Riveters pilots in dress uniforms Mule Rearing African American Soldiers 1 African American Officers gas masks doughboys with mules The pilots

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Brest-Litovsk: Eastern Europe’s Forgotten Father

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Brest-Litovsk: Eastern Europe’s Forgotten Father 

by Adrian Bonenberger

Belarus Soviet Monuments 2 Brest Hero Fortress 12Brest Hero Fortress. Photo courtesy ww.brest-fortress.by/en/

 One of the greatest ballet dancers of the 20th century—perhaps ever—Vaslav Nijinsky was born to Polish parents in what is now Ukraine, was at the time Imperial Russia (and for a brief six-month period, was a puppet-state of Imperial Germany). He is supposed to have thought of himself as Polish, for whatever that’s worth. He married a Hungarian woman and raised his children as Polish. He spoke Russian.

NijinksyjumpDancer Vaslav Nijinsky jumping. Photo courtesy http://journal.alinareyes.net/

One of the elements I find so extraordinary about Brest-Litovsk, personally, is the assumptions that the Germans made about how populations and peoples worked, what identity meant at the dawn of the 20th century. Although Germany had expended great military, financial, and political capital in annexing or expanding its influence at Russia’s expense—a fact that they hoped would be to Germany’s financial and political benefit—to the people who lived within that territory, Germany’s sovereignty must have seemed like a distant abstraction, a matter of architecture and linguistic preference. As intellectually similar and similarly modern as even the most cosmopolitan people of that time were to people today, they were, nevertheless, different—there was a kind of existential freedom to choose one’s path, to pick an identity, rather than having it forced upon one.

Read more: Brest-Litovsk: Eastern Europe’s Forgotten Father

"The Colored Man is No Slacker" - WWI Poems by the Peters Sisters

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"The Colored Man is No Slacker" - WWI Poems by the Peters Sisters

WarpoemsCourtesy of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History

* “I was in awe…because they were young. They were students, teenagers. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was their way of contributing to the civil rights of their people. Having lived the life of a black person who had been segregated always, in my schooling, church, in every way—my neighborhood had no other people who didn’t look like me; my school was completely segregated—so the book, it really struck me…They knew what was happening to black people. And they saw fit to put it in writing.” — Jean Barnes-Peters, West Virginia native, owner of the book “War Poems.”

In the late 1970’s Jean Barnes Peters found a copy of War Poems sitting on a bookshelf in her house in Charleston, W.Va. The authors, Ada (17) and Ethel (18) Peters, were half-sisters to Jean’s husband, Joseph Cromwell Peters. Joseph Cromwell Peters, who is now deceased, never met his two half-sisters and didn’t know anything about them because their mother and his father divorced before his birth. The little book had always fascinated Jean and she would occasionally pick it up and read some of the poetry.

The preface in the book reads:

The sole intention of the authors in writing these poems is to show the Negro’s loyalty to the stars and stripes in the war with Germany and to show the need of unity of all men in the fight for democracy.

Eventually, Jean started to scrutinize their words and she realized she was reading protest, which seemed unusual for teenage girls in 1919 in rural West Virginia. How was it possible to know just after WWI how badly black soldiers were treated?

Read more: "The Colored Man is No Slacker" - WWI Poems by the Peters Sisters

Listen to the Silence: Yoshi Oida on Directing Britten's War Requiem. Part 2

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Listen to the Silence: Yoshi Oida on Directing Britten's War Requiem at the Lyon Opera. Part 2

Last week, WWrite featured an interview with world-renowned tenor, Paul Groves,. Groves was the tenor and played the role of the British WWI soldier in one of the most original interpretations of Benjamin Britten's musical masterpiece, War Requiem  at the Lyon Opera House in France. This week, we hear from actor/director/writer, Yoshi Oida, the Japanese director of Benjamin Britten's piece. Oida's discusses his connection with WWI through personal stories about Hiroshima, the experience of children in war, and his latest film with Martin Scorcese. 

8yoshi oida copyright mamoru sakamotoDirector Yoshi Oida copyright Mamoru Sakamoto

WWrite: Why did you decide to direct an opera inspired by Benjamin Britten’symphony for the Lyon Opera?

Yoshi Oida : Since childhood, people around me have gone to war and they have died in war. Even before the Second World War, I remember we were at war with China. So, when Japan lost the Second World War, I wasn’t sad. I was so happy because I could sleep every night instead of going to the underground shelters to protect myself from the bombing by American airplanes. I was so happy because my house was burned by the American attacks twice. My father had a bicycle factory and everything was broken. And when I escaped to go to the bomb shelters, I saw people die by my side. As a child, I was always with war and death.

Fortunately, after several years old there was no war in Japan. But I can never forget my childhood. So, when the Opera of Lyon asked me to War Requiem, I said yes. I also knew that, in addition to WWI, I had to make it a ceremony for my life. In fact, in WWI, the nuclear shuttle was the human being.

Mushroom cloud after bombing of HiroshimaMushroom cloud after bombing of Hiroshima

Read more: Listen to the Silence: Yoshi Oida on Directing Britten's War Requiem. Part 2

Benjamin Britten's Musical Masterpiece, War Requiem

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Benjamin Britten's Musical Masterpiece, War Requiem
Part 1: Interview with Tenor, Paul Groves


Bigoperawarrequiem46 copyrightstofleth 1 728x486Scene from War Requiem, Lyon. Copyright @stofleth

The Lyon Opera House in France opened its 2017-2018 season by commemorating the WWI centennial with the powerful, intense WWI masterpiece War Requiem by British composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). A pacifist, Britten was deeply affected by the horrors of WWII, by the brutal destruction of Hiroshima and had always wanted to create a musical composition calling for peace among all humans. He finally got the chance in 1961 when he was commissioned to compose the dedication for the new Coventry Cathedral in England, which was reduced to ruins during the WWII bombings of November 1940. Known for both its traditional and innovative writing, Britten organized War Requiem in three layers: the conventional requiem of liturgical mass with a chorus, orchestra, and a soprano; the sound of individual human voices with a tenor and baritone reciting Wilfred Owen’s poetry, accompanied by a chamber orchestra; a chorus of children accompanied by an organ. In the middle of the Cold War, as Germans were building the Berlin Wall, Britten aimed to bring together soloists from three “belligerent” nations: a Russian soprano, an English tenor, and a German baritone.

3operawarrequiem01 copyrightstoflethScene from War Requiem, Lyon. Copyright @stofleth

Britten is one of the greatest lyrical composers of the twentieth century and, and according to the director of the Lyon Opera, Serge Dorny, Britten's exceptional sense of narrative and drama demanded a theatrical performance. For the centennial performance in 2017, Lyon decided to invite the Japanese actor and director, Yoshi Oida, to lead the performance alongside Italian conductor, Daniele Rustioni. Oida claims that Britten’s War Requiem is not just about WWI; it is universal and speaks to him particularly since he witnessed the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima during WWII. In talks and interviews, he encourages spectators to view the work through the eyes of children, who are not only strangers to adult conflicts, but also victims. He says that the young singers of the Lyon Opera play an enormous role in War Requiem’s staging. Unlike the other singers in the show, who wear WWI-era clothing and uniforms, the children who sit on the side of the stage during the whole performance are dressed in modern clothing. They act mostly as spectators as if watching a history lesson, but at times they get up to sing and interact with the soloists and the stage.

WWrite had the opportunity to sit down with Paul Groves, the tenor, and Yoshi Oida, the director to talk about the piece. We’ll hear this week from Groves. Next week’s WWrite’s blog post will feature Yoshi Oida’s interview. Here’s Paul Groves:

4War Requiem 2WWrite: Britten’s War Requiem focuses on the British and German experience of WWI. What did director Yoshi Oida, a Japanese artist, bring to what appears to be a European-centered narrative?

Paul Groves: Yoshi Oida, occasionally, would tell us about Japan. He is from where they dropped the bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and he was 12 years old at the time, so he remembers it very well. He explained that after the war, “the Japanese Emperor just said ‘Ok, we lost the war, and now we're just going to everything the American way’ and there wasn’t ever a question. I never saw my mother or any of her friends blame the Americans. We never blamed them for anything. We immediately thought that we had lost and now we’re going to live this way.”

And I never even thought about this.

Read more: Benjamin Britten's Musical Masterpiece, War Requiem

Native Americans: Soldiers Unknown

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Native Americans: Soldiers Unknown

 by Chag Lowry (Yurok/Maidu/Achumawi)


ChagLowryCoverSoldiers Unknown Book Cover Drawing by Rahsan Ekedal

The World War I epic, Soldiers Unknown, is an original graphic novel written by Chag Lowry and illustrated by Rahsan Ekedal. This special project reveals the untold story of the native Yurok men who fought and died for the United States of America in the Great War. Conscripted from their tribal home in Northern California by a country they barely knew - to serve in a war they could hardly call their own - these young men nevertheless demonstrated immense courage and humanity on the battlefields of France in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. Chag Lowry is a historian and writer of Yurok and Maidu descent and has crafted a beautiful and poignant tale that Rahsan brings to life with images. 

LowryWhereareyou goingFrames from Soldiers Unknown. It will be published by Heyday in summer of 2018.


–Father, where did they go, and what did they see, these Yurok Native men who fought in World War One?

–The answers are there for us to find, son.  But the more important questions are how did they return home, and when did they find peace?


Crafting a World War One story with the very talented artist Rahsan Ekedal has been an emotional journey.  We’ve come a long, long way since I first discussed the concept with him back in 2016.  I was raised with many Native veterans from both sides of my family in northern California.  I always remembered the emotions of these men–many World War Two and Korean War veterans– when they told me about their fathers or uncles who had served in the Great War.   

And that’s the story Rahsan and I try to tell– a story about emotions.  As a Native American, I wanted to create a graphic novel that conveys the experiences of the Great War through the sentiments of my people.  I had two Yurok great-great uncles who served in WWI and I’ve looked at their sepia-toned photographs for years wondering what they saw and felt.   

The snippet of dialogue I shared at the beginning of this blog post encompasses the questions I’ve thought about regarding Native American veterans of WW1.  Our story begins in contemporary times with a Father and Son as they begin to talk about their ancestor’s involvement in the Great War.  Can culture help a combat veteran find peace and return to their homeland?  That is another question I’ve thought about, and it’s one I hope readers will discuss after they see our work.  We are using the lens of Yurok culture for this story to try to find an answer.  I’m very grateful to have such a respectful partner in Rahsan for this book.      

The beautiful part of being able to work with a talented artist like Rahsan is that his images allow me to feel the full range of emotions as a descendant of WW1 veterans.  To teach young people about history we must first find ways to help them feel first and after lead them to discuss their emotions about what they are learning.  The graphic novel with its sequential art and impactful dialogue can do just that.  The act of breathing life into our characters in this story is meant to honor all WW1 veterans and their families.  Rahsan will fully color his work and this means our soldiers will be as alive today as in 1917-18.  We can share some of their journeys, and it does not matter what tribe or culture they are from.  We can feel who they are.  To most people, all World War One veterans are Soldiers Unknown.  I hope this work helps changes this.   

TrainingChagFrame from Soldiers Unknown.

To hear more from Chag about Soldiers Unknown, read his interview with WWI Centennial Commission Director of Public Affairs, Chris Islieb, or listen to his talk with Theo Mayer in this recent WWICC podcast.

Author's bio

ChagLowryBioPhotoChag Lowry is of Yurok, Maidu, and Achumawi Native American ancestry from northern California. He is the author of The Original Patriots: Northern California Indian Veterans of World War Two and has directed numerous PBS documentaries on Native veterans and cultures. He can be reached on Facebook.

In this photo, Chag is standing in his hometown of Susanville, California in front of a memorial tree that was planted in the 1920s to honor the late Thomas Tucker. Tucker was a Maidu man who died on September 28, 1918, in the Meuse-Argonne battle. He was in the 91st Infantry Division and was the first man from northeastern California to die in combat in WW1.







Christian Carion’s Film, Joyeux Noël: A Place of Memory

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 Christian Carion’s Film, Joyeux Noël: A Place of Memory

Winter 1914. WWI’s first major battles have stagnated in the trenches. In an icy field in the North of France, French, Scots, and Germans spy on each other until Christmas Eve when the nostalgic song of bagpipes escapes from the underground while the sound of a Berlin tenor’s Lied rises and spreads in the night. Soon the two melodies harmonize, and the soldiers from all sides emerge from the trenches and meet each other in No Man’s Land. Strategic enemies become war brothers.

French director, Christian Carion, captures this battlefield miracle in his 2005 film, Joyeux Noël, now a WWI classic.  As the centennial approaches, WWI has made more recent, diversified appearances on the screen–Au revoir là-haut (The Great Swindle), Wonder Woman, The Light Between Oceans, (and soon Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero)but Joyeux Noël remains the reference for appreciating and understanding the fraternal phenomenon of the 1914 Christmas Truce. In Carion’s film, scenes of fraternity overtake the less-joyous scenes of killing to the point that friendship among enemies appears almost normal; we forget the snow-covered, frozen corpses strewn about No Man’s Land and get lost in music, drink, and football. For the spectators, the return to battle on December 26th feels like a punch in the face, tunneling us back into the terrifying absurdity of this war. It’s no wonder the film was nominated “Best Foreign Language Film” for the 2006 Academy Awards and Golden Globes.

JNfilmingCarionChristian Carion (left) on the set of Joyeux Noel. Photo courtesy critikat.com

Read more: Christian Carion’s Film, Joyeux Noël: A Place of Memory


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