Tag Archives: World War II

Robert-Hugues Lambert in Mermoz

Mermoz Movie Poster 1942

Today we remember the death of French actor Robert-Hugues Lambert, who suffered in Drancy transit camp and ultimately Buchenwald while his first film premiered in Paris.  Few great French films were produced during the Vichy period, but reportedly, Mermoz was one of them.  Unfortunately, I have been unable to track down even a French version, much less one with English subtitles.  The story of the leading man, however, was worthy of a movie of its own.  (Keep reading, that exists too).

First, we have to take a very quick look at Jean Mermoz to fully understand the scope of the story.  Mermoz was an early aviation hero in both France and Argentina and everywhere in between. In the 1920s and ’30s he was making dangerous flights from France to exotic locales like Morocco and Senegal, and eventually all the way to Brazil. This led to exciting stories, like crashing in the Sahara and being taken captive by Turegs.
He moved to Argentina and became one of the leaders of South American aviation.

The mysterious ending to his historic career lends to the story.  He was lost at sea in a situation similar to what we associate with Amelia Earhart just seven months before her.  He is worthy of a blog of his own, which I may get to someday.  Needless to say, he was an extremely well-known and popular hero with a tragic disappearance. That is exactly what sells theater tickets, even when there is a world war going on.

Robert-Hugues Lambert was a little known comedic theater actor.  He was noticed by director Louis Cuny while working on a show by the great French playwright Jean Giono. But it wasn’t Lambert’s acting that caught the eye of the director, it was his likeness to Jean Mermoz.  It’s said the mother of Mermoz was overcome with emotion when she saw Lambert. The number one feature, of course, is their wavy hair.

Now one thing to remember here is that Cuny and basically everyone working on the set are relatively new to movie making.  Although he did have several short films under his belt, this was his first major motion picture.  The real reason he even had this opportunity was because in Occupied France of 1942, Jewish film directors, producers, actors, and even crew were no longer allowed to work.  Cuny saw this as a chance to make it big.

Unfortunately, the movie was plagued with problems from the get-go, most of which had to do with inexperience.  This included the below par acting of Lambert himself, as well as difficulty with the set and crew.  With the big premiere date in Paris already set, they were under the gun to finish on time, no matter what.

In Vichy France, homosexuals were as undesirable as Jews when it came to owning or running businesses. However, in the arts it was mostly overlooked.  Poets, musicians, and actors continued on (cautiously) with their careers.  Most believe where Lambert made his mistake was his choice to become involved with a specific lover.

There is very little that is actually known, but a lot of speculation swirls around what happened next.  With just over a week of filming left, Lambert disappears.  He attended a photo shoot earlier in the day then didn’t show up for filming the next day.  The evening of the photo shoot there had been a surprise roundup at a local bar frequented by gay men. Some believe it was coincidence that he happened to be there when the Nazi arrived.  I tend to believe otherwise.

He had been in a relationship with a German officer, which of course was kept secret.  With the movie about to be released, it became more important to keep the secret.  Some speculate there was a falling out between the two (possibly over jealousy) and the officer ordered the raid.  I tend to believe that the officer was afraid he’d gotten in a bit too deep and was scared for his own career and possibly life.  Or maybe it was just a coincidence.  Regardless, Lambert was arrested, most likely for “idleness,” and transported to Drancy transit camp.

There is also a haziness about what happens next.  I’ve read a lot of articles stating that Louis Cuny and the film company did everything they could to have him released.  I find that pretty hard to believe, because in similar cases people were released relatively easily.  Of course, this would have been more complicated with the German officer boyfriend perhaps hoping to keep the relationship under cover.  But Cuny was pretty well known for not caring about his actors.  He said he learned early to treat actors just like any other workers.  Once you’re done with them, that’s it.  You don’t call a plumber after he’s fixed your faucet.

So Cuny did what was easiest, he hired someone else to finish the shooting.  No problem.  They look similar enough, the shots will all be done from behind so no one will see Henri Vidal’s face.  They may have looked alike, but they didn’t sound alike.  They needed Lambert’s voice.

Meanwhile, Robert-Hugues Lambert is forced into hard labor.  In the end, he would be in at least four different camps.  But he was in Drancy when he was passed a series of lines to say into a microphone that was lowered over the barbed wire fence on a boom.  The movie could not be completed without his voice, and time was running out before the big Paris premiere.  Believing he would be released any day, he dutifully read the lines.  The crew sent to record lines even said they would see him at the premiere.  Perhaps they all really believed they would.

On November 3, 1943, Mermoz in premiered in Paris.  Robert-Hugues Lambert is not mentioned.  In August of 1943 he is transferred to Buchenwald.  In November of 1944 he is transferred to Flossenberg to work in a brickyard.  On March 7, 1945, Robert-Hugues Lambert dies at the age of 37 of exhaustion.

It’s said that in the camps, no one called him Lambert.  To the Nazis he was 21623.  To everyone else, he was Mermoz.

Marcel Bluwal would eventually make a movie loosely based on Lambert called Le plus beau pays du monde which is sometimes translated (like on IMDB) as The Happiest Place on Earth, but seems to more closely mean “The Most Beautiful Country in the World.”  I have also had a hard time finding this movie in English.  I would be leary of viewing it as historical fiction, however, since it seems to take a lot of liberties and the majority of the characters are fictional.

Not surprisingly, I couldn’t find a painting of Robert-Hugues Lambert.  However, I thought this Mermoz movie poster was a beautiful work of art. I love the stylized stone faced depiction of Mermoz, wavy hair flowing behind him.  It contrasts so well with the simplistic sky and ocean in front of him.  It also really shows that while flying made him famous, it was his larger than life personality that made him popular.

It is a bit surprising to me that you’ll notice at the bottom under Louis Cuny you’ll see Robert-Hugues Lambert in large letters.  I wonder if they used a different poster for the premiere.  I’ve seen at least three different posters (all equally beautiful), but all do list Lambert.  One even shows his picture.

To see all three posters, click here: Mermoz posters

Read more about Vichy here:  Deportation from Vichy

To listen to a portion of the ahhhmazing score of Mermoz by Arthur Honeggar, one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, click here:  La traversée des Andes

You may also want to check out the books World Cinema and Cultural Memory by I. Hedges and The Classic French Cinema, 1930-1960 by Colin Crisp.

*Description of poster: A horizontal movie poster.  The top two-thirds of the background is a dark blue sky. A small white plane flies in the distance.  The bottom third is a lighter blue ocean with dark blue waves.  The entire left side is an all white sculptural bust profile of Jean Mermoz covering both the ocean and sky.  His long wavy hair is chiseled as if it is flowing out behind him.

Across the bottom of the poster in large black letters, Mermoz.  In smaller letters, Un Film de Louis Cuny. Below that in smaller letters still, Robert-Hugues Lambert.  Across the top, Les Productions Francaises Cinematographiques, André Tranché.*

*Description of photographs: Two black and white portraits side by side. On the left, Jean Mermoz.  On the right, Robert-Hugues Lambert.  Both men wear a suit and tie and have dark eyes and wavy hair combed back.  Mermoz gives a teethy smile.  Lambert’s smile isn’t as broad, but both men seem to smile with their warm eyes.*




Angels of Bataan

Liberation of the Angels of Bataan from Santo Tomas

US Army photo  1945

On February 11, 1945, 3,785 internees were liberated and finally evacuated from Santo Tomas in the Philippines.  Among them were 77 Army and Navy nurses, the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor.  This was the largest number of American woman to ever be held captive.  But they weren’t just women, they weren’t just POWs, they were nurses, and they didn’t forget it.

They never neglected their duty or obligation.  For more than three years under harsh conditions they aided the thousands of American and British POWs interned in the camp.  Even when their food was rationed down to 700 calories a day, they each worked four-hour shifts, ensuring the safety and comfort of others as well as themselves.

Just hours after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941, the Philippines was also attacked.  By December 26, Manila had fallen.  The 20,000 American troops and 80,000 Filipinos began to retreat to the Bataan Peninsula.  Shortly thereafter, all foreigners were transported by the Japanese to Santo Tomas, a large university that was turned into an internment camp.  These were mostly Americans and British, but there were a number of nationals from all over the world, including 400 children

They were basically told to fend for themselves.  There was a nightly roll call and monitors, but not much else.  However, they were not allowed to leave the compound, and those that attempted escape were severely punished.  While at first the locals were able to pass food and letters through the fence, the Japanese soon cut them off completely from the outside world.  There would be nothing, including food, to help them.

The Japanese selected an “executive committee” to run the camp.  They essentially did what any city would do.  They set up a police force and a hospital.

Captain Maude Davison of the US Army Nurse Corps was 57 years old with 20 years of service when she took command of the nurses in Santo Tomas.  She and second in command Josephine Nesbit kept the nurses on schedule, even insisting they continue to wear a proper uniform while on shift.  After liberation, many of the internees credited the nurses for saving their lives.  The nurses credited their routine and those in command for saving theirs.

It’s said the nurses were most proud of that fact that 77 nurses went in to Santo Tomas and 77 came out.

I was unable to find a painting of the Angels of Bataan, but I think this is such a great photo of liberation day.  It’s an official US Army photo.  If you look to the far right with her back to the camera you see an older nurse, uniform cap in place.  Such strong determination, perseverance, and sense of duty to their country and profession.




Newly liberated Army nurses pose before boarding a flight to the U.S., Feb. 20, 1945. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Center of Military History)



Photo taken three weeks after liberation at Letterman Hospital.  (Photo courtesy of http://www.west-point.org)

There’s so much to learn about Santo Tomas, the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor, the Bataan Death March and work camps, and the thousands of men and woman of all nationalities that endured World War II.  I would encourage you to read more.  I’ve added a few links below.

Photos of Santo Tomas

National WWII Museum

Maude Davison

Josephine Nesbit

Moments of War

Mariusz Kosik  Digital Painting  21st Century

Today we remember D-Day, the invasion of Normandy by the Allied Forces in 1944.  There is so much information to learn about D-Day, I won’t even bother to delve into it.  There are thousands of books that will be much more informative than I could ever be.

However, I will say that I find the logistics behind D-Day fascinating.  The engineering feats that had to be accomplished just to get the guys to the beaches as safely as possible are really incredible.  Here is a really short list of some interesting innovations: D-Day Innovations.

Mariusz Kosik is a Polish artist that specializes in military battle art.  He’s also a historian and strives for complete historical accuracy.  This endears him to me, as historical inaccuracy drives me nuts.  He has even done illustrations for Osprey Publishing, the premiere military history book publisher.

Honestly, I had some difficulty finding out information about the artist in English.  I believe a lot was lost in translation.  But I really didn’t need to read Polish to see just how amazing he is.  I strongly suggest you check out the artist’s webpage at Mariusz Kozik.  He has some amazing oil and digital paintings with an incredible amount of detail.

My favorite part of this digital painting is actually the Czech Hedgehogs.  Those are the big X type things you see in the water.  These were huge obstacles placed in the water by the Germans made to slow down or destroy boats coming to shore.  They were designed to be concealed underwater during high tide, as it was believed that would be the only time anyone would attempt an invasion.  They were wrong, the invasion began three hours after low tide.

Check out this cool article about the science behind the landing here:  Science.

Thank you to everyone that stormed those beaches on that day, not just Americans, but the Canadians and British as well.  We also remember the brave men and women of the French Resistance, as well as those of all nationalities that supported the cause.  And of course, we remember the Army and Navy nurses, many arriving as early as D+4.




Building at Night

Dita Polachova (approximate age 13)  Watercolor   1942 in Theresienstadt Ghetto

This evening marks Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Originally this observance coincided with the date of the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.  There are actually numerous different dates that many countries use as a Remembrance day.  Some use the day the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz, others when Americans liberated Dachau or other important events during the war.  Regardless of the date, many Western countries have an observance.

Approximately eleven million died during the Holocaust, six million were Jews.  The other estimated five million came from numerous ethnic and religious groups, POWs, homosexuals, the disabled, or resisters.  Many were non-practicing nominal Jews.

But in those millions of people affected by the Holocaust, some continued to strive to better themselves and those around them.   One was Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, an artist and teacher.  She was deported to Terezin Ghetto (Theresienstadt) in 1942.

When she learned of her deportation she collected anything she could use as art supplies– wrapping paper, charcoal, ledgers, receipts, scraps of books to take with her.  Knowing she could only take what she could carry, she chose to leave most of her possessions to have room for her supplies.  However, the supplies she carried where not for herself.  They were for the children.

Tens of thousands of children lived in the fortress of Terezin.  They were starving, they were afraid, and they were bored.  Friedl Dicker-Brandeis didn’t do “arts and crafts” project with these children, she taught them art.  Not only did she teach them art concepts and techniques, she taught them how art could be therapy.  She gave lectures to parents and other adults on using art to give them freedom and hope.

She taught hundreds of children and held art shows and set up galleries of their work.  After her husband was transported to Auschwitz she collected over 4,000 pieces of artwork her children made and passed them along to someone else for safe keeping.  She was taken on the next transport and was gassed in 1944.

Over 5,000 pieces of art survived from her students.  Most of them are now in the Jewish Museum in Prague.  You can also find several in the book  I Never Saw Another Butterfly, which also contains poems from the children of Terezin.

This watercolor can be found in this book.  It was painted by Dita Polachova while she was in Terezin.  She was transported to Auschwitz in 1943 and liberated from Bergen-Belsen in 1945.  She later moved to Israel.

I chose this painting because I thought the subject matter was intriguing.  The assumption is that she painted a building she could see.  It’s obvious this painting is of a church, there is a cross at the top of the building.  Was it chosen because it represented something she was not?  Again, assumptions are made.  As she moved to Israel, one might assume she is Jewish.  Or maybe it was chosen because she had little choice.  She painted what she saw.

On this Holocaust Remembrance Day I encourage you to not just remember the death and destruction, but the ones that gave hope.  Freidl Dicker-Brandeis never stopped believing the children should learn, even if she believed their deaths were as certain as hers.  She believed that some of these children would live, and they would need art in their lives to help them survive long after the terror was over.

To learn more about the Holocaust, please visit www.ushmm.org.

You can also see more artwork here: http://www.holocaustawarenessmuseum.org/content/Art-From-Within-Terezin