Month: July 2016

51ilnnwz87l-_sx331_bo1204203200_The tyrannical reign of Adolf Hitler stands as one of the worst the world has ever seen and has been the subject of countless documentaries, films, specials and books.  The Third Reich and it’s final solution, produced upon Europe, a dark cloud that it had never seen before.   Hitler’s rise to power and rule over Germany is a well-documented story that has been told over and over again. But what isn’t often told are the stories of those who opposed Hitler.  Tom Cruise starred in the sensational film ‘Valkyrie” which depicts the failed assassination attempt on Hitler by Claus Von Stauffenberg on July 20, 1944.  The attacked injured Hitler but he escaped death and continued to rule until the Allied forces closed in on Berlin on April 30, 1945.

Among the many voices in opposition to Hitler was Dietrich Von Hilderbrand, editor of the journal Der Christliche Ständestaat which became a voice for anti-Nazi beliefs.  His outspokenness earned him the wrath of Hitler and his associates forcing Dietrich to flee Germany and Austria.  Though pursued by the Nazis, he never abandoned his stance in opposition to the racial ideology of the Third Reich and the antisemitism that was widespread at the time.  His voice and beliefs were so well-respected that he was once considered the biggest threat to the survival of National Socialism. In this look into his life, writings and beliefs, we come to know Von Hilderbrand and understand why he was so important to the large number of critics of the Third Reich and its infamous practices.

Catholicism and philosophy are central themes in the book and shed light on the many contradictions and faults that lie in nationalistic ideology.   His words resonate with those of us who find ourselves opponents of racial discrimination and the destruction of the moral compass of society.   Von Hilderbrand reminds us of the importance of humanity and our individual duty to reconcile our beliefs and actions in accordance to what is not only divine but morally correct.  And although his words are more than 70 years old, they are still relevant today.   Throughout history there have been many versions of Adolf Hitler surrounded by regimes determined to enforce totalitarian rule through violence and intimidation.  In contrast there have always been voices in opposition, some stronger than others.  For Nazi Germany, Dietrich Von Hilderbrand serves as one of history’s most important voices against a brutal dictator that disrupted world peace and nearly destroyed the Fatherland.

ISBN-10: 0385347510
ISBN-13: 978-0385347518

World War II

20180602_234541On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth changed the course of United History.  The murder of Abraham Lincoln marked the first time a sitting U.S. President had been slain by an assassin.  Tragically, Lincoln would not be the last to be assassinated.  John F. Kennedy would meet his tragic fate on the streets of Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.   Lincoln’s murder has become fodder for conspiracy theorist intent on proving that a web of deceit surrounded Lincoln paving the way for the tyrannical Booth to execute his plan.  But just how much of a conspiracy was there? And did it involve members of the Confederacy?  Was Edward Stanton complicit in pulling back Lincoln’s security detail?  And was Mary Surratt rightfully convicted? Edward Steers, through painstaking research answers those questions and more in what is the definitive examination of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

By all accounts, the general consensus is that John Wilkes Booth committed the murder and then jumped to the stage breaking a bone in his left leg in the process.  His declaration of “Sic semper tyrannis” remains some of the most remembered and chilling words ever recorded in American history.  Nearly two weeks later he was shot and killed by Sgt. Boston Corbett in a barn at the Garrett farmhouse.  Nearly four years would pass before Booth’s body was returned to his family for internment at Green Mount Cemetery Baltimore, MD, where it continues to rest today.  But with any famous murder, rumors, suspicion and misinformation arise leading to false conclusions and even more unanswered questions.  Drawing on statements by those with first hand knowledge of the crime as a witness or subsequent participant and government documents, Steers has masterfully reconstructed the events leading up to the murder, the night itself and the aftermath that followed.  And what is revealed, may change the way you look at an event that had a profound impact on a nation and helped shape the modern-day United States.

The facts of the murder and grisly details are scenery for those seeking gory bits of information.  But the key to viewing Lincoln’s murder lies in the reasons behind the venom that consumed Booth and his conspirators.  The Civil War in all of its ugliness, serves a predicate for the murder and in this book we are shown the treasonous acts carried out by members of the Confederacy as the Union neared closer to forcing it into submission.  Lincoln, the Republican star,is seen by many in the south as a deadly threat to the system of slave labor.  He forever changed the course of America with the emancipation of slaves, striking a severe blow to the southern way of life.  However, sympathetic supporters could be found throughout the country even in the north and it is among these groups of individuals that Booth is able to form his nexus of assassins.  And had the full plan been carried out, perhaps Steers would have been forced to write even more about the events of that night.

Many years have passed since Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth took their last breaths.  Their secrets went with them to the grave with each having never written a full autobiography.  The two had never met  before that night yet they are joined in death from a critical moment in time which remains with us today.  While the possibility of more unknown accomplices does exist, Steers has put to rest many unfounded rumors that serve to detract from the true story.  And doing so, he has given us a gift in the form of a book that does the most efficient job of telling us what happened on that tragic night.  It is often said that hindsight is always 20/20. In this case, it’s not only 20/20 but beyond crystal clear.

ISBN-10: 0813191513
ISBN-13: 978-0813191515

Assassinations Uncategorized

313839On January 30, 1957 the United States Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management was created to investigate corruption in American labor unions.  Designated with the role of Chief Counsel was a young attorney who later went on to become attorney general and 1968 democratic presidential hopeful, Robert F. Kennedy.  In this memoir of his time on the committee, Kennedy recounts the exhaustive investigative efforts of those who served on the committee in an effort to shed light on the nefarious dealings of union and labor officials and effect reform throughout the United States.   At the center of the committee’s target lay James R. Hoffa and his International Brotherhood of Teamsters.  Starting with Dave Beck, Kennedy carefully reconstructs the deeply seated mismanagement of union funds resulting in the most opulent lifestyles for top officials. Facing a culture in place for many years, Kennedy and his staff are met with opposition and resistance to efforts to probe into the dark side of American labor unions.   It’s no secret that Kennedy and Hoffa had a strong distaste for each other and on more than one occasion, Hoffa threatened the future attorney general with physical violence.  Kennedy would respond with his “get Hoffa squad” in an attempt to bring down the man who Kennedy believed was a menace to the American way of life.

Kennedy’s memoir serves as a step back into time when labor unions and the American criminal underworld were held together with strong ties resulting in a  dark cloud hanging over workers throughout the nation.   And while John Kennedy does make an appearance, this is Bobby’s show and he does not disappoint. Some of the most notorious figures in underworld history also make an appearance such as Johnny Dio, Joey Glimco, Larry and Joe Gallo.  Their testimony and the anecdotes about their appearances  before the committee are both humorous and mystifying.  We see through Kennedy’s recollections and samples of committee testimony that a very dark side to American labor unions remained unknown to the American public for many years.  But this phenomenal account one of America’s most defining eras, has stood the test of time as a go to source for information of the mission to stop the legendary and infamous James Riddle Hoffa.  And as Kennedy reminds us at the end, in order for society to move forward and for justice to prevail, we must always be willing to confront the enemy within.

ISBN-10: 0306805901
ISBN-13: 978-0306805905

Investigative Report

five daysAbraham Zapruder captured a defining and tragic moment in history when his camera recorded the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  The film was originally locked away by Time Life but was finally released to the public years later as a result of the investigation of Jim Garrison into Kennedy’s murder. The film leaves the view speechless and speaks more than a thousand words.  Next to the gruesome murder of the President, there’s  an iconic sequence that occurs that also remains cemented in the memory of the witnesses in Dealey Plaza that day and the millions others who have repeated watched the film.  As the motorcade speeds toward the triple underpass, a Secret Service agent is seen jumping on to the back of the car as it speeds up to transport the mortally wounded Kennedy to Parkland Hospital.  The agent is Clint Hill, a veteran of the Secret Service who served several presidents during his multi-decade career.  Now 84, he’s become an author over the years, having written a few books, one of which is this account of the fateful trip to Dallas, Texas and the tragedy that ensued.

The book begins on November 21 as the party prepares for the departure to Texas.  Hill shines light on the commotion and last-minute maneuvers that are required to make the trip go as smoothly as possible. We also see the softer side of the President as he embraces his children for the very last time.   And as Air Force One departs for San Antonio, the first stop, no one aboard knows that this is the last trip that they will make with Kennedy.  After receiving a warming welcome at San Antonio, the party is jubilant about the potential to mend political fences in Texas to bolster Kennedy’s chances for reelection in 1964.  The morning of the 22nd starts out on a positive note as the President makes his last speech at the Ft. Worth Chamber of Commerce.  The flight to Dallas is only fifteen minutes and the first couple emerges after landing to a crowd of eager supporters.  The motorcade makes its way through the streets of Dallas and at 12:29 p.m. everything goes dark as the nightmare begins changing history and Hill’s life forever.

As the tragedy unfolds in Dallas, Hill serves as our point man takings us through each development as it happened.  We also get a feel for the emotions and thoughts going through the minds of everyone as they struggle to remained composed in the face of an unspeakable tragedy.  The vivid reality of the chaos in Parkland and later on Air Force One becomes even clearer as Hill takes us through the day and all the way until Kennedy’s body returns to the east coast for the autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital and his final placement in the coffin in which he was buried.   Funeral arrangements, the arrival of family and guests combined with the changing of the guard in Washington prove to be heavy tasks on all present and each does their best under the strain.  Up until Kennedy’s final moment before he lowered into the ground, Hill remains a loyal agent and intimate family friend.

Because this book is written by a former agent on Kennedy’s detail, some would expect it to have possible clues as to who might have killed the President.  This is not the case and Hill sticks to the government’s story of Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone gunman.  Whether Hill continues to believe that is beyond the scope of the book and a completely different discussion.  What this book is, is a poignant memoir by a man who remains haunted by those five days in November, 1963.

 

 

Assassinations Uncategorized

s-l300June 28, 1971-Joseph Colombo, the charismatic leader of the Italian American Civil Rights League and head of the Colombo crime family is shot and gravely wounded during a Unity Day rally in Columbus Circle.  He lingers in a coma for 8 more years before dying on May 22, 1978 in Blooming Grove, New York.  His assassin, an African-American man from New Brunswick, New Jersey  named Jerome Johnson, was shot and mortally wounded himself. The official story is that Johnson was a crazed gunman possibly acting on the orders of Colombo’s rival, Crazy Joey Gallo.  Gallo, a Colombo associate, is known for his hair-trigger temper and blunt manner of speech.  Gallo denied being behind the murder and maintained that position up until the time of his own murder on April 7, 1972 as he dined at Umberto’s Clam House in Manhattan. The motive behind Colombo’s murder was never discovered and his murder is essentially a closed case.  But upon deeper inspection, we come to see that when examined thoroughly, the facts surrounding the case cast serious doubt on Johnson’s means and motives.   Colombo’s son Anthony and Don Capria have reexamined the late Colombo, Sr.’s life and death in this gripping investigative report that is bound to leave the reader with more questions than answers.

More than 45 years have passed since Colombo’s murder, but his life remains one of the most intriguing of the 20th century.  On the streets of New York, he was known to law enforcement as a high-ranking member of the American Mafia.  But at home, he was simply known as dad.  The father of several children, Colombo is examined here as a husband and father as Anthony travels back in time recalling all of the fondest memories from the time spent with his late father.  The Colombo we see here is far removed from the mafia boss described in police reports and FBI files.  Fiercely protective of his family, reputation and heritage, he took the unprecedented step of picketing the FBI offices after being subjected to surveillance and harassment by the bureau.  And in his effort to redeem the image of Italian-Americans, he created the organization that was unrivaled in its size and popularity in New York, the Italian-American Civil Rights League.   Colombo continues to stand out as the most unusual mafia chieftain of all time.  And to this day, his act of picketing the FBI offices has yet to be matched by any other mobster.  But his popularity and actions did not go unnoticed and came with a steep price.  And as his son Anthony shows us, the FBI and local police never let up on their crusade to put Colombo behind bars for good.  And his relationships with other mobsters were either positive or negative depending on the situation.

The strongest part of the book is the relationship between father and son.  As I read this book I continued to recall the story of Albert DeMeo as he talks about his father Roy in ‘For The Sins of My Father‘.  Spending the majority of their time in upstate Blooming Grove, the relationship between the two was strong, sometimes tense but ultimately full of love and unconditional loyalty.  One might expect the book to contain confessions from Anthony about his father’s criminal escapades. But here, like in DeMeo’s book, that isn’t the case. Insulation of the family from the streets was routine practice by many mobsters and Colombo was no different.  Those looking for a smoking gun about Colombo’s street activities won’t find it here.  This book is purely about Colombo as the family man, center of law enforcement investigations, civil rights activist and tragically, murder victim.   Following his death, the Colombo family eventually became embroiled in an internal civil war that left dozens of mobsters dead as Vic Orena and Greg “The Grim  Reaper” Scarpa lead internal rival factions that caused the streets of Brooklyn to run red with blood.  Today, the family’s name is hardly mentioned at all and Colombo remains a figure of a distant and forgotten past.  But at one time in New York City’s history,  his name was the talk of the town.

 

Investigative Report Uncategorized

16923849739_a73717f925_bOn September 13, 1946, Amon Goeth, the former commandant of the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp, is executed for his actions during World War II  after a trial and conviction by the Supreme National Tribunal of Poland.  Goeth was brought to life on the silver screen in Steven Spielberg’s classic film ‘Schindler’s List’ in which he is played by actor Ralph Fiennes.  The film is moving and one of the most haunting to have even been produced about the Holocaust.  Survivors of the Holocaust vividly recalled memories of the remorseless killing committed by Goeth and those under his command. Several decades later, his life is revisited, not by a random author, but by his granddaughter Jennifer Teege, a child of a German mother and Nigerian father who discovers her family’s past and struggles with her own identity in this biography that is bound to leave the reader speechless.

Jennifer’s story and those of other descendants of Third Reich leaders, most notably Gudrun Himmler and Niklas Frank, shed light on an often overlooked part of the second World War.  Following the Allied victory and occupation of Germany, the families of Nazi officials were often in turmoil.  Hunted by the Allies, many Nazis fled to other countries, some committed suicide, others were executed and under the CIA’s Operation Paperclip program, some were even relocated to the United States.  Their descendants were left to confront the individual’s past actions and the policies of the Third Reich under Adolf Hitler.  And it is this past which haunts not only Jennifer, but her mother Monika, Goeth’s daughter who was only 10 months old when he was executed.

The book begins in Hamburg, and we are with Jennifer in the library as she discovers a book about Amon Goeth. Recognizing the last name, she begins to ask herself questions and puts together the puzzle that is her past.  And as she learns about her grandfather, the man who struck terror in the hearts of thousands of Jews, she is faced with the grim reality that yes, her grandfather would have shot her during his reign of terror.  In her youth, the remaining link to her grandfather was her grandmother Irene, who until her own death from suicide in 1983, remained loyal to Goeth.  Having lived with Goeth at the camp, she conceived Monika while Goeth was still legally married to another German woman.  The inner battle she fights regarding her feelings toward her late grandmother whom she loved dearly, is heartbreaking and reminiscent of the struggle of many others whose parents and grandparents committed horrific crimes under the banner of the Third Reich.

Teege’s story is an amazing one,  filled with many trials and tribulations.  We follow her as she struggles with depression, how to tell her Israeli friends about her past, establish relationships with both of her biological parents, love, a family of her own and ultimately, her acceptance of her family name.  To the generation of today, World War II is something that’s mentioned in textbooks. But a large number of people around the world who are still alive,  memories remain fresh from a time in history when the security of the world as we know it, was in danger of being completely destroyed.  For people such as Monika Goeth and Jennifer Teege, the war always remains in the present in the form of Amon Goeth, whose deeds and name will continue to live in infamy.  And as we learn Jennifer’s story, we are forced to ask ourselves what would we do if we were in her place? It’s an answer I’m sure many of us would struggle to find.

ASIN: B00XGLGEMS

 

Biographies Uncategorized

e-roosevelt-vol-2In volume I of her three-volume biography of the late Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), Blanche Wiesen Cook explored the early life of the pioneering First Lady of the United States.  We learned about her family history, both intriguing and tragic, upbringing by close relatives, her marriage to Franklin and his election of the presidency of the country.  The book closes as the family assumes their role as the new occupants of the White House.  In this second volume, their story continues with the new President finding himself embattled on several fronts as the depression rages, Adolf Hitler threatens world peace and domestic social tensions threaten to tear the nation apart.  The First Lady also finds herself fully immersed in ongoing current events that cause concern for citizens across the country.  And it is during this time period, 1933-1938 that she defines herself as she finds her calling as a champion of women’s rights and advocate of equality and well-being for Americans of all ethnic backgrounds.

Towards the end of the first volume, Lorena “Hick” Hickok (1893-1968) enters Roosevelt’s life and becomes a constant companion and according to the letters analyzed by the author, intimate of the First Lady.  Hick would be one of several people to make up her close circle, and all of them are examined in detailed in this excellent continuation.  Tragedy seems to stand out in this volume as several people close to the First Lady die bringing an end to long-term and mutually supportive relationships.  Among these the late aviator, Amelia Earhart (1897-1937). Undeterred, she continues her quest for civil rights and a firm stance by the United States against German aggression.  These stands would cause strain in her relationships with her relationship with Hick being tested on the issue of racial discrimination, a cause which consumed a large portion of the First Lady’s political life.

As war threatens to erupt in Europe and the old standing tradition of segregation and Jim Crow is challenged domestically, the First Lady continues her transformation into one of the finest women in American history.  Her beliefs and crusades were not without opposition and the behind-the-scenes battles and power plays are exposed revealing the reluctance to act and sometimes treasonous actions of members of the State Department and of FDR’s own cabinet.  The first couple’s personal lives would also be tested with three children in doomed marriages and emergency surgeries for various ailments.  But throughout all of it, the pioneering First Lady never wavers in her campaigns cementing her legacy as one of a kind.

The aggression of Nazi Germany fueled by the maniacal Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), put the world on notice that a new empire was strengthening in Europe.  The Nuremberg Laws combined with Kristallnacht, blatant discrimination and humiliation of Europe’s Jewish citizens, laid the foundation for the First Lady’s campaign for American intervention and support for refugees fleeing the Nazi menace.  FDR and other leaders were not strong advocates of intervention and their sluggishness to fully act served as chord of discontent in the Roosevelt household.  The cause for Jewish civil rights in Germany and other European nations, supplemented the strengthening civil rights movement here in the United States with regards to racial prejudice against African-Americans and other minorities through unconstitutional legislation and the violent practice of lynching, against which, the pioneering First Lady spearheaded a campaign.  Her actions at the conference in Birmingham, then controlled the infamous Bull Conner and his police department, is one of the shining moments in the book for at the time she took a stand not just for herself but for all Americans.   And today as we deal with social issues that serve to undermine the tremendous progress this nation has made, we can look back at her action and remind ourselves that regression and submission are not options.

A great biography has the ability to remain unbiased, delivering the facts whether they are positive or negative. Cook does a great job of showing the moments where Roosevelt’s actions were questionable.  A native of the South, we see through the author’s words, the continuous effort on Roosevelt’s part to remove herself from her southern upbringing prone to deep-seated racial bigotry.  And at several points in the book, ER herself makes strides to remind herself of the insensitivity that can accompany words.

The third volume of this excellent biography is slated for release on November 1, 2016 and can be ordered in advance on Amazon.com.   Based off of what I have read so far, the  best is yet to come as we see the outbreak of World War II, FDR’s untimely death and the later years of Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.

ISBN-10: 0140178945
ISBN-13: 978-0140178944

 

Biographies

e-roosevelt-vol-1The President of the United States has what many consider to be the toughest job in the nation.  Tasked with the impossible feat of making everyone happy at all times while often performing highly unpopular actions, the President often goes through a transformation while in office that results in deep reflection later in life. Standing next to each President in modern times, is the first lady who in her own right, has evolved into a major presence with a voice of her own.  This November will mark the end of the Obama administration and as they prepare to leave the White House, I firmly believe the first lady can look back without regret as having served the nation as one of the finest America has seen.   She follows a long line of pioneering first women to have occupied the White House, adding  a touch of grace and class to what used to be a strictly supplementary role. But many  years before Michelle Obama, there was another first lady, who stands out as one of American’s greatest historical figures and whose legacy continues today, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962).

In the first of this three-volume biography, Blanche Wiesen Cook explores Roosevelt’s early life, highlighting the complex family tree and the success and tragedy that surrounded the famed family.  As a niece to the legendary Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt(1858-1919), she was introduced to politics at a young age and following her marriage to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, she would remain a political and cultural icon for the rest of her life.  Drawing on correspondence that survived throughout the years and the recollections given by those who knew her, Cook’s biography is an intimate account of a woman who never stopped in her effort to change America.

As the reader makes their way through the book, the information learned will be eye-opening and intriguing. The events that unfold in the book seem by today’s standards mind-boggling, but in Roosevelt’s time, America was far different place and as Eleanor’s life comes alive in this brilliant biography, we are transported back in time to when America was struggling with very grave social issues.   But throughout all of this, we see the transformation of a young woman into a grown woman with power and a voice of her own as the most dynamic and controversial first lady of her time.  An aviator, friend of Amelia Earhart, mother of six children, teacher, writer and pioneer of women’s and civil rights, she battled wars on many fronts refusing to give up her causes and surrender her beliefs.

The book ends as she finally makes it to the White House and becomes fully immersed in the Washington, D.C. political culture. Her friendship with Lorena Hickok begins to develop and it would continue for many years to come.  FDR is also facing his own challenges but his toughest test from out of Berlin and Tokyo have yet to come.  It is in the second part, a review of which is forthcoming, that Franklin and Eleanor continue their odyssey as the new and engaging first couple of the United States of America.

ISBN-10: 0140094601
ISBN-13: 978-0140094602

Biographies