. Hitler stands upright in his official car and returns the salutes of his greeters.

Adolf Hitler in Berlin on July 6, 1940  (Getty Images)

The imposing, four-door convertible “Super Mercedes” is one of a handful of cars used by the German High Command that have a well-documented connection to Hitler himself, including parading him through Berlin after the defeat of France in 1940 and after the invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece in 1941. Benito Mussolini also got a ride in it during a visit to Germany.

The partially-armored car eventually fell out of this use and turned up in France, where it was captured after the war by American forces who, no doubt unaware of its notoriety, assigned it to a military police motor pool for several months.


In 1946, the car found its way into private hands in Belgium, and three years after that, an American tobacco merchant purchased it and donated it to the Greenville, N.C., branch of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Ironically, like many other vehicular trophies from the war, it was rolled out for patriotic parades, according to Robert Klara, author of “The Devil’s Mercedes: The Bizarre and Disturbing Adventures of Hitler’s Limousine in America,” which chronicles the controversial legacy of this car and others from the Fuehrer’s fleet.

The car later sat for years in a garage and had been nearly forgotten in 1976 when collectors Steve Munson and Joe Ogden purchased it for $50,000. When they discovered its possible ties to Hitler, they spent another $50,000 to restore it.


Munson and Ogden publicized the car and displayed it in several venues before it was sold twice more for unknown amounts. (One of the sales was rumored to be on the order of $1 million). In 1983, it found a home at the Imperial Palace Collection in Las Vegas, an enormous car museum owned by Ralph Engelstad, a casino operator. Engelstad had a private room full of Nazi relics in which he held Hitler-themed birthday parties that got him slapped with a $1.5 million fine from Nevada gaming authorities.

After Engelstad died in 2002, the car and several other Mercedes from the collection were sold to a European collector. It was sold again in 2009 to an anonymous buyer known only to be a wealthy Russian businessman, who displayed it briefly in a Moscow car museumto celebrate the Russian-led Soviet Union’s role in defeating the Nazis.


Michael Fröhlich, the German car dealer who brokered the sale, would not confirm how much the Russian businessman paid for the car, citing confidentiality stipulations. But to the best of his knowledge, he said, it hasn’t been sold since.

Now it likely will be — and in the same city where what turned out to be a phony Hitler-linked Mercedes was sold amid protests and bomb threats for a then-record $153,000 in 1973.

Ken Jacobson, deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the organization isn’t so much concerned about next month’s auction itself as it is about what will happen to the car afterward.


“We understand there is a market for war memorabilia and that serious collectors are interested in items like this,” Jacobson told Fox News. “While we don’t have an issue with Nazi-era automobiles like this going up for auction, we would not want to see the vehicle winding up in the hands of someone who would use it to glorify Hitler or the deeds of the Nazis. Ideally, we would prefer to see it housed in a museum, so that it could be understood in its proper context.”

Klara agrees. He said the car is a legitimate World War II timepiece, but it’s also a “socially radioactive one that needs to be handled in a historically responsible way, because there isn’t anyone who doesn’t have an opinion on a car like this….

“The onus is on the owner to present it in a correct, culturally sensitive context. That’s the job of a museum, but a tougher task for a private collector.”

Just how much the car will sell for remains to be seen. One of America’s most prominent classic car valuation experts, who asked to remain anonymous, said a Mercedes-Benz like this is likely worth $5 million to $7 million, but this one, given its historical significance, could sell for double that.

Whatever it goes for, the auction house said the seller has promised to donate 10 percent of the proceeds to an unidentified organization dedicated to Holocaust education.

Gary Gastelu is’s Automotive Editor. Follow him on Twitter @garygastelu

Ukraine And Russian ‘Rebels’ Conduct Large Prisoner Swap



(HORLIVKA, Ukraine) — Ukrainian authorities and Russian-backed separatist rebels on Wednesday conducted the biggest exchange of prisoners since the start of an armed conflict in the country’s east and a sign of progress in the implementation of a 2015 peace deal.

Rebels from the self-proclaimed separatist republics in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions handed over 74 captives, while Ukraine‘s government delivered 233. Some had been held for more than a year.

Larisa Sargan, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office, said on Facebook that one of the 74 prisoners released by the separatists indicated she would stay in Donetsk.

Carrying their belonging, the prisoners were turned exchanged in the town of Horlivka and the village of Zaitseve, in an area dividing the separatist regions and Ukraine. One held a cat.

“I’m out of hell. I have survived,” said Yevhen Chudentsov, who served with one of Ukraine’s volunteer battalions in the east and was taken prisoner in February 2015.

Chudentsov said he faced threats and beatings while in rebel custody, and his front teeth were knocked out. He was initially sentenced to capital punishment, which was later changed to 30 years in prison. He said after his release in Horlivka that he would join the Ukrainian military again.

The exchange was supervised by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a trans-Atlantic security and rights group that has deployed monitors to eastern Ukraine.

The OSCE welcomed the swap and urged the two sides to build on the momentum from it.

“Allowing such a significant number of people, who have been held on both sides, to return home before the New Year and Orthodox Christmas is a very welcome development,” said Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, the OSCE chairman. “Today’s exchange is not only a humanitarian act but also a helpful step in confidence-building.”

Ukraine was supposed to release 306 people, but dozens chose to stay in Ukraine or had been freed earlier, said Viktor Medvedchuk, who monitored the exchange on the Ukrainian side.

Many of the captives were not combatants. Some were activists and bloggers who were charged with spying or treason.

Anatoly Slobodyanik, one of the prisoners traded by Ukraine, said he didn’t want to go to the rebel side and would return to his home town of Odessa.

“I’m not guilty of anything and I don’t want to go to the other side,” he said.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko praised the Ukrainian prisoners held by the rebels for their endurance.

“I’m grateful to all those who remained loyal to Ukraine in those unbearable conditions,” Poroshenko said while greeting the free captives. “They have shown their adherence to the principles of freedom and independence.”

The Ukrainian leader also hailed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron for helping organize the exchange.

Merkel and Macron welcomed the swap, saying in a joint statement that they “encourage the parties to the conflict also to enable the exchange of the remaining prisoners, grant the International Committee of the Red Cross full access and support the ICRC’s search for missing people.”

The simmering conflict between the separatists and government troops in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014.

The 2015 deal brokered by France and Germany and signed in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, envisioned a prisoner exchange, but the two sides argued continuously over lists of captives and only a few dozen had been traded prior to Wednesday. Separatist leaders and a Ukrainian government representative finally agreed to the exchange last week, with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church acting as mediator.

Merkel and Macron emphasized that the exchange and a recommitment to a comprehensive cease-fire “should also serve to build up confidence between the parties to the conflict, also with a view to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.”

A Jewish woman sits on a park bench marked “Only for Jews”, 1938

((Photo credit: Institute for Contemporary History and Wiener Library))


A concentration camp victim identifies a SS guard, 1945

((Photo credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum / Harold Royall).)


Russian survivor liberated U.S. Army in Buchenwald camp in Germany identified a former guard who were brutally beating prisoners. April 14, 1945. Colorized version. The original photograph.

Russian survivor liberated by the U.S. Army in Buchenwald camp in Germany identified a former guard who were brutally beating prisoners. April 14, 1945. Colorized version. The original photograph.

The picture depicts a liberated Russian inmate pointing an identifying and accusing finger at a Nazi guard who was especially cruel towards the prisoners in Buchenwald camp (original picture). There’s something really fascinating about this picture. We can only see so much of the prisoner’s expression here, but that finger means so much. Days, maybe even hours earlier, that prisoner might have been afraid to cross paths with or even make eye contact with this man. Now he’s casting an accusatory finger that’s as well as pointing a gun at the back of the man’s head, and the defeated look on his face seems horribly aware of that.

That medal on the guard’s chest looks like a World War One imperial wound badge, meaning this guard fought for the German Imperial Army during the Great War. The badge is the black variant (3rd class, representing Iron) and was given to those wounded once or twice by hostile action (including air raids), or frostbitten in the line of duty.

After the outbreak of World War II, Buchenwald continued to house political prisoners and, later, Poles and Russians. Most inmates worked as slave labourers at nearby work sites in 12-hour shifts around the clock. There were some 18,000 prisoners after Kristallnacht, 11,000 on the eve of the war, 63,000 by the end of 1944, and 86,000 in February 1945, when Buchenwald became the destination for some of the inmates forcibly evacuated from Auschwitz.

Although there were no gas chambers, hundreds perished each month from disease, malnutrition, exhaustion, beatings, and executions. Camp records indicate that throughout its existence some 240,000 prisoners from at least 30 countries were confined at Buchenwald. At least 10,000 were shipped to extermination camps, and some 43,000 people died at the camp.

(Photo credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum / Harold Royall).

Can The German President Bail Chancellor Merkel Out Of Political Jam?



Frank-Walter Steinmeier: Can Germany’s ‘anti-Trump’ end Merkel’s political crisis?

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has been thrust into the limelight this week after coalition talks collapsed.

(CNN)Just over a year ago, Frank-Walter Steinmeier was nominated for the job of German President. “My joy at the task is great,” he said in an acceptance speech in Berlin.

But not everyone was happy.
Some doom-mongers grumbled that Steinmeier was much too important for him to be “consigned to the periphery of power.”
After all, as Torben Luetjen and Lars Geiges wrote in their biography of Steinmeier, German presidents “don’t really have to make many decisions.”
That all changed on Monday.
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After coalition talks to form a new government unexpectedly collapsed late on Sunday, dealing a blow to longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel, it was President Steinmeier — a man more accustomed to unveiling monuments than dirtying his hands with parliamentary politics — who was given the unenviable task of restoring order.
This week he’s meeting with five party leaders, urging them to restart talks — or begin new ones.
If they refuse, Steinmeier is the man who could set the country on a complicated path to new elections — unprecedented in post-war German history.
“Courage is the lifeblood of democracy,” he said in his first speech as President in March this year. He’ll need plenty of that in the days and weeks ahead.
So who is Frank-Walter Steinmeier?

The pragmatic bureaucrat

Steinmeier’s journey from a working-class home in northwest Germany — his father was a carpenter and his mother a factory worker — to the office of the President is a remarkable one.
But he’s otherwise unremarkable, according to Luetjen. “There’s nothing extraordinary about him … He’s usually described as someone rather dull.”
Steinmeier’s first foray into politics came in 1991 when he took a job with Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder — state president at the time and later German Chancellor — and was soon running his office.
According to Luetjen, Steinmeier quickly began to fit the mold of a typical German bureaucrat.

As German Foreign Minister, Steinmeier supported Barack Obama's bid for the presidency and the two men worked closely together. Steinmeier has spoken much less favorably about President Trump.

His two stints as Foreign Minister — during which he tackled a military crisis in Ukraine, Greece’s financial meltdown and unprecedented levels of refugee arrivals to Europe and was instrumental in negotiating the nuclear deal with Iran — only confirmed that impression.
He may not be “overly exciting,” as Luetjen admits, but he’s pragmatic, patient and rarely fazed.
“He’s good at finding deals and talking to all sides,” says Luetjen. “Now that we have this situation — close to a constitutional crisis — those are talents that are really needed.”

The deal maker

Steinmeier’s nomination as President came as a surprise to many. He’s a man who “enjoyed real power,” Luetjen explains.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, the previously powerful role of President became largely ceremonial.
He or she is the public face of the nation, a German ambassador to the world. When Steinmeier speaks, people listen.
But he’s not known as a great speaker. And “he didn’t seem comfortable with becoming a public figure” at the start of his presidency, Luetjen says.

On Tuesday, Steinmeier met with Christian Lindner, leader of the Free Democrats and the man who announced his party's withdrawal from coalition talks Sunday night.

He believes that Steinmeier — the deal maker, the man who “likes to get things done” — will be embracing the challenge of restoring order in the currently chaotic German political landscape.
“Now he’s back, doing real politics,” Luetjen says.

What are his chances of success?

Luetjen and Geiges describe Steinmeier as the “master of anti-chaos.”
“If anyone can (make a breakthrough), then it’s him,” says Luetjen. “Yes, I think he’s capable of doing this.”
Making a brief statement from his official residence on Monday afternoon, Steinmeier had the aura of a disapproving school principal admonishing a group of unruly students.
He urged all parties to come to the table and refused to entertain the possibility of fresh elections — the option favored by Merkel and Martin Schulz, leader of Steinmeier’s own Social Democratic Party.
“I expect everyone to be willing to negotiate to make it possible to form a government in the foreseeable future,” he said. Responsibility can’t simply be “handed back to the voters.”

Despite their different party allegiances, Steinmeier has worked closely with Chancellor Angela Merkel since 2005 and they share a pragmatic, cautious approach to politics.

For all his caution and composure, Steinmeier does not mince his words. Three months before Donald Trump was elected US President, Steinmeier (then foreign minister) described him as a “hate preacher.”
And speaking just after Trump’s election, Steinmeier made no attempt to disguise his deep disappointment. “Nothing will be easier (now),” he said, “lots will be more difficult.”
He has even been described in the German media as the “anti-Trump.”
Steinmeier has spoken out strongly against the rise of populism in Germany too, embodied in the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD), which entered the federal Parliament for the first time in September’s election, winning 12.6% of the vote.
Despite the country’s history, Germany is not immune to populism and the damage it does to democracy, Steinmeier warned in March.
With Merkel partly to blame for the AfD’s recent success — according to some German politicians — and weakened by a poor election result and failed coalition talks, Steinmeier is the “most stable figure in German politics right now,” according to Luetjen.
“He’s the last survivor of a generation. And he might be the right federal president at the right time.”
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