Censorship During Wartime
The MHS recently acquired a small collection of Norma A. Krtil papers that includes nine World War II letters from Krtil’s boyfriend, 23-year-old Donald K. Kibbe of Westfield, Mass. Sgt. Kibbe was an American volunteer with the Royal Canadian Air Force serving in England. Unfortunately, some of his letters arrived in Westfield looking like this:
Now, I've seen a number of wartime letters with censorship marks or redacted passages, but this is definitely the most zealous censorship I've come across. Obviously these particular passages were (literally!) excised because they revealed Kibbe's location and information about specific equipment and missions. In fact, the R.A.F. censor enclosed this helpful note in one of the envelopes:
The content of Kibbe's correspondence—what's left of it—is also interesting. For example, in his first letter after shipping out, he wrote to his girlfriend with disappointment:
Norma, I lost your pin. I ransacked the house for it the morning before leaving but it was such a small thing & the house is so big. They're going to send it to me if they find it. I feel terribly bad about it. I wanted something you wore and held in your hands and gave to me with your hands and I had it & then I lost it. But if I've lost the pin I’ll never lose the memory of you nor the memory of the words you said the night you gave it to me. Norma, just love me half as much as I love you.
Happily this wonderful passage remains intact. (By the way, Kibbe later found the pin and wore it "inside [his] pocket beneath the wings.") But Kibbe's story, like so many others, ended tragically. He was killed on 30 Sep. 1941 in a plane crash on the Yorkshire moors. He had been serving as second pilot on a bombing raid to Stettin, and the plane went down on its return flight. It was his first mission.
Of course, censorship of wartime letters was nothing new. Letters written by soldiers during World War I also had to be approved by censors, and it's not uncommon to see marks or stamps on them, like these on the letters of Alton A. Lawrence and William F. Wolohan, both from 1918:
But young men, far away from home, placed in frightening situations, and desperate to reach out to their families and friends, often balked at the restrictions. When he arrived in Europe with the American Expeditionary Forces, Wolohan complained:
All the fellows are asking each other what to write as this is about the first time their mail has been censored, and they are having a great time trying to send a decent letter. They have so much to say or would like to say and yet dont know just what they are allowed to write.
Pfc. Brooks Wright, a World War II cryptographer from Cambridge, Mass. serving in India in August 1943, told his family the story of a fellow serviceman's frustration with the censorship.
You will be amused to hear of a letter which Calahan sent home. In it he complained of censorship in no complimentary terms. Between the lines was written "He’s not far from wrong –Censor."
Wright himself didn't suffer much at the hands of the censors, though he did have the occasional phrase or passage cut from his letters à la Kibbe, usually when he was describing something specific about his location. Even a printed program for a concert he attended, enclosed with a letter, was redacted: "The […] Symphony Orchestra."
But Wright was fond of drawing and illustrated many of his letters with scenes from his environment, local architecture, etc. And while he was a careful letter-writer, his sketches revealed more. His botanical sketches were so detailed, in fact, that when his mother took them to Harvard's Gray Herbarium, the experts there were able to identify the species and pinpoint precisely where her son had been posted.
| Published: Wednesday, 19 February, 2014, 10:05 AM
This Week @ MHS
The MHS is closed on Monday, 17 February, in observance of President's Day. Normal hours resume on Tuesday, 18 February
On Wednesday, 19 February, come by at noon for a Brown Bag lunch talk.This week, independent scholar Mary Fuhrer discusses her research project "Consumed by Poverty: The Experience of Tuberculosis in the Boston Almshouse, 1800-1850." Tuberculosis caused up to a third of all deaths in antebellum New England. Attempting to make sense of this devastation, sufferers—and society—created "illness narratives" to interpret their experience and provide meaning, consolation, or blame. This study examines poor consumptives in the Boston Almshouse, seeking to "open out" their lives and better understand how they—and others—made sense of their affliction. This talk is free and open to the public.
Please be aware that on Thursday, 20 February, the library of the MHS will close at 3:00PM as we prepare for that evenings special event. Tell It With Pride Preview Reception is a special event specifically for MHS Fellows and Members. The preview is a sneak-peek at our upcoming exhibit Tell It With Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Shaw Memorial. This exhibit, organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., brings together photographs of members of the regiment and of the men and women who recruited, nursed, taught, and guided them. Reception begins at 6:00PM. Registration is required at no cost for MHS Fellows and Members, click here to RSVP. Please note that the 5:30PM pre-reception talk is sold out.
The Tell It With Pride exhibition opens to the public on Friday, 21 February. Throughout the run of the exhibition special programs are planned in cooperation with the Museum of African American History, the Boston African American National Historic Site, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment Company A, and the Friends of the Public Garden. Please check our events calendar for full listings. This exhibition is available Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM - 4:00PM and will remain open until 23 May 2014.
And on Saturday, 22 February, we resume our weekly tours of the MHS. The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute tour of the Society's public rooms, led by a docent or MHS staff member and touching on the history of the Society, and the art and architecture of building at 1154 Boylston Street. The tour is free and open to the public. No reservation is required for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact the MHS prior to attending a tour. For more information, please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, please also be aware that the MHS will sponsor an author talk taking place on Sunday, 23 February, at the Lawrence Library in Pepperell, Mass., and presented in collaboration with Freedom's Way National Heritage Area. This talk is given by Gary Shattuck, a retired federal prosecutor who enjoys researching and writing about new-found discoveries lying deep within little-used legal documents. Crossed Swords: Job Shattuck's Blood at the Courthouse Door examines the many changes forced on Massachusetts society by the Revolution, including the relationships and expectations of those living in the countryside. Shocking new evidence found in court records allows us to reassess the role and reputation of Capt. Job Shattuck. Capt. Shattuck was an early leader of protestors who began taking over courthouses in the summer of 1786 when officials failed to address the petitions for relief from taxes and judgements rendered against farmers by debt-enforcing courts, and he paid dearly for his effort. This event is free and open to the public, though registration is required at no cost. To register, please call the MHS reservations line at 617-646-0560 or click here to register online. The talk begins at 2:00PM
| Published: Sunday, 16 February, 2014, 12:00 PM
Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 30
The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.
Feb. 2d, 1864
The President has just ordered out 500,000 men.
| Published: Friday, 14 February, 2014, 8:00 AM
Our Monuments Man
By Peter Drummey
The release of the new George Clooney film, The Monuments Men, recalls a fascinating talk given at the Historical Society in December 1980, and published as "Remembrance of Things Past: The Protection and Preservation of Monuments, Works of Art, Libraries, and Archives during and after World War II" (Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, vol. 92, p.84-99). Our speaker was Mason Hammond, the Pope Professor of the Latin Language and Literature Emeritus at Harvard University. Professor Hammond, by then well into his seventies, was an enthusiastic member of the MHS (the man that the Adams Papers editors and other staff members turned to when a difficult Greek or Latin passage appeared in a manuscript), but until that day his fellow members probably saw him as a stereotypically tweedy academic historian. While his lecture was an overview of the quietly heroic effort of American and British curators, conservators, and art historians to save cultural treasures in wartime Europe, just enough of former Captain (later Lieutenant Colonel) Hammond’s own experiences enlivened his narrative to give his audience an inkling of the great adventure that he had participated in almost forty years before, and the remarkable role that he played as the first—and for a time the only—"Monuments Man."
In his MHS talk, Mason Hammond described his path to a key role in the Allied preservation effort first in Sicily and Italy, and later in Northern Europe as almost accidental. In 1943, the director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York was appointed the first Fine Arts and Monuments Officer of the Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories, but he was too fat to pass his physical, so Hammond, an intelligence officer at the Pentagon though not an art historian, was sent to North Africa in his place. Here Hammond was too diffident about his qualifications. He already had a lustrous career as a student and teacher at Harvard; had continued his studies of ancient art and archaeology at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar; and spent three years teaching at the American Academy in Rome. In Sicily and then on the Italian mainland, he developed the pattern for the rescue work that followed. Inadvertently, he also may have given the "Monuments Men" their name. His Boston accent proved so challenging for his British colleagues (who heard him say "fine arts and monuments" as "finance and monuments") that for the sake of clarity, they reversed the order of words in the title of his section to "Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives"—and hence the "Monuments" rather than the "Fine Arts" (or "Finance") Men.
Mason Hammond's role in the Second World War is not unknown. He appears in recent popular histories by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History (2009), and Saving Italy; The Race to Rescue a Nation's Treasures from the Nazis (2013). If his own narrative is more measured than the breathless treasure hunt described in both books and the new film, it places the work of the Monuments Men in a larger context.
What would Mason Hammond have made of the new Monuments Men movie? We cannot really say, but in his talk he described the work of the monuments officers mostly in terms of architectural preservation and the restoration of museum and archival collections within their countries of origin, rather than the focus of the film—the hunt for art treasures looted from private collections in countries occupied by the Nazis. In fact, Hammond was extraordinarily fair minded in assigning responsibility for the accidental or deliberate destruction of architectural monuments and buildings, as well as the contents of museums and libraries. He thought that what he believed to be the worst cultural loss of the war, the destruction of the bulk of the collections of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin, probably had been an accident rather than the result of Nazi malevolence or Russian revenge.
As a student of ancient history, Hammond probably was about the only person who could find a silver lining in the controversial Allied bombing of the Monastery of Monte Casino in Italy early in 1944 (this event is shown as leading to the creation of the Monuments Men in the new film, although Hammond had been in the field for almost nine months when the attack took place). As he noted, the Germans had removed the library of the Monastery to the Vatican before it was attacked. He thought the bombardment that followed had stripped away modern accretions to St. Benedict's original structure, allowing its restoration in "a more suitable Romanesque style."
Ironically, at the war's end, Hammond found himself caught up in what appeared to be American-sponsored looting. He was serving in Berlin, the custodian of a bank vault filled with boxes labeled "Rembrandt" and "Rubens" that had been rescued from a phosphate mine in Thuringia. All the Monuments Men in Germany, regardless of rank (and by then Hammond was a senior officer in the detachment), signed a "most unmilitary" protest of a plan to remove works of art from Germany to the United Sates—a plan that the Monuments Men found too closely resembled the looting of cultural treasures by the Germans. While art works came to the United States and were stored at the National Gallery, in due course they were returned to Germany.
There is some presumption in claiming one of Harvard's most faithful alumni and faculty members as the Society's own "Monuments Man," but Mason Hammond was an active member of the MHS for forty-four years, regularly attending MHS events until not long before his death in 2002, at the age of ninety-nine.
| Published: Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 8:00 AM
This Week @ MHS
On Tuesday, 11 February, join us at 5:15PM for an Environmental History seminar as Brian McCammack of Williams College presents "'A tacit proclamation of achievement by the Race': Landscapes Built With African American Civilian Conservation Corps Labor in the Rural Midwest." This paper seeks to show not only how the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps changed rural landscapes, but how those landscapes often changed them as well. McCammack explores the understudied implications of tens of thousands of young African American men in unexpected places during the Depression years: the forests and fields of the rural North. Neil Maher, NJIT --Rutgers University Newark Federated History Department, provides the comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required.
The next day, Wednesday, 12 February, come by at 5:30PM for Created Equal: The Loving Story, a special film screening and discussion. Mildred and Richard Loving knew it was technically illegal for them to live as a married couple in Virginia because she was of African American and Native American descent and he was white. The Loving Story, nominated for an Emmy in 2013, brings to life the Lovings’ marriage and the legal battle that followed. Discussion will be facilitated by Joanne Pope Melish, University of Kentucky. Registration is required at no cost for this event. To Reserve: Click here to register online or call the MHS reservations line at 617-646-0560.
And on Thursday, 13 February, is the next installment of the History of Women and Gender seminar series. Gloria Whiting of Harvard University and commenter Barbara Krauthamer of UMass-Amherst present "'How can the wife submit?' African Families Negotiate Gender and Slavery in New England." This paper discusses various ways in which the everyday realities of slavery shaped gender relations in Afro-New England families. While the structure of slave families in the region was unusually matriarchal, these families nonetheless exhibited a number of patriarchal tendencies. Enslaved African families in New England therefore complicate the assumption of much scholarship that the structure of slave families defined their normative values. This seminar is free and open to the public; RSVP required. Talk begins at 5:30PM. Please note that this seminar is held at the Schlesinger Library, Harvard University.
Please note that the Society is closed on Monday, 17 February, in observance of President's Day. Normal hours resume on Tuesday, 18 February.
| Published: Sunday, 9 February, 2014, 12:00 PM