Posts Tagged Hitler

A Piece of History of WWII at The Marsh, SF – Review


Marsh Theater at 1062 Valencia in San Francisco is a friendly, laid back, 110 seat theater attached to a community art center, and is surrounded by stunning shops, cafes, lovely fusion food places, and avant garde artistic shops. The theater itself  is a lovely place for writers and performers to easily develop no-frill performances.

In a recent performance that I attended, “A History of WWII: The D-Day Invasion to the Fall of Berlin”, multi award-winning actor and playwright, John Fisher took the audience on a whirlwind journey of or the WWII from the period between allied invasion of Normandy to the Fall of Berlin. Much happened during the short time period between June, 1944 and May, 1945 that finally marked the end of Hitler and the fall of Berlin.  

This is a fascinating 85 minutes performance that takes the audience through the final year of the war, when some of the most fateful battles were fought. Fisher is recipient of several awards and in this fast paced solo performance, he does an incredible job of taking the audience through many of the war’s most crucial battles, generals, decisions and throws in information about books and movies that have memorialized these key battles.  I will highly recommend this performance for World War II buffs.

Tickets for this show can be obtained at www.themarsh.org .

I was so fascinated by Fisher’s show that afterwards I went through my notes and learned more details about all the fascinating stories he shared in the show.  I have attempted to summarize some of that history below for anyone wanting a ready reference of the crucial final year of the war.

History of WWI: The D-Day Invasion to the Fall of Berlin

Image result for battle of dunkirkThe Battle of Dunkirk, fought in France, in 1940s had shown that the British had great air force and navy but lacked superior army power to win the war. Fortunately, Hitler’s army halted their advance at the time and it gave the Allies sufficient time to organize the Dunkirk Evacuation where more than 330,000 troops were rescued and it allowed the Allies to build a defensive line. United States was sitting on the side lines. On December 7, 1942, Japanese bombed the American fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. US continued to maintain formal neutrality, mostly supplying ammunition. Japanese forces pursuing territorial expansionism, bombed the American fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. That woke the sleeping giant. The day after Pearl Harbor, the US Congress officially declared war on Japan, and was followed by Britain. Three days later, Germany declared war on the United States. In the end, the US involvement changed the course of the War.

After referring to the history that led to United States joining the war, Fisher goes on play act scenes from the war, as shown in many war movies. In one of the final battles, the allied forces from US, Britain, Canada and Free French forces (later joined by contingents from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece and the Netherlands joined the ground campaign and landed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944 through parachutes, supported by massive air attacks and naval bombardments. Hitler then made a fateful strategic decision. In the aftermath of a failed coup, he recalled General Van Kluge General Kluge feared Hitler’s wrath and killed himself and that was German army’s great loss. Fisher’s description of the failed coup on Hitler, provided much comic relief, in this war story. It is amazing that his dissenting generals made multiple errors in carrying out one of the most impactful acts of their lives.

Image result for Operation market gardenFisher goes on to tell the story of Operation Market Garden, an unsuccessful military operation fought in the Netherlands, planned and led by the British Army, with an objective to seize a series of nine key bridges that could provide the Allies with an invasion route into Germany. While the Allies succeeded in the liberation of several bridges, they failed to secure the last bridge, over the Rhine and thus failed to cross the Rhine. This failed attempt is memorialized in the film, “A Bridge Too Far”. Fisher also gives out names of several reference books on the subject. Germans were still losing but they had not lost the will.

Image result for battle of the bulgeLaunched through the densely forested region in Belgium and Luxembourg, The Battle of the Bulge, was the last major German campaign against the Allies. Germans intended to split the Allied lines.  Due to allied overconfidence and negligence of this region, American forces manned by division of 16 and 17 year olds, bore the greatest brunt of the attack and American forces incurred their highest casualties of any operation during the war. This has been memorialized in the book, “The Ghost Front” written by twin brothers who survived the attack. Fortunately for the Allies, the battle also severely depleted Germany’s armored forces. The “Bulge” was the largest and bloodiest single battle fought by the United States in World War II and the second deadliest battle in American history.

However, until the Battle of the Bulge, America mostly provided resources and fire power. It was Russia that provided the blood, swet, and tears. Stalin was completely oblivious to the suffering and decimation of his troops. Despite significant losses, he continued to provide an inexhaustible supply of troops and ordered Soviet forces to “fight to the last man”, although women also participated in the battle. He also issues, “Not One Step Backward!” rule, which decreed that cowards were to be “liquidated on the spot.” In the end, while America lost slightly more than 400,000 soldiers (killed or missing) and almost no civilians during World War II, the USSR is believed to have lost at least 11,000,000 soldiers (killed and missing) as well as somewhere between 7,000,000 and 20,000,000 million of its civilians. While growing up, Fisher was fascinated by the war and by German generals speaking in interesting accent. But as the story gets closer to the end, the huge cost of war in terms of the lives lost, hangs in the air like a crude reality.Image result for russian army in wwII

Image result for Race to BerlinDespite enormous payout in terms of lives lost, Stalin’s ambitions were not contained and in the final stages of the fall of Berlin, there was a “Race to Berlin”, a sort of competition to enter Berlin between two Soviet marshals who separately commanded their armies to drive their men as fast as they could. Meanwhile American generals Montomery, Patton and even the Brits wanted to continue the advance into Berlin. But Eisenhower made a different choice. He wished to avoid further American casualties which were estimated to be around 100,000 American men, if they were to compete for Berlin. Eisenhower also wished to honor the agreement made with the Soviets at the Yalta Conference and allow Stalin to exert control over Berlin. The Americans leaving Berlin for the Soviets, enabled the Soviets to take the lead, and after the bloody “Battle of Berlin” (where the Soviets engaged in many atrocities and war crimes), the Soviets prevailed.  This forever changed the course of history. Soviets implemented The Iron Curtain, both sides began the race for nuclear arms, and the ensuing Cold War lasted nearly 45 years.

 

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Four beautiful cities in Europe – Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg – July, 2017


We arrived in Munich, Germany and spent the day on our own touring the city, specifically the Central Marienplatz Square surrounded by Neo Gothic landmarks and high end modern stores. Next day we joined organized tour by Cosmos and started driving towards Prague.  On the way, we stopped at Nuremberg, a city in northern Bavaria, distinguished by medieval architecture. The Hauptmarkt (central square) contains the Schöner Brunnen, the gilded “beautiful fountain” with tiers of figures, and Frauenkirche, a 14th-century Gothic church. Strolled the square and enjoyed gelato.

 

 

Prague is capital of new Czech Republic. Part of Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic was in a sort of a time wrap behind the Soviet iron curtain until 1989. When the curtain fell, a McDonald’s opened within 29 minutes and the country has not looked back since. Along with many trappings of the modern society, there are stark reminders of the past. The countryside is still lined up with insipid looking 10+ story buildings, many of them without an elevator, that were used to house the factory workers. The capital city Prague is bisected by the Vltava River and Charles bridge that is lined with statues of Catholic saints. Prague nicknamed “the City of a Hundred Spires,” is known for its Old Town Square, the heart of its historic core, with colorful baroque buildings, Gothic churches and the medieval Astronomical Clock, which gives an animated hourly show. Time was too short to enjoy this city with medieval charm and strong Austrian influence. Prior to World War I, Czechoslovakia was part of the mighty Austro-Hungarian empire. We did a quick deep dive into the history, palaces and churches of the city but I would have loved to spend time with the locals and learn more about how they lived under Soviet influence and relentless propaganda and what was it like to drink change through the fire hose when the curtain fell.

 


Wowed by
Vienna, capital of Austria. If Prague had a medieval feel, Vienna felt regal OR as locals say… It is very ShikiMiki…Situated on the Danube River, Vienna’s artistic and intellectual legacy has been shaped by it’s well known monarch, Maria Teresia and other Hapsburgs and genius artists like Mozart, Beethoven, Strausse and also Sigmund Freud. Strolling through the main square and landmark St. Stevens Cathedral and plague memorial was amazing. Besides tons of gelato, I also greatly enjoyed sunflower seeds bread and Saher chocolate torte at the world famous Saher cafe. Visit through the incredibly gorgeous Schönbrunn Palace and gardens gave an insight into the Habsburgs might and opulence.

 

I was completely blown away by Budapest’s beauty and medieval charm. I did not expect it. Budapest, Hungary’s capital, gets it’s name by merger of two cities Buda and Pest, bisected by the River Danube. Its 19th-century Chain Bridge connects the hilly Buda district with flat Pest. Nicknamed Paris of the East with sweeping vistas all around, and vibrant nightlife, this is a city to enjoy… Hungary, once part of the mighty Austro-Hungarian empire, is now a very small country of 10 million residents of whom 2M reside in Budapest. Hungarians feel bummed out as they were invaded, annexed, and ruled by many Invaders. But I feel due to circumstances or whatever the case may be, Hungary also happened to be on the losing side in both world wars and that loss exacted a stiff price. In WW II, Hungary made a choice to side with Hitler to get away from the Soviet Union but when Germany lost then in the global arena it was a very small country to have a say and it came under the Soviet control…. So Hungary got dinged both ways; first the Nazis took a toll and then under the communistic Soviet control. Fortunately Budapest’s incredible architecture stands intact. There is SO MUCH BEAUTY TO ENJOY HERE. The dinner cruise on the Danube was the highlight of the trip. While the vegetarian food was nothing to swoon about the gorgeous views all around and lighted buildings kept us riveted, with camera in hand.

 

Salzburg, Austria birthplace of Mozart, where the Von Trapp family of Sound of Music lived prior to escaping Hitler and where the movie is shot has sweeping views of the Eastern Alps with medieval and baroque buildings. To me, Sound of Music epitomizes freedom that sets you free to be a better human being and the courage it takes to do what’s right because freedom is a right but it’s also a responsibility and a privilege. On the way to Salzburg, on a rocky outcrop overlooking Danube river, adjoining the Wachau Valley, we saw Melk Abbey, originally built as a castle, it was gifted to become a church and survived threats and political upheavals. What’s an ordinary looking church from outside has entirely gold and gold plated interior with 40 kg of GOLD, its opulence meant to resonate with Benedictine tenet of “Glory to God in Everything!!!!!! At Salzburg, visited the places associated with the filming of the movie, walked through the town and ended up at the main square with it’s landmark cathedral, Mozart’s House, and shops and food.  Bought Austria’s famous marzipan Mozart chocolates and Salzburg Schnapps and of course a day in any city in Europe must include gelato.


We had our farewell dinner in Munich and took pictures, exchanged emails and departed next day with many beautiful memories.

 

 

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The Book Thief – Movie Review


“Here is a small fact.  You are going to die”.  I wasn’t too thrilled when the Grim Reaper began narrating the story and was glad to hear the voice of death only couple of times and only in very short pieces.  This is a story based on the original book by Markus Zusak and adapted for the movie by Michael Petroni.  Movie is directed by Brian Percival.

The story unfolds in Germany, during World War II, between 1938 and 1945. Liesel’s poor mother, unable to care for her children, is compelled to give her up for adoption.  Liesel’s adoptive father, Hans indulges her and teacher her to read, while her adoptive mother Rosa is a bit distant, at first.  Liesel is a bright girl who immediately picks up the linguistic skills and relishes books.  As is the case in all autocratic rules, knowledge is often suppressed, with suppression of freedom of expression, and in Hitler’s Germany, books are burned publicly and very few books have survived.  Liesel discovers a large home library and eventually finds a way to steal books to read, though she says, she is only borrowing them.  Her best friend Rudy promises to keep it a secret but incredulously asks, “people are dying due to lack of food, and you are stealing books”?  But in the end, it is the books that bring Liesel hope and helps the young Jewish man, Max survive, who is hidden by her adoptive parents, in their home, at incredible risk to themselves.  Liesel reads to Max, when he is fighting off poor health, she tells stories when people are taking refuge from the bombs, in the shelter, and she reaches out for a book, when she seems to have lost everyone and everything, as she emerges from the rubble, created from allied bombs.

The casting in the movie “The Book Thief”, is brilliant.  Recently, I heard Alexander Payne, (Director of such films as Nebraska and Dependants) say that 90% of directing is casting.  In “The Book Thief”, each character is marvelously played and that includes the roles of Liesel’s adopted parents, beautifully played by Geoffrey Rush as the kind and caring father, and outwardly stern and practical but inwardly soft mother, played by Emily Watson.  Ben Schnetzer, in the role of Max (son of a Jewish friend of the family) and Nico Liersch as Rudy, are perfect.  But it is Sophie Nelisse, in the role of Liesel, who captured my heart and wowed me, with her acting.  There are many opportunities for over-acting and the story and the plot certainly might compel a less experienced actor to do just that.  However, Nelisse conveys with very simple gestures, smiles, or sometimes by simply looking away, enormous depth of emotion or seriousness of the situation.  I will certainly look for her in other roles. 

The movie has made an effort to bring to screen a best-seller, but as is often the case, it has not succeeded entirely in rising to the level of being unforgettable.  However, overall, it is an engaging plot, great story, and Nelisse’s acting is supsuperb.  I give it a 4 on 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being excellent.

Cover of "The Book Thief"

Cover of The Book Thief

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