On the evening of November 8th, 1923, three key Bavarian government officials were together at a meeting in Munich: Gustav Ritter von Kahr, the Kommissar of Bavaria (commissioner general), General Lossow (head of the Bavarian branch of the German Army), and Colonel Seisser (head of the Bavarian State Police). The commissioner held near-dictatorial powers, while the two officers represented the official military strength of Bavaria.
The meeting was a public gathering at the Burgerbraukeller Beer Hall, where Kahr was giving a speech. Beer halls were the venue of choice in 1920s Munich for town meetings, as well as for drinking and eating. Invitations had been sent to the business community, leading politicians, city officials and parliamentarians, academics, the top newspaper editors, justices, and even members of the royal house of Bavaria. Three thousand patrons now filled every space.
Hitler and the Nazi Party had been planning an insurrection, a putsch, to replace the government at some future date, but this opportunity was too good to pass up. He and his closest confederates set out in a whirl of secret preparations—retrieving weapons, mobilizing and distributing troops, making assignments, deploying resources, setting schedules.
At 8:30 that evening, after Kahr had begun his speech, Hitler and a platoon of uniformed men pushed their way inside the beer hall. He jumped onto a table, fired a pistol at the ceiling, got everyone’s attention, and announced that a “national revolution” had begun and that the building was surrounded by troops; people should not attempt to leave.
As the audience stood stunned, Hitler forced the three officials into a backroom, convinced them to become co-conspirators in the putsch, assigned them high-level leadership roles in the new government (with himself as the new dictator), and demanded their utmost allegiance. With Hitler holding a pistol to their heads, the men agreed.
The crowd grew restless and rowdy, jeering at the soldiers. Hitler returned to the podium, and, sensing the hostility of the crowd, delivered a stirring patriotic, personal, and nationalistic speech that turned the crowd into a rousing, enthusiastic, and vocal group of supporters. When his new co-conspirators joined him on the podium and declared their allegiance to the New Order, the crowd erupted with excitement.
The Nazi Party was well prepared for inciting an insurrection—several militarized groups had been placed to take over government buildings (the putschists had about four thousand armed men) and subdue the existing military forces (which, in Munich, numbered about twenty-six hundred). They expected to take government officials hostage, capture key Jewish businessmen to show their resolve, and had a number of Nazi members ready to take over important government positions as soon as the current occupiers were dethroned. Wall posters, a main method of spreading news, had already been printed and posted, proclaiming the new government. Most importantly, the stately General Ludendorff, a renown and universally admired military hero of World War I, appeared at the Burgerbraukeller, endorsed the takeover, and then helped lead the uprising.
Unfortunately, the Nazis did not capture the communications systems, a requirement for any modern-day insurrection. Within hours, anti-putsch forces had used the telephone and telegraph systems to mobilize forces outside of Munich, send out warnings and instructions, and to order all Munich newspapers to refrain from reporting the event. Without publicity, the putsch could not succeed.
Hitler had left the beer hall to assist in the takeover of the Bavarian military headquarters, leaving his three new co-conspirators in the hands of General Ludendorff. They gave their word of honor that they needed to see to the duties of launching the new government, walked out of the beer hall, and then reversed their pledges of allegiance. They resumed their previous roles and ordered the regular German Army and the Bavarian Police to arrest the insurrectionists. They would soon officially ban the Nazi Party.
Returning to the beer hall and finding levels of despair and discouragement, Hitler greeted the dawn by eating breakfast—two eggs and a slice of meat loaf, with tea—then assessed his situation.
Faced with inevitable defeat, Hitler gave the putsch one last chance and organized the fighters (along with some hostages taken during the night) to march from the beer hall to Odeon Square, a Munich landmark in the inner city. At noon, following their leaders linked arm-in-arm, two thousand men formed into loosely organized parade columns and marched into the heart of Munich. They sang rousing songs, waved flags with swastikas, and shouted slogans all the way to the famous Field Marshals’ Memorial. The public along the route clapped, saluted, and cheered.
Reaching the Memorial, the marchers were suddenly blocked by a line of Bavarian State Police.
It was never established who fired first, but someone did, and chaos broke out. It took only a half-minute of violence to leave four policemen dead, while the marchers lost thirteen men. Hitler was pushed to the ground for protection, covered by a loyal bodyguard (who took several bullets, but would survive). His only injury would be a dislocated shoulder. He escaped to a friend’s villa.
The marchers fled and the putsch was over. Hitler and the Nazis had stormed the gate and failed.
Hitler was found two days later and taken to a state prison in Landsburg, a small town about thirty minutes west of Munich. A state-of-the-art penitentiary that could house five hundred convicts, its compound included several large wings, four stories high. Another wing was special. Called “the fortress”, it was a two-story, rectangular, white-washed building with an orange tile roof, and had been built to house high-level, political prisoners. Inmates there served an “honorable imprisonment”, which translated into having minimum security rules and a few “perks” not given to regular prisoners.
Much like a one-star hotel with bars on the windows, Hitler was placed in the fifth “cell” on the second floor. Two large windows overlooked the prison yard, an ordinary door served for privacy instead of a steel gate, and the inmate was allowed to freely move about the different cells, hallways, and central areas. Hitler’s room had a simple white metal bunk with mattress and blankets, a wooden writing table, two chairs, and a wardrobe. The food would be regular and good. He would later be given a typewriter.
It was, however, still a prison, and Adolf Hitler was a prisoner—angry, disappointed, and in deep anguish. He initially tried to starve himself to death, causing him to be moved to an isolated hospital cell, but was encouraged out of it by a slew of friends and well-wishers. His return to eating did not cause him to be a better prisoner—he still raged against the aborted attempt at an uprising, the three men who had betrayed him, the guards, the gate-keepers, the warden, and especially the lawyers who tried to interview him. A stream of visitors helped substantially, including Ludendorff, who was also facing trial, and his dog, Wolf, who was brought in by special request.
The trial of the high-level prisoners began almost two months later, on a snowy day, February 26, 1924, at a Munich military academy where the security had been beefed up to resist possible attacks. There were three jurors, called “lay judges”, and two professional judges, all led by a chief judge, Georg Neithardt. The trial process called for the defendants to be called first and given time to explain their actions, and then would also be asked to speak again at the trial’s end, in rebuttal if needed. In between, prosecutors, defendants, and lawyers interviewed witnesses and made their arguments.
When he learned that the judges were all Bavarian and that Neithardt was decidedly a nationalist, Hitler sensed an opportunity.
The trial was a major news event even beyond Germany. The trial attendees included not only a corps of German newspapermen, but nearly fifty foreign journalists, including the New York Times and the London Times. Some local newspapers put out two editions a day while covering the trial. It was the largest audience Hitler could have ever dreamed of.
Giving his opening speech (it lasted four hours; he had prepared 52 pages of notes) and ending with a final rebuttal a month later (it was much shorter), Adolf Hitler freely confessed to the charges laid against him. He portrayed himself as a fiercely loyal, patriotic, full-blooded, wounded army veteran who passionately wished for Germany to be reborn as the Great Nation that it had once been.
He decried the betrayals that brought Germany’s loss in WWI, the illegitimate and humiliating sanctions of the Versailles Treaty, the gutless intervening German governments, the degradation of race and culture brought about by the mixing of diverse peoples, and the utter destruction of German society brought about by the Jews and the Bolsheviks. If he acted through rebellion, it was because of his desire for the return of honor, dignity, purity, national strength, and national pride. He foretold of a new Germany, one of international prominence and respect, and was ready to leap forward to make it happen.
He used the trial as a “bully pulpit” to lay out his understanding of the past and present, while he painted the image of a glowing, powerful, and righteous future Germany. The German attendees (even the prosecuting attorneys), as well as the judges, were swept up in the heroic language of his descriptions and the artistry of his images; there were often rounds of applause. He addressed their fears, their resentments, their hopes, telling them what they so wanted to hear. He convinced them that no true German would have performed any differently than he, and that he had acted in all their names as well as his own.
Even framed by clear statements of his role in the history of Germany, Hitler could not escape a guilty verdict (he had confessed, after all) and received the minimum mandatory sentence of five years imprisonment. However, Neithardt made him eligible for parole in six months, making his conviction for high treason a veritable slap-on-the-wrist.
More importantly, the international political community now knew his name and had witnessed the power that he possessed. Adolf Hitler had made it clear that he and his principles were not only a force in Germany’s future, they were Germany’s future. It was a position he never relinquished.
Remember the movie Chariots of Fire? Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, both world-class runners in the 100 meters were competing at the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Because of his Christian beliefs, Liddell refused to run in a 100-meter qualifying heat that took place on a Sunday, making it impossible for him to compete any further. However, a fellow teammate offered his place in the 400-meter race to Liddell, who had never competed at 400 meters. Liddell accepted and went on to win the gold in the 400-meters, while Abrahams won the gold in the 100-meters. It was a great movie.
In 1924, my father was four years old, my mother three; the Wrigley Building in Chicago was completed as the headquarters of the Wrigley Gum Company; two U. S. Army planes completed the first round-the-world flight, taking 175 days; and the first Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix, France, in February, with Norway winning 17 medals and Finland coming in second with 11.
In 1924, the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company changed its name to International Business Machines Corporation (IBM); Simon & Schuster published the first crossword puzzle book; Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming was elected the first female governor in the United States; and the Loeb brothers committed murder.
The most important event of 1924, however, was that Adolf Hitler was tried in a People’s Court of Bavaria, a state within Germany, and was found guilty of high treason.
Yeah, that wasn’t in my Top Ten, either. I knew that Hitler had spent a few months in jail, but didn’t remember anything specific about it. For all that is associated with Hitler, I never considered that any particular year was more significant than others.
But 1924 was more significant--unbelievably significant. Being arrested for attempting to overthrow the Bavarian state government was crushing to him at the time (first, that it had failed; second, that the common sentence for high treason was hanging), but the trial afterwards made Adolph Hitler into everything he wanted to be, and set the context for everything that we remember him for.
Looking at Hitler’s attempted coup, its failure, his arrest, his trial, his imprisonment, and the subsequent fallout made me interested in reading about Hitler, his beliefs, and his personality traits. I can only read what other people have said, but I have found him more dimensional than the typical caricature--the moustache, the slick-backed hair, the penetrating eyes, the shouting, the salute, the intense anti-Semitism, the pervasive evil, the psychopathic behavior.
He had, in fact, rather ordinary personality traits that sound familiar to me. He was socially clumsy, had lower class sensitivities, heavily resented the upper class, was embarrassed by body odors (he apparently farted a lot and took medicine for it), became a vegetarian and a hypochondriac, and was inept around women (maybe because he considered them inferior, but maybe because they made him feel small; I know that feeling).
He made jokes, but was more amused by other people’s jokes. He sometimes belly-laughed until he lost his breath. He had little regard for schedules and was habitually late for meetings (he would later require a full-time secretary to guide him through his day). He would stay awake most nights because he couldn’t sleep and then routinely stay in bed past noon. He wasted considerable time in idleness and caused others to waste their time as well. He was a famously bad dresser—wearing the same overcoat for years, using a tie until it frayed, having few clothes, never buying a new hat.
His best friend was his dog, a German Shepherd named Wolf. He was amazingly harsh and vindictive towards his companions, making him a solitary figure while still being desperate for attention. Not counting his mother, he was never emotionally close or even open to anyone. Even Eva Braun lived life at a distance. She was isolated until she was called for, kept apart from visitors, could only be around Hitler at his discretion, and was allowed few friends of her own. He wanted her focus to be on him only.
Rather than marching through his personal history, I have summarized some of his personality traits. As inadequate an approach as this is, you’ll see how the traits factor into his trial and imprisonment.
I want to emphasize:
“I can recall the gaunt, pale-faced youth pretty well. He had definite talent, though in a narrow field. But he lacked self-discipline, being notoriously cantankerous, willful, arrogant, and irascible. He had obvious difficulty in fitting in at school. Moreover, he was lazy; otherwise, with his gifts, he would have done very much better…But his enthusiasm for hard work evaporated all too quickly. He reacted with ill-concealed hostility to advice or reproof; at the same time, he demanded of his fellow pupils their unqualified subservience, fancying himself in the role of a leader.”
[He dropped out of school after the eighth grade. That was the extent of his formal education.]
There are more traits, but these reflect the foundations of his behavior by 1919 and will resonate with what is said at his trial in 1924.
In the following four years, 1919-1923, Adolf Hitler would go from being a loner and “an oddball” to becoming one of the most powerful political figures in German politics.
He had learned radical political concepts while living in poverty in Vienna for five years, then moved to Munich and joined the German army, swept up by the fervor of WWI. He fought four years in the trenches of France and Belgium, then continued in the army until he visited a meeting of the German Workers’ Party. He was intrigued, supportive, and then obsessed with forming a new government based on Socialism.
His ability to debate the political leaders and to mobilize the group members was far beyond the capabilities of the others and he was asked to be their spokesman. The group changed the name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party--Nationalsozialistischer Deutscher Arbeiterverein--abbreviated in German as the “Nazi” Party. Hitler accepted and soon rose to the leadership position.
The Nazi Party became the venue by which he catapulted himself into being a widely recognized, gifted speaker.
Meanwhile, Germany was readying itself for someone just like him.
In 1923, Germany was in economic, social, and political chaos. In the few years after 1918, the German government [now a democracy, as demanded by the Treaty of Versailles] had changed eleven times; frequent elections brought heated clashes between the more than forty political parties trying to gain seats in the German parliament; inflation had made a single egg cost 80 million marks, a pound of butter, 6 billion, a glass of beer, 150 million; millions of men were out of work; rampant violence filled the streets; the Communists were infiltrating the various levels of society; and then France suddenly occupied the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial center. It infuriated the German people, while its government only begged for their restraint.
Something had to be done. The humiliation had gone on long enough and things had to change. Mass demonstrations were held in Munich, demanding revolution; a coup was needed. The rumors began flying that one of the political factions was about to seize power.
On the evening of November 8th, 1923, one of them did.
After the Reichstag fire in January, 1933, a decree was issued by German President Hindenburg that severely limited German civil rights (free speech, free assembly, freedom from unwarranted search, etc.), all done in the name of national security and peace. That decree allowed the Nazi Party to round up political opponents, ransack their headquarters, interrupt their meetings, and create general havoc in anticipation of the national election to be held on March 5. With the help of the Nationalists, the Nazi party won a majority by 17 seats out 647. In the days following the election, the Nazi Party brutally manhandled their political enemies and imprisoned them in abandoned army barracks, factories, and various remote sites.
That was the beginning of concentration camps. Most initial camps were close to Berlin, but others soon sprang up across Germany. Used at first to imprison political opponents, they soon hosted a spectrum of Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and persons accused of “asocial” or socially deviant behavior, as well as Jews. All were viewed by Hitler as enemies of the German people. Jews were added because it was generally accepted that they had helped engineer the disgraceful surrender of Germany at the end of WWI.
During the Third Reich, the persecution of Jewish people had four general phases. The first phase was legalized discrimination, where laws were passed demanding that Jews publicly self-identify, that Jewish businesses be openly marked, that Germans were forbidden to buy Jewish goods, that Jewish citizens were forbidden to go into public places, forced to wear the infamous yellow Star of David, not go to certain locations, report their finances and property, and other public humiliations. There was considerable pressure for Jews to leave their homes and emigrate outside of Germany.
On the night of November 9, 1938, Krystallnacht took it into a second phase. Jewish businesses were broken into, looted, and burned, while Jewish citizens were drug into the streets and beaten. Synagogues were burned. German citizens endorsed and participated in gangs, rallies, and open violence, resulting in Jews being killed, degraded, arrested, confined, and their businesses, property and money confiscated. Wanton killings of Jews were carried out, typically at the moment of perceived disobedience, or in groups to align with strategic political visions. Those suspected or arrested were taken to concentration camps.
The invasion of Poland in 1939 brought on a third general phase of Jewish persecution: Jews in Poland were systematically forced into ghettos, as were Russian Jews after the invasion of Russia. It soon became obvious that ghettos were not meant to be permanent places of settlement, but round-up centers to make it more convenient to move the occupants to forced labor camps, concentration camps and extermination camps.
Researchers at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum have found that the Nazis established 42,500 camps and ghettoes between 1933 and 1945. The count includes 30,000 slave labor camps; 1,150 Jewish ghettoes; 980 concentration camps; 1,000 POW camps; 500 brothels filled with sex slaves; and thousands of other camps used for euthanizing the elderly and infirm. Berlin alone had nearly 3,000 camps.
In addition to the creation of ghettos, the third general phase included mass killings, primarily those of Jewish descent, but also including Poles and Slavs, Soviet POWs, and isolated groups of civilians in conquered countries.
For example, when the German army invaded Poland in 1939, twenty-six hundred members of an SS task force followed behind the regular army and carried out “security activities” in the conquered areas. That translated into taking groups of typically Jewish men, women, and children into the countryside, making them dig large pits, and then standing in the pits as they were shot. The preferred target was the back of the head so the firing squads would not see their faces.
When the German army invaded Russia in 1941, four major groups of three thousand men each followed the army to hunt down Russian Jews wherever they could find them. Typically, they would round up Jews in the larger towns, march them outside the town, and shoot them alongside ditches or antitank trenches. They also massacred groups of Russian civilians.
The culmination of mass shootings came in 1941 at Babi-Yar on the outskirts of Kiev where thirty-three thousand Jews were murdered in a single event. It is estimated that a total of 700,000 Jews died in mass killings.
However, the men of the special killing units were physically and psychologically affected. Many became alcoholics, or chronically ill, while others committed suicide. The Reich leadership sought a better method for maintaining the pace of the killing and even to expanding the eradication of the remaining European Jews using more efficient and less personal methods.
On January 20, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich, second in command to Heinrich Himmler, called a meeting of fifteen high-level Nazi leaders in a villa in a posh Berlin suburb located on Lake Grosser Wannsee. Briefing them of recent developments, he posted a graphic that summarized the intent of Operation Reinhard, an effort that had begun the previous fall that was regarded as the “final solution” needed to address the “Jewish problem.” The graphic had two lists of names, each followed by a number.
The first list had the names of countries over which the Third Reich had command, followed by the estimates of the number of Jews in each country. For example, Germany proper had 131,800; Austria had 43,700; the General Government portion of Poland had 2,284,000; Occupied France had 165,000; and so on.
Those numbers were the estimates of the Jewish population in each country, the population that Reinhard Heydrich had been sanctioned by Hitler to exterminate. Operation Reinhard was created to develop the means and then carry out the killings.
Six special extermination camps had been, or were going to be, created exclusively for the purpose of killing people on a large scale: Chelmno, Belzec, Sobidor, Treblinka, Majdanek, and Auschwitz-Birkenau, all located in central Poland, which had the largest Jewish population in Nazi-controlled Europe.
When all six were operating at full capacity, the Reich would be able to kill twenty-five thousand people every day. The purpose of meeting with the high-level Nazi leaders was to initiate the coordination of the pickup and delivery of Jewish men, women and children to the killing centers, plus the materials, troops, trains, and schedules to meet the needs of the program.
Chelmno had been used in Hitler’s euthanasia program. The camp developed the techniques and procedures for using poisonous exhaust fumes in killing large groups of people, using the physically and mentally disabled as test patients. Started in 1939, the program would eventually result in the deaths of 70,000 people.
For Operation Reinhard, Chelmno, Belzec, Sobidor, and Treblinka would use exhaust fumes from internal combustion engines to poison its prisoners, while the killing centers of Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau would use the new cyanide-based Zykon-B capsules. Bodies would be disposed of either by burying or cremation.
When it became apparent that Germany might lose the war, the SS made considerable effort to disguise or hide the purpose of the extermination camps. Excavations were done to find buried bodies and burn them on funeral pyres made from oil-soaked railroad ties; they even created a machine to grind up the bones. Afterwards, the ashes were scattered across fields.
The SS also destroyed large amounts of camp records, making it now impossible to know the exact number of deaths caused through Operation Reinhard. It was, no doubt, a large percentage of the quoted WWII total figure of six million Jewish deaths.
Remember that there were two lists on Heydrich’s graphic? The second list was of countries in Europe not under Nazi control, with the estimated number of Jews in each. For example, he listed:
England – 350,000
Ireland – 4,000
Italy – 58,000
Portugal – 3,000
Spain – 6,000
Switzerland – 18,000
USSR – 5,000,000.
How he expected to exterminate the Jews in those countries, I don’t know. Regardless of the reality, Reinhard Heydrich’s vision was such that he (and the Third Reich, in general) had been sanctioned to eliminate 11,000,000 Jews from Europe, and he was quick to take up the challenge.
He was assassinated a few months later.
At three o’clock on the morning of the 15th of February, 1942, sixty French police inspectors set out across occupied Paris to make pre-planned arrests. Over the next forty-eight hours, they banged on doors, forced their way into houses, shops, offices and storerooms, searched cellars and attics, pigsties and garden sheds, larders and cupboards.
They found notebooks, addresses, false IDs, explosives, revolvers, propaganda tracts, expertly forged ration books and birth certificates, as well as blueprints for attacks on trains. There were dozens of torn postcards, train timetables and tickets that would serve as passwords when matched with those held by others working in the Resistance. Their haul included three million anti-German and anti-Vichy tracts, three tons of paper, two typewriters, eight duplicating machines, 1,000 stencils, 100 kilos of ink and 300,000 francs.
One hundred and thirteen people, of whom thirty-five were women, were arrested and imprisoned in a fort outside of Paris. Nine months later on the snowy morning of January 24th, 1943, thirty of those women joined two hundred others like themselves, arrested from all parts of occupied France, on the only train, during the entire four years of German occupation, to take women of the French Resistance to their final destination—Auschwitz. Only forty-nine would return.
Among the women were teachers and secretaries, students, chemists, farm workers, housekeepers, writers and housewives; a singer at the Paris Opera, a mid-wife, a dental surgeon. They had distributed anti-Nazi leaflets, printed subversive newspapers, hid resisters, secreted Jews to safety, transported weapons, and conveyed clandestine messages. Strangers to each other, hailing from villages and cities, these brave women were united in hatred and defiance of their Nazi occupiers.
In 2008, Carolyn Moorehead, renown writer and biographer whose works include biographies of Martha Gellhorn and Bertrand Russell, went on a search for the women who had huddled together on that train. She found seven of the women still alive, but only four who could sit and talk; three were too frail to welcome visitors. Beginning in 2009, Moorehead began looking for those who did not return from the Nazi camp or who had died since. Covering the length and breadth of France, the descendants, some now in their seventies, produced letters, photographs, and diaries that gave intimate pictures of the women’s lives and their captivity.
Moorehead published A Train in Winter in 2011, drawing on interviews with the women and their families, as well as the families of others; German, French, and Polish archives; and documents held by World War II resistance organizations. It uncovers a dark chapter of history that offers an inspiring portrait of ordinary people, of bravery and survival, and the remarkable, enduring power of female friendship. I found A Train in Winter in a public library for-sale shop and could not keep from buying it. I have already found the story compelling.
Moorehead has a paragraph in the preface about the story she tells:
“This is a book about friendship between women, and the importance that they attach to intimacy and to looking after each other, and about how, under conditions of acute hardship and danger such mutual dependency can make the difference between living and dying. It is about courage, facing and surviving the worst that life can offer, with dignity and an unassailable determination not to be destroyed. Those who came back to France in 1945 owed their lives principally to chance, but they owed it too in no small measure to the tenacity with which they clung to one another, though separated by every direction of class, age, religion, occupation, politics and education. They did not all, of course, like each other equally: some were far closer friends than others. But each watched out for the others with the same degree of attention and concern and minded every death with anguish. And what they all went through, month after month, lay at the very outer limits of human endurance.”
I would have made a terrible soldier during the American Revolution. I can imagine staring in disbelief when my infantry commander told me to stand upright, shoulder-to-shoulder with the other soldiers, march out into an open field in a straight line, the British doing the same, and then, when within 30 to 50 yards of each other, shoot a muzzleloader at the soldier across from me, after which I was to reload while the other side fired back. I just wouldn’t have done it. I’m no coward but I can recognize a low percentage of survival. I would have suggested hiding behind a tree or something.
It would have been the same at Gettysburg, when General Lee lined his soldiers up and told them to march a mile across open fields to attack Union troops crouched behind a stone wall, all the while under cannon fire. It looked noble and impressive in the movie Gettysburg, but I ain’t agonna do it.
Or maybe I would have; it would take being there to know the truth. Either way, to die needlessly is a travesty hard to accept.
In reading about the First World War, I found a story of when a great number of soldiers were told to attack and then refused.
The Battle of Verdun, in 1916, was a battle of the French Army versus the German Army in a relatively small area of land northeast of Paris. The Army was first commanded by Marshall Philippe Petain, then by General Robert Nivelle. Fought from February 21st to the 18th of December, it was the longest battle of World War I (302 days) and one of the most costly in human history. There were about 377,000 (163,000 dead) French casualties, while the Germans had about 337,000 (143,000 dead) casualties. It was eventually a French victory because the Germans gave up first, and the battle came to symbolize the determination of the French Army.
There were, however, lasting consequences. Fighting in such a small area devastated the land, resulting in miserable conditions for troops on both sides. Rain and constant artillery bombardments turned the clay soil into a wasteland of mud full of debris and human remains; shell craters filled with water and soldiers risked drowning in them, not to mention the sodden trenches in which they lived. Forests were reduced to tangled piles of wood by artillery fire and eventually obliterated. The effect of the battle on many soldiers was profound and accounts of men breaking down with insanity and shell shock were common. There were many desertions.
As much as Verdun has to tell, my story happens a few months later, in April of 1917. It was the memories of Verdun that brought about the disobedience in the battlefield.
The situation was again northeast of Paris and was again the Germans versus the French, with the French now on the offensive. In briefing his troops before the battle, General Nivelle promised a war-winning decisive victory that would be accomplished in 48 hours and cost no more than 15,000 casualties.
At the start, morale among the French troops was high and the initial fighting brought substantial gains. They were soon brought to a halt by the newly built and extremely strong defenses of the Hindenburg Line. Nivelle persisted with frontal assaults and by April 25th, the French had suffered nearly 135,000 casualties, including 30,000 dead. Nivelle continued the offensive, but on May 3rd, the 21st Division, which had been involved in some of the heaviest fighting at Verdun, refused orders to go into battle.
They began what is called the French Army Mutinies. Within days, acts of “collective indiscipline” had spread to 54 army divisions (out of 113 total), while a record 27,000 French soldiers deserted. The vast majority of the mutineers were willing to defend their own lines, but refused to participate in offensive actions, indicating the level of distrust in the army leadership.
The French offensive was suspended on May 9th. General Nivelle was removed and Marshall Petain again took over. Petain was more concerned with the improvement of the soldiers than in punishment for the mutinous actions. He set about addressing their needs and improving the morale by talking to the men, promising no more suicidal attacks, providing rest and leave for exhausted units, and moderating discipline. Other demands by the troops included better economic support for families at home, more regular periods of leave, and more liberty when away from combat. The soldiers basically felt that their lives were being disregarded by army leaders.
Because of the low morale in more than half of the French Army, it took until the early months of 1918 for the French infantry to fully recover. Petain's strategy was to keep the line by using artillery units and wait for the arrival and deployment of the soldiers from the United States Army. He also waited for the coming of new and improved versions of the French tank, produced by Renault.
Did the German Army take advantage of the situation and drive hard against the discouraged French troops? In one of the greatest lapses of military intelligence gathering of the war, the Germans didn’t even know about the internal strife. The mutinies were not reported in the press and were not publicly mentioned by the French military. The Germans did not learn of the French Army’s situation until after the war.
In 1769, on a hilltop in colonial Virginia, a young man began building a house. It was his dream and his passion, and he delighted in its construction to the extent that he became much more interested in “putting up and pulling down” than he was in actually completing the house. In fact, he became so caught up in the design and redesign of the various parts of the structure, reworking and reimagining the materials and functionality, as well as learning the ins and outs of the various crafts, skills, and technologies required, that he would die before it was completed, fifty-four years after he had begun.
His building obsession was complicated by the colonies’ dependency on Mother England for supplies and furnishings. It took months from the ordering of various materials to the delivery of the materials to the building site. It wasn’t helped by England’s enjoyment of a captive market and relentless trade requirements. By the eve of the revolution, America had effectively become Britain’s export market. The colonies took 80 percent of British linen exports, 76 percent of exported nails, 60 percent of wrought iron, and nearly half of all the glass England sold abroad, not to mention the 30,000 pounds of silk, 11,000 pounds of salt, and over 130,000 beaver hats that were imported for everyday living. Many of the goods were made from raw materials that had originated in America in the first place and could easily have manufactured at home, if it had had the internal markets and the distribution capabilities.
Additionally, the young man had to fire his own bricks -- 650,000 of them -- but it was a difficult business and he routinely could use only half of what he produced because his home-made kilns heated unevenly. When the Continental Congress passed a nonimportation agreement, he began manufacturing his own nails.
Nonetheless, Thomas Jefferson persevered, incorporating into Monticello such innovations as its well-known dome, thirteen skylights, a dumbwaiter built into a chimney, indoor toilets, and a pair of doors that would both open when only one door was pushed, charming and mystifying experts for a century and a half. It wasn’t until remodeling efforts in the 1950s exposed a rod-and-pully mechanism hidden in the floor.
When Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, he had debts of more than $100,000 and Monticello still stood unfinished. His daughter put it on the market for $70,000 but, in the end, sold it for $7,000 to a man who tried to make the plantation into a silk farm. It didn’t work out and the house and property were sold in 1836 to Uriah Phillips Levy, the sole Jewish naval officer in the U. S. Navy. At the outbreak of the Civil War, it was seized by the Confederate government, but returned afterwards. In 1923, the Levy family sold the property to a newly formed Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation and Monticello went through a long program of restoration and renovation until it was finished in 1954.
I would not have learned of Jefferson and Monticello if it hadn’t been for a far more modest country home located in the easternmost part of England. A former Church of England rectory in a village in Norfolk, it was designed and built in 1851 by one Edward Tull of Aylsham for a young clergyman named Thomas John Gordon Marsham. Thomas was twenty-nine years old and unmarried, and remained that way for life. His housekeeper, Elizabeth Worm, stayed with him for some fifty years until her death in 1899.
Some one hundred and fifty years after the date of its construction, an accomplished and world-renown writer named Bill Bryson and his wife bought the Old Rectory and made it their home. Being blessed with an outsized curiosity, Bill Bryson continued a pattern set in his other books and began to research, characterize, and write about the history of the rectory, in particular, and personal houses, in general.
For your reading pleasure, I recommend Bill Bryson’s At Home, A Short History of Private Life, published by Anchor Books in 2011. It’s fascinating and engrossing, and consists of an uncountable number of stories, anecdotes, biographies, observations, and narratives concerning the structures that people live in today and why they look the way they do. It took a vibrant evolution of people and society to come up with kitchens, sculleries, larders, drawing rooms, dining rooms, cellars, studies, stairways, bedrooms, dressing rooms, nurseries, porches, and attics, not to mention our modern entryways, mud rooms, walk-in closets, exercise areas, and sun rooms.
Bryson seeks out answers for such ponderous questions as: why salt and pepper shakers are commonplace on eating tables, but not other spices; what houses looked like before hallways were invented; why the most beautiful room in Monticello was the attic; why bone ashes were added to bread; how conventions around burials came to be; why well-to-do women in the late 1700s were often forced to sit on the floors of enclosed carriages; and why the cost of sugar caused people to artificially blacken their teeth.
It is a fun read and the extent of his knowledge is staggering. Bryson endeavors to show that the history of private life is a history of getting comfortable slowly, and he does it with humor, compassion, and genuine interest. It is a delight to see his unpretentious, wide-ranging curiosity in action.
I rarely make New Year resolutions because I’m pretty good with managing my expectations and goals throughout the year. I am mostly tactical and timely about my activities – what I want or need on a daily or weekly basis – but I do find the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve a good time to review the bigger picture: did I do what was important? did I help others in both physical and emotional ways? did I reflect a life well lived?
I also take time to sketch out my major expectations for the year to come. For 2022, I included an eleventh Mogi mystery, plus another adult book; one or more visits to my distant sons and their families; active support of family projects; a research trip or two to help me visualize my new stories; a major rafting adventure, if I get a permit; and the regular reading of a variety of books.
I also set a goal of investing more effort in writing my more-or-less-weekly website blogs. I began writing blogs in 2017 because my editor told me that it would help sell my books and allow the multitude of my readers to view me more personably. Regardless of what actually happened, I grew to enjoy writing short essays on a regular basis, passing on interesting stories, historical anecdotes, book recommendations, as well as commenting on the various aspects of my learning the craft of writing novels. If nothing else, my efforts helped keep me centered and authentic.
However, I now have a dilemma. After Teddy’s War was finished, I read a non-fiction book that dealt with the post-war activities in Eastern Europe, in 1945-46, when all of Europe was reeling from its devastation. In particular, how 40 million refugees were moving every direction throughout every countryside, trying to restart whatever pieces of their former lives they could find. I found the situation engrossing, relatively unknown, dramatic, and incredibly revealing about nation-states, which prompted me to think that somewhere in that time period had to be the material for a novel.
That prompted me to learn more about WWII and specifically about the Nazi regime. I’m currently reading a thick, scholarly, garage-sale book about Hitler, the growth of the Nazi Party, and the entrenched goals of the Third Reich. For about 700 pages (no pictures), the book covers the development of Nazism in Europe from the end of WWI to after the Nuremberg Trials, especially showing the political intrigue and manipulation in regards to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary and other nations of Eastern Europe.
The book is very interesting, has an amazing amount of historical facts, and presents a great overview of the time period, but it puts me in a quandary about writing about it. So far, the characterization of the whole era and its people has been incredibly depressing. I’ve had to go slowly to avoid a build-up of weariness and disbelief.
The detailed history has been depressing enough that it makes me wonder if I want to spend the next year writing a novel set against Europe before, during, and after the Third Reich. So far, every major player in the Reich leadership seems to be a psychopath, as well as self-serving, amoral, brutal, and downright vicious. I’m feeling stuck inside an asylum for the criminally insane, watching the inmates take over the building.
That makes it difficult to imagine writing blogs about what would undoubtably be my focus for the next several months. It might be interesting, but who wants to read depressing stuff on a regular basis?
I intend to finish the current book, read an in-depth book about Czechoslovakia, and then a history of Poland. I’m even considering signing up with a tour company for a two-week, WWII-focused trip through Poland and Germany. I’ll enjoy seeing the country and learning the history firsthand, but I’ll also be seeking a resolution to my dilemma. I need to be confident of not only my capability and dedication for pursuing this new writing adventure, but of being able to enjoy it without being compromised by its misery.
The story begins in 1837 when forty-one-year-old Maria Anna Schickelgruber finds herself pregnant and unmarried. Shunned by the locals in her village of Strones, Austria, she gives birth to a boy, who she names Alois. Since Strones is too small to be a parish, the child is baptized in nearby Dollersheim as Alois Schickelgruber. The entry for “father” is left blank and Alois is listed as “illegitimate”.
An investigation in 1930 identifies three strong candidates for the father of Alois: a nineteen-year-old Jewish teenager whose last name is Frankenberger; a man named Johann Georg Hiedler; and the brother of Georg, Johann Nepomuk Hiedler.
The teenaged Frankenberger was a strong candidate because Maria Anna Schickelgruber had been employed as a maid and cook in the Frankenberger household, and from the day of Alois’ birth and continuing until his fourteenth year, Frankenberger’s wealthy father paid Maria Anna “maintenance” for Alois on behalf of his son. There is no explicit declaration of fatherhood, but the Frankenbergers’ correspondence with Maria reflected a tacit understanding that the circumstances made it a duty of the Frankenbergers to pay for the boy’s maintenance.
Johann Georg Heidler is a strong candidate because he marries Maria Anna Schickelgruber five years after Alois’ birth. Georg seems to have been a journeyman-miller who never had a full-time job. According to one source, Georg and Maria were so impoverished that they did not even possess a bed and had to sleep in a feeding trough for cattle. Because of this desperate poverty, Maria asked Georg’s brother to take Alois and raise him as his son.
Johann Nepomuk Hiedler accepts Alois and raises him on a farm in Spital, Austria. Maria dies in 1847, when Alois is ten, and he never sees his stepfather again; Georg dies in 1857. A case is made that Nepomuk did this willingly because he was actually Alois’ father to begin with, so he becomes the third strong candidate for the missing father.
In spite of all the research done over the years, none of the three men were proven to be Alois’ real father and the situation was never resolved. The truth will probably never be known.
Several years after living with Nepomuk, Alois is first apprenticed to a shoemaker in Vienna, and then takes a position with the Imperial Board of Revenue. By hard work and dedication, he rises to the highest position available to him according to his background and education. Nepomuk is proud of his foster son and urges Alois to change his name to Hiedler. Alois thinks this is a good idea, since it would help erase his illegitimacy. In 1877, with a few family members, they journey to the town of Wietra and swear before a local notary that Johann Georg Heidler is Alois’s true father. The paperwork is completed and the new name becomes official. No one notices that the name on the paperwork has been misspelled or had been misheard by the notary. It states that Johann Georg’s last name is “Hitler” instead of “Heidler.”
The next day the same group travels to Dollersheim and persuades the elderly parish priest to alter Alois’ birth certificate. He fills in the father’s name, changes “illegitimate” to “legitimate”, crosses out Alois’ name as “Schickelgruder” and writes in “Hitler” as the official paperwork states. The priest then adds this note in the margin:
“The undersigned confirm that Georg Hitler, registered as the father, who is well-known to the undersigned witnesses, admits to being the father of the child Alois as stated by the child’s mother Maria Anna Schickelgruber, and has requested the entry of his name in the present baptismal register.”
It should be noted that both Georg and Maria were long dead by then.
The new Alois Hitler will marry at least three women and produce several children. The most significant will be a son born to his third wife, a domestic servant from Spital, whose maiden name is Klara Polzl. Klara has three children die in infancy, and then gives birth to a fourth, a son, on April 20, 1889, in the Austro-German border town of Braunau on the River Inn. He is named Adolf.
Alois dies in 1903, at the age of sixty-five, when Adolf is fourteen. Klara dies in 1907 from the use of iodoform to treat breast cancer. Adolf is eighteen and is reportedly devastated by her death.
To sum up the situation, Adolf Hitler is the son of Alois and Klara Hitler, while Alois is the son of Maria Anna Schickelgruber and an unknown father. In Mein Kampf, Adolf merely states that his father was an imperial customs official, the grandfather “a poor cottager,” while idealizing his mother as a loving and devoted housewife.
This all makes possible some severe complications.
Klara Polzl was also the granddaughter of Johann Nepomuk Hiedler, Alois’ foster father. If Nepomuk was Alois’ real father, as was suggested, that makes Adolf Hitler’s paternal grandfather and his maternal great-grandfather one and the same. It would also mean, as one historian points out, that Klara is the niece of Alois Hitler and the daughter of his half-sister. The marriage of the two becomes a case of family inbreeding (which was not uncommon at the time) and furnishes ample reason why Adolf Hitler, eager to portray himself as a pure German, did not want too much certainty about his ancestors.
Worse, yet, if the nineteen-year-old Frankenberger, the son of a wealthy Jew, was the real father of Alois, Adolf has a career-ending problem. A basic premise in Nazi philosophy, for which Hitler was majorly responsible, is that Jews are the enemies of the Aryan race, and any hint of Jewish blood in a German is indicative of a degraded heritage. That is, they not a true Aryan. Adolf certainly would never have qualified to be the German Chancellor or even the leader of the Nazi Party.
It was Adolf Hitler himself who had privately ordered his ancestry investigation in 1930. The findings about the Frankenbergers were probably uncorroborated and based on hearsay, but Hitler rejected the whole investigation as blatant lies, making sure that his ancestry remained obscure while he continued to see himself as the full and true embodiment of the German Nation.
It is interesting that his later rule of Germany would sometimes include requiring citizens to prove their Aryan decent or disprove Jewish descent, something he could not even do himself. The private 1930 investigation, by the way, did not come to light until the period of the Nuremberg Trials, after the war. It was reported by the investigator in his autobiography.
In July of 1938, two months after Hitler annexes Austria, the Austrian Land Registries received an order to conduct a land survey of Dollersheim and surrounding areas. The enquiry is to determine whether the terrain was suitable for army maneuvers. Apparently, it was, so in 1939 the citizens of Dollersheim were forcibly evacuated and the village, along with its heavily wooded countryside, was blasted beyond recognition by mortar shells and thoroughly plowed over by army tanks. The birthplace of Hitler’s father, Alois, the site of his grandmother’s grave, and the official center of the parish were rendered unrecognizable. I wouldn’t be surprised if any hints of the Frankenbergers were also erased, but I’m just guessing.
I found this to be an interesting sidelight to German history, although even the summary above leaves several questions hanging. My information comes from Nazi Germany, A New History, by Klaus P. Fischer, published by The Continuum Publishing Company, 1995.
Reading the footnotes to the text, almost every step of the history cited above has differing opinions. Researching Hitler’s childhood is a fascinating topic to a number of historians and subsequent theories are wide-ranging and sometimes too remarkable to believe.
They needed a railroad between two towns. Most experts agreed that it could not be built, but it was needed and, therefore, it would be built, beginning in August of 1941.
Slightly less than 50 miles in length, the expected Claiborne & Polk Railroad traversed an unforgiving landscape. It was low-lying country with soil made of uneven distributions of sand, muck, and gumbo, with interspersed layers of quicksand. At many points, the natural ground was so soft that in order to sustain the fill, it was necessary to support it on layers of logs instead of building on the ground surface. At other points, large logs laid end to end along the toes of the embankment were used to confine deep embankment footings of coarse sand brought in for that purpose. At still other points, timber cribbing was the only practical recourse to get across the low-lying soft spots. Rattlesnakes bothered the workers all along the route as they laid 250 to 300 rails a day.
The only rails available were second-hand 75- and 80-pound-per-foot rails. The ties placed underneath were of a wide variety of woods, generally 6 by 8 inches by 8 or 9 feet. About 60 percent were treated with creosote and about 75 percent were equipped with second-hand tie plates. In the interest of speed, the ties were laid as received, without regard to segregation of treated and untreated varieties. Ballast throughout the line was of pit-run gravel, including about 40 percent sand, with the ultimate goal of placing 6 to 8 inches of the material beneath the ties.
To make things worse, the work was started without spikes, bolts, tie plates, spring washers, or turnouts. More important, the workers had no earth-moving equipment; they had to rent two tractor bulldozers from a local contractor. Eventually, they were loaned some grading equipment, more bulldozers, and a number of trucks. A longer-than-normal rainy season, which at one point saw a downpour of over 9 inches in 30 hours, added to their difficulties.
Day after day, the workers pushed ahead, working from both ends of the line toward the middle. At one time, more than 25 different sections were being worked on simultaneously. The men worked without power tools such a pneumatic spike-drivers and pneumatic wrenches, all in high humidity and in temperatures in excess of 110 degrees.
Perhaps the most remarkable achievement was the construction of 25 bridges. It wasn’t only the number of bridges, but the quality of work that was accomplished. High standards of both workmanship and materials had to be employed in spite of the fact that the majority of the workers had little or no experience in bridge construction or heavy timber work. The longest bridge on the line was built over the Calcosieu River and was 2,126 feet long, with a maximum height of 15 feet.
It did not help morale that, as the workers were completing one section of the railway, someone used explosives to blow up different sections of the railway, including a few bridges. The damage was repaired, bridges rebuilt, and the work continued.
Looking forward to finishing the track, the workers would then be trained to manage the railway using donated equipment – keeping track of locomotives coming and going, loading and unloading freight cars, obeying the tight protocols of train traffic, operating switching stations, depots, passengers, schedules, and emergencies. Additionally, they would learn to handle parts, rebuild locomotives, operate switching equipment, and become familiar with box cars, flat cars, gondola cars, tank cars, cabooses, refrigerated cars, and other equipment.
Finally, on July 11, 1942, a golden spike was driven into the final tie, marking the completion of the first Army-built, strictly military railroad in the history of the nation. It was built between Camp Claiborne and Camp Polk, Louisiana, by the members of the 711th Engineer Railway Operating Battalion, the first of its kind, formed and activated only one year before.
The Claiborne & Polk Railroad was the first of several railroad training facilities designed to imitate the conditions of railroads left behind by advancing combat troops fighting in foreign countries. By the end of WWII, there would be fifty Railway Operating Battalions and ten Railway Shop Battalions, all serving under the organizational banner of the Military Railway Services (MRS), which was part of the Army Transportation Corps. Each Battalion was sponsored by a civilian railroad company, which provided training and professional railroading personnel.
For example, the 713th Operating Battalion was under the guidance of the Santa Fe Railroad and trained in Clovis. Their first assignment was building the Alaskan railroad through Whitehorse Pass.
In December of 1942, shortly after they had finished the C&P, the 711th Battalion was sent to help rebuild, improve, and operate the State Railroad of Iran. They were joined by the 730th Railway Operating Battalion, and the 754th and 762nd Railway Shop Battalions. The State Railway would eventually handle more than four million long tons of freight, 16,000 Iranian military personnel, 14,000 Polish war refugees, 40,000 British troops, and 15,000 Russian ex-prisoners of war. The last American soldier railroaders left Iran in July, 1945.
Before the invasion of North Africa, American and British planners estimated that the Allied army would require thirty-four trains a day to move 5,000 tons a month from the ports at Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers. The 701st, the 715th, 719th, and 759th battalions handled it.
Three days after the invasion of Sicily on July 10, 1943, the 727th Railway Operating Battalion was working on the Sicilian railway, repairing and running the operations. The battalion would operate 1,371 miles of railway using 300 locomotives and 3,500 freight cars to carry an average of 3,400 tons of materials a day to supply the Seventh Army.
Three days after the Allies invaded Italy in 1943, the 703rd Railway Grand Division (which included several Operating Battalions and other units) landed in Naples to find the main railyard a total disaster, with burned ties, twisted cars, lengths of rail uprooted and twisted, and facilities bombed to the foundations. A week later, six trains were moving an average of 450 tons each. The MRS redeployed the units from North Africa to Italy, and was soon operating 2,478 miles of railway with an average of 250 military trains a day, not counting the civilian passenger and freight service. The railway also managed 3,154 troop trains and 812 hospital trains.
On July 2, 1944, 25 days after D-Day, the 729th Railway Operating Battalion arrived in Normandy and took over operations at the Cherbourg terminals. Assisted by French engine crews and volunteers, the American railroaders repaired roundhouses, shop buildings, engines, and rolling stock. Within three months, as the MRS advanced with the combat troops across Western Europe, trains were up and running all the way to Paris. The railroads transported an estimated 20,000 tons of material a day to support the European campaign.
When the war ended in 1945, the MRS in Europe had loaded and moved more than eighteen million tons of military freight, using 1,937 locomotives, 34,588 freight cars, and 25,150 miles of track.
Because of the MRS, U. S. troops operated railways in Alaska, the Yukon, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, Italy, France, Luxembourg, Austria, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Liechtenstein, Iran, India, Burma, and Luzon. Their total strength on June 30, 1945, was 44,084 officers and men. The Army Transportation Corps had shipped overseas some 4,000 locomotives and 60,000 freight cars from the United States to support them.
If your business is in Kansas City, Missouri, and you would like to market your goods in Japan or Singapore, what’s the closest port on the Pacific Ocean you should use: Seattle? Portland? San Francisco? Los Angeles?
In 1900, Arthur E. Stilwell had the answer: Topolobampo, Mexico. According to Stilwell, the little town on the Sea of Cortez was closer to Kansas City than any western seaboard port by about 400 miles. If you could connect Kansas City to Topolobampo, not quite as far south as the tip of the California Baja Peninsula, you would have the shortest way to get your goods to the Pacific Ocean. From there, you could have shipping access to the vast markets in the Orient.
All that was needed was a railroad connecting the two towns. Stilwell, who was a railroad developer and entrepreneur, was looking for investors to establish a railroad route that went across Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Mexico. On May 1, 1900, he formed the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railroad to oversee its creation. When it was completed, the route would cover 1600 miles.
There were existing tracks in some portions of the route, like from Kansas City to Wichita, as well as parts from Wichita, across Oklahoma, to the Red River. Stilwell believed that if he could join those parts with new tracks laid between the Red River and Sweetwater, from Sweetwater to Fort Stockton and Alpine, and then connect to railroads going north of the Big Bend to the Texas border, he could get Mexico to build the tracks from the Topolobampo to the Texas/Mexico border.
In fact, he had already received a concession and subsidy in April, 1900, from President Porfirio Diaz of Mexico for the Ferrocarril Kansas City, Mexico y Oriente railroad to be built across Mexico. Again, there were existing segments of track that only needed to be connected.
The line between Sweetwater and San Angelo was completed in 1909, and then extended to Girvin in 1912. Added to the segments above the Red River, it gave the system 630 miles of the 1600 miles he needed. When sections were finished, local communities began using them and helped generate the revenue needed to continue. Unfortunately, the usage never produced enough revenue to cover the costs. Between 1914 and 1917, various parts of the KCM&O passed through a few owners, but the parent company did not show a profit until 1923, when an oil boom in the western counties of Texas brought a flood of train traffic. The profit was used to make the railroad attractive to another buyer and in 1928, the parent company was sold to the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway Company.
The Santa Fe quickly sold the ownership in the Mexican segments, leased other segments, and then blended their tracks with other railways, including the Texas and New Orleans Railroad in 1930.
In the end, there was a lot of track laid, lots of branches added to the route, and lots of goods and people shipped around the Southwest, but Arthur Stilwell’s efforts never made it to Topolobampo.
If you want to see a graphic of the route, type Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway into your browser.
I was working on my novel when I discovered the KCM&O. My hero needed to get to the Palo Duro Canyon from the east, instead of coming west out of Amarillo, and I found that the KCM&O had a depot at the town of Arapahoe, about a hundred miles away in the Oklahoma Territory. That solved my problem.
Speaking of the novel, here’s an update.
In review, I submitted a new adult fiction novel manuscript to my publisher in mid-August. The editor finished reading it by the end of September and reported back with several severe comments about the story; basically, she didn’t like it and it was too long. I took out everything that wasn’t directly connected to the characters or the plot, which amounted to 30,000 words. I became disillusioned with everything left and retracted the submission in September. I tried again, took out another 5,000 words, was still not happy, so I put it in a drawer, expecting that I might return to it sometime in the future.
The future was about two days later. I couldn’t resist working on it, and ultimately rewrote it with a radical change—I changed it from a third-person-narrator to first-person-storyteller. It took me six weeks to make the rewrite, but I am encouraged at how much better it fit the story and the characters, and how much more fun it is to read. Beginning in November, I read the story out loud to myself, looking for flow, rhythm, and pace. That resulted in throwing out another 5,000 words, but the manuscript finally took on a polished form.
I resubmitted the manuscript to my publisher last week. It’s 40,000 words less than the first submission, while the story is simpler, more direct, and has a nice flow to it. I should hear before Christmas if it will be accepted.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.