Posts Tagged ‘Nazis’

Some days it’s harder to know where you stand than others.

Last month, a white supremacist went on a shooting rampage in Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. All of the victims were senior citizens and a few were Holocaust survivors. That they should live so long and survive so much, just for one hateful man to snuff out their lives, hurts and horrifies me and several other members of the Jewish community on so many levels. In my own response to the shooting, I mentioned I felt connected to the attack in a very personal way. I almost ended up living in Pittsburgh when I was a kid instead of Columbus. Imagine what mght’ve happened if I’d stayed there, and if my synagogue had been Tree of Life?

Since that horrific day, there have been more anti-Semitic incidents. None on the scale as the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, but still horrific. In Baltimore, a man interrupted a performance of Fiddler on the Roof, a play revolving around Jewish characters dealing with change and anti-Semitism, by shouting “Heil Hitler! Heil Trump!”; in Wisconsin, nearly an entire class of graduating high school boys threw up the Hitler salute for a prom photo; in Cleveland, flyers with links to a neo-Nazi website around Case Western University; and in Argentina, soccer fans rioted and shouted “Kill the Jews to make soap!” after a team composed of mainly Jewish players defeated the team whose stadium they were visiting.*

And that’s just the ones I know about. There are probably other incidents that have yet to reach my ears.

I know that what I and the Jewish people is nothing new or out of nowhere. Many minorities are facing discrimination and harassment right now, and it seems to only be growing. Regardless, all these incidents happening within such a short span of time, and after the Pittsburgh shooting to boot, have me on edge. It makes me wonder if this wont become a much bigger trend, where anti-Semitism becomes an everyday occurrence.

It makes me wonder whether or not it’ll be safe to stay in this country much longer. And if it should become too dangerous, where would I go? Canada? Europe? Israel? Would it only be a matter of time before more violence broke out? Before I had to flee from those who would see me dead just for being born a certain faith and heritage?

Still, I have reason to hope and to stave off the fear.

We’ve all heard the poem by Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller, but it bears repeating.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and i did not speak out–
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

While there are still plenty of people who aren’t willing to speak out,** I’ve had the pleasure of knowing plenty of people in and outside the Jewish community and the United States who will speak out against injustice. Many of them I’ve met through blogging and online interaction as well as face-to-face communication. They’ve reached out to me when I needed it and have stood up for me too. I know that well before things get too harsh to live safely in this country, they will come to my side and stand by me.

So if you’re reading this, I urge you to speak out when you see hatred and injustice. Right now it may seem like a struggle not worth going through with insurmountable barriers to face, but it can be done. By showing up to events, by giving to causes, by voting in every election (especially voting in every election!), by sending your voice out through the world to be heard, you can make a difference. And I urge you to do so. If not for us, for you. So you can say you fought to keep the world a little less hateful and a little more kind.

Thanks for letting me talk about this, my Followers of Fear. I know it’s shocking that some things scare me, but it’s true. I’m trying to channel that fear into the story I’m working on now, make it an even better story. Until then, keep safe and pleasant nightmares.

*This incident feels eerily like deja vu to me, because something similar happened to my school’s soccer team in high school. As some of you know, my high school was a Jewish day school, so all the students and half the staff were Jews. One day in my junior year, the soccer team won against another school, and the latter started shouting anti-Semitic names and rants at my school’s team. I don’t remember much beyond that it nearly came to blows, but it goes to show this isn’t a new thing or coming out of nowhere.

**The superintendent of the school district where those students gave the Nazi salute, for example, said she couldn’t punish them for their acts because of First Amendment rights and she “couldn’t be sure” of the intentions of the students. Seems pretty obvious to me, and people get fired or punished for things they say all the time!

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“It’s a movie about Nazi zombies.” From that description alone, you’d think you’d know Overlord inside and out. After all, this subject’s been done before, and it’s usually pretty silly, overly gory, and focuses on some buff action-hero types who cut through the zombies with guns and on as many cheesy deaths as possible. But then you hear JJ Abrams is involved. And that it’s gotten a 81% score on Rotten Tomatoes. And His Royal Scariness Stephen King praises it on Twitter, comparing it to the early work of Stephen Spielberg.

I went to go see it with my cousin today, expecting it to be just as predictable as the movies that came before. What we got instead, to our surprise and delight, was an above average and atmospheric horror film.

Overlord follows Ed Boyce, an African American soldier who is part of a special mission to facilitate the D-Day landings in France in WWII. His unit has to destroy a Nazi radio tower in a converted church in Normandy so the Germans can’t radio for support during the D-Day invasions. However, when they get to the town, they find something weird is happening there. Civilians are being dragged into the church, and those that do come out seem to be changed, and not for the better. Boyce and his unit soon realize they’ve discovered a dark plot that could change the course of the war. Unless they stop it.

As I said, this isn’t what you’d expect with a movie involving Nazi zombies. In fact, the zombies don’t feature as heavily as they might’ve in another film. Rather, director Julius Avery decided to focus more on the horrors of war and the creepy atmosphere, rather than sensationalized gore and violence. And it is effective. Everything, from the war-torn town to the blood and gore, look incredibly realistic. Very little CGI is used, which only makes things more authentic and visceral. I especially liked the Nazi base of operations underneath the church. It’s use of shadow, space and overabundance of creepy and bloody medical equipment reminded me of some of the scariest parts of the video game Outlast.* And as I said, there is an attention to the horrors and privations of war and atmosphere that you really do feel without the zombies being present.

And when the zombies do show up, God are they scary! They’re slimy and bloody, they move spasmodically and growl like animals. The fact that they aren’t overused especially helps.

I also found the cast very believable. True, I couldn’t help but think “It’s Fitz from Agents of SHIELD” every time Iain De Caestrecker’s character was on screen, flawless American accent or not. But other than that, you really do believe these actors are these characters. Jovan Adepo is especially good as Private Boyce, who is affected every time he sees someone die or has to kill someone. You believe this guy is going to be haunted for years to come.

One critique I do have for Overlord is that it does get a bit predictable at the end. I mean that’s fine, it’s a great finale, but you could still see where the film was going to go at that point.

All in all though, Overlord is a good horror film and a much better film than you’d expect. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.4. Unnerving and powerful, it’ll stay with you for a while after you’ve left the theater. Take a look and see for yourself.

*BTW, if you haven’t played or watch someone play Outlast, I highly recommend you try it. Just be careful though, because that game is enough to leave me shaking.

 

There are people looking at the title of this post and thinking, “What the heck did that crazy author come up with now?”

To answer that question, I just finished writing a short story taking place during the London Blitz. I first had the idea for this story over four years ago, when I went on a study-abroad trip to Europe to follow the Allies’ path through Europe. While our teacher and tour guide (or was it one of the other students giving a report based on the research they did the last semester?) was discussing the London Blitz at Bletchley Park (the site where Alan Turing cracked the Nazi Enigma code), I had this idea for a story taking place during the Blitz, involving some kids encountering something awful while trying to run from the bombs. Over time, the antagonist came to be Adolf Hitler.

Or is it him? You know me, I never write anything simple. In any case, the story reflects something about me that shouldn’t surprise anyone: I’m scared of Hitler and the Nazis. As a Jew, I know how close my people came to annihilation nearly three-quarters of a century ago. If the war had gone differently, I probably wouldn’t be here, let alone talking about my stories and my love of horror with you. This is part of why I studied the Holocaust in college, and why I still study it today (though obviously not as frequently as I did in college). But even though I studied the Holocaust and have a pretty good understanding of what occurred, knowing doesn’t make me any less afraid of the Nazis or their monster of a leader. And with such a resurgence of people saying Hitler was right or worthy of admiration, I made sure to get that fear across in the story. Hopefully I succeeded.

You know, I actually wasn’t intending to write this story. I was planning on getting back to a novelette that I’d started working on in-between drafts of Rose. However, this story started calling to me to write it, and I couldn’t resist the call to listen to it. And yes, stories can demand to be written. At least while they’re in our heads. And I only just figured out why this story wanted me to write it so badly that it grabbed my attention. You see, I went to Washington DC recently for work. It was the first time since I was thirteen or so that I’d been to DC, so obviously I was going to do the tourist thing and check out some places (see my Instagram for photos). One of the places I decided to visit was the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, so I could see it after being so much more informed about it than I was as a teen.

The train car at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. There’s such a palpable energy of despair coming from it, you can’t help but be affected by it.

I guess my subconscious had me write this story because I was going to that museum. Maybe it was some form of mental preparation, or maybe I felt somewhere in my mind that it was the right thing to write. In either case, I went to the museum on Saturday, and let me tell you, their main exhibit has a palpable atmosphere. You can’t go in there without coming away affected. Seeing all these artifacts from the past–concentration camp and Nazi uniforms, newsreel footage, photographs, testimonials from survivors, even a train car that might have been used to transport Jews and other “inferior races” to concentration camps–along with the museum’s presentation of them, make you fully aware of the horror that occurred so long ago and how it still affects us today.

After I left the main exhibit, I was so glad I was writing this story. It was as if through the story, I was reminding people there’s still a reason to fear Hitler and his ideology. Especially since it’s showing a resurgence these days, long after its abominable creator committed suicide.

So what’s next for this particular story? Well obviously I’m going to have it looked over and then edited. Afterwards though…we’ll see. It’s a little over sixty-eight hundred words, so it’s not too long. I’ll see about getting it published somewhere. There’s a magazine I’ve been trying on and off to get published in, so maybe they’ll take it. Then again, the Ohio Chapter of the Horror Writers Association, of which I’m a member of, has been talking about putting together an anthology. Perhaps I’ll submit it there.

In any case, I’ll let it lie for a while before working on it again. In the meantime, let’s see if I can finish that novelette before I get the latest draft of Rose back from Castrum.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to get ready for bed. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Wewelsburg castle. Magnificent to behold.

Wewelsburg castle. Magnificent to behold.

Well, I finally did it! I got to visit the castle I’ve been dying to see since I first heard about it while researching Nazis and the occult prior to last year’s study abroad trip. And today, I spent a good part of my day uploading most of the photos I took to Instagram and Facebook. Honestly, it sucks when that ends up taking a longer time than it should, but what are you going to do?

Anyway, if you’re not familiar with Wewelsburg Castle, it’s a triangular castle in the small village of Wewelsburg, part of the town of Buren. During the Nazi era, the SS, led by Himmler, began doing renovations on the castle with the purpose of turning it into the ultimate Aryan production center, a place where the Nazis’ ideological beliefs could be made real. Some people even believe that Himmler, who was a big believer in all that Nazi mysticism stuff, conducted ceremonies in the castle, and hoped to make it into a sort of SS Hogwarts. I personally think that the SS could’ve been doing some magical rituals while they were there, and there is some evidence to suggest that’s what they were planning on doing or did there.

Of course, if you ask the museum staff about it, they will deny that anything like that occurred at the castle, but maybe they want to keep the right-wing nuts and the Satanists and pagans away (yet they still have a small display in the museum to the mystical side of the SS in the exhibit). The staff also deny any sightings of ghosts or anything else paranormal, but maybe they want to keep away ghost hunters too.

Weird occult stuff. Don't ask me what each stands for, I couldn't give you a definitive answer.

Weird occult stuff. Don’t ask me what each stands for, I couldn’t give you a definitive answer.

Anyway, the castle is divided into two permanent exhibits. One exhibit, the Ideology and Terror of the SS, is mostly housed in a separate building, with a path leading to the Crypt and the Group Leader’s Hall in the North Tower (more on that below). It’s very similar to the exhibit at the Topography of Terror Museum in Berlin, which I visited last year: lots of white columns and display cases, with photos and artifacts talking about the history and the beliefs of the SS. Some of it was in English, but most of it obviously was in German, so I didn’t spend as much time there as I might have liked.

Still, it was interesting to be there. I got to see a lot of artifacts, including a few books on mysticism and some occult memorabilia, some uniforms, and a lot of other cool stuff. And at a certain point, you could walk along a footpath to the North Tower, where two of the rooms the SS renovated are available to look at (sadly, no photos are allowed in those areas). The Crypt is a dark and eerie space, and definitely had a ritual purpose, though not necessarily a magical one. The walls are covered with paintings of stylized depictions of victims of SS tyranny, as if to say that the space is now a memorial to them than to the SS and the Aryan man. On the floor above is the Group Leader’s Hall, which was incomplete at the end of the war and was probably meant to be a meeting room of some sort (but for what purpose?). The most interesting part of that room is that in the center of the room is a Black Sun symbol, which has both esoteric connotations and–because the SS used it as a symbol of power–neo-Nazi connotations. I stood on top of it as if to say, “Yeah, I’m Jewish and you’re worth shit.”

Entrance into the castle proper.

Entrance into the castle proper.

The other exhibit discussed the castle’s history, when it was the second home of the Prince-Bishops of Paderborn. You basically go throughout the whole castle–down hallways and up and down staircases–seeing its history from prehistory to the early 1900’s. That was interesting too. Part of the exhibit displayed what creatures lived in the area in the Ice Age or earlier, and another area talked about how important agriculture was to the area. In one room they had the actual road traders used displayed where it had been uncovered during renovations, and in another section there was a small tribute to the Jewish community that lived in the area. And in one part of the East Tower is a basement room where witches were kept and tortured during the one recorded set of witch trials in the area. Believe me, I’m definitely going to email those photos to my History of Witchcraft teacher in the morning.

The castle courtyard, facing the direction of the North Tower.

The castle courtyard, facing the direction of the North Tower.

At the end of it all, I had a really great time and was really glad I’d gone (though before I ended the tour of the castle I had to take off my coat because I was starting to get really warm from all the physical activity). It’s definitely going to be one of the highlights of my time here in Germany, and I took a lot of photos so that I’ll remember it long after I’ve left the country. I even had an idea or two for stories while I was there, and I bought a few books in the gift shop so that I’ll have plenty to reference should I ever need to look up some info. Definitely check out the castle if you ever get the chance. It’s well worth the trip.

Of course, I doubt this’ll be the last adventure I have in Germany. While my time here is becoming limited, there’s still one place I’d like to visit, and I think I might have the opportunity this coming weekend. Oppenheim is a town not too far from me, with an underground ossuary and labyrinth, which sounds a lot like the Paris catacombs, and they have a wine museum too. With Oktoberfest starting, sounds like the kind of place I could have a bit of fun before I say goodbye to Deutschland, don’t you think?

A model of the synagogue that used to be in the village, located in the small Jewish display in the castle.

A model of the synagogue that used to be in the village, located in the small Jewish display in the castle.

Well, I wanted to write more posts today (I’ve got plenty to write about), but it’s getting late and I’ve got an early morning tomorrow. I guess I’ll just say goodnight for now and see what I can post tomorrow.

Goodnight Followers of Fear! Pleasant nightmares!

The building where Kristallnacht was planned.

The building where Kristallnacht was planned.

I’m telling you, I had quite the day yesterday. Besides spending half the day traveling between my apartment in Wiesbaden and the train station in Munich, I mean. That was just a pain in the butt, as well as a strain on my wallet (I will not be traveling for the next few weeks because of it most likely).

Well, let’s skip over the long, mostly uneventful train rides, and get right into my day in Munich. I got there a bit before noon despite several delays along the way and managed to grab a bite to eat and some extra water before meeting up with Taff Simon, my tour guide. Taff, a Welsh archaeologist who works on WWII-related sites when not in the midst of giving people tours (and whom I highly recommend for a tour if you’re interested in WWII stuff), was the best tour guide. Since we both were well-versed in Nazi history, he didn’t have to spend a lot of time filling me in on basic Nazi history. Instead, he took me to various locations around the city that had Nazi history attached to them.

For example, our very first stop was the place where Kristallnacht was thought up. Yeah, that place still exists, it’s an old, church-like building with two arched tunnels built into it for through-traffic. Kristallnacht was thought up during a dinner party for the fifteenth anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch being held inside. To this day there are memorials in one of the tunnels commemorating what had happened.

The coffee shop where Hitler would come up with his speeches. The Devil's Column is in the back.

The coffee shop where Hitler would come up with his speeches. The Devil’s Column is in the back.

I also got to see the places where the German Worker’s Party, the forerunner of the Nazi Party, met, as well as the meeting place of the Thule Society and the building where the SS was founded. We also visited the spot where the Beer Hall Putsch was stopped by police and an alleyway that was used to avoid the memorial that would later be set up there and became pretty famous consequently. We also visited a few beer gardens that had some history with the Nazis (though no one likes to admit it), including the Hofbraushaus, where Hitler would often give speeches after writing them in a coffeehouse down the street (to this day, the column in that shop he’d sit next to while preparing his speeches is known as The Devil’s Column).

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The Hofbrauhaus, where Hitler gave some of his speeches in Munich.

Really, one of the big things you take away from this tour of Munich is that Nazism really was born here. This was the city where the German Worker’s Party grew and evolved into its more terrifying form that we know so well today, where major events shaping the party took place, where the Thule met and where the SS was born. You even see pieces of that history today, not just in memorials but in buildings and architecture, in pieces of art, and just in the stories told about certain places. It’s quite fascinating.

Taff also took me to the University District of Munich, and brought me to the place where the White Rose, a small resistance group that operated during the early forties, would distribute leaflets hoping to get their fellow students and intelligentsia to resist the Nazis. To this day there are stone copies of their leaflets embedded in the courtyard in front of the medical school and memorials to the group within for their heroism and martyrdom.

He also took me around that area of town, showing me a building where the Nazis used to hold offices and where Hitler signed the 1937 “peace accords”, a square with Greco-Roman buildings set up where rallies were held, the remains of a temple decided to the people who died on the night of the Putsch, and quite a few others. Believe me, when he showed me the building where the Gestapo used to be headquartered, I had a bit of a chill.

One of the stone leaflets in memory of the White Rose.

One of the stone leaflets in memory of the White Rose.

By the end of the tour we ended up back where we started, in the square near the building where Kristallnacht had been planned. As I was hot and nursing a small headache by that time, I thanked Taff for showing me all that I described above and more and asked him to send me information of any future tours he might be doing (including one about some rather gruesome witch hunts and other nastiness that had happened in the city). Taff also directed me to the Hugendubel, a five-floor bookstore that had several books on Nazism and Munich’s history within its walls. I bought a very large tome and headed home after that, feeling like I had definitely made the most of my weekend.

All in all, it was a very exciting and edifying tour. I took somewhere between sixty and seventy-five photos in total, most of which I deemed good enough to send to myself (uploading them to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is going to be a pain in the ass). I also got to see locations I didn’t know existed, let alone were still standing, and I felt like I was getting to step right into history thanks to Taff’s expertise and storytelling. And I got to see the city of Munich, which in itself is just wonderful.

The old headquarters of the Gestapo. Actually took a step back in fear when I found out what it was. You can guess why.

The old headquarters of the Gestapo. Actually took a step back in fear when I found out what it was. You can guess why.

And I even got some help with my writing here. As you can imagine, I’ve got plenty of ideas for stories that involve World War II and the Holocaust, including a book series I plan to write someday that I think could be my Dark Tower series (though probably not as complicated). Going to Munich yesterday certainly helped to give me a sense of what living back then was like and helped flesh out the setting for those stories, and I even had an idea for a new short story based on the info Taff told me.

It was just a wonderful trip and I’m glad I went. I’lm definitely going to try to do another post or two about my day in Munich, one showing some more of the photos I took and one about some of the really cool souvenirs I got from the city (trust me, that’s worth doing another post about).

Well, that’s all for now. I’m going to get off the computer and get some other work done. I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day, my Followers of Fear.

And if any of you are ever in Munich and want to go on a tour like I did, I highly recommend giving Taff Simon a call. He’s a great guy, he knows what he’s talking about, and you’ll definitely come away feeling it was worth the trip.Here’s the link to his website if you’re interested.