Commentary on Old Age

I heard a story recently from someone I know who told me that their father was adopted during the Second World War. In fact, he wasn’t even adopted, but sold illegally. I thought I’d write about that, but instead I’ve been a bit distracted, and can’t seem to think about writing.

I had a call on Tuesday from my sister. She said that my granddad fell over in the night, and now he couldn’t get up, had no power in his legs. He was barely speaking. Since Tuesday, he’s been speaking more, but mainly to ask questions. It turns out he’d had a minor stroke. He thought he was in America on Wednesday, though I think that was because the hurricane was plastered all over the news that probably did that, playing with his mind and that.

The strange, or not so strange, thing is, this man, my granddad Roger Allier, or Grand-pere as we all call him, used to help run a country. He was a French Mauritian civil servant who worked alongside Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam who led Mauritius towards independence in 1968. Grand-pere travelled around the world – studied in England, met multiple politicians, even ended up on the front cover of The Washington Post when he was in America. Back in school, he jumped a year ahead, and later fought in the Second World War, helping defend Mauritius against the Japanese who wanted to destroy the sugar cane plantations. Even ten years ago, he was winning crossword puzzles. And at 91, he still has all his own teeth.

 

Of course, Grand-mere, his wife Rita Allier, had to support him through all this, and he couldn’t have been the person he was without her, as is the case for most successful people; they all need some sort of support be it from a partner or a friend or a parent. Even Hitler had a mother.

So anyway, I’m just making a short piece today as I feel like I need to exorcise my confusion – how can someone, anyone, even the least “successful” person, end up so confused? The thing is mind disorders are scary things. Old age is too. The troubling part about it isn’t his lack of energy, but his confusion in everything – where he is, who everyone is etc.

I started writing this post two days ago, but thought it wouldn’t be right, writing about someone who doesn’t know you’re writing about them, and wouldn’t understand if you explained to them. But this is a personal blog about history. And sometimes we write to work things out. I could go on, but there’s one thing my mind always comes back to:

Old people aren’t the other. People see teenagers as the other – they see them as someone different, but we were still once them. People also see old people as the other – depressed, lonely, ill. But they were once us too, and we will be them one day. They aren’t children to be patronised, or morons to pity. Some of them led countries. Some of them murdered. Some of them fell in love. Some of them had amazing adventures. Feeling sad or guilty for them won’t help them, as I am realising. One day, it will be my parents. One day, it will be me, and for that reason, we can’t feel too upset. Everybody gets old.

Everybody gets old and becomes another person’s history.

 

Dangerous Jobs for Women: Sexual Objectification in Science and War

“Support the relief organisation: Mother and Child”

Someone I know had a baby yesterday, and it got me thinking about a post I’ve been thinking of writing for a while. Women are strong to have babies and it’s usually a positive experience. But what can I say? With babies comes sex, and with sex in history, women have usually ended up playing the more … unfavourable roles. I have to warn you – this is strong stuff.

At Christmas, I went to my partner’s grandparents. His grandfather is always telling stories and some of them feature the Second World War. Around the time of the war, I guess it was after, when there were English soldiers in Germany, he was stationed there. He told us about how the soldiers of different nations used to do swaps – items of food and such. Then he said about a young German woman who he spent time with at this point, and used to go and see. He said she had a baby, after she was made pregnant by a German soldier. I said,

“You mean, she was in something like the joy division?”

He said, “Yes.” It almost put me off my food.

The first time I heard the term “Joy Division” was in relation to the late 1970s’ band . The first time I came to learn of what it meant was when I watched the film Control about Ian Curtis – the lead singer of the band. They named their band after a prostitution wing in a concentration camp that featured in the novella The House of Dolls. There were two strong forms of sexual objectification in Nazi Germany: on one side there were brothels with forced prostitutes – joy divisions, on the other, the idealistic baby farms with voluntarily and involuntarily impregnated women. Whilst it’s not proven that the novella is based on any diaries, researchers have evidence of female prisoners being bussed through Nazi concentration camps to become sex slaves  in the brothels of the men’s army barracks. This was Himmler’s idea – what better way to relieve his hard working men? So female prisoners were forced into prostitution. Though the Nazis maintained they were against brothels, they had state-run prostitution houses throughout Europe. And for female prisoners, threatened into it or coerced into becoming prostitutes through promises of decent food and their release from the brothel in half a year, it was the only chance they had to save their lives.

Aryan baby farms were another disturbing component of the grand Nazi regime that sought to establish their super Aryan race, in which SS men fathered “super babies”. Blonde hair, blue eyes – you know the rest. Either children with the right look were stolen from their parents across Europe, or they were produced by Aryan couples, or impregnated women. After the war, many of these Aryan babies were hidden away shamefully from society, in mental institutions and the like. In this article, it’s interesting that one of these men who was once a super baby, surmises that had the Nazis won, he may have been someone of high office in the Nazi leadership today. And people like me wouldn’t be alive. He was born amongst 2,800 other babies at the Third Reich’s first breeding centre in Lebensborn which means “spring of life”. The plans were drawn up for these farms by Hitler and his men, including Himmler (again), as far back as 1932.

And the so-called “pure-bred” women involved?

Racial selection agents scouted out innocent women in countries across the world that Hitler planned to overrun, to become mothers, or more correctly, baby mules. Many of these women were forcefully taken to Lebensborn, and alongside voluntary women, become the bearers of the “super race”. Married couples were also encouraged to have sex elsewhere to help produce this blonde haired Aryan race (personally, I think the Scandinavians beat them to it), and the women who volunteered to have up to four babies received the Mother’s Cross – the Mutterkreuz:

Many of these babies survived, some were experimented upon, but any with disabilities were killed. The idea of women being forced into this position is horrendous, but the idea of women volunteering for it baffles me. Or at least it used to, until I watched a programme about another “super race”.

After the Russian revolution in 1917, and more importantly, the death of Lenin in 1924, the Soviets looked into the idea of creating a brand new super race themselves – between man and ape. This idea was fronted by the Bolsheviks – a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (try saying that first thing in the morning), who were worried that their ideas would die out with their lives. So to combat this, Stalin ordered the top animal-breeding scientist, Ilya Ivanov, to develop a new race, that would be resistant to illnesses and so live longer. He came up with the idea of mixing human blood with another species, that of an ape. So how did they do it?

He tried to impregnate apes in Africa through artificial insemination, but when this failed, he tried the opposite: women volunteers were to be impregnated with ape sperm. Some women signed up. But this operation also failed, when the only postpubescent male ape left in the study died. When this also failed, Ivanov was sent to prison and then exiled in Kazakhstan.

So why did the women sign up? They felt they had a strong patriotic duty to their country, as did, I’m sure, the Nazi women volunteers of the baby farming program. They believed they were the first steps toward a super race, and they were proud to create human-ape hybrids.

A darker side of Russian history concerning the treatment of women is what happened after the Second World War, when the Red Army (the Workers’ and Peasants’ Army) “freed” the countries of Eastern Europe from Nazi occupation.

“Facism is woman’s worst enemy. All on the fight with facism!”

“Revenge for the people’s misery!”

“Glory to the liberators of Ukraine!”

It’s a well-known fact that as the Soviets marched through Europe, they raped woman after girl after woman “from eight to 80” years old including those in Russia. It’s so well-known in fact, that the Russian government today ignores it. Which doesn’t make sense. Or at least, there is now a law in Russia that prevents people from promoting anything negative against Russian history – this included. Surely these rape victims deserve some sort of apology? Instead, they face denial. If only these idealistic posters were true to life. Alas. Propaganda never is.

Russia wasn’t the only nation to sexually abuse women and girls during the Second World War. Japan is known to have stolen young women and girls, some barely teenagers, and forced them into becoming sex slaves for the soldiers. I always remember reading one account from a woman who was 14 at the time, and she was playing in her front garden when a man pulled up in a car. He got out and asked her if she wanted to go for a ride in his car. She said, “Yes.” He never took her back home.

These girls and women were known as “comfort women” – as they “comforted” the Japanese soldiers. They weren’t just from Japan, but also a number of other countries including Korea, China, the Philippines and many more. One woman, Jan Ruff-O’Herne, explains how not only was she systematically beaten and raped every night, but also how she and others were raped by the Japanese doctor who checked them for venereal disease. At least some Japanese leaders have apologised to these women.

Finally, I come to the treatment of “Nazi Collaborators” at the end of the Second World War. Across the European nations, civilians were turning on themselves, accusing and punishing others for “collaborating” with the Nazis. Whilst there were a lot of collaborators during the war in Nazi-occupied countries, many people were simply trying to get on with life, and accepting Nazi soldiers was a part of that. For many, this was it – this was the forseeable future. In places like the Channel Islands and France, their governments had failed them – so what hope was there? In particular, I always found the treatment of French women at the end of the Second World War horrific. These so-called “German collaborators” were made an example of in their towns and villages – they had their heads shaved as a form of desexualisation and were paraded around like cattle at an auction.

These were young women, many of them teenagers, and many were simply prostitutes who treated every man with the same value: as trade. And there were male collaborators too, so why did these women bear the brunt of fraternising with the enemy? Yes, a couple of the French leaders were imprisoned, but what of the civilian male population? The not so funny thing is that although some of these French women were prostitutes, they were the ones that inevitably paid the price for their sexual encounters.

There are more stories and facts from more modern history concerning these issues, but I think that’s enough for now. Instead, I’m going to go and look at nice pictures of a newborn baby. And I’ll be thinking to myself: What a relief that I live here and now.