WWII Dispatches, February 2010

  • British prime minister Gordon Brown apologized last fall for the treatment of one of the country’s World War II heroes, Alan Turing, when it was discovered after the war that he was gay. In 1952 Turing, the mathematician who devised the machine that helped decode German enigma messages throughout the war, was convicted of “gross indecency” after admitting to having a sexual relationship with a man. He killed himself two years later. “While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time, and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair,” Brown wrote in the Telegraph. “So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work, I am very proud to say: we’re sorry. You deserved so much better.”
  • A stolen piece of art that was likely owned by Adolf Hitler popped up in Germany this fall on a German version of the television program Antiques Roadshow. A suspicious viewer phoned the police after seeing the program’s experts value a 17th-century Flemish painting, “Sermon on the Mount” by Frans Francken the Younger, at nearly $150,000. The painting, which was seized by the Nazis—and stored, along with the rest of Hitler’s personal art collection, at Hitler’s Bavarian command center—had been missing since 1945. The show has so far refused to identify the artwork’s owner, and the German police are investigating.
  • Embarrassment at the University of California, Berkeley, continues over a collection of skulls and bones housed in the school’s anthropology museum that may be the remains of Japanese victims of World War II. A blistering exposé in the San Francisco Chronicle last summer revealed the presence of six sets of skeletal remains, which school officials say were removed from Saipan by a navy doctor in 1945 and donated to the museum in 1974. Some of the remains may be from Japanese civilians who committed suicide by jumping off cliffs during the battle to avoid surrendering. State lawmakers ordered the university to return the remains, but until the bones are confirmed to be of Japanese origin, Japanese officials have balked at accepting them.

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