Polish Refugees Remember Mexico’s Warm Embrace

See page for author [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Polish children from Santa Rosa, Guanajuato, Mexico. See page for author [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Melita Marie Garza

Chester Sawko arrived in North America in July 1943 and within days learned those words important to a child in any language.

“Lend me your bicycle!” the 13-year-old Polish refugee shouted in Spanish at the curious Mexicans who rode their bikes up to the fence of the temporary safe haven that had been set up for refugee families at Colonia Santa Rosa in Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico.

Sawko, now 66, and the president of his suburban Chicago manufacturing firm, never has forgotten the kindness of the Mexican people who obligingly let the refugee kids ride their bikes, even though most didn’t know how.

“It was a real novelty for us because we never had any toys,” said Sawko, whose family members were among 1.7 million Poles uprooted by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and shipped on cattle cars to labor camps in Siberia during World War II when the Soviet Union and Germany divided Poland.

“Mexico was the first place we felt at home, where we realized we were still part of the human race,” said Thaddeus Piezcko, 63, who was 15 when he was resettled in Chicago at the now-shuttered St. Hedwig’s orphanage.

The journey to Mexico was a long one for the refugees, beginning Sept. 17, 1939, when the Soviet Union invaded and occupied part of Poland, then a few months later began mass deportations mostly from the northeastern half of Poland.

Each family has its own story, but they all begin like Sawko’s, with Soviet soldiers banging on the door in the middle of a cold, snowy February night in 1940.

The family was given 30 minutes to pack what belongings and food they could carry on a wooden sleigh. Sawko’s father, a forest ranger, was arrested. Sawko’s mother, then 35 and pregnant, was crying.

An older brother, Stanley, then 16, was allowed to stay and care for a sister, 14, in the hospital. But Sawko and his three younger brothers were forced onto the sleigh with their parents and driven to a city where they were put in a crowded railroad car for a four-week trip to the Soviet border.

Chicago Tribune

 To Defeat ISIS, We Must Call Both Western and Muslim Leaders to Account

And that includes the Saudi kings whose funding of Wahhabi doctrine gave rise to the scourge of Islamic extremism.

 Flowers are put in a window shattered by a bullet as Paris mourns the victims of a terrorist attack. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Flowers are put in a window shattered by a bullet as Paris mourns the victims of a terrorist attack. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

By Laila Lalami

 What happened in Paris on November 13 has happened before, in a shopping district of Beirut on November 12, in the skies over Egypt on October 31, at a cultural center in Turkey on July 20, a beach resort in Tunisia on June 26—and nearly every day in Syria for the last four years.

 The scenario is by now familiar to all of us. News of the killings will appear on television and radio. There will be cries of horror and sorrow, a few hashtags on Twitter, perhaps even a change of avatars on Facebook. Our leaders will make staunch promises to bring the terrorists to justice, while also claiming greater power of surveillance over their citizens. And then life will resume exactly as before.

Except for the victims’ families. For them, time will split into a Before and After.

We owe these families, of every race, creed, and nationality, more than sorrow, more than anger. We owe them justice.

We must call to account ISIS, a nihilistic cult of death that sees the world in black and white, with no shades of gray in between.

Read more at The Nation

 This Is What Greece’s Refugee Crisis Really Looks Like

“Thanks to God I have made it here. I am free, I am alive!”

 Refugees arriving on the isle of Lesbos in a dinghy from Turkey. (Lazar Simeonov)
Refugees arriving on the isle of Lesbos in a dinghy from Turkey. (Lazar Simeonov)

By Jesse Rosenfeld

Lesbos, Athens, and northern Greece—In the baking midday August heat on the Greek island of Lesbos, Ziad Mouatash bounces out of an overcrowded inflatable raft and touches EU soil for the first time. The 22-year-old from Yarmouk—the Palestinian refugee camp on the edge of Damascus that has been besieged and bombed since 2012 by Bashar al-Assad’s forces and recently invaded by ISIS and the Al Qaeda–affiliated Nusra Front—hugs everyone around him, ecstatic to be alive.

From the Greek shore, activists and locals had looked on helplessly as the boat’s motor broke down two miles away, water pouring into the barely floating rubber dinghy. Children and adults alike cried desperately for help, until they were towed to Greece by another boat of refugees coming from Turkey.

Mouatash paid human traffickers in Turkey over 1,000 euros for this near-death experience, but as far as he’s concerned, it was a far less risky choice than continuing to hide out in deteriorating Damascus, which he’d abandoned for Turkey two weeks before. As a Palestinian who grew up in Syria’s refugee camps, he is stateless, but he has a brother in Paris and hopes to start a new life in France.

He paces up and down the shoreline, unsure of which direction to go, while local activists try to bring the new arrivals together to tell them that they need to start a 40-mile walk to a registration center on the other side of the island.

 Although he has escaped the horrors of Syria’s grinding civil war, Mouatash is just beginning the difficult journey through Europe. He will have to cross more borders illegally; rest in filthy, makeshift camps; pay traffickers to help him cross those borders; dodge border police; and sleep in parks and fields, before he can reunite with his brother. Still, Mouatash is one of the lucky ones. Four days after his arrival, a raft off the Greek island of Kos capsized and six Syrians—including a baby—drowned.

Read more at The Nation

How the Statue of Liberty Almost Ended Up in Egypt

By Dora Hasan Mekouar in Voice of America

The Statue of Liberty looks out on the lower Manhattan skyline, January 2014. (AP)
The Statue of Liberty looks out on the lower Manhattan skyline, January 2014. (AP)

Instead of imploring the world to “give me your tired, your poor”, the Statue of Liberty’s welcoming message might well have been “as-salamu alaykum”, the Arabic greeting used by Muslims around the world.

That’s right, the world’s most recognized symbol of freedom and the American dream, was originally intended for Egypt, which ultimately rejected it for being too old fashioned.

The decision came as a disappointment to Lady Liberty’s creator, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who’d envisioned the Suez Canal as the ideal venue for his mammoth harbor structure.

The decision came as a disappointment to Lady Liberty’s creator, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who’d envisioned the Suez Canal as the ideal venue for his mammoth harbor structure.
Statue of Liberty creator Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s original design for the mouth of the Suez Canal in Egypt.

“He was inspired by the Sphinx and the pyramids and the idea you could create something massive that could almost be eternal,” said Elizabeth Mitchell, who brings Bartholdi’s quest to life in her book Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty.

Mitchell was motivated to write the book after coming across Bartholdi’s diaries at the New York City Public Library. That’s when she first realized the iconic symbol wasn’t a gift from France as many Americans believe.

“In fact, the true story is more moving because what you have is this individual artist who had a vision and he really wanted to make this happen,” Mitchell said, “and he really had to go through every machination to get this thing built.”

After his failure in Egypt, the artist shifted his attention to America, which was prospering after the end of the Civil War.

“Maybe no other country at the time would understand the excitement and importance of having this bigger-than-life, colossal symbol,” Mitchell said.

Read more at Voice of America

Archaeologists Discover Nazi Extermination Camp Gas Chambers in Poland

A rusty road sign outside the perimeter of a Nazi death camp in Sobibor, Poland, on Sept. 18, 2014. (Reuters/Kacper Pempel)

From “Archaeologists unearth hidden death chambers used to kill a quarter-million Jews at notorious camp”

By Terrence McCoy in The Washington Post

Few sites across war-torn Poland harbor more secrets of atrocity and horror than the Nazi concentration camp of Sobibor. Different from Auschwitz, which almost immediately yielded the full scope of the crimes committed there, the history of Sobibor in eastern Poland was initially hidden and opaque.

Unlike Auschwitz, the fate of Sobibor wasn’t liberation. It was obliteration. The Nazis who had run the camp tried to extinguish every remnant of it in 1943, painting over its grounds with a farm, trees and asphalt. Besides a railroad track and the commander’s house, Haaretz noted, nothing remained of the camp. Save for the testimonies of the few survivors, who could only provide scant recollections of small areas of the camp, Sobibor had been lost to history.

But now, more than 70 years later, relics of genocide have surfaced, bringing more clarity to the murder of an estimated 250,000 Jews there than ever before. Buried beneath an asphalt road were a series of well-preserved gas chamber walls that archaeologists say will help elucidate the secrets of Sobibor. Beneath the road were brick rows, stacked four deep — the exoskeleton of four gas chambers.

“The discovery of the gas chambers at Sobibor is a very important finding in Holocaust research,” historian David Silberklang, editor of Yad Vashem Studies, said in a statement. “It is important to understand that there were no survivors from among the Jews who worked in the area of the gas chambers. Therefore, these findings are all that is left of those murdered there, and they open a window onto the day-to-day suffering of these people.”

Read more at The Washington Post

DNA Evidence Identifies Jack the Ripper

Gruesome: A contemporary engraving of a Jack the Ripper crime scene in London’s Whitechapel

It is the greatest murder mystery of all time, a puzzle that has perplexed criminologists for more than a century and spawned books, films and myriad theories ranging from the plausible to the utterly bizarre.

But now, thanks to modern forensic science, The Mail on Sunday can exclusively reveal the true identity of Jack the Ripper, the serial killer responsible for at least five grisly murders in Whitechapel in East London during the autumn of 1888.

DNA evidence has now shown beyond reasonable doubt which one of six key suspects commonly cited in connection with the Ripper’s reign of terror was the actual killer – and we reveal his identity.

Read more at the Daily Mail, UK

Rebel Leader: Malaysia Plane Filled with Already Dead Bodies

Igor Girkin (AP Photo / Dmitry Lovetsky)

From the Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — A top pro-Russia rebel commander in eastern Ukraine has given a bizarre version of events surrounding the Malaysian jetliner crash — suggesting many of the victims may have died days before the plane took off.

The pro-rebel website Russkaya Vesna on Friday quoted Igor Girkin as saying he was told by people at the crash site that “a significant number of the bodies weren’t fresh,” adding that he was told they were drained of blood and reeked of decomposition..

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing-777 was shot down Thursday, killing all 298 people aboard. The plane was flying 10,000 meters above an area where Ukrainian forces have been fighting separatist rebels. Each side accuses the other of downing the plane.

U.S. intelligence authorities said a surface-to-air missile brought down the plane, and U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told the U.N. Security Council in New York on Friday that the missile was likely fired from a rebel-held area near the Russian border.

Read more at Talking Points Memo

War Comes to Ukraine

The Consequences of the Crash in Donetsk

The site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash is seen near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. (Maxim Zmeyev / Courtesy Reuters)

By Alexander J. Motyl in Foreign Affairs

Yesterday afternoon, by most accounts, pro-Russian separatists shot down Malaysia Airlines flight 17 over eastern Ukraine. The attackers ostensibly thought that the Boeing 777 was a Ukrainian plane about to enter Russian airspace. Soon after the attack, Igor Girkin, the self-styled commander of the Donetsk People’s Army, bragged on his website that “We just shot down an AN-26 plane near Torez; it’s scattered somewhere around the Progress mine. We warned them not to fly in ‘our sky’.” Soon after, RIA Novosti, a Russian news agency, seconded Girkin’s claim.

After it became apparent that the plane was not Ukrainian, Girkin erased his post and Aleksandr Borodai, the prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, tried to put the blame for the attack, which killed 295, on Ukrainian authorities. Later in the day, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that it was “unquestionable that the state over whose territory this took place is responsible for this terrible tragedy.”

The atrocity comes three days after Russian militants shot down a Ukrainian transport plane flying over Krasnodon district in Luhansk province and one day after a missile — which Ukrainian authorities believe was fired by Russia — brought down a Ukrainian SU-25 jet over Donetsk province.

This week also saw a major escalation of Russian military involvement in Ukraine; in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 13, about 100 Russian armored personnel carriers and other vehicles crossed from Russia into Luhansk province in Ukraine. Unlike earlier Russian deployments into Crimea and eastern Ukraine, these carriers were openly adorned with Russian insignia and flags. The flow of Russian tanks and soldiers into the area has since continued, and Ukrainian authorities estimate that up to 400 additional “little green men” (a term coined during the Crimea invasion for Russian troops without insignia) have infiltrated into eastern Ukraine’s Donbas.

Until yesterday, that escalation had gone relatively unremarked in Western media. But now, no matter who fired the missile, things are set to change. The downing of a civilian plane may conceivably qualify as a war crime, inasmuch as it entailed the unwarranted militarily destruction of a civilian target. At any rate, it was certainly an atrocity and an act of terrorism. And if Girkin — an ethnic Russian who hails from Russia and who, by some accounts, is still an officer in the Russian military intelligence service, which would make him officially subordinate to Russia’s president — really was involved, Putin might arguably be politically responsible for the crime.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

NATO Commander Says He Sees Potent Threat From Russia

Gen. Philip M. Breedlove said Wednesday that the Russian troops near Ukraine were poised to attack on 12 hours’ notice.

Credit Armend Nimani/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

BRUSSELS — NATO’s top commander said on Wednesday that the 40,000 troops Russia has within striking distance of Ukraine are poised to attack on 12 hours’ notice and could accomplish their military objectives within three to five days.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia told Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany on Monday that the Kremlin was beginning to withdraw troops from the border area near Ukraine.

But the NATO commander, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, said in an interview with The New York Times that so far only a single battalion, a force of 400 to 500 troops, was on the move and that NATO intelligence could not say whether it was actually being withdrawn.

“What we can say now is that we do see a battalion-size unit moving, but what we can’t confirm is that it is leaving the battlefield,” said General Breedlove, of the United States Air Force. “Whether that movement is aft to a less belligerent configuration or returning to barracks, we do not see that.”

General Breedlove said that the Russian force that remained was a potent mix of warplanes, helicopter units, artillery, infantry, and commandos with field hospitals and sufficient logistics to sustain an incursion into Ukraine.

Read more at The New York Times.

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Everything you know about the Black Death is wrong, say the bones.

Don Walker, a human osteologist with the Museum of London, poses with the skull of one of the skeletons found by construction workers under central London’s Charterhouse Square on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. Twenty-five skeletons were uncovered last year during work on Crossrail, a new rail line that’s boring 13 miles (21 kilometers) of tunnels under the heart of the city. Archaeologists immediately suspected the bones came from a cemetery for victims of the bubonic plague that ravaged Europe in the 14th century. The Black Death, as the plague was called, is thought to have killed at least 75 million people, including more than half of Britain’s population. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

In the autumn of 1348, a central Asian sickness arrived in London and quickly dispatched 60 percent of the city’s population. Within a decade, in what’s believed to be the worst human calamity of all time, something like 25 million Europeans were dead. And when they died, the secrets of their demise disappeared with them.

Until now.

On Sunday, London scientists who’d studied 25 skeletons discovered in a new rail line said everything we’d thought about the bubonic plague — what caused it, what kind of disease it was, its strength — was wrong. Most of the ensuing coverage focused on the finding that the disease wasn’t likely spread by rats’ fleas, as has been taught in every high school in the West, but had actually been airborne.

Read more at the Washington Post

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