Sailing (or Avoiding) The Exile’s Line to India

•January 28, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Today’s post comes to you courtesy of Dr. Laurence Miller, retired director of libraries at Florida International University and life-long ocean liner aficionado and collector. In 2008, Dr. Miller donated more than twenty-five thousand printed items (ranging from menus, advertising brochures, deck plans, etc.) to The Wolfsonian–FIU library, and he has been equally generous with his time and expertise, having continued to volunteer to help us catalog, digitize, and make accessible those materials. Having recently returned from a cruise of the Caribbean aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pearl, I was curious to hear Dr. Miller’s take on the older steamship companies and their voyages to the colonies and other more exotic ports and destinations on the other side of the world. Here is Dr. Miller’s report.


Novels such as E. M. Forster’s Passage to India, and more recently, the Masterpiece Theatre presentation of “Indian Summers” on PBS, have brought the British colonial period to life in vivid color.  Sometimes the picture painted was realistic and brutal; at other times it presented in great detail the colorful life of those who chose to serve the empire in the British colonial service. Depictions often ranged between the extremes, with the colonizers motivated by a genuine desire to help the native populations improve their quality of life, or alternatively, by mere boredom and insensitivity.

Both of these positive and negative images have their counterparts in the colonial maritime services of other countries, especially those created by the French and Dutch.

The weeks spent getting between the home country and colonial destination are most often given casual treatment, sometimes deservedly so in view of the mundane experience provided by lines providing this essential service. Transportation, rather than the sea experience, was primary. Especially on the P&O and Orient Line, passengers often found the social hierarchies applied to the social interactions on board. This drove many British passengers to lines such as Messageries Maritimes (serving French colonies), Lloyd Triestino, and Dutch companies.

In Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Exiles’ Line” (1890), the poet panned the seagoing experience of P&O.

“Twelve knots an hour, be they more or less,

Oh slothful mother of much idleness

Whom neither rivals spur nor contracts speed!”

In the days before air conditioning, the P&O ships with their stone-colored superstructures and black hulls must have felt like ovens during the passage through the Red Sea in summer.

Leaving aside the social atmosphere on board, in the 1930s the seagoing experience became much better. As Noel Coward observed during a post WWI voyage in the Orient, even P&O had “Pulled up their socks.”  The Wolfsonian–FIU museum and research center has a rich collection of promotional materials about the British, French, Italian, and Dutch colonial liners.

Some of the characters in “Indian Summers” might have reached their destinations in the brand-new Orcades of Orient Lines which in the 1930s set new standards in décor and accommodation for British colonial liners. Leading the way was Orient Line, which became a subsidiary of P&O after the First World War.

Below one can see the forward superstructure of the new Orcades, unfortunately sunk by a German U-boat off South Africa during the Second World War in 1942.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The ship’s décor featured an absence of dark wood paneling. Instead, interiors were intended to provide a light an airy atmosphere, good cross-ventilation with, on higher decks, windows that opened.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Many of these vessels, upgraded and equipped with air-conditioning, survived to be used as cruise ships during the fifties and sixties.

At about the same time, Harold Nicolson chose a Dutch colonial liner, Willem Ruys, for what was probably the first ocean voyage he had ever taken for pleasure rather than business. Friends had advanced funds to send Nicolson and his wife, Vita Sackville-West, on an extended ocean voyage via the Royal Rotterdam Lloyd.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

Willem Ruys, which had lain incomplete in the shipyard throughout World War II, was one of the most beautiful and elegant colonial liners ever built. In the shipyard, snipers fought occasional battles with the occupiers around the hull which was miraculously almost undamaged during this period.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

Willem Ruys exemplified Dutch contemporary elegance of the late 1930s.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

Our Masterpiece Theatre characters might have elected to go further afield to choose the Lloyd Triestino’s Victoria–more fashionable and, perhaps beautiful, than any of the competition. She linked Italy with the Asia, including, of course, stops in India.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Possibly the most beautiful of all the colonial liners was the motorship Victoria, the design masterpiece of Gustavo Pulitzer Finali.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Unfortunately, she too was a World War II submarine victim while carrying Italian troops to North Africa.  But during the thirties, she was a favorite of many Europeans sailing to the Orient.

The French company Messageries Maritimes sought to reflect its colonial destination in the interiors of its vessels sailing to and from French Indo-China, and Japan. The Felix Roussell, dating from 1930, is typical of the ships that maintained the maritime links between France, Indo-China, and other destinations in Asia.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

Like many other vessels in colonial service, the ship had an afterlife as a cruise and transatlantic ship. She carried with her to the last the lovely wooden paneling and Oriental carving illustrated both in the Messageries illustrations above, and in the brochure of the Arosa Line, below.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

Here is the Arosa Sun in her afterlife as a transatlantic liner and cruise ship.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

Throughout her days as a transatlantic liner, cruise, and emigrant ship, she retained the interior decorative detail more appropriate to an Indo-Chinese setting while helping to meet the demand for low-cost transportation from Europe to Canada.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a day to remember aeronautical history, Wolfsonian style

•December 17, 2015 • Leave a Comment


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

A historical anniversary and a news announcement I heard this morning on National Public Radio had me thinking about airships and aeronautical stunts today. While men first took to the skies in hot air balloons, on this day in 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully launched their home-made, heavier-than-air biplane.

86.19.398.5_101117The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Building on the work of German engineers who had experimented with glider technology as early as the 1890s, in the first years of the new millennium the Wright brothers experimented with hundreds of wing designs, developed a steering rudder, and added a 12-horsepower internal combustion engine to their airframe to enable powered flight. On December 17, 1903, Orville piloted their experimental biplane above the dunes of Kill Devil Hills on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a distance of 120 feet in a flight that lasted 12 seconds. Their successful flight ushered in the age of aeronautics.

I had also heard on the radio today that Florida mailman, Doug Hughes has announced his intention to run for a Congressional seat. Hughes—(no relation to the eccentric aviator Howard Hughes)—achieved public notoriety (and arrest) for his self-proclaimed act of “civil disobedience” in flying a single-seat gyrocopter from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to the nation’s capital. Hughes landed his craft on the sloped lawn in front of the Capitol building in April, 2015 with the intention of delivering 535 letters to Congress and garnering public attention and support for his crusade to get lobbyists and special interest money out of politics.

Hughes' gyrocopter sits on the west lawn of the Capitol after he was taken into custody on April 15.

Photograph courtesy of Alex Wong, Getty Images

Hughes was immediately taken into custody upon landing, charged with operating an aircraft without an airman’s license, pled guilty, and has been wearing an ankle monitor while awaiting sentencing scheduled for April, 2016. Hughes’ aeronautical stunt generated incredible press—ironically, less about the doleful influence of lobbyists in Congress, and more about how an individual had been able to fly “under the radar” and to penetrate sensitive airspace in Washington, D.C. despite post-9/11 security measures.

We have a number of items in our rare book and special collections library that document the technology of helicopters and autogiros. The plan below shows the profile design for the Hélicoptère Léger published contemporaneously with the famous Wright brothers’ flight of 1903.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Neither airplane nor helicopter, the autogiro aircraft of the 1920s and ’30s combined attributes of both.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Photographic images in one such rare book picture landings made in front of the Capitol building amidst much public acclaim.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Having taught a course at Florida International University for a number of years on the Great Depression and New Deal Era in Film and History, Hughes’s stunt reminded me of a scene from Stand Up and Cheer!, a 1934 American musical directed by Hamilton MacFadden. The film centers on the character of Lawrence Cromwell, a Broadway director tapped by the President—(the audience never sees his face, but the voice makes it clear that it is Franklin D. Roosevelt)—to serve as director of a newly created “Department of Amusement.” In the movie, the president is convinced that depression-weary Americans have lost their characteristic optimism and he hopes that the Department of Amusement will make them smile again. The new appointee, in keeping with his reputation for theatrics, arrives in Washington for his meeting with the president in an autogiro that lands directly in front of the Capitol building.

Once he takes up his new post, Cromwell is busy auditioning vaudeville acts, reviewing musical revues, organizing circus troupes, song and dance performers (including a tap-dancing Shirley Temple), and other entertainment programs that foreshadow those actually funded by the very real Federal Theatre Project between 1935 and 1939.



The Christopher DeNoon Collection for the Study of New Deal Culture


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

 Ironically, Cromwell’s efforts to laugh away the woes of the Great Depression are undermined by political opponents and lobbyists intent on destroying what they see as a “frivolous” federal program. Similarly, the Federal Theatre Project was attacked by disaffected Democratic defectors, (like Martin Dies of the House Un-American Activities Committee, or HUAC), and defunded by Congress.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Installation of Feliks Topolski Drawings of the Eastern Front in 1941 Opens at The Wolfsonian–FIU

•November 21, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Todays post comes to you courtesy of Associate Librarian, Dr. Nicolae Harsanyi. Dr. Harsanyi, a native of Romania, is a scholar with expertise in Eastern European politics and history. He was asked by the museum to work on an installation of original drawings by Polish artist Feliks Topolski that opened a couple of days ago because he is not only fluent in Russian, but is particularly knowledgeable about the history of the Soviet Union and its relations with its near neighbors. Topolski was living in England when the Second World War broke out following the German (and Soviet) invasion of Poland in September, 1939. Following the German attack on the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, Topolski accompanied the first British relief convoy sent to Russia to help them defend Moscow, as Stalin would not allow foreign photographers to document front line conditions. As a Polish national, Topolski was granted access by the Soviet regime to visit the Polish army prisoners who were being reformed into units intended to repel the Nazi invaders. (As many as 22,000 Polish officers and intelligentsia captured and rounded up by the Soviet invaders had previously been secretly massacred in the Katyn Forest by order of the Soviet Politburo in April and May, 1940). Dr. Harsanyi did much of the research on the items selected for inclusion in the installation and the descriptive text accompanying those images in the exhibition catalog. Here is his report.

The installation “An Artist on the Eastern Front: Feliks Topolski, 1941” opened this past Thursday. The items exhibited in the last gallery on the fifth floor of the museum are part of the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection donated to the Wolfsonian–FIU nearly two years ago.  Out of the 57 original drawings donated by the Sharfs, curator Jon Mogul and I have selected 26 original drawings for public display.



The installation was designed by Richard Miltner, our museum’s chief exhibition designer.


Before its public unveiling, the museum staff participated in a curator-led tour of the exhibition. In his opening remarks, Jon Mogul mentioned the importance of the donation for the holdings of the Wolfsonian.


He then went on to present an outline of the life and work of Feliks Topolski.



In my turn, I spoke about some details regarding Topolski’s trip to the Soviet Union, a few months after the country had been invaded by Nazi Germany and its allies.  I also mentioned the circumstances in which Stalin intended to set up a Polish army which would fight the invaders on the side of the Soviet military.


Both Jon and I also emphasized not only the documentary value of the work (scenes from life in the Soviet Union during the Second World War) but also the artistic mastery of Topolski’s drawings, which represent a fresh combination of expressionism and realism.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf

On this occasion, the Wolfsonian also published a catalog including an essay by Laura Brandon on war artists, Jon Mogul’s review of Topolski’s life and career, as well as captioned reproductions of the drawings on display. The catalog is available for sale in the museum’s café and shop.


“Every Thursday at 4 p.m….”: Wolfsonian reminiscences of the Union Castle Line

•November 4, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Today’s post comes to you from Dr. Laurence Miller, who, after a lifetime of collecting ocean liner promotional materials, not only gifted them to The Wolfsonian—FIU library, but regularly volunteers his time a couple of days each week to help us document and catalog his collection. Here is Dr. Miller’s most recent post:

“Every Thursday at 4:00 p.m….” This most famous phrase associated with the Union Castle Line reflected the clockwork-like schedule for which the company was famous. Indeed, every Thursday at 4 p.m., a lavender–hulled Union Castle passenger, cargo and mail ship would sail from Southampton, England for South Africa; simultaneously, another would begin the voyage from Capetown to Southampton. To maintain this service—one of the longest in the world—required no less than eight vessels ranging from twenty to thirty thousand tons–small ships by today’s standards, but medium-sized in the immediate postwar era. Each accommodated approximately 650 passengers, (normally in two classes), which, considering the size of the ships, meant that there was an abundance of space per passenger on deck and in public rooms.

XC2008_09_1_273_78_008Laurence Miller Collection, The Wolfsonian—FIU

As passenger liners, the Union Castle vessels had some of the loveliest profiles afloat. The general impression was long and lean. In spite of the narrow-bodied hulls, the ships depended heavily on cargo to remain profitable, and there was keen demand for their cargo space. Machines, vehicles, textiles, apparel, glassware and general cargo were exported from Britain to South Africa. On the northbound sailings, cargo holds were filled with wool, hides, wines, and fruit.

XC2008. Miller Collection, The Wolfsonian—FIU

The large areas reserved for cargo space would eventually hasten the demise of the line once the industry shifted to container ships. The S.A. Vaal found new life as Carnival Cruise Line’s Festivale. Vice President for Operations at Carnival, Meshulam Zonis, inspected the ship and recommended her purchase. He also noted that the ship contained a special area for transporting gold.


Laurence Miller Collection, The Wolfsonian—FIU

Décor in passenger areas ranged from elegant to eccentric. The first class lounge of the Pendennis Castle provides an excellent example of Union Castle elegance; an example of the eccentric can be seen below in a suite sitting room complete with chintz and a fake fireplace!


Laurence Miller Collection, The Wolfsonian—FIU

If the brochure pictures are any guide, the evening ambiance was formal, as can be seen in this photographic illustration of the First Class dining room of Edinburgh Castle.

XC2008_09_1_273_52_014Laurence Miller Collection, The Wolfsonian—FIU

Although the ships of the Union Castle Line were comfortable rather than luxurious, it is the lifestyle on board during the long, leisurely voyages for which the vessels most likely will be remembered. Most passengers were using the ships as transportation, which lent the sailings both a sense of purpose and passenger lists reflecting many segments of British and South African society. The uncrowded, open decks provided abundant opportunity for outdoor enjoyment in good weather, although South African waters could be rough in winter. One of the later ships, the Pendennis Castle, was lengthened in the building yard to permit installation of stabilizers without sacrificing earning capacity.

XC2008_09_1_273_52_010Laurence Miller Collection, The Wolfsonian—FIU

First class accommodations catered to wealthy citizens of Britain and South Africa who traveled, often seasonally, between the two countries, while tourist class afforded emigrants and those of lesser means an affordable way to make the same journey. In both classes, there was extensive deck space where most passengers spent their days and, often, evenings as well. Most of the mail ships were not air-conditioned; rooms were designed accordingly with high ceilings, large windows opening onto shaded decks, and, one hopes, good ventilation. Bathrooms were often shared, even in first class; heavy carpeting was avoided to help create a cool atmosphere. Cabins, especially in tourist class, could be small, perhaps reflecting the limited time spent in them as opposed to on deck.

XC2008_09_1_273_52_006Laurence Miller Collection, The Wolfsonian—FIU

After arriving in Capetown, southbound ships went on to Port Elizabeth, East London, and Durban, South Africa affording South Africans a reasonably priced ten-day round trip vacation voyage between Capetown and the city and popular beach resort of Durban. On the northern end of the mail service, Britons could use the vessels as an inexpensive but pleasant means of reaching Madeira and Las Palmas at any time of the year.
There was no need to forsake maritime surroundings after arrival in Capetown; the line built the Mount Nelson Hotel surrounded by a nicely shaded park and with furnishings from older, retired Union Castle liners. It ensured that passengers had appropriate accommodations in South Africa and reminds one of the hotels Matson Lines built in Honolulu for the same purpose.

XC2008_09_1_273_52_012rtLaurence Miller Collection, The Wolfsonian—FIU

Up until July, 1965, Union Castle offered 13 ½ day voyage lengths for the United Kingdom to Capetown mail service; after that date the company accelerated them to 11 ½-day passages. In fact, Pretoria and Edinburgh had been built more than fifteen years earlier with higher service speeds built into their design. The Mail Service finally ended 120 years to the day from its inception. The final sailing of the mail service was made by a cargo ship, the Southampton Castle, on 24 October 1977. While the mail service garnered most of the attention, the line concurrently maintained a monthly ‘Round Africa service in each direction using vessels of about 17,000 tons. The complete voyage took about two months.

XC2008_09_1_273_46_000Laurence Miller Collection, The Wolfsonian—FIU

A Dedication to Liberty: A Wolfsonian—FIU Reflection on the Anniversary of the Dedication of the Statue of Liberty

•October 28, 2015 • Leave a Comment

In a dedication ceremony presided over by U.S. President Grover Cleveland and attended by numerous French dignitaries, the last rivet was fitted onto the monumental Statue of Liberty anchored on its pedestal in New York harbor on this day in 1886. This gift of friendship from the French people was originally called “Liberty Enlightening the World” and conceived of as a tribute to the Franco-American alliance forged during the American War of Independence.

The 151-foot statue of a woman holding high the torch of liberty was designed by French sculptor, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904), and its copper wrought and assembled in Paris.




The steel structure needed to support the giant copper shell was jointly designed by the architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879) and finished after his death by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923)—latter to win international fame as the designer of Paris’ iconic Eiffel Tower.


The statue was completed in France in May, 1884, and three months later the cornerstone of the pedestal was laid on Bedloe’s Island in New York harbor. Afterwards, the statue was dismantled and shipped in pieces to the United States in more than two hundred individual crates.


The images from this post derive from the book, The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, described and inscribed by the sculptor Bartholdi, and published in New York in 1885 “for the Benefit of the Pedestal Fund.”


When Ellis Island was opened as the central immigration processing station in 1892, the nearby Statue of Liberty became a symbol of hope for those seeking a new life in the United States.


Since that time, Lady Liberty’s image has been invoked to instill a sense of patriotism, most especially in times when American liberty seemed threatened by winds of war. Once the United States became directly involved in the Great War in 1917, sheet music covers and even children’s books reproduced this great symbol of liberty and Franco-American friendship to sell citizens on the necessity of intervening in the “European conflict” on the side of our old ally.


Gift of Francis Xavier Luca and Clara Helena Palacio Luca



Gift of Pamela K. Harer

A propaganda poster designed by Armando Vassallo also used Lady Liberty, (combined with the flags of the Entente allies), to welcome America into the fight against autocracy.


Another powerful liberty bond poster used a decapitated Lady Liberty and New York City burning in the background to graphically depict the worst case scenario of what might befall America and liberty if she were to lose the war.


Gift of Henry Hacker

A label printed to celebrate the Armistice that ended the Great War also depicted the Statue of Liberty.


Victory Gold Levi Collection, The Wolfsonian—FIU

Between 1929 and 1939, during the difficult decade of worldwide depression and the rise of fascism in Europe, Lady Liberty was used in propaganda designed by the critics of American capitalism. In a block book printed (but not published) by the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) during the infamous Scottsboro race trial, Lady Liberty has been displaced by a Ku Klux Klansman wielding a machine gun and holding a hang man’s noose, and sporting a dollar sign and swastika.


One of the CPUSA’s most prolific artists, Hugo Gellert (1892-1985) portrayed a distressed Lady Liberty with a burned-out torch on the lining papers of his illustrated satire, Comrade Gulliver: An Illustrated Account of Travel into that Strange Country the United States of America.


On the opposite side of the political spectrum, Italian fascists also recognized the importance of the image of the Statue of Liberty, and deployed it in propaganda materials commemorating a “good-will” transatlantic flight to the Chicago world’s fair—a feat that also demonstrated the power and reach of Mussolini’s fascist state.


In 1938, Vaughn Shoemaker, the American cartoonist responsible for creating and popularizing “John Q. Public,” returned from a trip to troubled Europe and bestowed a grateful kiss on Lady Liberty.


But it was the threat and then outbreak of the Second World War that brought the image of the Statue of Liberty back into the American consciousness. In 1941, artist Harry Gottlieb depicted Lady Liberty as a literal beacon of freedom for those fleeing Fascist and Nazi oppression in Europe.


Natacha Carlu’s poster printed by the Free French Press and Information Service in 1942 coupled Lady Liberty with Marianne and the slogan: “Liberty…Sweet Liberty…Guide and Support Our Vengeful Arms.”


Other graphic artists preparing Americans for wartime service once the United States entered the conflict also deployed Lady Liberty in a barrage of propaganda posters, pamphlets, postcards, envelopes and stationery.




Gift of Leonard A. Lauder




Victory Gold Levi Collection, The Wolfsonian—FIU

Achille’s Keel: A Wolfsonian Glimpse of the Achille Lauro on the Anniversary of the Hijacking

•October 10, 2015 • 1 Comment

On October 7th, 1985, four heavily armed Palestinian Liberation Front terrorists hijacked the Italian liner, Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean Sea just off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt. While hundreds of passengers had disembarked earlier that day to visit Cairo and make excursions to the ancient pyramids, 320 crewmembers and 80 passengers aboard the cruise ship were taken hostage. The hijackers demanded the release of 50 Palestinian militants imprisoned in Israel and threatened to kill the Americans and British passengers and blow up the ship if their demands were not met.

The Achille Lauro sailed to Syria, but was refused permission to anchor. The terrorists responded by shooting and pushing a wheelchair-bound Jewish-American passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, overboard. The ship was piloted to Port Said, and on October 9th negotiators convinced the hijackers to free the remaining hostages and to surrender to Egyptian authorities in exchange for safe passage. On October 10th, the hijackers boarded an EgyptAir Boeing 737 airliner in Cairo and headed for Tunisia. U.S. Navy F-14 fighter planes intercepted the airliner and forced it to land at a NATO base in Sicily, where the hijackers were taken into custody. The hijack participants were later tried, convicted, and sentenced to 15 to 30 year prison terms; the organizers of the plot were sentenced in absentia to life in prison.

The Achille Lauro has been inextricably linked in popular imagination to tragedy ever since. Promotional materials in The Wolfsonian–FIU library’s Laurence Miller Collection, however, present a rosier view of the liner in happier times.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

Beautiful color photographs reproduced in advertising brochures celebrate the bright and modern interiors of the ship’s public rooms and lounges, and comfortable first and tourist class accommodations.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

There was also the ubiquitous deck plan included to orient their travelers in the layout of the ship.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

The promotional literature also emphasized the “exotic” ports of call and destinations that prospective passengers would have the pleasure of visiting on a typical cruise.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

The Achille Lauro—(which had originally been built by the Rotterdamsche Lloyd Line and had first been commissioned as the MS Willem Ruys)—had experienced other serious incidents over the course of some fifty years of service. In 1953, the ship collided with the MS Oranje and in 1975 with a cargo ship; in 1965, 1972, 1981, and 1994, the ship was plagued by serious onboard fires. The last one, originating with an explosion in the engine room, could not be contained and resulted in orders to abandon ship. The Achille Lauro subsequently sank in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia on December 2nd, 1994.

Unhappy Anniversary: A Wolfsonian Reflection on the Abandonment of the Czechs and the Appeasement of Hitler, Munich, 1938

•September 30, 2015 • Leave a Comment

As is clear from some editorial cartoons published by the American cartoonist Vaughn Shoemaker (creator of “John Q. Public”) in September, 1938, Europeans experienced another great “war scare.” That month, Adolf Hitler made demands for a “greater Germany” and initiated a campaign of threats, bluff, and bluster designed to carve out more territory in the “heart” of Europe.


The WolfsonianFIU, Anonymous donor

Flushed with his recent success in engineering the relatively bloodless annexation of Austria into his “greater Germany,” in September, 1938, Herr Hitler turned his attention and appetite on the “German-speaking Sudetenland,” determined to wrest it away from the Czechoslovakian Republic created in the wake of the First World War. Hitler’s demands on September 22nd for the “immediate cession” of the territory and the removal of the Czech population by the month’s end triggered troop mobilization in Czechoslovakia and France and the threat of another European war.



The WolfsonianFIU, Anonymous donor

In an attempt to avert the crisis, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier traveled to Munich to meet with Herr Hitler. If the Czechs hoped that Britain and France would honor their commitment to defend their nation in the event of a German invasion, the pact signed in Munich must have come as a grave shock.


The WolfsonianFIU, Anonymous donor

While Daladier was against appeasing and encouraging Nazi Germany’s aggressive and expansionist aims, his British counterpart was unprepared and unwilling to go to war over Czechoslovakia. In fact, Chamberlain not only cheerfully signed the Munich Pact, but stayed behind to sign another document with Hitler to ensure the future of an Anglo-German peace. Returning to England, Chamberlain addressed crowds of ecstatic Londoners claiming that the Munich Pact had secured “peace with honor” and “peace in our time.”


The WolfsonianFIU, Anonymous donor

The peace celebrations were decidedly short-lived, at least for the Czechoslovaks. The day after Chamberlain’s self-congratulatory speech in London, the Czechoslovak government capitulated to Hitler’s annexation demands, knowing their tiny army could not stand alone against the mighty German Wehrmacht.


The WolfsonianFIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Having whetted his insatiable appetite with the Sudetenland, Hitler annexed the remainder of the country in March 1939 and the Czech nation ceased to exist.


The WolfsonianFIU

While Neville Chamberlain momentarily appeared to be the master negotiator who saved the world from the threat of a second “Great War,” history has been less kind to his image and his influence. In a political parody of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland published before the outbreak of WWII in 1939, Chamberlain is depicted as the hookah-smoking caterpillar besting a diminutive Hitler.


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Pamela K. Harer

After Nazi Germany invaded Poland and provoked the Second World War, the British Prime Minister’s policy of appeasement fell into immediate disrepute, and images of Chamberlain are far less flattering.


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Martijn F. Le Coultre


The WolfsonianFIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

For the Czechs, of course, that disillusionment came much earlier.


The WolfsonianFIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


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