Code Poem For the French Resistance
The son of an antiquarian bookseller, Leo Marks was the cult screenwriter whose controversial movies paved the foundation for the modern day slasher film.
But during the war Leo Marks put a boyhood passion for cryptography into practice, devising codes for resistance movements to pass messages in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Before Marks got involved, resistance fighters often used famous poems as the keys for breaking transposition ciphers. This worked because the poems were easy for fighters to memorize, but the system had a massive defect.
If a poem was published, the enemy had access to it too… especially if it was well known. If the Nazis got their hands on an encrypted message, they just had to figure out which poem was being used and the code could be cracked.
To get around this Marks started to write his own poems. The poems had to be memorized flawlessly by the members of the resistance, or else they the coded messages they were the key to could not be deciphered.
The most famous of Leo Marks’ poem codes is ‘The Life That I Have’. It was composed on Christmas Eve 1943, originally in memory of Marks’ girlfriend Ruth who had died in a plane crash not long before.
In his autobiography Marks writes that at the time the poem was “a message to her [Ruth] which I’d failed to deliver when I’d had the chance”.
But the work took on new significance a year later, when it was given to resistance hero Violette Szabo.
According to Marks, Szabo was having trouble using her original choice of key – a variation on a French nursery rhyme – when he assigned the new poem to her without revealing himself to be its author.
In the 1958 movie based on Szabo’s heroic exploits and eventual execution at the hands of the Nazi authorities, the poem is attributed to Szabo’s husband.
The whole story of the code poems, the work of the Special Operations Executive and Leo Marks’ work in cryptography only came out long after the war was ended.
This deceptively simple poem played its small part in liberating Europe from Nazi aggression.
During the war it carried messages to the resistance fighters, who worked for liberation behind enemy lines. Now it encodes within it the memory of their sacrifice, bravery and hope for humanity in the face of atrocity.
Protocols of the Elders of Zion
In the words of Brett Easton Ellis “Sometimes It Gets Worse”. This strange little book certainly did change the world, but not for the better.
First published in Russia in 1903, it went through multiple editions and was translated in many languages in the first years of the 20th century.
Founder of the Ford Motor Company, industrialist Henry Ford, was so impressed by the work he paid for half a million copies to be printed, which he distributed at his own expense.
In the 1930s it was used by German schoolteachers to teach students the justifications for Nazi anti-Semitism.
But this notorious forgery has history more murky and complex that the conspiracy it claims to expose.
The Protocols are supposedly the record of a secret meeting of Jewish leaders, at which their plans for world domination though manipulation of the global financial systems are laid out. Strangely for a secret meeting, it was well minuted… presumably by an evil admin sent by a temping agency specializing in staffing for shadowy cabals.
In reality the publication is a confusing Frankenstein’s monster of a text, with chapters taken from various sources including satirical pamphlets and an anti-Semitic adventure novel… which were themselves plagiarized.
Much of the Protocols political content was lifted from a 19th century French pamphlet by laywer Maurice Joly.
The original pamphlet, Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, was a satirical attack on the policies of French Emperor Napoleon III.
Ironically Italian author Umberto Eco alleges that Joly himself actually plagiarized several pages of his pamphlet from a popular novel by ‘Mysteries of Paris’ author, Eugène Sue.
Although the satire was explosive enough in 1864 that it got its author sent to prison, by 1903 critiques of Napoleon III weren’t exactly hot news. In 1878 Joly was found dead by self-inflicted gunshot wound in his Paris home.
Over twenty years later, the Dialogue In Hell appears to have been translated into Russian and repurposed to form the basis of the Protocols. Machiavelli – Joly’s stand in for Napoleon III – is swapped out and replaced with a cabal of anonymous Rabbis.
But the setting for the Protocols seems to have been borrowed by a German novel Biarritz, by Hermann Goedsche.
Unlike Dialogue in Hell, this novel actually was rabidly anti-Semitic in its original form. First published in 1868, it was also heavily plagiarized, with a key elements apparently lifted from Alexandre Dumas’ novel Giuseppe Balsamo.
Yet despite Hermann Goedsche’s anti-Semitism, he never claimed his novel was anything other than a work of fiction… even if it wasn’t exactly all his work.
How exactly this weird mish-mash of decades old political satire, fiction and conspiracy theory, came to be one of the most widely-read – and genuinely dangerous – books of the 20th century is difficult to say.
Its true author or authors are unknown, but it first appeared around the time of a wave of anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia.
To add to the confusion different editions and different translators have introduced their own elements into the text, modifying the work to suit their own agendas.
Depressing, while the work was definitely exposed as a forgery and fabrication as early as 1921, there are many who still regard it as non-fiction.
As recently as 2006 Saudi Arabian textbooks were teaching that the Protocols were factual. And in 2005 textbooks in Palestinian Authority schools had to be withdrawn amid international outrage, when it was found out that the Protocols were being taught as evidence of Jewish conspiracy.
In the USSR the Protocols were used to justify anti-Jewish sentiment in the decades after WW2, particularly in the wake of the 1967 Six-Day-War between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
English-language editions are still considered factual in white supremacist circles and circulate widely online. In recent years New World Order conspiracy theorists have looked to the Protocols as evidence of their world view.
La muette de Portici
What do Netflix and Belgium have in common?
They’re two things that didn’t exist in 1830.
Which explains why opera was a bigger deal back then than it is today, but doesn’t explain how this now-obscure opera launched a revolution, which resulted in Belgium becoming an independent country.
In 1830 Belgium was part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, under the control of King William I.
William I was unpopular with his subjects in the south of his kingdom. Liberals regarded his reign as despotic, while traditionalist Roman Catholics resented being yoked together with the Dutch Reformed north. Added to this was widespread unemployment among the working classes, which resulted in outbreaks of industrial unrest.
Despite his precarious political position, In August 1830 William I planned a program of public festivities to mark the fifteenth year of his reign.
One month before Belgium nationalists had watched with excitement as the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_Revolution brought about constitutional monarchy in France.
The opera had actually been temporarily banned in Belgium around that time, after disturbances had broken out at earlier performances among crowds roused by its patriotic message.
But the ban was lifted in order that it could cap off the King’s jubilee festival.
However, in the days leading up to the festival the atmosphere in the city was increasingly mutinous.
Posters went up with the incendiary message “Monday, the 23rd, fireworks; Tuesday, the 24th, illuminations; Wednesday, the 25th, revolution.”
In response to this the firework display and illuminations were cancelled, but the performance of La Muette was set to go ahead as scheduled.
But if the king had hoped that by skipping the fireworks, he could cancel the revolution, he was mistaken.
Accounts vary as to exactly when the riots broke out in the opera house. But the revolution started long before the fat lady had her chance to sing.
A popular version is that during a second-act duet “Amour sacré de la patrie” (‘Sacred Love of the Country’), the crowd rose to their feet and took the streets.
When Lafeuillade and Casscl began singing the celebrated duet. “Amour sacre de la patrie” enthusiasm exploded irresistibly and [the singers] found it necessary to start afresh in the midst of the cheering. Finally, when Masaniello (Lafeuillade) launched into his entreaty, the invocation “Aux Armes!,” the public could no longer be restrained. They acclaimed aria and actor, they booed the fifth act in order to stop the performance, and the delirious crowd [hurled itself] out of the hall—into history. Welcomed by the other crowd which waited outside, it joined in the demonstrations which loosed the revolution of 1830
The ensuing riots led to Belgium splitting from the Netherlands and asserting its independence.
Although King William tried to reclaim Belgium the following year, he was unable to retain control of the territory. War between William and the French-backed Belgians dragged on for eight years, but by 1839 an independent Belgium was formally recognized in Europe under the Treaty of London.
Although the opera may have been more of a convenient rallying point for revolution, than a cause of the revolt in its own right, its patriotic message helped spur the people of Brussels into action.