Wednesday, February 10, 2016

World War Wednesdays: Pieces of Warsaw, No. 1

The wall separating the Warsaw ghetto from the Aryan side of the city
     As I mentioned a few posts ago, I'm currently taking the Holocaust course at uOttawa, which is a topic I've studied informally my whole life. The professor, Dr. Jan Grabowski, is an award-winning figure in the field of Holocaust studies, and co-founded the Polish Center for Holocaust research.

     Almost two weeks ago, Dr. Grabowski presented us with an assignment which I found to be a profound experience in historical research, and I wanted to share it with readers as a sort of follow-up post to the one on Emmanuel Ringelblum. All document translations were done by Jan Grabowski, and I have obtained his permission for use of them as well as discussion of his assignment.

     To begin, we were given three documents which were found in the archive that Emmanuel Ringelblum buried under the Warsaw ghetto, along with the translations into English. We then had to conduct research to identify all places and names found in the document, as well as outline the historical context in order to know as much about the circumstances as possible. The goal was to find as much information as we could so that Dr. Grabowski could determine our levels of research capability. (We weren't allowed to collaborate or share answers so he requested that I post this blog after the due date had passed).

     Here's the first document he gave us:
It says:
                                                                                               Warsaw, 28 April 1942
The Chief of the Prosecutor’s Office                                     To the Special Court
of the Special Court                                                                In Warsaw



Buki, Hinda, Jewess
born 22 February 1919, brush maker, single
resident in Warsaw, Krochmalna street 17 apt. 171
currently in prison, Gesia street 24.              

Is accused of having left the Jewish Living Area.

Being a  Jewess, she has left, on March 20, 1942, without authorization, the area assigned to the Jews in Warsaw.

This is a violation of § 4 b of the Decree of 13 September 1940 and October 15, 1941 concerning the Limitations of Residence for Jews in the General Government.


The declaration of the accused

The accused is a Jewess, she has admitted to having left the Jewish Quarter in Warsaw without authorization, in order to go begging.


I request: 1. To prepare proceedings in front of the Special Court in Warsaw
                2. To extend the period of arrest for the accused who poses a flight risk.

Dr. Peter

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Saturday Sightings- The Hooded Warbler

Happy Saturday Everyone!  I saw this bright beauty multiple times last summer at Backus-Page House Museum.

Another New World warbler is the hooded warbler, which breeds in eastern North America and winters in Central America and the West Indies.  This species is a small bird and mid-sized warbler, with a plain olive/green-brown colouring on its back and yellow underparts.  Males have yellow faces as well, with distinctive black hoods and the females have an olive-green cap.  Until the male gets its black cap at around 9-12 months, they are easily confused with females.

As with the American redstart, the hooded warbler also feeds on insects, found in low vegetation or caught mid-air.  These birds lay 3-5 eggs in a cup-shaped nest in low areas of bush, which is a part of their broadleaved woodlands habitat with dense undergrowth.  In areas where woodlands are protected or recovering, the population of this species of bird is stable and potentially increasing, however the hooded warbler is often a victim of brood parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird. 
Take care!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

World War Wednesdays: From Gloves to Grease: Princess Elizabeth During WWII

    One of the most fascinating aspects of the Second World War is the way in which it affected every person who lived through it. People around the world of all ages and social standing, both males and females, were thrown into the chaos. We regularly discuss local folks and everyday heroes who rose to the occasion and made their mark on history, but I thought it would be interesting this week to talk about how our current and longest-reigning monarch answered the call and got her hands dirty with the best of them.

     When war was declared in September 1939, King George V and Queen Elizabeth sent the two young princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret to live at Windsor Castle, just outside London because they felt it would be safer than Buckingham Palace. The girls' parents remained at the palace and visited them on weekends. The Royal Mews were also moved to the castle, where the horses were put to work on the farm. The sisters remained there until the end of the war in 1945. Many people thought it was dangerous for the King and Queen to remain in the city during the heavy bombing of the Blitz in 1940, but Queen Elizabeth insisted, "The princesses will not leave us, I cannot leave the King and the King will never leave".

     During the height of the Battle of Britain, the young princess gave her first public address on 13 October 1940. Broadcast over the radio during the BBC Children's Hour, it was a message to British youngsters who had been evacuated from the cities to safety in the Empire. A 1947 article by Irving Wallace for Collier's magazine describes this address:
     "In a voice very much like her mother's, pretending to read from a script she had already memorized, Elizabeth went through her paces while her sister Margaret stood at a distance behind her, and the king and queen watched from an adjacent room. As she finished her last words, Elizabeth suddenly stopped, said extemporaneously, "My sister is by my side, and we are both going to say good night to you-- come on, Margaret!" Margaret appeared, murmured good night, and then Elizabeth returned to the microphone and added, "Good night, and good luck to you all!" Since royalty never extemporizes on official occasions, this interjection shook her parents, but created a happy sensation throughout the Empire."
     You can hear the speech here:

     By 1942, young Elizabeth was sixteen years old. According to Wallace, she wanted to join up in one of the women's services to do her part in the war effort. Her father took it up with the Minister of Labor, but it was decided that Elizabeth's training for the throne was most important and she should not enlist in anything. Feeling that she would be a slacker and carry the guilt for the rest of her life, she relentlessly persisted. Just before her nineteenth birthday in 1945, her father finally gave in and she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) as an auto mechanic and driver. Though she still slept at the castle, she spent her days working with oil, valves, and engines from 10:00 to 5:00. One of her greatest joys was getting dirt under her nails and grease stains on her hands to show to her friends. Here is a clip of her in action:
Elizabeth (far right) has her work inspected by her parents
     The training was accepted by her parents until it came time for her to be put into real action. Wallace describes the anxiety caused by her final test as a truck driver:
     "At graduation, a new crisis was provoked. Every ATS student, for her final exam, was was required to drive a truck from the camp to busy London. The king and queen went into a hurried conference with Mr. Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary, about this. It was agreed that Elizabeth must not take this exam, since she might be involved in an accident. When the trio came out to announce their decision, they found a grinning Elizabeth guiding a lumbering camouflage truck into the palace gates. She had made the complete journey, from Chamberley to London, through the thickest traffic and twice around Piccadilly Circus, on her own, because she wanted to attend a party at the palace-- and hear the royal decision on her final exam."

     At any rate, the war ended soon after she finished her training. On 8 May 1945, VE Day, Elizabeth appeared with her parents, Margaret, and Winston Churchill on the Buckingham Palace balcony to greet the cheering crowds. In the evening, the two princesses, escorted by police officers, were allowed to mingle among the crowds celebrating the end of the war.
     I hope this post sheds some light on what a spirited and plucky young girl the Queen was, and how hard she tried to contribute to the struggle being carried on by her people. Wallace's article is courtesy of, and other information is supplemented by 

     Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

P.S. Stay tuned next week for a very interesting post which I was eager to make this week but have been asked to postpone!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Backus-Page at West Elgin Secondary School Loonie Auction

Backus-Page House Museum is contributing three auction prizes/experiences and will have a table of various gift shop items and elimination draw tickets for attendees to purchase.  If you need a bidding paddle, we have some to sell.  Contact the office at 519-762-3072 or  

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

World War Wednesdays: Wartime Sweethearts Reunited

     Valentine's Day is fast approaching, and it seems that no matter how much we try to run from it, the season of love is impossible to escape! Stories like this one make it much easier to handle, however, and this kind of love is truly what Valentine's Day is all about. This touching tale was in the news quite a lot lately, and I've been following it since it started appearing. It's too amazing not to share this week, and I hope it warms your heart.

     In 1944, twenty-one year-old Norwood Thomas was stationed overseas with the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division. While in England, he came across sixteen year-old Joyce Durant near London, "a pretty little thing," as he described her. The pair quickly became close, but neither of them knew at the time that Norwood was only months away from having to head off to France. When asked to describe his time getting to know Joyce, Norwood said:
     "All I can say is it was long enough for me to become smitten... For me to decide that this is a girl I want to marry and want to live with."

     In June of that year, their romance was cut short when Norwood was sent to France as part of the D-Day operations. After the war, he returned home to Virginia without getting the chance to see Joyce again or say goodbye. Despite his best efforts by mail, he was unable to convince her to come to America and be his wife, as she was in training to become a nurse at the time. The two eventually lost touch and Norwood married another woman, who he described in a CBS interview as "a good woman, who helped my mixed-up head get straight."

     After her death in 2001, the veteran began reminiscing about his long-lost wartime love. Ironically enough, she was doing the same thing on the other side of the war.That's where the Internet stepped in to get the ball rolling.

     According to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper, now eight-eight year-old Joyce lives in Australia under her married name, Joyce Morris. She also found herself single again, and late last year asked her son Rob if he could find someone on his computer for her. After searching for "Norwood Thomas, 101st Airborne," he found an online article which mentioned the now ninety-three year-old D-Day paratrooper. The writer of that piece was able to put him in touch with his mother's wartime boyfriend, and a plans for a reunion soon started developing. This past November 6, with the help of each of their sons, Norwood and Joyce were able to speak to each other for the first time in over 70 years via Skype.

     According to the Virginian-Pilot, their conversation lasted two hours and covered everything from what each of them had done with their lives to sports, politics, the good times they'd had while dating, and the challenges of old age. Unfortunately, Joyce has lost most of her vision. "Do you see me now?" Asked Norwood, to which she replied "No, I can't see properly."
     "Well, I'll tell ya, I'm smiling,"
said Norwood, which made her smile and joke, "I bet you are."
     At one point, the pair showed off the photographs they'd kept of each other from way back when. 
     "I remember you were walking with me one day, and the girls coming this way all had a silly look on their faces. Then I look sideways, and you're winking at them!" Joyce remembered, laughing. "Not me! I would never wink at another girl," replied Norwood, also laughing. "You were such a scalawag, you," Joyce shot back.

     The Virginian-Pilot's feature on Joyce and Norwood's digital reunion ended with his telling her he wished he could give her a hug. "The only problem is, I can't take you in my arms and give you a squeeze... What would you do if I could give you a little squeeze?" He asked towards the end of their chat. "Oh, it would be lovely," Joyce replied. "We could always do with a hug, can't we? Whatever age we are."

     Given the distance between them, the pair never thought they would actually be able to have that hug. However, the Internet stepped in once again to bring them together. Local news coverage of the Skype call back in November was picked up by outlets around the world and warmed the hearts of many. One woman where Norwood lives, in Virginia Beach, was so taken with the story that she decided to set up a GoFundMe campaign after having consulted with Norwood for permission. Her goal was to raise enough money to send him to Australia for an in-person reunion with Joyce. After receiving over $7,500, the campaign was recently halted when Air New Zealand stepped in to cover his entire trip, first class, as well as accompaniment by his son. 

     Norwood is a bit nervous about the reunion, but is counting down the days until he is able to see Joyce again. "I am going to a world that I have never seen and meeting a woman I haven't seen in seventy years... Seventy years is a long time, and at the time it was very intense, and it took a while for that to die, and we will find out if it died completely," he said when reflecting on his upcoming February 8 trip. He's already planned out what he's going to do right away: "That's the first thing I'm going to do, I'm going to give her a squeeze."

     Hopefully this story warmed your heart as much as it did mine! I can't wait to see more about these two and the coverage of their reunion this February. If you'd like to see some video from their Skype conversation, you can watch here: Big thanks to CBC for publishing such a refreshingly nice article.

Thanks for reading,

P.S. if you'd like to keep up with me on more days than just Wednesdays, you can follow me on Twitter @DLeitchHistory :)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Saturday Sightings- The American Redstart

Happy Saturday Everyone!  We continue our blogs this week with another bird that can be found in our John E. Pearce Provincial Park.

This type of bird is a New World Warbler, unrelated to Old World redstarts, and it derives its name from the red tail of the males and the word “start” being an old word for tail.  Though not always the case, this species of New World warbler appears to be one that is the most stable and abundant.  The American redstart is a migratory bird, spending its winter in northern South America, the West Indies and Central America, often found in shade-grown coffee plantations in these areas, as well as spending time occupying shrubby areas along their journey.

These birds breed in open woodlands or scrub, usually near water and lay 2-5 eggs in a nest in the lower part of a bush.  The American redstart is mostly monogamous, but as many as 40% of offspring are not fathered by the male of the pair.  Males are very territorial and those that are superior occupy the best habitats, while those who are inferior occupy secondary habitats such as dry scrub forests verses moist mangroves. 
Redstarts eat almost only insects and catch them while in the air.  This species has been seen flashing the orange and yellow of their tails, on and off, to startle and chase insects from the underbrush as well, their diet consisting mainly of moths, flies, small wasps, spiders and aphids to name a few. 
Take care and have a great week ahead!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

World War Wednesdays: Profile of a Hero: Emmanuel Ringelblum

     I've probably mentioned this on the blog a thousand times, but at the center of my history obsession is a deep passion for studying the Holocaust, which I've had since I was about eight years old. At that young age, I was introduced to Anne Frank's diary and a wide range of other books being published at the time to try and connect children with this difficult topic through the stories of real children. I've continued the reading and studying until now, and have just begun one of the most well-known history courses at uOttawa, The Holocaust with Dr. Jan Grabowski. I should warn you now that things may seem a bit darker now that I'll be dealing with this period more regularly, but they are stories that I think everyone can connect with in some way.

     On the very first day, Dr. Grabowski introduced us with the story of a man which has been in the back of my mind ever since, and I thought I would share it with readers today. It is of Emmanuel Ringelblum, a true hero both of history and for history.

Emanuel Ringelblum with his wife Yehudit and their son Uri
     Ringelblum was born into a Jewish family in Buczacz, Poland (present-day Ukraine) in 1900. In 1927, he earned a doctorate degree in history from the University of Warsaw, and was also active in public affairs. He belonged to the Po'alei Zion (a Marxist-Zionist Jewish workers' movement), taught high school for a brief period, and then worked for the Joint Distribution Committee in Poland.

     In November of 1938 the Committee sent him to the border town of Zbaszyn, where he was put in charge of 6,000 Jewish refugees who were forced out of Germany and not allowed into Poland. After five weeks in this role, his experiences had a great impact on him.

     Following Germany's invasion of Poland in September 1939, Ringelblum continued working for the JDC, running soup kitchens and welfare programs for the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto. He and his friend Menahem Linder also founded a society for the advancement of Yiddish culture in the ghetto.

     In 1923, several Jewish historians in Poland formed a historical society, of which Ringelblum was also a leader and prominent contributing scholar. He edited the society's publications, and by 1939 had himself published 126 scholarly articles.

     Seeing the ways in which Jewish culture was slowly being destroyed in the ghetto and across Poland prompted him to begin his greatest achievement only a few months into the war: the secret Oneg Shabbat Archive. The name means "Sabbath Pleasure," and reflected how its members met in secret on Saturday afternoons. In the beginning, the archive would collect reports and stories from Jews who had come to the ghetto seeking help from the self aid organizations.
Emanuel Ringelblum with the members of board of the International History Congress 1933
     Ringelblum spent his days collecting information, and wrote his notes at night. He knew that what was happening to the Jews was unprecedented, and was determined to make a complete record of time and place for historians in the future. As an historian himself, he knew exactly how to go about doing this. He and his colleagues would collect information and write about towns, villages, the ghetto, the resistance movement, and the deportation and extermination of the Jews in Poland. Towards the end of the Warsaw ghetto, the archivists were sending out every bit of information they had about the murders to the Polish underground, who in turn smuggled it out of the country. Ringelblum's archive thus helped to expose Nazi atrocities to the rest of the world.

     All of the Oneg Shabbat materials were preserved in three milk cans and buried beneath the Warsaw ghetto. In March 1943, Ringelblum and his family escaped from the ghetto and went into hiding in a non-Jewish part of Warsaw. He returned to the ghetto in the midst of its infamous uprising and was deported to the Trawniki labor camp, but escaped with the help of a Polish man and Jewish woman. He and his family went back into hiding, but their hideout was discovered in March 1944. Soon after, Ringelblum, his family, and the other Jews he had been hiding were taken to the ruins of the ghetto and murdered.

     One of the buried archival sites was discovered in 1946 and a second in 1950, and the other has yet to be found. The materials inside them and Ringelblum's own written chronicles constitute the most comprehensive and valuable source we have for information concerning the Jews in occupied Poland. It also speaks to a remarkable quality of human character that, when pushed to an extreme level of persecution and destruction of identity, showed resilience and resourcefulness in the face of the enemy and has endured long after the last blow has been struck.

     Ringelblum's archive is one of those stories that seems to speak directly from historian to historian, regardless of time and language. This penchant for collecting, writing, and publishing can have so much power and profound significance, and Emmanuel Ringelblum remains a true hero and inspiration for those who follow him in this field.

     Information courtesy of Yad Vashem and Dr. Jan Grabowski.

Thanks for reading,