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No, it’s not a story of a brave young dutch boy… it’s the story of Hans Augusto Reyersbach, a German Jew. He was born in Hamburg in 1898. He loved visiting the zoo with his brother and two sisters. And he loved to draw pictures and paint. And he was good at it. He turned 18 in 1916 and so he joined the German army and fought in Russia. After the war, times were tough in Hamburg. Hans packed up his sketchbooks and paintbrushes and moved to Rio de Janeiro where he managed to make a comfortable living as a commercial artist. While there, he married another German emigre from Hamburg, Margarete.

In 1936, Hans and Margret returned to Europe, and settled in Paris. Margret was a commercial photographer, and her skills complemented Hans’. But their commercial work together wasn’t completely satisfying. They wanted to tell stories. And so, they began writing and drawing illustrations for a children’s book. By 1939, They had several finished stories and several publishers showed interest. In September of that year, World War Two began when the Germans invaded Poland. France and England declared war on Germany, but other than the fighting in Poland, not much happened.

curious george mapIn the spring of 1940, Hans and Margret made a trip to the beaches of Normandy and continued to work on their children’s books. In May, suddenly, things changed. The German army invaded Belgium and the Netherlands and headed for France. Hans and Margret hurried back to Paris and quickly decided they must leave France. They would head first for Brazil (via Portugal), and then perhaps on to the United States. But Paris was in an uproar. By the time Hans had secured the necessary visas, the trains were no longer running from Paris. Hans and Margret didn’t have a car, and besides, the roads were clogged as more than two million Parisians attempted to flee the advancing German armies. Hans managed to find two bicycles, and he and Margret started south. Three days later, they reached Orleans and managed to get on a train headed south. That same day, German troops entered Paris and raised the Nazi flag from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Hans and Margret managed to cross the border into Spain on a train headed for Portugal. Because the military dictator of Spain, Franco had been friendly with Germany, they were uneasy until they crossed the border into Portugal three days later. After two weeks frantic travel, they finally made it to Lisbon, Portugal. A month later, they were on a ship for Rio de Janeiro. Two more months of waiting and they managed to get passage on a ship to the United States. October 14, 1940 – four months after they left Paris – they sailed past the Statue of Liberty into New York harbor.

All along the way, Hans had taken great care to make sure that the children’s books they had been working on were kept safe. A year after arriving in New York, Houghton Mifflin published their book. Hans and Margret had titled it The Adventures of Fi-Fi. It was about a monkey and an explorer in a yellow hat who brings him from the jungle to the city. Of course the book needed a new title. Just as Hans and Margret Reyersbach had needed a new name. Reyersbach took too much space on a painting and was too hard for their clients in Rio to remember. And so Hans Reyersbach had taken to signing his artwork as “H.A. Rey.” And their book – well, the editors at Houghton Mifflin had a better name for it, too – Curious George.

And (shamelessly ripping off Paul Harvey), now you know the rest of the story!

Escape of Curious GeorgeThe details of the Rey’s amazing escape across wartime France is told in a delightful book published in December, 2005 by Houghton Mifflin, titled: The Journey That Saved Curious George – The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey. Here’s how the publisher describes it:

The Journey That Saved Curious George introduces elementary and middle school students to a major event of the twentieth century: World War II. Students will learn about the time period from the many primary sources throughout the book, including photographs, passports, and diary pages.

Louise Borden’s text captures the tension in Paris in 1940 and the urgency to escape, the uprooting of lives, and the difficulty of leaving a place you love. At the same time, this story is about the creative process — the inspiration, joy, and constant work that went into creating the curious, lovable monkey.

Houghton-Mifflin also has an online lesson plan to help teachers use the book.

The book is a 72 pages hardback in full color. The price is $17.00 and it can be ordered directly from Greenleaf Press.

- Rob Shearer
Director, Schaeffer Study Center
Publisher, Greenleaf Press

schollI have just finished watching the 2005 film, Sophie Scholl which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (and should have won!). It is an astonishing movie.

The story of Sophie Scholl is breath-taking and heart-breaking. In 1943, along with her older brother and four other students at the University of Munich, she was arrested while distributing copies of an anti-Hitler flyer at the University. They called themselves the “White Rose” movement. Sophie had worked as a teacher and a nurse. She had heard first-hand accounts of the euthanasia of handicapped children. Her brother and many of his university friends had served over the summer vacation as medical assistants at military hospitals on the eastern front in Russia. They had seen and heard accounts of some of the atrocities committed by German troops in the German-occupied territories in the east.

Sophie and her brother were interrogated by the Gestapo for several days, then tried and condemned to death by one of the notorious People’s Courts of the Nazi government. They were executed by guillotine the same day their sentences were handed down.

The movie depiction of Sophie and the other members of the White Rose group is based on meticulous research, and is able to re-create what was written and said by them based on documents discovered in Russian and East German archives after the collapse of Communism.

What emerges is a picture of an extraordinarily courageous young woman (she was just 21 when she was executed) who is also a Christian martyr. Sophie’s parents were Lutherans. Her mother expecially was a committed Christian. Sophie’s faith, her prayers in prison as she is awaiting interrogation and trial, are neither overlooked nor overemphasized. It is simply an essential part of who she was. When one of her interrogators argues with her that the handicapped and disabled were leading lives not worth living, she responds clearly and emphatically that, “All life is precious.”

Luther RoseThe name that the Scholls chose for their group points to Luther as well. Luther’s symbol or crest, granted him by the Elector of Saxony was the white rose around a red heart, with a cross at the center.

When Sophie is allowed to make brief statements before her sentencing, she looks at the judge and calmly states, “Soon, you will stand where we now stand.” Later that day, at 5:00pm, she was executed.

The film is in German with English subtitles, but remarkably easy to follow. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to understand what life during World War II was like in Germany – both the good and the bad. You can order a DVD of the film directly from Greenleaf (the price is $29.99).

geschwister scholl strasseThe film had a particular connection to me. When I was 20 years old, I spent a year in Germany as an exchange student. The dormitory I lived in was located on a street called Geschwister-Scholl-Strasse (Siblings Scholl Street).

-Rob Shearer
Director, Schaeffer Study Center
Publisher, Greenleaf Press

mosierHow Hitler and the Allies Misread the Strategic Realities of World War II

by John Mosier

In the 1920s two new theories of warfare / strategy were postulated: blitzkrieg and airpower. The two theories shared a fascination with inventive technology, surprise,  and the concept of a breakthrough to the opponent’s rear area. The theories were used to explain how World War One was fought and why one side was successful and the other was not. After World War Two, military historians applied the two theories and used them to account for the initial sucesses of Germany and Japan, and for the eventual victories of the USA, Great Britian and the USSR.

The problem, according to Mosier,  is that historians were systematically reworking the facts to fit the theories. The preoccupation with the theories of blitzkrieg and airpower led the allies to misunderstand the reasons for the German victories over Poland and France. In turn the allies made plans consistent with the theories that led to disasters like the Market Garden airborne assault into Holland in 1944.

Mosier is a contrarian. He maintains (and supports his analysis with an impressive marshalling of facts and military records) that in both world wars, the victors won the old-fashioned way – by bringing larger numbers of troops to bear on the enemy and destroying the enemies military forces. Blitzkrieg and airpower per se had nothing to do with it.

Mosier is an good writer and makes a clear and convincing case for his thesis. This book will force you to rethink much of the conventional wisdom about World War Two… and also about how wars are fought in general.

-Rob Shearer
  Director, Schaeffer Study Center

 Was it World War One and World War Two? .  .  .  or WW6 and WW7?

First, a bit of a rant. I’m currently reading three books, one each on the American Revolution, World War One, and World War Two. I started this post thinking I would do a book review of at least one of them. But instead, I’ve produced a longer excursion in “setting the context.” I think its a useful piece all by itself. Let me know what you think. Book reviews to follow in later posts.

Calling the conflict that occurred in Europe between 1914 and 1919 the “First World War” is completely illogical. From 1689 to 1815 there were a series of five global conflicts – all fought between England and her allies and France and hers.

1689 – 1697 King Williams War / War of the League of Augsburg
1702 – 1713 Queen Anne’s War / War of the Spanish Succession
1744 – 1748 King George’s War / War of the Austrian Succession
1754 – 1763 French and Indian War / Seven Years War
1805 – 1815 Napoleonic Wars

Each of these wars was fought in both hemispheres, on multiple continents and involved global alliance systems. In some ways, this series of conflicts could be called the Second Hundred Years War between England and France. There’s a wikipedia article on precisely that topic which is worth reading. So are the articles on the French and Indian Wars and on the Napoleonic Wars.

After a century of global warfare, the destruction of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna and the Holy Alliance (between Russia, Prussia, and Austria) led to a century of relative peace – in Europe to be sure, and for the rest of the world, mostly. At least, from 1815 to 1914, there were no further global conflicts.

Of course there were a few regional conflicts. The Chinese civil war (aka, the Taiping Rebellion) from 1850 to 1864 caused 20 million deaths. The American civil war (aka, the War for Southern Independence) from 1861 to 1865 caused 600,000 deaths. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 was a relatively short conflict that inflicted a humiliating defeat on the French (the Germans occupied Paris) and was the occasion for the unification of dozens of small German principalities with the kingdom of Prussia – the resulting state calling itself the Second German Empire.

The Spanish-American War of 1898 (with about 3,000 US casualties) was pronounced a “splendid little war” by the US Secretary of State. It featured the improbable six-month odyssey of the US assistant secretary of the Navy resigning, forming a volunteer cavalry unit, fighting in Cuba in the summer, and then returning home to be elected Governor of TeddyNew York in the fall. After serving two years as governor, the local party bosses persuaded President McKinley to put him on the national ticket as vice-president in his 1900 re-election campaign. Six months after being sworn in for his second term as president, McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist, and Teddy Roosevelt, six weeks before his 43rd birthday, became the youngest man ever to be president of the united states.

The Russians and the Japanese fought a nineteen month war between February of 1904 and September of 1905. Japan won an overwhelming victory, and Teddy Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for negotiating the treaty that ended the conflict.

So… there were five global conflicts in the second hundred years war between 1689 and 1815, which by my reckoning would make 1914-1919 World War Six. And then 1939 to 1945 would be World War Seven. Unless you want to recognize the linkage between the two and call them collectively the Thirty Years War of the 20th century.

[sigh] That would make more SENSE, but I think at this point there’s very little chance that the names WW6 and WW7 will catch on. But now you know – and can amuse your friend by asking, “How many world wars have there been?”

-Rob Shearer
Director, Schaeffer Study Center

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