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4 Crazy Forgotten Side Stories From World War II

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A Fake Diplomat Gave Out Very Real Papers To Refugees

We’ve told you about diplomats like Chiune Sugihara, who gave life-saving visas to Jews despite explicit instructions not to. But to perform heroic acts of diplomacy, you would have to be, well, a diplomat, right? Not exactly.

Giorgio Perlasca was a staunch Italian fascist until Mussolini passed anti-Semitic racial laws and aligned himself with Hitler, because there’s fascism and then there’s, like, fascism, you know? Perlasca, disillusioned by the treatment of his Jewish friends, spent the war acquiring supplies for Italy’s eastern front, and in 1943 he was working in Budapest when Italy surrendered and broke with the Axis. While many of his colleagues chose to return to the sad little puppet state Hitler gave Mussolini, Perlasca swore fealty to the Italian throne, prompting Nazi-aligned Hungary to throw him in jail. 

His prison was a relatively cushy castle reserved for VIPs, but after a few months, he got his hands on a medical travel pass and applied for asylum at the Spanish Embassy. Spain was also fascist, as was the style at the time, but had kept out of the war and was begrudgingly accepting Jewish refugees based on the Allied policy of pointing at Hitler’s mounting military defeats and asking what landmarks visitors to Madrid should check out. 

Perlasca had fought for the fascists in the Spanish Civil War, so the embassy welcomed him with open arms. Rather than sit around, Perlasca assumed a fake identity and began working with Spanish diplomat Angel Sanz Briz to give Hungarian Jews certificates of protection. These papers guaranteed their holders access to Spanish safe houses until they could be smuggled out of the country, and Briz himself saved about 5,000 Jews.

This continued until 1944 when Hitler, never great at managing his priorities, decided that his ally wasn’t being genocidal enough and ordered a German occupation of Hungary. Briz and his staff were forced to flee to Switzerland, and Hungary’s new rulers declared that with diplomatic relations severed, so they could do whatever they wanted with the Jews that had been under Spain’s protection. And that’s where Perlasca stepped in.

Ignoring his own invitation to Switzerland, Perlasca declared that Briz had totes left him in charge of the Spanish Embassy, and anyone who questioned that fact or his Italian accent was probably a colossal idiot. Wielding the abandoned Spanish seal and his own huge balls, Perlasca continued to issue protective papers while monitoring the safehouses for any sign of Nazi duplicity. At one point, Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, busy saving lives himself, witnessed Perlasca talk two boys off a train bound for Auschwitz by getting in the face of Adolf goddamn Eichmann.

4 Forgotten Side Stories From World War II | Adolf Hitler and Adolf Eichmann

Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1990-048-29A / CC-BY-SA 3.0
The Nazis really doubled down on making sure no one should ever use that name again.

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Unreality in South Beach

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“Don’t you think that life is no longer real? Don’t you think that it doesn’t matter what we do or stop doing? “

Tom is a massive man in his 70s. We are in the bar of Harat’s, a pub in South Beach, Miami. Outside, under a cloudy sky, the heat is very humid. Meteorologists predict a deluge in a few hours. On the street you can see what you see every day on the streets of South Beach: convertible Ferraris, impossible bikinis, tourists, beggars. Tom drinks seriously and methodically: a glass of beer and a glass of whiskey. It is 13:08. The reporter is not sure that life has ever been real in this narrow strip of expensive land surrounded by sea.

On Lincoln Road, the neighborhood mall, there used to be something like a piece of reality: a branch of Books & Books, the chain of independent bookstores that 25-year-old Mitchell Kaplan founded in 1982. Books & Books still it’s there, in a sense. “At first this was a bookstore. Then it was a bookstore with a cafeteria. Now, since June, it is a cafeteria without a bookstore ”. A waitress explains it. The rent of the premises was too expensive for a book business, but it is not so for a soft drink and fast food business that, paradoxically, maintains the name of Books & Books.

A few miles north, at a Biscayne Bay university, Barack Obama is holding a rally before a group of separated, masked pedestrians and 50 cars. Things of social distancing, an emblem of the Democrats. Locked in their cars, with the engine running to run the air conditioning, the attendees pay tribute to the former president with the blast of their horns. Obviously, they don’t hear anything. It can not. Obama keeps the “swing”: smile, eloquence, not a drop of sweat. But all you hear is honking. It’s like Frank Sinatra giving a concert in the engine room of the battleship Bismarck.

Miami, and especially some of its areas, such as the very touristy alley called Espanola Way in South Beach, a few steps from the bar where Tom drinks, is characterized by nighttime noise. The night is a cacophony of full blast Latin music. But for a couple of days the mayor of Miami, Carlos Giménez, a Republican, has ordered that the music be turned down. Nobody knows how much to lower it and some hoteliers have suffered the first fines of 500 dollars. The mayor says that background music forces patrons to speak louder, spreading more miasmas in the air and increasing the risk of contagion. Masks are not mandatory, people drink and laugh in bars, coronavirus infections continue to increase. On Friday, the death toll reached 16,544 in Florida and the contagion count reached 771,780. Therefore, it is convenient to lower the music.

Tom is a popular man at this establishment. A newly arrived customer gives you a hug. The reporter is interested in Tom’s opinion about public measures against the pandemic. Tom shrugs his shoulders and asks what is done in Argentina, where the reporter lives. “The quarantine lasts from March 20 and the virus continues to spread,” is the answer. “Jesus,” Tom exclaims. Order another beer and another whiskey. “The truth is, I don’t know what the correct policies are for this problem.” Then he utters the vaguely nihilistic phrase that heads this chronicle, about the apparent absence of reality and meaning in our actions. Everything is so strange that it makes you want to accompany this man in his alcoholic therapy.

Obama has said, under the concert of horns, that the presidential elections on November 3 “are the most important of our lives.” He has also said that if Joe Biden wins in Florida, with his 29 delegates, Donald Trump will be finished. Trump has voted a few hours before, precisely in Florida. After voting “in favor of a guy named Trump,” he announced that during the day he would hold rallies in Ohio, North Carolina and Wisconsin. No distancing or masks. “It will be huge crowds,” he promises.

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The Story Behind Lady Gaga’s Insane Super Bowl Half Time Show Stunt

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A unicorn costume? A pregnant Beyonce team-up? A political protest staged in shimmering sequins? We didn’t know what to expect from Lady Gaga’s first Super Bowl halftime show, but we knew it’d be flashy. Turns out it was also state-of-the-art.

To kick off her outrageous performance at Super Bowl LI, Gaga scaled NRG Stadium in Houston and belted the opening bars of “God Bless America” from the fulcrum of the open roof. That would be enough for a lesser pop star. But as Gaga hit the high notes, a fleet of LED drones lit up the sky, creating a background of faux-stars that transformed into the Stars and Stripes with no interruption.

The wizardry behind the sight was so mesmerizing, one could almost miss Gaga plummeting to the bottom of the field on steel cables. Almost.

Gaga’s own kickoff was a visual and technological wonder. According to a making-of article on Wired, each drone measured a foot long square, weighed eight ounces, and sported a plastic and foam body to ensure that, if one happened to drop out of sequence, it didn’t cave anyone’s skull in. Along with being optimized for mobility, the drones are capable of organizing into four billion color combinations at the push of a button. Gaga chose red, white, and blue in a few recognizable patterns. America!

As Wired details, this was a logistical feat. Not only did the drones have to be programmed to fly in pattern, organizers of Intel’s “Shooting Star” program had to work with local government to secure rights to launch them at the required distance. An The Federal Aviation Administration prohibits drones from flying within 34.5 miles of NRG Stadium. But patience (planning for the stunt began in early December) paved the way for an FAA dispensation. Anything for Gaga glamour.

The rest of the halftime show was business as usual for Gaga: a fabulous cavalcade of diamond dresses, star wands, shoutouts to mom and dad, the supreme power of the keytar, and impassioned words on diversity. Gaga wasn’t overtly political in her show, but her chosen snippet from “Born this Way” (“No matter gay, straight, or bi, Lesbian, transgendered life / I’m on the right track baby, I was born to survive”) was enough to light up social media with praise… and a ton of SpongeBob memes.

But nothing shocked and wowed quite like the opening bit, a stunt that would leave Elon Musk and Tom Cruise impressed. Before and after, Gaga didn’t seem fazed by the sheer scale of her musical touchdown. This one was still for the fans.

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Weekly Ketchup: A Rome movie and Honest Abe fighting vampires

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This Week’s Ketchup includes news of two TV show adaptations (Rome and Gilligan’s Island), yet another videogame adaptation (Space Invaders), a few more remakes (including Police Academy and one of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest films), new roles for Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, and movies about Abraham Lincoln and J. Edgar Hoover.

FRESH DEVELOPMENTS

When HBO pulled the plug on its expensive coproduction Rome, there was talk of the possibility of the series continuing on in movie form. Fans of the show who were also familiar with similar promises of Deadwood movies knew, however, to perhaps take such talk with a grain of salt. We may still never get a Swearengen movie, but a movie starring legionaries Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson) and Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) may yet be in the stars, as the Romans would say. Series cocreator Bruno Heller has turned in the script for a Rome movie, which will continue the adventures of Pullo and Vorenus four years later in Germany, where Rome’s battles for conquest were still quite ongoing in the film’s setting of 27 BC (also the year Octavian became Caesar Augustus). A focus on Germany is a departure from the original series plans. Heller revealed a few years back that the second season (which focused on Octavian, Mark Antony, Cleopatra and Egypt) was actually a condensed version of what had originally been planned for seasons 2, 3 and 4. The hypothetical 5th season of Rome would have focused on the rise of the messiah in Palestine. The next step for Rome, which is now an independent production with no involvement from HBO, is to find a studio and a director.

ROTTEN IDEAS OF THE WEEK

The 1984 comedy Police Academy was arguably one of the funniest movies ever made, but that fact is easily forgotten now because the five sequels after Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment greatly tarnished the original film’s legacy. Heck, Police Academy even had a great orchestral score. And now, Hollywood’s seamy love affair with remakes and reboots has even enrolled at that esteemed institution, with the news that New Line Cinema is developing a new Police Academy which very much sounds like a reboot. The premise of the original Police Academy got its start with a new law in an unnamed city that opened the door to anyone who wanted to become a recruit, regardless of qualifications. This remake will feature a new class of recruits, but the original class included Steve Guttenberg, Kim Cattrall, Bubba Smith, David Graf (as the gun crazy Tackleberry), Marion Ramsey (as the meek Hooks) and of course, Michael Winslow as that “sound effects” guy. The remake doesn’t yet have a screenwriter or director, but original producer Paul Maslansky is involved. And as for that theme music, New Line Cinema expects to keep that as well. The reason this is one of this week’s “Rotten Ideas” should be pretty obvious to anyone who enjoyed the first two movies, and then was ever exposed to any of the sequels. The chances seem fairly bleak that a new movie (whether they call it a reboot, a remake or a sequel) can live up to the original, and five lousy sequels proved that the premise was one that was very easily done badly.

Paramount Pictures is moving forward with plans to remake Pet Sematary, the 1989 horror film which was based upon a novel by Stephen King. To adapt the novel, Paramount has hired screenwriter Matthew Greenberg, whose co-writing credits include Reign of Fire, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later and the Stephen King short story adaptation 1408. The idea of a Pet Sematary remake has been around for several years now, including a time when George Clooney was considering starring. Pet Sematary is the story of a family that moves to rural Maine, only to discover that they live near a pet cemetery near a Native American burial ground that has the unique property of resurrecting anything buried there. Even if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, you can probably imagine where the story goes from there. The original movie is especially memorable for the performance of Fred Gwynne as the neighbor who tells the father character about the burial grounds. Constantly explaining why remakes are generally “rotten ideas” gets a bit old, so for this one, let’s just say this: Stephen King has written dozens of books and hundreds of short stories, many of which have surprisingly not yet been adapted as movies. Admittedly, movies like The Mist also remind us that sometimes that’s not a great idea either. However, wouldn’t it be more interesting to see filmmakers try their hand at something we haven’t seen yet, versus yet another visit to this old pile of rocks?

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