Radio broadcasting and the war

“La chanson des V”. Beethoven’s famous 5th symphonie start was the signature tune for the BBC programme “Les Français parlent aux français”. The rythm of its first four notes equals the letter “V” (for Victory) in morse code. Liberation.b.34

The powerful role of radio propaganda during World War II cannot be overestimated. Information was transmitted quickly to vast populations across borders, overpassing enemy lines. In the UK, the BBC would broadcast in several languages, including French of course, and would even send secret messages to the French Resistance in the form of apparently senseless phrases. The Chadwyck-Healey Liberation Collection has several publications related to this topic, some of them particularly fascinating.

Maurice Van Moppès was an illustrator, Free France member and broadcaster who worked for “Les Français parlent aux français”, one of the BBC radio programmes that transmitted news from the Front (for more on this check the 5 volumes of Ici Londres, 1940-1944: les voix de la liberté, 539:1.b.820.2-6). The programme was also supposed to boost the French people’s morale and send code messages to the Résistance. Continue reading

No surrender, no retreat

Kosta's autobiography

Kosta’s autobiography

Seventy years after the liberation of Auschwitz, one of its survivors, Jiri Kosta, died last month at the age of 93. His life after the tortures of the Second World War was both typical of a survivor of the concentration camps as well as extraordinary. And while his experiences during the Nazi Regime shaped Kosta for the rest of his life, it was by no means limited by that experience.

That Kosta was able to live a full life was, as is so often the case with survivors of the concentration camps, down to chance. Or, in this case, down to a breadcrumb. Born in Prague in 1921 to German-Jewish parents, he was ordered in late 1941 to help set up what was to become the concentration camp Theresienstadt, in which he and his family were subsequently imprisoned. Because of his youth, he was a useful worker and managed to survive the daily routine in the concentration camp. However, he too was eventually ordered on to the last transport east to Auschwitz in October 1944, where he was to endure the mixture of torture and ritual humiliation that characterised the lives of those that were lucky enough to survive the ruthless selection process. With the advancement of the Red Army he was then forced on to a death march towards Germany. That he managed to escape to safety and survive the death march was down to luck. One morning, before the march was to set off, he had forgotten to take with him a piece of bread that he had saved and put aside. He managed to sneak back into the barracks to fetch this bread. There he found several other fellow prisoners hidden under beds who told him to do the same if he wanted to stay alive. In the chaos that the German troops were already in, the missing prisoners escaped their notice and Kosta survived. Continue reading