Category Archives: history

The Ship of Souls: Salt to the Sea

“I wept because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”

These simple words lie at the heart of Ruta Sepetys’ World War II masterpiece, Salt to the Sea. In it, she tells the story of the greatest maritime disaster in history: the wreck of the Wilhelm Gustloff. A Soviet submarine sank this German ocean liner on January 30, 1945. A staggering nine thousand people perished. (By comparison, the Titanic’s death toll was one thousand five hundred.) Because the Gustloff’s passengers were refugees from Nazi-occupied lands, their deaths went largely unreported and unmourned in the English-speaking world. I have a bachelor’s and a master’s in history, yet Sepetys’ fictional account was the first I ever heard of this tragedy.

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The Gliders: WWII’s Unsung Heroes

Growing up, I had heard my grandfather fought in WWII, but as a kid I really didn’t know in what capacity. My family knew the basics: he was in the ETO; at various points he was in Iceland, England, France, and Germany; he had medals; and worked with the gliders. He rarely spoke of his service and on the off-chance he did, he was vague. Everyone knew better than to pry too much. He avoided flying and planes, and later in life, he suffered PTSD. When he passed, his secrets and experiences died with him.

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James Herriot: All Creatures Great And Small

I both love and dread reading British author James Herriot. I love him because I consider him to be one of the greatest writers of all time. And I dread reading him, because any story of his that features a dog or cat will make me cry. Since I usually listen to his books on audio with the rest of the family, this means a lot of discreet eye-wiping and some flat out bawling into my coloring book.

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The Time Capsule

Today is not someday August 2019. Today you have time traveled back to a pivotal event in world history: Sunday, September 3rd, 1939. You are sitting in your comfy armchair, your slippered feet propped up on a moquette covered footstool, and hearing these chilling words from Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain as you tune into your Bakelite wireless set; “This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by eleven o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.”

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The Fabulous Forties: Romanticizing a Harrowing Period

People talk a lot about the glamour of the 1940s.

Of course, we all know what they mean. The classy outfits. The perfectly curled hair. Epic Hollywood blockbusters and dazzling Hollywood stars, from Casablanca to Citizen Kane, from Bergman to Bogart. Swing bands and soda fountains and “going steady” … and over it all, the distant rumble of foreign war. Just foreign enough to be thrilling, rather than terrifying.

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Cleopatra

Cleopatra is one of the most iconic women in history. Historians have chronicled her exploits for over 2000 years. She’s considered the quintessential “dangerous woman.” Despite being known as a sex symbol, Cleopatra was a powerful monarch feared and respected in the Ancient World. Her complex life makes her one of my favorite historical figures. Continue reading

Anne Frank: An Inspirational Life

On December 30th, 1998, I turned twelve years old. Like every twelve-year-old, I had a party. Family and friends came over to celebrate and showered me with presents. One stood out among the others and continues to stand out to this day. My aunt’s gift was a girl’s diary. I peeled back the wrapping paper, read the title aloud, and looked to her for an explanation. I had never heard of Anne Frank. It interested me, though, since I was a bookworm.

The following day, I found an inscription inside. Veronica: Anne Frank was just a year older than you when she began this diary. It became her personal refuge when she and her family were forced into hiding from the Nazis. She died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at the age of 15 and was probably buried in a mass grave, but her thoughts live on. This book has meant a great deal to me since I first read it at age 12. I hope it does to you, as well.—Aunt Barbara.

This intrigued me. Who was Anne? Why was her diary published? Who were the Nazis? I read. Though I liked the girl the diary entries introduced me to, it confused me. Why was she persecuted for being Jewish? What was going on in Europe during the 1940s? At that time in my life, I knew next to nothing about WWII. This was sad since my grandfather had been in the Airborne and fought in the ETO.

annefrank002Through added research, I soon learned Anne Frank was a girl after my own heart. A deep, abiding love for her developed. Born in Germany, she and her family fled the Fatherland when the Nazis came to power. As Jews, the Nazis would have targeted and killed them if they remained. Anne, her parents, and sister Margot settled in the Netherlands. They lived carefree lives until Germany invaded in 1940. This time the Frank family could not escape. They made plans to go into hiding. Her father, Otto, worked with his friends and employees to prepare for his family’s “disappearance” and their subsequent stay in his office building’s attic. The Frank’s would hide with another family and one other.

On Anne’s thirteenth birthday, she received a gift that changed her life: a diary. In it she recorded all her thoughts and feelings. It became a witness of the suffering she and the other Jews experienced under the thumbs of the Nazis. When it was time for her family to go into hiding, Anne brought her diary with her. For two years, the Frank’s, the van Pel’s family, and Fritz Pfeffer hid in the annex. They hoped one day the war would end and they could be free. Under their noses, Anne blossomed into a wise, strong, independent girl. On hearing a radio broadcast asking for people to save their diaries and letters for post-war publication, she rewrote her diary. Anne intended to publish it someday.

The fateful day came when the Nazis arrested Anne, her family, and friends and sent them to Auschwitz. Only Otto survived. On learning of his daughters’ deaths, one of the helpers gave him Anne’s diary. He published it and spent the rest of his life sharing her story.

They say there is a book that changes your life forever. For me, that was The Diary of Anne Frank. It has influenced me as much as the Bible. My life has never been the same since I met Anne Frank. I’ve spent years studying the Holocaust and have written almost as many years writing about it. Anne taught me to persevere, to believe in the good of humanity, to never give up my faith. In 2015, I fulfilled my dream of visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau, where Anne, her family and friends, and over a million others perished. Maybe someday I will visit the Frank family’s hiding place. No matter how much studying I do on the Holocaust, I know the next time I open Anne Frank’s diary, I will fall in love with her all over again.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Veronica Leigh has been published in several anthologies and her work has appeared on GoWorldTravel.com and the Artist Unleashed, and she has published a couple of fictional stories. She makes her home in Indiana with her family and her furbabies. To learn more about her, visit her blog.

Conquering Queen

When you think of women’s rights, I doubt the medieval time period comes to mind. Religion played a huge role in society during this time. That led to a more patriarchal culture, so it’s understandable. However, if an observer digs deeper into history, the medieval era provides examples of women who left behind memorable lives that promote equality. Such as Matilda, queen to William the Conqueror. Through the circumstances of her birth, marriage, and legacy, Queen Matilda is a historical figure who deserves more recognition. Continue reading

Quiet Gallantry: Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

I was in my early teens when they released the movie Gettysburg (1993). My family rented it as soon as it hit the local video store. We settled down for a deeply moving, relatively accurate depiction of the battle at Gettysburg that turned the tide of the American Civil War in favor of the Union. Continue reading