Archive for Nazi State

in the name of eugenics [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2020 by xi'an

In preparation for the JSM round table on eugenics and statistics, organised by the COPSS Award Committee, I read the 1985 book of Daniel Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity, as recommended by Stephen Stiegler. While a large part of the book was published in The New Yorker, in which Kevles published on a regular basis, and while he abstains from advanced methodological descriptions, focussing more on the actors of this first attempt at human genetics and of the societal consequences of biased interpretations and mistaken theories, his book is a scholarly accomplishment, with a massive section of notes and numerous references. This is a comparative history of eugenics from the earliest (Francis Galton, 1865) to the current days (1984) since “modern eugenics” survived the exposure of the Nazi crimes (including imposed sterilizations that are still enforced to this day). Comparative between the UK and the US, however, hardly considering other countries, except for a few connections with Germany and the Soviet Union, albeit in the sole perspective of Muller’s sojourn there and the uneasy “open-minded” approach to Lysenkoism by Haldane. (Japan is also mentioned in connection with Neel’s study of the genetic impact of the atomic bombs.) While discussing the broader picture, the book mostly concentrates on the scientific aspects, on how the misguided attempts to reduce intelligence to IQ tests or to a single gene, and to improve humanity (or some of its subgroups) by State imposed policies perceived as crude genetic engineering simultaneously led to modern genetics and a refutation of eugenic perspectives by most if not all. There is very little about statistical methodology per, beside stories on the creation of Biometrika and the Annals of Eugenics, but much more on the accumulation of data by eugenic societies and the exploitation of this data for ideological purposes. Galton and Pearson get the lion’s share of the book, while Fisher does not get more coverage than Haldane or Penrose. Overall, I found the book immensely informative as exposing the diversity of scientific and pseudo-scientific viewpoints within eugenism and its evolution towards human genetics as a scientific endeavour.

the story of Gertrud and Auguste Macé

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2020 by xi'an

The discussions about the links between early statistics and eugenism brought back to memory the tragic story of a German-Norman couple, friends of my grandparents, Gertrud(e) and Auguste Macé, whom I met in the mid 1980’s. Auguste Macé was a school friend of my grandmother, born near the harbour city of Granville, Manche and, like my grandparents,  a war orphan, son of a French conscript killed in combat during WW I. During WW II, when Nazi Germany promptly invaded France in the Spring of 1940, Auguste Macé was part of the millions of French conscripts captured by German troops and sent to a stalag, in North-Eastern Germany (Prussia), where he was made to work in farms missing their workforce conscripted to war. In one of these farms, he met Gertrud, daughter of the farm owners, they fell in love, and Gertrud eventually got pregnant. When her pregnancy was revealed, Auguste was sent to another POW camp. And, while Gertrud was able to give birth to a baby boy, she was dreadfully punished by the Nazis for it: as she had broken their racial purity laws, she was sterilised and prevented from having further children, presumably staying in her parents’ farm. At the end of WW II, Auguste was freed by Soviet troops and went searching for Gertrud. It took him around six months of traveling in the chaotic post-war Germany, but he eventually found both her and their son! They then went back to Auguste’s farm, in Normandy, where they spent the rest of their life, with further hardships like the neighbourhood hostility to a Franco-German couple, lost their young adult son in circumstances I cannot remember, and tragically ending their life together in a car accident in 1988, on a trip to Germany… [When remembering this couple, I have been searching on-line for more information about them but apart from finding the military card of Auguste’s father and Auguste’s 1988 death record by INSEE, I could not spot any link in birth or wedding certificates or in the 98 lists of WW II French POWs. Where I could not find my great-uncle, either.]

Prague fatale [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2019 by xi'an

Another Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novel I order after reading [and taking place after] Prussian Blue, again with a double entendre title and plenty of smart lines representative of berliner Witz and Schnauze. But much darker than Prussian Blue, as the main character, Bernie Gunther, is getting more morally ambivalent, as a member of the SS, having participated in the mass murders of the Einsatzgruppen on the Eastern Front before his return to Berlin as a member of the intelligence branch of the SS. Under direct orders of Reinhard Heydrich, whose role in the novel is almost as central as Gunther’s. It is thus harder to relate to this anti-hero, and his constant disparagement of Nazis, when he is at the same time a significant if minor part of the Nazi State. It is also unplesant that most characters in the novel are mass murderers, to end up being executed after the war, as described in a post-note. Still, the story has strength in both the murder inquiry itself (until it fizzles out) and the immersion in 1942 Germany and Tchecoslovakia, a strength served by the historical assassination of Heydrich in May 1942. An immersion I do not wish to repeat in a near future, though…

As a side story, I bought this used book for £0.05 on Amazon and received a copy that looked as if it has been stolen from a library from East Renfrewshire, south of Glasgow, as it still had a plastic cover, the barcodes and the list of dates it had been borrowed. I thus called the central offices of the East Renfrewshire libraries to enquire whether or not the book had been stolen, and was told this was not the case, the book being part of a bulk sale of used books by the library to second hand sellers. And that I could enjoy reading the book at my own pace! (As a second order side story, East Renfrewshire is the place in Scotland where Rudolph Hess landed when trying to negociate on his own a peace treaty with Great-Britain in 1942.)

Prussian blue [book review]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2019 by xi'an

This is the one-before-last volume in Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series (one-before-last since the author passed away last year). Which I picked in a local bookstore for taking place in Berchtesgaden, which stands a few kilometers west of Salzburg and which I passed on my way there (and back) last week. Very good title, full of double meanings!

“When you’re working for people who are mostly thieves and murderers, a little of it comes off on your hands now and then.”

Two time-lines run in parallel in Prussian Blue, from 1939 Nazi Germany to 1956 France, from (mostly) hunter to hunted. Plenty of wisecracks worth quoting throughout the book, mostly à la Marlowe, but also singling out Berlin(ers) from the rest of Germany. An anti-hero if any in that Bernie Gunther is working there as a policeman for the Nazi State, aiming at making the law respected in a lawless era and to catch murderers at a time where the highest were all murderers and about to upscale this qualification to levels never envisioned before. Still working under Heydrich’s order to solve a murder despite the attempt of other arch-evils like Martin Bormann and Ernst Kaltenbrunner, as well as a helpful (if Hitler supporter!) Gerdy Troost. Among the Gunther novels I have read so far this one is the closest he gets to the ultimate evil, Hitler himself, who considered the Berghof in Berchtesgaden as his favourite place, without ever meeting him. The gratuitous violence and bottomless corruption inherent to the fascist regime are most realistically rendered in the thriller, to the point of making the possibility of a Bernie Gunther debatable!

‘Making a nuisance of yourself is what being a policeman is all about and suspecting people who were completely above suspicion was about the only thing that made doing the job such fun in Nazi Germany.’

As I kept reading the book I could not but draw a connection with the pre-War Rogue Male imperfect but nonetheless impressive novel, where an English “sport” hunter travels to Berchtesgaden to shoot (or aim at) Hitler only to get spotted by soldiers before committing the act and becoming hunted in his turn throughout Europe, ending up [spoiler!] in a burrow trapped by Nazi secret services [well this is not exactly the end!]. This connection has been pointed out in some reviews, but the role of the burrows and oppressive underground and the complicity of the local police forces are strongly present in both books and somewhat decreases the appeal of this novel. Especially since the 1956 thread therein is a much less convincing plot than the 1939 one, despite involving conveniently forgotten old colleagues, the East Germany Stasi, hopeless French policemen and clergymen, the Sarre referendum, [much maligned!] andouillettes and oignons.

Berlin [and Vienna] noir [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2017 by xi'an

While in Cambridge last month, I picked a few books from a local bookstore as fodder for my incoming vacations. Including this omnibus volume made of the first three books by Philip Kerr featuring Bernie Gunther, a private and Reich detective in Nazi Germany, namely, March Violets (1989), The Pale Criminal (1990), and A German Requiem (1991). (Book that I actually read before the vacations!) The stories take place before the war, in 1938, and right after, in 1946, in Berlin and Vienna. The books centre on a German version of Philip Marlowe, wise cracks included, with various degrees of success. (There actually is a silly comparison with Chandler on the back of the book! And I found somewhere else a similarly inappropriate comparison with Graham Greene‘s The Third Man…) Although I read the whole three books in a single week, which clearly shows some undeniable addictive quality in the plots, I find those plots somewhat shallow and contrived, especially the second one revolving around a serial killer of young girls that aims at blaming Jews for those crimes and at justifying further Nazi persecutions. Or the time spent in Dachau by Bernie Gunther as undercover agent for Heydrich. If anything, the third volume taking place in post-war Berlin and Wien is much better at recreating the murky atmosphere of those cities under Allied occupations. But overall there is much too much info-dump passages in those novels to make them a good read. The author has clearly done his documentation job correctly, from the early homosexual persecutions to Kristallnacht, to the fights for control between the occupying forces, but the information about the historical context is not always delivered in the most fluent way. And having the main character working under Heydrich, then joining the SS, does make relating to him rather unlikely, to say the least. It is hence unclear to me why those books are so popular, apart from the easy marketing line that stories involving Nazis are more likely to sell… Nothing to be compared with the fantastic Alone in Berlin, depicting the somewhat senseless resistance of a Berliner during the Nazi years, dropping hand-written messages against the regime under strangers’ doors.