Sunday, September 30, 2007

New Proof of Sex Slaves

'New proof' of Japan sex slaves
By Chris Hogg BBC News, Tokyo

Reports from Japan say documents have been found that suggest the Japanese authorities forced women to work as sex slaves during World War II.

They come from the Dutch government archives and include the testimony of a 27-year-old Dutch woman from May 1946.

The Kyodo news agency says the documents show women were coerced into prostitution in occupied Indonesia.

PM Shinzo Abe had claimed there was no evidence of Japanese officials forcing women into prostitution.

The documents are reported to have been found by a Japanese journalist investigating Japan's wartime crimes in Asia.

'Comfort women'

The Dutch woman's testimony says she had her clothes ripped off her by Japanese military police.

She says she was taken to a brothel and forced to work as a prostitute, despite her efforts to resist.

That testimony, it is claimed, was submitted to the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal as evidence of forced mass prostitution in Magelang, in what is now Central Java, in 1944.

Other documents are said to include further allegations that the Japanese forced women into prostitution.

Earlier this year Prime Minister Abe said that investigations had failed to find any documentary evidence that the Japanese authorities in wartime had issued orders to soldiers to coerce women into sex slavery.

He said though that he stood by a Japanese government apology to the women, known in Japan as "comfort women".

The journalist who found these documents says they contradict the prime minister's denial that the authorities were directly involved in coercion.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry says it is aware of his claims but has not seen the documents so cannot comment on what they might contain.

It says the Japanese government has investigated its wartime activities in Indonesia thoroughly and acknowledges and apologises for the country's wartime use of sex slaves.

Huge Japan protest over textbook

Huge Japan Protest Over Textbook

Last Updated: Saturday, 29 September 2007, 21:49 GMT 22:49 UK

More than 100,000 people in Japan have rallied against changes to school books detailing Japanese military involvement in mass suicides during World War II.

The protest, in Okinawa, was against moves to modify and tone down passages that say the army ordered Okinawans to kill themselves rather than surrender.

Okinawa's governor told crowds they could not ignore army involvement.

Some conservatives in Japan have in recent years questioned accounts of the country's brutal wartime past.

Saturday's rally was the biggest staged on the southern island since it was returned to Japan by the United States in 1972, according to the Kyodo News agency.


When US soldiers invaded Okinawa at the end of World War II, more than 200,000 people died.
Hundreds of them were Japanese civilians who killed themselves.

The textbooks, intended for use in high schools next year, currently say that as the Americans prepared to invade, the Japanese army handed out grenades to Okinawa residents and ordered them to kill themselves.

Many survivors insist the military told people to commit suicide, partly due to fears over what they might tell the invaders and because being taken prisoner was considered shameful.
The governor of Okinawa, Hirokazu Nakaima, told crowds the episode should not be forgotten.
"We cannot bury the fact that the Japanese military was involved in the mass suicide, taking into account of the general background and testimonies that hand grenades were delivered," he said.

Japan's Kyodo news agency said Saturday's rally was the biggest staged on the southern island since it was returned to Japan by the United States in 1972.
Okinawa anger at textbook plans
Friday 22 June 2007
The Japanese island of Okinawa has reacted furiously to government plans to revise textbook accounts of army activities during World War II.

Okinawa politicians are protesting against a decision to tone down reports that the army ordered civilians to commit mass suicide at the war's end
Okinawa was the scene of one of the war's bloodiest battles.
Some conservatives in Japan have in recent years questioned accounts of the country's brutal wartime past.

It is an undeniable fact that mass suicides could not have occurred without the involvement of the Japanese military

Okinawa assembly

Only this week, a group of MPs from the right-wing ruling party claimed China had exaggerated the number of people killed by Japanese troops in Nanjing in 1937.

And Prime Minister Shinzo Abe drew condemnation abroad earlier this year after he questioned whether there was any proof that Japan's military coerced women to work as sex slaves during the war.

'Important issue'
Many Okinawa civilians, including entire families, committed suicide rather than surrender to US forces after the 1945 Battle of Okinawa that left more than 200,000 dead.

Eyewitness accounts and historical research say government propaganda led civilians to believe they would face terrible atrocities if they were captured by US forces.

Japanese troops were reported to have handed out grenades to residents and ordered them to kill themselves rather than surrender to US soldiers.

The education ministry ordered publishers last March to make changes to several textbooks, which must then go before a government-appointed panel for approval.

Okinawa's local assembly unanimously approved a statement on Friday criticising the move.
"It is an undeniable fact that mass suicides could not have occurred without the involvement of the Japanese military," the assembly said.

The politicians called on the government to "retract its instruction... so the truth of the Battle of Okinawa will be correctly conveyed and such a tragic war will never happen again".
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki was quoted by the Associated Press as saying the education ministry would take "appropriate measures" in line with process.

"We understand this is an extremely important issue for the people of Okinawa," he said.

Friday, September 28, 2007

British sympathy for jailed Nazi
By Dominic Casciani BBC News

Rows over the jailing of Adolf Hitler's deputy became a key point of Cold War tension, papers reveal.

Rudolf Hess was held in Berlin's Spandau prison until his suicide in 1987, aged 93.
The documents show British governors fought Soviet attempts to turn the jointly-run jail into a "gulag" labour camp with just one prisoner.

France, the US, UK and Russia jointly managed the jail - and disputes over Hess led to bitter recriminations.

Hess had been in custody since flying to Scotland in 1941. Marginalised in the Nazi hierarchy with increasing mental problems, he thought he could strike a peace deal with Britain so Hitler could invade Russia unhindered. He ended up jailed for life at the Nuremberg war crime trials.

By the 1970s, he was the only Nazi left in Spandau and a humanitarian campaign had been launched to see him released.

The three western powers sympathised but could do nothing without the Soviet Union's agreement.

In files originally opened two years ago after a Freedom of Information request, National Archives documents show the stand-off reached a boiling point in 1974.

The Western powers fell out with Russia over Hess's health after doctors warned he could have cancer. The British wanted Hess taken for tests at their nearby military hospital. But the Russians told the Americans to pay for an x-ray machine in the prison instead.

The papers show how British governor, Robert de Burlet, began taking his Russian counterparts to task over "prisoner number seven", as Hess was officially known.

In one meeting, de Burlet demanded the Russians see sense.

"If you keep him in prison until he dies, you have created a martyr who would be remembered not for his own misdeeds but for the inhumane treatment which he himself suffered."

Russian sympathies

The Russian official, Romanovsky, privately conceded that he sympathised with the British position. But he said decisions over Hess were taken at the top and added: "I do not think that for us it will be possible to release him - the political difficulties are too great."

And so Hess's regime remained strict. Confined to a small badly-furnished cell, his requests for more relaxed rules led to petty and pointless political clashes.

The Russian governor began censoring large parts of Hess's letters to his wife. He ordered his guards to take Hess's glasses at lights out - a regulation that was never followed by the other powers.

When a Russian guard established that Hess had 13 photographs in his cell, rather than the regulation 10, three were removed - leading to another row in the governors' office.
Hess wrote himself a sign reminding himself to stand up in the presence of the Russian commandant. The three other powers said they didn't want an old man to stand.

Fruit Fight

The British became convinced the Russians wanted to turn Spandau into a western outpost of the "Gulag Archipelago" - the Soviet Union's forced labour camps.

In one incident, Hess saw some windfall plums in the prison gardens and wanted to take them inside rather than leave them to the birds. The Soviet guard said no - but was overruled by the British warder

Within days, the incident had escalated into a full-scale row between the four governors with the Russians accusing the British of breaching the original post-war agreement over war criminals and demanding reports and disciplinary action.

"We have what I consider a genuine case of mental cruelty," said Robert de Burlet.
"Whatever horrors the Germans had perpetrated in their concentration camps I do not want it to be said that we were following their example."

London urged him to resist attempts to tighten the regime and diplomatically endure lecturing from Russian generals, one of whom was frequently the worst for drink.

Hess's birthday passed with no sign of movement on release. And in a sarcastic editorial marking the occasion in Pravda - the Kremlin's official newspaper - explained why.
"The Hitlerite lieutenant must drink his retribution to the bottom of the cup," it said.

Last Updated: Friday, 28 September 2007, 00:11 GMT 01:11 UK

Lost Romanov bones 'identified'

The remains of the other Romanovs were exhumed in 1991Russian scientists have said they may have identified the missing remains of two of Tsar Nicholas II's children, who were executed after the revolution.

Experts said it was "highly probable" the remains found near Yekaterinburg in July were Alexei, the heir to the throne, and Maria, his elder sister.
They were missing when most of the family's remains were found in 1991.

The tsar, his wife and five children were shot dead by a Bolshevik firing squad in Yekaterinburg on 17 July 1918.

In 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church canonised the royal family, saying they had undergone suffering with gentleness, patience and humility.

Forensic tests

Citing preliminary forensic and DNA tests, the deputy forensic chief scientist in the Sverdlovsk region said the appearance, age and sex of the remains they found mean it was "highly probable" they belonged to Alexei and Maria.

"On the basis of the expert analysis, it is possible to conclude with a large degree of certainty that parts of the skeleton... belong to Tsarevich Alexei and his sister, Grand Duchess Maria Nikolayevna Romanova", he told Russian media.

The BBC's James Rodgers in Moscow says the whereabouts of the missing Romanov children has been one of the great unsolved mysteries of Russia's blood-soaked revolution.
After they were shot, the bodies of the tsar and the remainder of his family were burned, doused with acid and thrown into a pit.

They were exhumed in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Final identification of the rest of their family took years, and they were ceremonially buried at the St Peter and Paul Cathedral in St Petersburg in 1998.

Even since then, some members of the Russian Orthodox Church have continued to question the scientists' conclusions, our correspondent says.
Friday, 28 September 2007, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Did Rama Exist

Ayodhya is in the headlines every day. One would have to be an ostrich to avoid the subject. Was there a temple before the mosque? Archaeologists would have to answer that. Was Rama born there? The answer is a matter of belief. Did Rama exist? Yes, I am quite sure he did. Rama’s life was a fact. His divinity is a matter of faith.

To doubt the existence of Rama is to doubt all literature. There is no archaeological or epigraphic evidence for either Jesus Christ or Prophet Mohammed, who are known only from the Bible and Koran respectively. Does it mean they did not exist? If Rama performs miracles such as liberating Ahalya, the Biblical story of Jesus walking on water or the Koranic tale of Mohammed flying to heaven on a horse are equally miraculous. Such stories reinforce divinity, not fact.

The Ramayana starts with Valmiki asking Narada who was the greatest man who ever lived. Narada narrates the story of Rama, king of Ayodhya, in a few terse, factual lines. Valmiki then goes on to elaborate the story in poetry, creating the Ramayana. Creativity distinguishes the epic from Narada’s news report. Rama is not a god in the epic. But we have contemporary examples of people deified in their lifetime, such as the Shirdi and Sathya Sai Babas, who need a Valmiki or Vyasa to immortalise them.

In 1975 the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) unearthed fourteen pillar bases of kasauti stone with Hindu motifs near the mosque at Ayodhya; reports of the excavations are available with the ASI. Rama was born in Ayodhya and married in Mithila, now in Nepal. Not far from Mithila is Sitamarhi, where Sita was found in a furrow, still revered as the Janaki kund constructed by her father Janaka. Rama and Sita left Mithila for Ayodhya via Lumbini. In 249 BC, Ashoka erected a pillar in Lumbini with an inscription referring to the visits by both Rama and Buddha to Lumbini. Ashoka was much nearer in time to Rama and would be well aware of his facts.

Rama, Lakshmana and Sita left Ayodhya and went to Sringaverapura — modern Sringverpur in Uttar Pradesh — where they crossed the River Ganga. They lived on Chitrakoot hill where Bharata and Shatrughna met them and the brothers performed the last rites for their father. Thereafter, the three wandered through Dandakaranya in Central India, described as a land of Rakshasas, obviously tribes inimical to the brothers’ habitation of their land. Tribals are still found in these forests. The trio reached Nasik, on the River Godavari, which throbs with sites and events of Rama’s sojourn, such as Tapovan where they lived, Ramkund where Rama and Sita used to bathe, Lakshmankund, Lakshmana’s bathing area, and several caves in the area associated with their lives in the forest.

Rama then moved to Panchavati near Bhadrachalam (AP), where Ravana abducted Sita. The dying Jatayu told them of the abduction, so they left in search of Sita. Kishkinda, near Hampi, where Rama first met Sugriva and Hanuman, is a major Ramayana site, where every rock and river is associated with Rama. Anjanadri, near Hospet, was the birthplace of Hanuman (Anjaneya); Sugriva lived in Rishyamukha on the banks of the Pampa (Tungabhadra); Sabari probably also lived a hermitage there. Rama and the Vanara army left Kishkinda to reach Rameshwaram, where the Vanaras built a bridge to Lanka from Dhanushkodi on Rameshwaram Island to Talaimannar in Sri Lanka. While parts of the bridge — known as Adam’s Bridge — are still visible, NASA’s satellite has photographed an underwater man-made bridge of shoals in the Palk Straits, connecting Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar. On his return from Sri Lanka, Rama worshiped Shiva at Rameshwaram, where Sita prepared a Linga out of sand. It is still one of the most sacred sites of Hinduism.

Sri Lanka also has relics of the Ramayana. There are several caves, such as Ravana Ella Falls, where Ravana is believed to have hidden Sita to prevent Rama from finding her. The Sitai Amman Temple at Numara Eliya is situated near the ashokavana where Ravana once kept her prisoner.

The presence of the Vanaras or monkeys, including Hanuman, has made the authenticity of the epic suspect. But this is the most plausible part of the story. The Vanaras were obviously tribes with the monkey totem: after all, the Ramayana belongs to a period when most of India was jungle with tribal forest-dwellers. India still contains several tribes with animal totems. An early issue of the Bellary District (now in Karnataka) Gazetteer gives us the interesting information that the place was inhabited by the Vanara people. The Jaina Ramayana mentions that the banner of the Vanaras was the vanaradhvaja (monkey flag), thereby reinforcing the totemic theory. Similarly, Jatayu would have been the king of the vulture-totem tribe and Jambavan of the bear-totem tribe.

Was Lanka the modern Sri Lanka? One school of thought places Lanka on the Godavari in Central India, citing the limited descriptions of the South in the latter half of the epic. Narada does not mention Panchavati or Rameshwaram, but refers to Kishkinda and Lanka. Living in the north, it is unlikely that Valmiki knew the south. But Valmiki would know the difference between a sea and a river. Lanka, says the author definitively, was across the sea.

All the places visited by Rama still retain memories of his visit, as if it happened yesterday. Time, in India, is relative. Some places have commemorative temples; others commemorate the visit in local folklore. But all agree that Rama was going from or to Ayodhya. Why doubt connections when literature, archaeology and local tradition meet? Why doubt the connection between Adam’s Bridge and Rama, when nobody else in Indian history has claimed its construction? Why doubt that Rama traveled through Dandakaranya or Kishkinda, where local non-Vedic tribes still narrate tales of Rama? Why doubt that he was born in and ruled over Ayodhya?
Major settlements, including temples, were renovated several times: restoration is a 20th century development. When the main image was made of perishable materials, it was replaced by stone. For example, we know that the wooden image of Varadaraja Perumal of Kanchipuram was replaced by a stone image, for the earlier image is still preserved in a water tank. The present architecture belongs to the sixteenth century Vijayanagara style. Yet the temple was known to have existed before the Pallava period (seventh century). This is the story of many sacred sites in India. This happened to several Rama temples too.

Rama’s memory lives on because of his extraordinary life and his reign, which was obviously a period of great peace and prosperity, making Ramarajya a reference point. People only remember the very good or the very bad. Leftist historians have chosen to rubbish archaeology, literature and local tradition. So how do we prove that Rama did exist?

Finally, although there is enough evidence that Rama did exist, it still does not justify breaking down a mosque. Would Rama have approved? It makes us as barbaric as Babar and his General Mir Baqi who, says Hafizullah in his Persian document, built the mosque over the Ramjanmasthan.

The author can be contacted at
Columns by Nanditha Krishna

Hanuman Bridge is a myth

Hanuman Bridge is a Myth: Experts
THE TIMES OF INDIA ^ Sat Oct 19, 2002
NEW DELHI: After Nasa, it's the turn of Indian experts to declare that there is no evidence linking the mythical Lanka bridge built by Hanuman to the chain of sandbanks captured by the US space agency's cameras across the Palk Strait.

Eminent astrophysicist J V Narlikar, when contacted in Pune, said he had seen reports claiming about the mythical bridge, but there was no evidence to suggest that what had been located had links with the bridge mentioned in the Ramayana.
"There is no archaeological or literary evidence to support this claim," eminent historian R S Sharma told The Times of India in Patna.

"The Ramayana itself is not that old. Nor had human habitation occurred 1.75 million years ago," Sharma, an acknowledged authority on ancient Indian history, said.

The oldest evidence of the Ramayana is around 400 BC and running across five strata, its shloka multiplying from 6,000 to 24,000, it comes up to 1200 AD. "Even if you want to rely on literary evidence, the oldest literary evidence available is only from 1500 BC."

Sharma said that even the location of the bridge and of ancient Lanka had yet to be conclusively established., Vaishnava News Network and some other US-based news services have claimed that NASA had "discovered" the remains of the mythical bridge, popular in folklore as Hanuman Setu - because of the role of Hanuman and his monkey brigade in laying it - across Palk Strait linking India with Sri Lanka. This bridge was supposed to have been captured by NASA's spaceborne cameras.

However, NASA has officially debunked this claim, saying the agency could not provide specific information about the origin or the age of the chain of islands, "and certainly cannot determine whether humans were involved in producing any of the patterns seen".

The American agency said what had been captured was no more than a 30-km-long naturally-formed chain of sandbanks called Adam's Bridge.

D N Jha, professor of history at Delhi University, said what had been captured by NASA's cameras was a geological formation. The issue had "more to do with geology than history", since the claim was 1.75 million years old. "To link that with Rama or Ramayana is ridiculous."
"Linking just anything found with Ramayana or Mahabharata may be mythology, but it certainly isn't history," said Jha.

Ramayana - History or Mythology?

Report on Hindu god Ram withdrawn
The Indian government has withdrawn a controversial report submitted in court earlier this week which questioned the existence of the Hindu god Ram.

The report was withdrawn after huge protests by opposition parties.

The report was presented to the Supreme Court on Wednesday in connection with a case against a proposed shipping canal project between India and Sri Lanka.

Hindu hardliners say the project will destroy what they say is a bridge built by Ram and his army of monkeys.

Scientists and archaeologists say the Ram Setu (Lord Ram's bridge) - or Adam's Bridge as it is sometimes called - is a natural formation of sand and stones.

In their report submitted to the court, the government and the Archaeological Survey of India questioned the belief, saying it was solely based on the Hindu mythological epic Ramayana.

They said there was no scientific evidence to prove that the events described in Ramayana ever took place or that the characters depicted in the epic were real.

Hindu activists say the bridge was built by Lord Ram's monkey army to travel to Sri Lanka and has religious significance.

In the last two days, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has launched a scathing attack on the government for questioning the "faith of the million".

Worried about the adverse reaction from the majority Hindu population of the country, the Congress Party-led government has now done a U-turn and withdrawn the statement submitted in court.

The government asked the court for three months to try and sort out the issue.
Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam, appearing on behalf of the government, said they would set up a mechanism to hear concerns expressed by those opposed to the canal project.

The court adjourned the matter for three months saying they would take up the case again in January.

In the meantime, the court has said that dredging work for the canal could continue, but Ram's Bridge should not be touched

On Wednesday, Hindu hard-line organisations blocked roads across India to protest against the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project.

Commuters in the capital, Delhi, were stuck in traffic jams for hours as Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and Bajrang Dal blocked roads at various places.

Road blocks were also held in Bhopal, the capital of the central state of Madhya Pradesh, on the Delhi-Agra highway and on the Jaipur-Agra highway.

Train services were disrupted in many places across northern India.

The canal project proposes to link the Palk Strait with the Gulf of Mannar between India and Sri Lanka by dredging a canal through the shallow sea.

This is expected to provide a continuous navigable sea route around the Indian peninsula.
Once complete, the canal will reduce the travel time for ships by hundreds of miles and is expected to boost the economic and industrial development of the region.
Rama and Sita: a love story
— Rama, heir to the ancient Hindu throne of Ayodhya, is sent into exile with his wife, Sita, and brother Lakshmana

— Ravana, the demon king, kidnaps Sita in the woods while the brothers are hunting, and takes her to the island of Lanka Rama, unable to cross the ocean, sends Hanuman the monkey king to find Sita but she refuses to leave unless Rama comes for her

— Hanuman rallies his monkeys to cast stones into the sea and form a bridge to Lanka

— Tiny palm squirrels help by carrying pebbles to the waters edge and Rama, touched by their efforts, stroked one, marking it with the stripes — hence giving the five-striped palm squirrels their name

— Rama crossed the bridge with the monkey army in tow to do battle with Ravana’s demon army. Ravana is killed

— Sita and Rama are reunited but Rama refuses to take her back as his wife. To prove her purity, she walks through a funeral pyre and emerges intact. The pair return to Ayodhya to take the throne

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Singapore - Heritage Trails

1. Bukit Timah Heritage Trail
Hoon San Temple

2. Kampong Bugis Heritage Trail

3. Haw Par Villa

4. Cemetery Trail

5. Katong / Joo Chiat Trail

Germany - The Secret History of the Nazi Mascot

By Nick Bryant BBC News, Melbourne

Alex Kurzem came to Australia in 1949 carrying just a small brown briefcase, but weighed down by some harrowing psychological and emotional baggage.

Tucked away in his briefcase were the secrets of his past - fragments of his life that he kept hidden for decades

In 1997, after raising a family in Melbourne with his Australian bride, he finally revealed himself. He told how, at the age of five, he had been adopted by the SS and became a Nazi mascot.

His personal history, one of the most remarkable stories to emerge from World War II, was published recently in a book entitled The Mascot.

"They gave me a uniform, a little gun and little pistol," Alex told the BBC.

"They gave me little jobs to do - to polish shoes, carry water or light a fire. But my main job was to entertain the soldiers. To make them feel a bit happier."

Painful memories

In newsreels, he was paraded as 'the Reich's youngest Nazi' and he witnessed some unspeakable atrocities.

But his SS masters never discovered the most essential detail about his life: their little Nazi mascot was Jewish.

"They didn't know that I was a Jewish boy who had escaped a Nazi death squad. They thought I was a Russian orphan."

His story starts where his childhood memories begin - in a village in Belarus on 20 October 1941, the day it was invaded by the German army.

I remember the German army invading the village, lining up all the men in the city square and shooting them. My mother told me that my father had been killed, and that we would all be killed."

"I didn't want to die, so in the middle of the night I tried to escape. I went to kiss my mother goodbye, and ran up into the hill overlooking the village until the morning came."

That was the day his family was massacred - his mother, his brother, his sister.

"I was very traumatised. I remember biting my hand so I couldn't cry out loud, because if I did they would have seen me hiding in the forest. I can't remember exactly what happened. I think I must have passed out a few times. It was terrible."

False identity

When the shooting stopped I had no idea where to go so I went to live in the forests, because I couldn't go back. I was the only one left. I must have been five or six."

"I went into the forest but no-one wanted me. I knocked on peoples' doors and they gave me bits of bread but they told me to move on. Nobody took me in."

He survived by scavenging clothes from the bodies of dead soldiers.

After about nine months in the forest, a local man handed him over to the Latvian police brigade, which later became incorporated in the Nazi SS.

That very day, people were being lined up for execution, and Alex thought he, too, was about to die.

"There was a soldier near me and I said, 'Before you kill me, can you give me a bit of bread?' He looked at me, and took me around the back of the school. He examined me and saw that I was Jewish. "No good, no good," he said. 'Look I don't want to kill, but I can't leave you here because you will perish.

"'I'll take you with me, give you a new name and tell the other soldiers that you are a Russian orphan.'"

Joining the circus

To this day, Alex Kurzem has no idea why Sergeant Jekabs Kulis took pity on him. Whatever his motives, it certainly helped that Alex had Aryan looks. And together, they kept the secret.
"Every moment I had to remind myself not to let my guard down, because if ever anyone found out, I was dead. I was scared of the Russians shooting me and the Germans discovering I was Jewish. I had no-one to turn to."

Young Alex saw action on the Russian front, and was even used by the SS to lure Jewish people to their deaths.

Outside the cattle trains which carried victims to the concentration camps, he handed out chocolate bars to tempt them in.

Then, in 1944, with the Nazis facing almost certain defeat, the commander of the SS unit sent him to live with a Latvian family.

Five years later, he managed to reach Australia. For a time, he worked in a circus and eventually became a television repair man in Melbourne.

All the time, he kept his past life to himself, not even telling his Australian wife, Patricia.
"When I left Europe I said 'forget about your past. You are going to a new country and a new life. Switch off and don't even think about it.'

"I managed to do it. I told people I lost my parents in the war, but I didn't go into detail. I kept the secret and never told anyone."

It was not until 1997 that he finally told his family, and along with his son, Mark, set about discovering more about his past life.

After visiting the village where he was born, they found out his real name was Ilya Galperin, and even uncovered a film in a Latvian archive of Alex in full SS regalia.

Buddhism - Afghanistan

Will Bamiyan Buddhas be rebuilt?

That is the question for Afghans: Some want to restore what the Taleban destroyed, but others say this is a waste of money

BAMIYAN (AFGHANISTAN) - IN A vast, gaping chasm, men with hard hats bustle amid dust, noise and what looks like rubble.

About seven years ago, that rubble formed one of the world's tallest Buddha statues. But now it is at the centre of a debate: Whether to put the pieces together again.

For some people, it was the dynamiting of two giant Buddhas in March 2001 that really opened their eyes to the Taleban's extraordinary politics.

The statues, one 55m tall and the other 38m tall, were built in the 6th century when Bamiyan was a Buddhist trading post. Over the centuries they had suffered much destruction.

But the Taleban, with its denunciation of idols, finished them off.

Now, what is going on here and in the niche of the smaller 38m Buddha half a kilometre away is emergency action: to protect the pieces of the statues, and to support the weakened cliff walls.
Rebuilding the statues might be possible, according to Mr Georgios Toubekis of the International Council on Monuments and Sites. His group is sorting through the debris and identifying, in particular, the pieces that show the sculpted surface of the Buddhas.

He showed a reporter some key pieces. There is one where a fold of the Buddha's garment has been directly carved onto the cliff. Mostly, the clothes were moulded from a mix of plaster and straw and added later.

Geologists are analysing the rock strata to identify where the pieces belonged in the original statues.

'There is still a remarkable amount left,' said Mr Toubekis.
'We would say that most of the stone pieces are still here.'

That may be over-optimistic, as a large portion of the statues was pulverised into dust. But some form of rebuilding may be feasible.

The experts may in time work out where all the surviving pieces belong and succeed in putting them back, holding them together with as little new material as possible. That could fulfil Unesco's criteria, which outlaw any actual new building work.

Mr Toubekis, however, was non-committal on whether he favoured reconstruction. It was as if he wanted Afghans to decide.

Mr Nasir Mudabir, a young local man, vividly remembers hearing of the destruction while he was in exile in Pakistan.

'There was a picture of Buddha during the destruction, dust and fire and everything,' he said.
'When I saw the Buddha was destroyed, I felt very sad. Very, very sad.'

Mr Mudabir is now director of historic monuments for Bamiyan. But he does not believe in reconstruction. He wants the ruins to be left as a reminder of what happened.

'If we reconstruct the Buddha, it is not the real Buddha it was before,' he said. 'If we reconstruct, we destroy the history of the destruction by the Taleban.'

Others say rebuilding the statues would simply be a waste of money in a poverty-stricken province. But many disagree.

Bamiyan town is alive again after years of suffering. In the streets, it is impossible to find anyone who wants to leave the ruins alone.

'They should rebuild the Buddhas because this is a historic thing of Bamiyan and Afghanistan,' said grocer Said Ahmedullah.

Mr Rohullah Moussavi, a youth, agrees. Reconstruction would be 'very good for the people of Bamiyan, even for Afghanistan, even for the world', he said.

The governor of Bamiyan Province, Ms Habiba Sarabi, also advocates reconstruction of at least one of the Buddhas. She said the statues were part of the life of the local people and that rebuilding will create jobs and help tourism.

The fact that they were built for Buddhist veneration is, she said, not a problem.
But it could be a long time before a decision is reached either way. Every December, Unesco meets the Afghan government to reconsider the feasibility or desirability of rebuilding the Buddhas, based on what the experts are discovering about the ruins.

For a good while yet, the two empty chasms will continue to dominate Bamiyan.
BBC News

Source: Straits Times Sept 2 2007

Malaysia - Divergent strains of Malaysian nationalism

Divergent strains of Malayan nationalism
For those in Malaya, it meant the primacy of Malay nationalism
By Janadas Devan, Senior Writer

TODAY is actually the 50th anniversary of Malayan, not Malaysian, independence. Malaysia as such is six years younger, having come into existence on Sept 16, 1963. But it is perfectly natural that Malaysians should forget Sept 16 and celebrate instead Aug 31 as their founding moment.

Aug 31 was the day that Malaysia's centre of gravity - peninsula Malaya - became independent. For Malayans, as opposed to Malaysians, Sept 16 was but a way-station. Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak merged with Malaya that day; Malaya did not merge with Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak.

It took Singaporeans a while to realise the implications of that historical and constitutional trajectory. Only in retrospect did it become clear that Aug 31, 1957 had rendered Sept 16, 1963 a secondary event in Malaysia's history - and Aug 9, 1965 an inevitability. Aug 31 instituted the first separation, though nobody in Singapore saw it that way in 1957; and Aug 9, the actual Separation, had its roots in the political calculations that led to the first, though nobody realised that till eight years later.

British territories in South-east Asia were a constitutional patchwork before World War II. While Singapore, Penang and Malacca - the Straits Settlements - were under direct colonial rule, the nine Malay States of peninsula Malaya were under indirect rule. The Straits Settlements had a British Governor, resident in Singapore, but the Malay States had a British High Commissioner. They were one and the same person, but wearing two distinct hats.
The Malay States were each headed by a Sultan. They were sovereign rulers with a treaty relationship with Britain. Constitutionally, the British High Commissioner had an advisory relationship with each. In Singapore, wearing the Governor's topi (hat), he had near-absolute powers; in Kuala Lumpur, wearing the High Commissioner's topi, he was legally on foreign soil.
The British considered changing this arrangement during the war, after the Japanese had booted them out of the territories. Ensconced in London, Sir Edward Gent, an official in the Colonial Office, dreamt of a Malayan Union that would encompass both the Malay States as well as the Straits Settlements - and at a latter date, Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei too. But the British soon dropped Singapore from their plan. Demography forced their hand.

It took eight years for Singaporeans to realise that Malayan nationalism, as they had conceived it, did not coincide with Malayan nationalism, as it was practised in Malaya. It took eight years for them to realise that their own Merdeka had to be achieved through Separation, not Merger. The bilateral Singapore-Malaysia relationship over the past 50 years is rooted in this history.There were about 1.9 million Chinese living in peninsula Malaya at the end of the war in 1945, of whom 1.2 million were local-born. Including the 600,000 Indians, the non-Malay population exceeded the Malay population of 2.1 million. To have included Chinese-majority Singapore in the Malayan Union, the British decided, would have further alarmed Malays. Singapore was thus hived off as a separate crown colony.

Hiving it off though did not help the British gain Malay approval for the Malayan Union. Non-Malays generally liked the Union proposal, for it offered citizenship rights to all, regardless of race and creed. For the same reason, Malays objected, for the Union threatened their primacy. The abortive Union gave rise to divergent strains of Malayan nationalism.

Among Malays, it fostered Malay nationalism. The United Malays National Organisation (Umno) was founded in May 1946 to oppose the Union. Led by Datuk Onn Jaffar, then chief minister of Johor, the party mobilised Malays across the peninsula. Surprised by the ferocity of their opposition, the British jettisoned the Union and promulgated instead the Federation of Malaya in February 1948.

The Federation upheld the sovereignty of the Sultans and Malay special rights, and imposed tough citizenship requirements on non-Malays.

Only one-fifth of Chinese and Indians were given Malayan citizenship, though three-fifths of the Chinese and half the Indians resident then in Malaya were local-born. As one history of Malaysia observed, 'the term 'Malayan' was not recognised in the final Federation document, while Melayu was clearly reserved for those individuals who habitually spoke Malay, who professed Islam, and conformed to Malay custom.' Umno had triumphed - and it had triumphed by insisting on Malay, as opposed to Malayan, nationalism.

Malaya's constitutional development over the next 10 years, leading to Merdeka in August 1957, conformed to the pattern that Umno had established in opposing the Malayan Union. It agreed to more liberal citizenship provisions for non-Malays in independent Malaya than was provided for in the pre-independence federation, but only in return for constitutional guarantees of special Malay rights. Islam was declared the official religion and the primacy of Malay as the national language was emphasised.

The leading Malayan figures of the time - including Tunku Abdul Rahman - were sincere in their commitment to creating a Malayan identity that would transcend race. But they saw that ideal as a distant prospect. In the meantime, they established the new state on the basis of a modus vivendi between the three races, each led by a different political party. In practice, Malayan nationalism became predicated on the acceptance by everyone of the primacy of Malay nationalism.

Malayan nationalism remained strong, of course, an article of faith for many - and ironically, especially among Singaporeans. Though they had been excluded from the federation since 1945, most Singaporeans then thought of themselves as Malayan.

When the People's Action Party was founded in November 1954, for instance, it declared itself as 'interested in the problems of our fellow Malayans in the Federation as we are in those of Singapore'. And in 1958, after Malaya became independent, the party reiterated its determination to demonstrate to the 'three million Malays in the Federation that the one million Chinese in Singapore are ready, willing and able to be absorbed as one Malayan people, all able to speak Malay'.

It took eight years for Singaporeans to realise that Malayan nationalism, as they had conceived it, did not coincide with Malayan nationalism, as it was practised in Malaya. It took eight years for them to realise that their own Merdeka had to be achieved through Separation, not Merger.
The bilateral Singapore-Malaysia relationship over the past 50 years is rooted in this history. The leading figures in both countries - Mr Lee Kuan Yew and others in Singapore; the Tunku, Tun Abdul Razak and others in Malaysia - began with divergent conceptions of Malayan nationalism. They discovered they could not achieve their respective ideal polities without going their separate ways. Many in Malaysia today find it difficult to view Singapore other than through the prism of their own domestic racial arrangements.

The judgment of history can be ruthless in its dismissal of past sentiments, but it is inescapable. Fifty years after Aug 31, 44 years after Sept 16 and 42 years after Aug 9, Singaporeans sincerely wish Malaysians well - as a separate people.
Happy birthday, Malaysia.
Article Source: Straits Times, August 31 2007
Malay nationalism then and now
By Terence Chong, For The Straits Times

MALAYSIA'S 50th year of independence gives occasion for both celebration and retrospection. And there are certainly many things in Malaysia to celebrate. The country's steady industrial progress through the years has broadened the middle class, which has, in turn, produced a vibrant civil society that is deeply committed to political and religious issues. This engagement of civil society keeps political apathy at bay and continues to lock Malaysian citizens in the nation-building process. Meanwhile, the variety of newspapers and blogs spanning the political spectrum also ensures a multi-dimensional perspective of issues. This remains crucial to the health of national debate. The result of all this is a politicised, critical and robust Malaysian citizenry.

This is also a time for retrospection. At a time when the government's stance on Malaysia's status as an Islamic state is unclear, it might be useful to look back to the early character of Malay nationalism and see how it has evolved over the years.

It is difficult to imagine a time when Islam and nationalism did not collapse into a single entity, but such a time did exist. Before the current debate on whether Malaysia is or is not an Islamic state, before the dakwah movement of the 1970s, was a time when Malay nationalism was founded on the progressive values embedded in Malay literature.

In the 1920s, the English-educated Malays were too comfortably ensconced in the colonial administration to engage in nationalism. The Arabic-trained religious reformists were too far on the periphery to make a difference. This left the Malay-educated intelligentsia, comprising journalists and teachers, to define Malay nationalism.

Previously impoverished, Malay education underwent reformation when the Sultan Idris Training College, a facility for teacher-training, began to emphasise the study, use and development of the Malay language, history and literature. Students received a liberal-arts education where all lessons were conducted in the Malay language.

This access to higher education and awareness of a Malay literary tradition nurtured a self-confident Malay-educated intelligentsia which began to re-examine its socio-political relationship with the British. This core of Malay-educated intelligentsia went on to establish the nationalist-literary movement Angkatan Sasterawan 50 (Literary Generation of 1950), or Asas 50, on Aug 6, 1950.
The establishment of Asas 50 signalled the first time Malay literature and the arts were harnessed to express Malay identity and nationalism, something which the political elites took little interest in. Driven by its motto 'Seni Untuk Masyarakat' (Art for Society), Asas 50's objectives were to free Malay society from elements in its culture that obstructed modernity and progress; educate the illiterate Malay masses; nurture intellectual awareness among the citizenry; and foster Malay nationalism through the promotion of Malay literature and language.
The reformist nature of Asas 50 meant the values that Malay literature ought to embody were loyalty, goodwill, anti-colonialism, justice, freedom, unity and development. This embodiment was transposed on a national level when the slogan Bahasa Jiwa Bangsa (Language is the soul of the nation) was co-opted by Umno politicians.

On an ideological level, Asas 50 did not only reject British rule for its cultural impositions on the Malay community, but also for widening the chasm between the Malay elite and the masses. Given the economic and ideological rift within the Malay community, Asas 50's brand of Malay nationalism did well to harness elements from the rural, agricultural Malay world as well as ride the tide of anti-colonialism across the region.

Notions of 'Malay-ness' were derived from the masses, drawing upon folksy values like brotherhood, friendship and togetherness while being wedded to progressive values like justice and anti-colonialism. Malay language and literature became an embodiment of the Malay nation.
Gradually, however, with the separation of Singapore from the Federation, the 1969 riots and the dakwah movement, Malay nationalism moved away from its original progressive character. The Iranian revolution and the returning religious scholars in the late 1970s and 1980s resulted in the Islamisation of the Malay identity and Malay nationalism. Over the years, elements of Malay culture, traditions and practices have been dropped because they are not deemed Islamic enough, while the Arabisation of the Malay community has also caused concern among Malaysians themselves.

At one time the embodiment of the Malay nation was the Malay-educated teacher-journalist. This historical actor was ascribed with anti-colonial and socialist principles that pointed the way to a post-colonial modernity. This historical actor is no longer evident in today's Malaysia.

The writer is a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. This is a personal comment

Remember the Merdeka lesson
By Jonathan Kent, In Kuala Lumpur (Straits Times, Sept 3 2007)
THERE were surely moments in the last half century when Malaysians would not have dared dream that their country would be doing so well at 50.

After all, independence in 1957 was won amidst an occasionally vicious civil war with local communists.

The 1960s brought turmoil: a military stand-off with Indonesia, the split in 1965 with Singapore, the race riots of 1969.

There was paranoia in the 1970s, recession and political repression in the 1980s, a crash and unrest in the 1990s, yet here Malaysia is today and it is doing all right.

Now it is a nation of skyscrapers and microchip plants, highways and sprawling cities where the government talks of Malaysia's role in biotech or conference hosting or Islamic finance.
It is almost unrecognisable from the independent Federation of Malaya of Aug 31, 1957, when its first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al Haj, stood tall in a specially built stadium in Kuala Lumpur and raised his right arm as the crowd echoed his three cries of 'Merdeka!' - freedom.

His was a land of impenetrable jungles, small villages of wooden houses, rubber plantations and tin mines, genteel colonial cities with grand administrative buildings and rows of traditional shophouses.

'At that time 60 per cent of Malaysians were living in poverty, below the national poverty line,' said Dr Richard Leete, head of the UN Development Programme for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei and author of Malaysia: From Kampung To Twin Towers.

'Over time that proportion has declined remarkably and currently there are less than 5 per cent of people in poverty,' he said.

Dr Leete knows the country well, having been seconded from the British government in 1980 to help Malaysia with its economic planning.

'(In 1957), the majority of the population were illiterate, now just a tiny fraction of Malaysia's population are unable to write,' he said.

Yet despite its complete transformation on a physical level, there is frustration that attitudes have changed less.

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has said time and again that while Malaysia has the 'hardware', it lacks the 'software' to be truly modern. In other words, it builds fast highways and millions of cars but people still drive as though they are on village roads.

Mr Abdullah Ahmad, formerly an MP, Malaysia's special representative at the UN and editor-in-chief of the New Straits Times Group, agrees.

'The remarkable thing is that during the 50 years of Merdeka...the Malay mindset has not changed very much,' he said.

The majority-Malay community has long relied on patronage: in times past, from their sultans; and since 1970, through government programmes aimed at helping Malays specifically.
It has bred a culture of entitlement.

'Everything is for them, yet they are way behind the other communities because they are not seizing the opportunities,' he said.

Yet the affirmative-action policies persist and rankle with many.

And there are other eerily familiar themes as Malaysia turns 50.

In the years before independence, there was a fierce debate about whether non-Malay immigrants should be given Malayan citizenship.

In the end they were, in return for constitutional guarantees to ensure the Malays were never marginalised in 'their own country'.

Now the debate has shifted and many non-Malays have taken the anniversary as an opportunity to ask what place patriotism has in a country that classifies its people by race, treats them differently according to their ethnicity and then, when the flags come out, expects them to all cheer with equal vigour.

It seems some are in danger of forgetting the whole lesson of Merdeka.

They could be forgiven for having done so, because from the way the story of Malaysia's independence is told by some within the dominant United Malays National Organisation (Umno), you might think the Malay community secured independence on its own, driving the perfidious British into the sea. It is not true.

Indeed the one surviving key player from the independence struggle is not Malay at all. He is Malaysian Chinese, and he is not welcome in the land of his birth.

Chin Peng, leader of the Communist Party of Malaya, did as much as anyone to bring about then Malaya's independence. With up to 10,000 armed guerillas, he tied down tens of thousands of Commonwealth troops in a ruinously expensive war.

'If there hadn't been a boom in rubber and tin prices in the 1950s, the British wouldn't have been able to afford to fight him,' said Mr Khoo Kay Kim, emeritus professor of history at University Malaya.

The communists focused British minds on a political settlement.

Up stepped the leaders of the Alliance, which consisted of three parties - Umno, the Malayan Chinese Association and the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) - between them representing the three main races.

Early on, the British saw a unifying force with which they could do business. The Alliance's broad appeal meant it all but swept the board in pre-independence elections in 1955. The appeal of the communists rapidly evaporated thereafter.

'One of the things we were concerned about was to continue in the same spirit and to perpetuate this multi-communal understanding and harmony that had come out in 1955,' said Mrs Uma Sambanthan, widow of then MIC leader V.T. Sambanthan.

Professor Khoo agreed. 'Before he died, Sambanthan told me that all three parties were absolutely determined to show the British that they could work together in order to ensure they granted independence.'

The Alliance in one form or another has governed Malaysia ever since.

Then, as now, the Merdeka lesson is the same. When Malaysians come together and act as one people, success is theirs for the taking. When they are divided, failure beckons.

If modern Malaysia's leaders remind themselves that unity does not come through threat, discrimination and coercion but through equality and mutual respect, they may yet lay the foundations for a glorious 100th birthday.


Singapore - White House Park Bungalow

$29m for a piece of Singapore history

Glencaird, the last of four bungalows built a century ago in White House Park, goes to mystery buyer

THE mystery buyer who snapped up a White House Park bungalow has secured a special piece of Singapore history for his record $29 million purchase price.

The 105-year-old Victorian home, Glencaird, was designed in the late 1870s by Regent Alfred John Bidwell, a famous British architect who has been called the originator of the country's black and white colonial bungalows.

Mr Bidwell's houses are marked by timber elements painted black and the rendered surfaces white, according to Julian Davison's book, Black And White: The Singapore House 1898-1941.
The book also says that many of these Victorian bungalows were built for the Public Works Department for civil servants and officers during World War I.

The Singapore House 1819-1942 by Lee Kip Lin, states that White House Park, a 22ha estate, was granted to Gilbert Angus in 1852.

By 1862, it was sold to Reme Leveson & Company. It was later sold to John Fraser, from Fraser & Neave, who built Glencaird and possibly also Cree Hall, which was also designed by Mr Bidwell

From 1947, Glencaird became the official residence of the Australian High Commissioner before its 1996 sale to Wheelock Properties, which declined to name the new buyer.

The bungalow is the last left out of the four built in White House Park estate more than a century ago.

It was gazetted as a heritage building in 1991 which means no structural modifications can be carried out.

'Glencaird is a very important building which has yet to be thoroughly documented,' said Dr Kevin Tan, president of the Singapore Heritage Society.

The 22,000 sq ft bungalow has two living and dining rooms and five bedrooms.
In 1997, Argentinian architect Ernesto Bedmar, who headed the conservation efforts at the Goodwood Park Hotel, began restoring Glencaird.

Mr Bedmar described it as a 'challenge' as he had to 'modernise and update the look while respecting the original concept'.

The restoration included laying parquet flooring, new carpentry, additional beams and columns and building a basement.

The huge and imposing staircase was 'kept intact' as well, said Mr Bedmar, although modern features such as air-conditioning, a swimming pool and a basement entertainment room were added.

Work on the entire Glencaird Residences - which included building 11 other bungalows - was finished in 1999. But Glencaird itself stayed empty until a good enough offer came along, said Wheelock's chief executive officer, Mr David Lawrence.
GLENCAIRD'S ORIGINAL OWNER was John Fraser, from Fraser & Neave. The 22,000 sq ft bungalow (above) has two living and dining rooms and five bedrooms. The entrance to the house (below), which was designed in the late 1870s by famous British architect Regent Alfred John Bidwell, was placed at a corner instead of the centre front, breaking long-held traditional planning, to take advantage of the pleasant views. The house was built in such a way as to ensure good ventilation and sunlight.
Source: Straits Times, Sept 2 2007

East Asia Controversy

Japanese ninja beat Shaolin monks? Nonsense!

BEIJING - CHINA'S Shaolin Temple, the cradle of Chinese gongfu, is demanding an apology from an Internet user who said its monks had once been beaten in unarmed combat by a Japanese ninja, local media reported yesterday.

'The so-called defeat is purely fabricated, and we demand the Internet user apologise to the whole nation for the wrongs he or she did,' the Beijing News reported, citing a notice announced by a lawyer for the Shaolin monks.

Shaolin Temple, which is located in the northern province of Henan, became famous in the West as the training ground for Kwai Chang 'Grasshopper' Caine in the 1970s Kung Fu television series.

Ninjas - professional assassins trained in martial arts - date back to mediaeval Japan.
Relations between Chinese and Japanese are sensitive at the best of times, and emotions still run high over Japan's invasion and occupation of parts of China in the first half of the 20th century.

According to the newspaper, the Internet user, who uses the online monicker 'Five Minutes Every Day', said on an online forum last week that a Japanese ninja had gone to Shaolin and asked for a fight and that many monks had failed to beat him.

'The facts that the monks could not defeat a Japanese ninja showed that they were named as gongfu masters in vain,' the Internet user was quoted as saying in the posting.
The Shaolin Temple 'strongly condemned the horrible deeds' of the user, the newspaper said.
'It is not only extremely irresponsible behaviour with respect to the Shaolin Temple and its monks, but also to the whole martial art and Chinese nation,' it quoted the monks as saying.


Songshan Shaolin -;

Ninjutsu -