Tuesday 25 May 2010

What If....

Adolf Hitler had been accepted into the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna? Would he still have developed his intolerable hatred of Jews? Would he have ever become interested in Politics and go on to be Chancellor of Germany? Would the dreadful atrocities of the Holocaust have happened?

Adolf Hitler was born in Austria on 20th April 1889, but his family moved to Passau, Germany when Adolf was three, which led Hitler to later identify more with Germany than his native Austria. As a young boy, Adolf was a normal child who played 'cowboys and Indians', a game that first sparked his fascination with war and being a soldier. But in 1900, Hitler's younger brother, Edward died after contracting measles. After this, Hitler is said to have become sullen, morose and detached, often arguing with teachers at school and his strict Father at home.  Adolf and his Father, Alois, would often clash, mainly over Hitler's desire to attend the Classical High School rather than the Technical School, which is where his Father wanted him to go so that Adolf could become an Austrian Customs Official.  Adolf and Alois could never see eye to eye and Adolf was regularly beaten by his Father. In order to show his resentment towards his Dad, a keen lover of all things Austrian, Hitler became obsessed with German Nationalism, using the German greeting 'Heil' and singing the German national anthem rather than the Austrian one.

Despite the obvious tension between Adolf and Alois, when his father suddenly died in 1903 Hitler became very disruptive at school and was asked to leave. Hitler enrolled at a different school but was expelled in his second year after an incident with his school certificate.  At a loss of what to do Hitler travelled to Vienna in 1905, living a bohemian life, in order to gain acceptance into the Academy of Fine Arts.
Hitler drew scenes around Vienna and lived off an Orphan's pension and support from his beloved Mother. Hitler made his first attempt at gaining entry into the art school in 1907 but was told that his skill as a painter was not good enough. Above is one of Hitler's drawings-to the untrained eye it looks rather skilfully done.
In December 1907, Hitler's Mother, Klara, who Adolf adored, died of breast cancer. A court ordered that Hitler give his share of the Orphan's pension he received to his sister, Paula. With no money Hitler struggled as a painter in Vienna-he would copy post cards and sell them but this made him very little. In 1908, Hitler failed a second time to be accepted into art school-with no money left Hitler had no choice but to live in a shelter for the homeless (incidentally, a group of 'undesirables' that Hitler would later persecute).
It was in Vienna that Hitler, as he describes in Mein Kampf, first began hating Jews. Where Hitler had grown up he had only ever seen 'Europeanised' Jews but in Vienna he saw Orthodox Jews-Hitler didn't like what he saw-he even went as far as questioning whether these deeply religious people could possibly be German.  

Hitler's way out of homelessness came in 1914-the outbreak of the First World War. Hitler was desperate to fight for a Bavarian regiment, and so petitioned King Ludwig III of Bavaria for permission to serve-this was granted.  By all accounts Hitler was a rather good soldier-a runner on the front line he was twice decorated for bravery and ended his army career as the British equivalent of a Lance Corporal. Hitler even suffered temporary blindness as a result of a mustard gas attack and had to spend a few weeks in a military hospital. Some Historians argue that it is during this period that Hitler first had the unforgivable idea of exterminating Jews. 

Hitler was a firm lover of Germany and his service during the Great War only cemented this further. So when the armistice was signed in November 1918 and Germany admitted defeat, Hitler was devastated and couldn't understand why Germany had surrendered when they still held enemy territory.  Further humiliation came with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919-terms of the treaty saw Germany take full blame for outbreak of war in 1914, a massive reduction in Germany's standing army, demilitarisation of the Rhineland, and a massive debt, or reparations, that surmounted to an amount that was unrealistic to expect Germany to pay.  Hitler became obsessed with getting revenge for the treaty, which he saw as the cause of many of Germany's problems after the war, that of course and the Jews.  Hitler saw Germany go from a great nation before the war to a struggling country where unemployment was sky high and people were miserable-forced to be humiliated first by defeat and then by the conditions of Versailles.  All the while, as Hitler saw it, German people were starving and poor, whereas Jewish people seemed to be getting on fine-Hitler's hatred of the Jews was gradually getting deeper and deeper.
After the war, Hitler became actively involved in politics, shaping his political ideas in the German Workers Party (the name would later be changed to the infamous name of National Socialist German Workers Party), where the leaders were impressed by his oratory skills.  Hitler was eventually elected leader of this party in 1921. The party was elected to power in Germany with Hitler becoming Chancellor of Germany in 1933. The rest as they say, is History. A very dark and disgusting period of history to say the least.

Could it be that if Hitler had been accepted into art school that he would not have gone on to be Chancellor of Germany? Could he have ended up just another humble painter? It certainly wouldn't have prevented his hatred of Jews as this first started when he was in Vienna. But could it have provided Hitler with a different path? Even if he had have gained entry into art school the First World War still came along. Hitler was Germany obsessed-he certainly would have still wanted to fight for Germany in 1914. It is during his time as a soldier that his love with Germany became a sort of intense 'love affair', and where he experienced the cutting humiliation of defeat and the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Maybe then we could argue that if the First World War had never have happened that Hitler would not have experienced such humiliation, and therefore, have not had the need to vent his frustration with the world in a hot bed of politics, leading to his domination of a party full of anti-Semites.

Let me know what you think on this subject.

Please note-this post is not designed in any way to offend anyone and is certainly not absolving Hitler's behaviour in any way. What Ifs in history are just things I like to contemplate.

Friday 14 May 2010

Anatomy and its murky past...

History is intriguing, scandalous and hugely entertaining-it can also be dark, mysterious and a little macabre. The picture above is from a series being shown on British TV called 'History Cold Case'-every week a crack team of forensic scientists shed light on our past by examining the dead. This weeks show saw the investigation of a mummified body of a young boy-maybe around 7 or 8 years of age.  The team wanted to find out the history of the boy and under what circumstance he came to be used as a anatomical specimen. The team think the boy was preserved to be used as a display or as a tool to help train anatomists- as they delve deeper into the history of anatomy, in particular how bodies came to be acquired, they reveal a murky past.
After observing the remains the team leader, Professor Sue Black, notices that, although the size of the head and the fact that he has most of his adult teeth point to him being around 8 years old, his arms and legs look to be quite short. After a full x-ray of the remains Professor Black notes that the leg bones have a series of faint white lines going through them-this she says could mean that either the boy had a succession of diseases, or that he had been malnourished-resulting in stunted growth.  From this Professor Black deduces that the boy could have possibly been living at a poor house for some time, and that upon his death he was handed over to a school of anatomy under the Anatomy Act of 1832-which allowed the dissection of the destitute. However, when one of the team take a photograph of the mummified boy to a specialist at the Huntarian Museum in London he thinks the remains could possibly date from the 17th or early 18th century, due to the way the boy has been posed.  Shockingly, this reveals that the body of the boy may have been obtained before the Anatomy Act of 1832, which means he was taken illegally. Could somebody have stolen this poor boy's body or could there be a more sinister explanation?
The team do an in-depth analysis of the flame red resin that was used to preserve the arteries of the boy to try to get a more accurate date of when the boy was preserved. The results showed that the resin found in the boys vessels was a close match to the resin used by famed surgeon and anatomist John Hunter, which therefore, dates the mummified boy to late 18th century or early 19th century. The team theorise that the boy could have been preserved by John Hunter himself, or at least one of his pupils, and also come to the conclusion that the boy was probably from London, which is where John Hunter was based.
It looks then like the body of the boy was obtained illegally-as a result of this the team go on a fact finding mission to discover just how rife body snatching was in the 18th century. After a trip to the archives it transpires, after reading the diary of a resurrectionist (a name given to body snatchers), that grave robbers used to have watchers to tell them about newly buried corpses, which they would then dig up and steal in order to sell them at a high price to hospitals. The investigation leads to Saint Sepulchre's Church on Giltspur Street, North London, which was at the centre of a very lucrative trade in fresh corpses. The area was surrounded by hospitals teeming with medical students-the demand was so high for bodies that the local council became increasingly worried about the numbers 'going missing', that they raised the money to have a watch house constructed on the boundary of St. Sepulchre's graveyard in 1791.  However, a lot of the men who ran the watch houses were corrupt and for a bribe would turn a blind eye, or in some cases help the resurrectionists. So, the illegal trading of bodies remained a lucrative business until 1832. The reason the body trade was so lucrative near Sepulchres was because of the nearby St Bartholomew's Hospital-porters from the hospital would leave hampers out at night for the body snatchers to use to transport the dead bodies to a nearby public house, that acted as a safe house for the resurrectionists, where the cadavers would be laid out ready for surgeons and anatomists to pick from.
The business of selling bodies was such a good money maker that some people even kidnapped and murdered children in order to sell their bodies to the highest bidder.  One such prolific grave robber was John Bishop, who was actually tried and convicted of murdering a 14 year old boy for the purposes of selling him to a surgeon. All together Bishop admitted to stealing between 500 and 1000 corpses and of murdering 3 people to sell their bodies, although that number could be higher. Could the mummified boy have been the victim of such a heinous crime? The trial of John Bishop and his accomplices in 1831 highlighted the need to do something about these terrible goings on-and so the following year the Anatomy Act was passed.
What the team concluded about the boy: He was around 8 years old, was well nourished but suffered periods of illness and was dissected and preserved in London before the anatomy act of 1832-either stolen from his grave or murdered to furnish the demands of the anatomists.
Let me know what you think on this subject!

Sunday 9 May 2010

History and Me...My 100th Post!

This is my 100th Post! I can hardly believe it! I have called this post History and Me as I intend to write about my recent historical experiences, which I had during my holiday in Dorset.
I want to start with an excellent little find I made in a quaint shop dedicated to the works of Enid Blyton called The Ginger Pop Shop. The shop itself has many fine gifts and amongst all the Enid Blyton books and memorabilia I discovered one of the cutest things I have seen in a long time-a little paper evacuee doll!  The doll came with little paper clothes, identity card and a gas mask! The pack the doll came in also contained a story of the evacuee doll that highlights the trauma evacuated children suffered as a result of being uprooted from their homes. As soon as I saw the doll I immediately thought of a good way to use it in a lesson with my Year 9 groups! Excellent!
My visit to Wareham in Dorset also gave me the opportunity to use my much beloved National Trust membership (thanks to the guys at Swanwick for that marvelous gift). As soon as we drove into Corfe we saw this wonderful ruined castle-so big that it is literally all you can focus on for miles! Corfe Castle stands between the Purbeck hills, an ideal position when the castle was built to defend inland Dorset from attacks from the sea. The castle itself was built by William the Conqueror soon after his arrival in 1066. The castle was a favourite haunt of King John (1167-1216) who made vast improvements to its defences between 1199 and 1216.
When I was walking around the ruined castle I couldn't help but question my own fitness as I was out of breath pretty much straight away! It was built on a very steep hill-for obvious defence reasons I know-but it was a challenge to get around the site! I climbed to the highest point you can get to safely and stood at the top for quite a while-mainly because I could make out the figure of my Dad down in the centre of the town and was waving frantically to him, but he didn't look up. I was in awe of the vistas from such a height and what I found even more intriguing was how you could make out the stages the castle would have been built in. When the Normans first came to England they built wooden Motte and Bailey castles for speed and because the raw materials were all around-a bit like Medieval flat pack castles-of course none of the wooden structure of Corfe still exists, for obvious reasons. The next stage would have been a stone keep castle, the keep still remains, partly destroyed, at Corfe. Then followed the concentric outer wall, which acted as an extra defence-a lot of this still exists at the site in a partly ruined state and can clearly be seen in the above picture. Below is an artists impression of what Corfe Castle would have looked like in 1643. 
Let me know about your recent historical experiences-would love to hear about them!