Category Archives: Biography

Stensager, Anders Otte: Doktor Mengele – Liv og forbrytelse (Life and crimes of Dr Mengele) (2008)

Book-Cover-Nazi-Laegen-Josef-Mengele-Anders-Otte-StensagerThis summer I have been reading Stensager’s biography on Doctor Mengele – one of the most infamous doctors experimenting on prisoners in concentrations camps during WWII. Not exactly light and pleasant reading and even worse for the prisoners who had to meet him and his compatriots.

One of Stensager’s aims in writing about Dr. Mengele and his fellow doctors at Auschwitz has been to reaffirm the reality of the Holocaust in an attempt to slow down the efforts of the revisionists to deny that the Holocaust ever happened. The reason he wrote in Danish was because he felt it important that the Danish people acknowledge their part in enabling these horrible events.

At first we find out what Mengele’s growing up years were like. He grew up in a conservative Catholic family who were pretty much like the rest of the townspeople. While at university he joined NSDAP and SS and embraced the idea of the Arian race.

The war came, he went off as a unit doctor and was eventually sent to Auschwitz where he became part of the horror that was the objectification of others. All of the camps experimented on their prisoners. Different camps had different areas of “expertise” except for Auschwitz where they did a little of everything.

One of my grandfathers was tortured by the SS during WWII – he was in the underground movement here in Norway. What happened at Auschwitz outdoes what he went through.

Jewish twins kept alive to be used in Mengele’s medical experiments. These children from Auschwitz were liberated by the Red Army in January 1945.

Mengele was most known for his twin studies, but man – those doctors were seriously disturbed.

Something happens to us when we begin seeing certain people as objects. Objectification allows us to rationalise our actions. I’m not going to repeat what the book tells of Mengele’s experiments. If you read Norwegian, Danish or Dutch you really ought to get a copy. But be prepared for people at their worst.

After WWII Mengele got away. He never took responsibility for what he did. It was always a matter of following orders or other people lying about what went on during the war. But he took notes on his experiments and they pretty much spell it out for us.

What does Stensager’s biography on Mengele’s life and crimes teach me? We must never forget what we are all capable of doing. A lot of doctors both in and out of the camps were involved with the experiments that went on and were OK with them. They were just regular people who had stopped seeing certain people as people. Instead they had become things. It could just as well have been me.

Knowing this makes it possible for me to change both myself and to stand up for those who need it. I can be part of trying to prevent something like the Holocaust from happening again.


Dutch version:

  • Josef Mengele, Nazi-arts: zijn leven, en misdaden (Nazilaegen Josef Mengele)
  • Overige betrokkenen: Geri de Boer
  • ISBN10: 906100635X
  • ISBN13: 9789061006350

Norwegian version:

  • Oversetter: Lars Nygaard
  • Forlag: Pax
  • ISBN10: 8253034903
  • ISBN13: 9788253034904

Danish version:

  • Forlag: Documentas
  • ISBN-10: 8770630445
  • ISBN-13:  9788770630443

December 16 1775 Jane Austen born

I remember reading Pride and Prejudice as an 18-year-old and loving it. This is almost 30 years ago. I wonder what it would be like to read it as an ancient woman? Another thing I wonder about is what Jane Austen would have thought of her own novels if she had been a practising author today.

Craig Hill Media and Consulting

Jane AustenOn December 16th 1775, English novelistJane Austen was born, the seventh of eight children of a clergyman in a country village in Hampshire, England.

Jane was very close to her older sister, Cassandra, who remained her faithful editor and critic throughout her life. The girls had five years of formal schooling, then studied with their father. Jane read voraciously and began writing stories as early as age 12, completing a novella at age 14.

Austen’s quiet, happy world was disrupted when her parents suddenly decided to retire to Bath in 1801. Jane hated the resort town and found herself without the time or peace and quiet required to write. Instead, she amused herself by making close observations of ridiculous society manners. After her father’s death in 1805, Jane, her mother, and sister lived with one of her brothers until 1808, when another brother provided them a permanent…

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October 14 1975 Trial begins in Amityville murders

I remember reading The Amytiville Horror (1977) as a teen-ager. It had me freaked out. After that the house on the cover of the novel was part of my nightmares for a long time.

While not as paranormal as the novel, the real-life story of the Amytiville family is just as frightening/strange. What motivates a young man to kill his parents and siblings? Craig Hill gives us a look at the story behind the story.

Craig Hill Media and Consulting

On October 14th 1975, Ronald DeFeo Jr. went on trial for the killings of his parents and four siblings in their Amityville, New York, home.

The family’s house was later said to be haunted and served as the inspiration for the Amityville Horror book and movies.

On the evening of November 13, 1974, Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr. entered an Amityville bar and told people his parents had been shot inside their home.

Several bar patrons accompanied DeFeo back to his family’s home, at 112 Ocean Avenue, where a man named Joe Yeswit called Suffolk County police to report the crime.

When officers arrived, they found the bodies of Ronald DeFeo Sr., age 43, his wife Louise, 42, and their children Dawn, 18, Allison, 13, Marc, 11, and John, 9.

The victims had been shot dead in their beds.

Ronald DeFeo Jr., 22, initially tried to say the murders were…

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Goldfarb, Alex and Litvinenko, Marina: Death of a Dissident – The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB (2007)

Alexander LitvinenkoAlexander Litvinenko awaiting death

Death by pulonium-210. Pulonium in the blood is not a pleasant way to go. But then I guess quite a few ways of dying are rather unpleasant. What makes it a sensational death is that Litvinenko was poisoned and quite a few people suspect that it is a political death – like the death of Anna Politkovskaya.

So who was Alexander Litvinenko? Why was it necessary to kill him?

Some of Death of a Dissident is bleak reading. Unsurprising but bleak. The lengths to which some people will go to gain and retain power is frightening. It seems there is always someone who is willing to give up their integrity for gain.

Boris Berezovsky with bodyguards

Warning right away. As you read Death of a Dissident you might keep in mind that one of the writers of the book was Alex Goldfarb. Goldfarb was/is employed by Boris Berezovsky. Goldfarb admits to this relationship at the beginning of the book. Whether it is possible to trust all of the information in Death of a Dissident is something worth asking oneself.

DREPT I LONDON:  Alexander Litvinenko døde etter å ha fått en dødelig dose polonium-210 i kroppen.Alexander before poisoning

In 2000 Litvinenko decided that it was time that he and Marina ran from it before he was arrested once more. After the claims against the FSB leadership, it had become unsafe for him to stay in Russia. With the help of Boris Berezovsky and Alex Goldfarb they left and finally arrived in the UK.

During their drive across Turkey, Alex Goldfarb felt he got to know Sasja. His life had not been a dance on roses and Sasja felt that Marina was the one who ultimately saved him.

Alexander Valterovich Litvinenko was born in 1962 (so a year younger than my brother) in Russia. His route of service went from the Internal Troops of the Minstry of Internal Affairs to the Dzerzhinsky Division of the Soviet Minstry of Internal Affairs. From there he entered the KGB and finally the FSB. He had lived a long life of service to the system and it could not have been easy for him to betray that system.

Before marrying Marina, Litvinenko had been married to Nataliya. Together they had a son and a daughter. In 1994 they would divorce.

Litvinenko’s meeting with Boris Berezovsky changes Sasja’s life Even though he know how much Boris likes money, and that the ends justify his means, Alex sticks with him through thick and thin. This relationship is part of what brings so much trouble into Sasja’s life. When the system wishes to charge Boris with crimes, Alexander’s loyalty to the state gets challenged.

Along with all of the bad military experiences Sasja has in the Chechenian was, experiences with poorly equipped soldiers being asked to do impossible things, Alex is also influenced by the shifting power in the FSB. Deniability was becoming increasingly difficult. When Sasja was arrested after becoming a whistleblower (along with several others) his life in Russia becomes untenable and escape becomes a real option for him and Marina.

Once they get to London, Alexander Litvinenko begins telling his tale of power struggles in Russia – depicting Putin as Mr. Bad while Boris is often the alleged victim. When he is poisoned, one of the claims is that Putin is behind the poisoning.

How much of this book that is truth and how much of it that is fiction is difficult for me to say. Putin is indisputably a bad boy in a country where rules and regulations seem to have taken a vacation. This is a country where survival of the strongest and most brutal is a reality. It is a fascinating story of one man’s journey (along with all of the people around) and well worth reading.

Hill, Craig: September 15 1890 Agatha Christie is born (2013)

I believe I have read every one of Agatha Christie’s mysteries and watched a great many of the series made about Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and others of her fun characters. 

Craig Hill Media and Consulting

On September 15th 1890, Mary Clarissa Agatha Miller, later known as Agatha Christie, was born in Torquay, Devon, England.

Raised and educated at Ashfield, her parents’ comfortable home, Christie began making up stories as a child. Her mother and her older sister Madge also made up stories: Madge told especially thrilling tales about a fictional, mentally deranged older sister.

Agatha married Colonel Archibald Christie in 1914, before World War I, and had one daughter. While her husband was off fighting in World War I, Christie worked as an assistant in a pharmacy, where she learned about poisons.

She began to write on a dare from her sister and produced her first mystery novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), featuring Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who would appear in 25 more novels during the next quarter century. The novel found modest success, and she continued writing. The Murder…

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Lear, Linda: Beatrix Potter: The extraordinary life of a Victorian genius (2007)

Linda Lear has done an amazing job with this biography about Beatrix Potter’s (1866-1943) life.

Here in Norway our national TV channel NRK has sent Potter’s tales from time to time on children’s television (barne-tv). One of the times was while my boys were still young enough to watch children’s television. Potter’s tales are absolutely darling and the artwork lifelike. While Beatrix Potter was a popular writer of children’s books, her influence is also still felt in other areas.

Beatrix Potter was born 1866 to Rupert and Helen Potter. Both were Unitarians and they were both of merchant stock. There was a younger brother Bertrand. The whole family were artistic. Rupert was an amateur photographer.

As girls did not go to school, and the family was wealthy, Beatrix had the advantage of having governesses until the age of 18. Life as a child in a wealthy Victorian family was very different to modern life. Nature was in, and there were no serious protests when Beatrix and Bertrand brought a variety of animals and insects into their school room to study and draw (and have as pets).

During summer holidays the family would go away from London to some country house or other. Beatrix and her brother would roam the landscape, scetch what they saw and study the material. Both became quite good at natural history. But in Victorian times, as today, non-scientists were seldom taken seriously by the scientific community. In spite of the quality of the work that Beatrix would research, she found that being a woman and a non-scholar was greatly to her disadvantage. Her work with fungi (mycology) shows an eye for detail and an understanding of her study objects that has caused the continued use her work in academicae.

In 1902 Potter published her first book about Peter Rabbit, and it soon became immensely popular. Today you can get her collected stories through Amazon with the artwork that she made for her books. I think you will find that Beatrix really knew what her animals were supposed to look like. Along with the very real locations used in her stories, her work is incredible. This is one of the best children’s authors from this period. I cannot praise the quality of her work enough.

One of her great passions in life was the preservation of nature. Once the money started rolling in, Potter began buying up Lakeland properties, restoring them to past glory. Once she died she deeded all of her properties to the National Trust for preservation as far as it was possible. Hill Top was her first purchase and life-long love. Of all of her buildings, it is the one that has been kept as she left it, and Beatrix fans flock there.

Eventually Beatrix married William Heelis, her solicitor. There were no children, but both used all of their energies on the Lakelands, trying to keep it away from investors that they felt would destroy its beauty.

1971: The ballet film was released, The Tales of Beatrix Potter, directed by Reginald Mills. Set to music by John Lanchbery with choreography by Frederick Ashton and performed in character costume by members of the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera House orchestra. The ballet of the same name has been performed by other dance companies around the world.

1982: the BBC produced The Tale of Beatrix Potter TV-series.

1992-1995: The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends is an animated television series based on the works of Beatrix Potter, featuring Peter Rabbit and other anthropomorphic animal characters created by Potter. It was originally shown in the U.K. on BBC between 1992 and 1995 and subsequently broadcast in the U.S. on Family Channel in 1993–1995. The series has also been released on VHS and DVD.

2004: Potter is also featured in a series of light mysteries called The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter by Susan Wittig Albert. The eight books in the series start with the Tale of Hill Top Farm (2004).

2006: Chris Noonan directed Miss Potter, a biopic of Potter’s life focusing on her early career and romance with her editor Norman Warne.

Hill, Craig: September 13 1916 Children’s author Roald Dahl is born (2012)

Roald Dahl was an amazing author. My children have adored him, especially my youngest. We have all of his audiobooks. An amazing man.

Craig Hill Media and Consulting

On September 13th 1916, Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) and James and the Giant Peach (1961), was born in South Wales.

Dahl’s childhood was filled with tragedy. His father and sister died when Dahl was three, and he was later brutally abused at his boarding school.

After high school, he traveled widely, joining an expedition to Newfoundland and later working in Tanzania.

In World War II, he joined the Royal Air Force and became a fighter pilot. He flew missions in Libya, Greece, and Syria, and was shot down in the Libyan desert, suffering serious injuries. (He saved a piece of his femur, removed in an operation after the accident, and later used it as a paperweight in his office.)

After he recovered, Dahl was sent to Washington, D.C., as an attachÝ. There, the writer C.S. Forester suggested he write about his war experiences…

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Brinkley, Douglas: The Wilderness Warrior – Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America (2010)

Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Harvard College Library; Theodore Roosevelt in Arizona in 1913.

Once you remove the protective cover of the book, you’ll see that the whole thing is made to look old. The pages are layered, the font is old-fashioned and the pictures are (of course) black and white. Some biographies collect all of their photographs/pictures on a few pages, but I prefer the way Brinkley and his publishers have done it. This way they fit with the text and illustrate the author’s point. “The Wilderness Warrior” is more than an interesting looking book, it is also the story of Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt’s great interest in the preservation of nature.

Teddy “teddy-bear” Roosevelt (1858-1919) was the 26th president of the United States. Being 42 years old at the time of his swearing in, made him the youngest president ever. Nature played an important role to him from early on. As a sickly child, Teddy was home-schooled. To combat his asthma, Teddy chose physical activities as a way to combat the disease. His hyperactiveness probably played a large part in that choice. Later on he became an active hunter. He loved hunting and as a hunter he saw the need for preservation of hunting grounds. Through the power of the various offices he held, Teddy was able to promote this interest in nature and as president establish National parks.

Brinkley writes about Roosevelt in an engaging and interesting manner. He brings the man alive through pictures and personal anecdotes about Teddy. This is definitely a must-read for anyone interested in US History.

Gilbert, Martin: The Boys – Triumph Over Adversity (1996)

ForsideWhen I read “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” I was once again reminded of the story of 732 Jewish boys and girls whose story Martin Gilbert tells in his “The Boys: Triumph Over Adversity“. One book is from the viewpoint of someone standing outside the suffering while the other one is about the kids who went through hell. I’m not a believer in the many after-life versions of hell, but I am certainly a believer in the human ability to create hell for their fellow humans. In fact, we’re really creative in the many ways we cause others pain, and that worries me.

The Boys: Triumph Over Adversity tells such a story. This is the story of children who (along with their siblings and parents) were uprooted from their homes and dragged into the horrors of the Holocaust. These children were originally from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Their lives were the lives of ordinary children with loving parents. As they just below and above ten years old for the most part, these children had no understanding of all of the abrupt changes in their lives. From living in regular homes, they were stuffed into ghettos and then dragged to even worse circumstances.

And then it all ended. No more parents or siblings, all alone in the world after having endured what only few people in the world have had to endure.

After their liberation from the camps, they had to begin rebuilding their lives in Britain. Despite being physically and emotionally drained by their nightmare past, they drew strength from their group. After leaving their hostels, they remained a close-knit and devoted band of siblings. Their families having been destroyed, they created a family among themselves.

So many people ask themselves how something as terrible as the Holocaust could have happened. I doubt there is any one answer to that question. After all, we let history repeat itself all over the world. What I do believe is that we are all capable of becoming something we had never thought was possible. Ervin Staub in his “Roots of Evil” and Max Weber in his “On Bureaucracy” – Iron Cage both try to look at why people are dehumanized and warn us of the consequences.

UN: Women A World Report Part II

UN Women logo
UN Women’s logo

Sometimes a gem just drops into your lap. Our library had a book sale and I bought a bag of books for 50NOK. Inside I found this collection of essays from 1986. In connection with the end of UN’s 1975-1985 this status report was created. In it we find women who meet other cultures and report on what they see. This book was sponsored and compiled by New Internationalist, a cooperative specializing in social justice and world development issues. In addition to publishing its own magazine, it collaborates with the UN and other organizations to produce a wide range of press, television, and educational materials.

The essayists are:

Toril Brekke of Norway meets Kenyan women whose husbands have travelled to the cities to find work.

Angela Davis of the US travels to Egypt where virginity is of prime importance.

Anita Desai travels from India to Norway to investigate gender roles.

Buchi Emecheta of Nigeria travels to the United States to investigate the impact of the education boom on sex roles

Marilyn French of the US investigates the difference between middle-class and poor Indian women.

Germaine Greer of Australia meets the women of Cuba, women who are considered both active comrades and sex-objects.

Elena Poniatowska of Mexico investigates the effects of the sexual revolution on the women of Adelaide, Australia.

Nawal El Saadawi of Egypt meets women involved in political activities seeking to change the definition of family and society.

Manny Shirazi of Iran investigates the impact Soviet socialism has had on the female relatives she meets.

Jill Tweedy of England meets the first generation of literate women in Indonesia