Palm Springs Air Museum

After having lunch with Patrick I made my way over to the Palm Springs Air Museum, which I can honestly say is one of the best air museums I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to quite a few. My mom worked at one shortly after I was born, so I’ve always had a soft spot for air museums.

The Palm Springs Air Museum is home to many planes, with its main focus being on World War II, but also features planes from the Korean Conflict, Vietnam War, and the Cold War. These three will soon be getting their own portion of the museum, but now, the subject matter is a bit scattered. The planes are all very visible, and visitors can get up-close to the aircrafts. Many of the planes have amazing nose art as well!

While it is an air museum, they also feature other war related items, including two subjects I find fascinating; trench art from World War I and II, and POW and MIA bracelets from the Vietnam War.

For the POW/MIA bracelets, they had two binders that told the stories of the POW or MIA soldiers and, if the donor wished, their story of why they decided to get a bracelet. From what I read bracelet wearers were both people who supported the war, and those strongly opposed, which I found very interesting. The binders was fascinating, as it mentioned if the remains of the soldiers had yet to be recovered, and some remains were recovered as recently as 2013. These stories showcase that closure from wars can come decades later.

A really unique offering at the Palm Springs Air Museum is the ability to climb inside a real B-17 Bomber (or an additional $5.00 donation)! I leaped at the chance!

One of my personal favorite topics of World War II is the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP for short), and the museum had a wonderful collection of WASP items, including a complete uniform.

In 1943, WASP director, Jacqueline Cochran convinced General Hap Arnold that her women should have their own uniforms. Cochran, with fashion designers at Bergdorf Gorman in New York designed the uniforms, and fashion coordinators from Neman Marcos personally fitted each woman for her uniform. The color blue was very specific, and inspired by Cochran’s time in Santiago, and the specific dye formula was named “Santiago Blue”. A docent told me Cochran kept the formula under lock and key, and destroyed it when the WASP disbanded, so no one else could have the color and it would remain only for the women of the WASP.

Fifinella, as seen above, was the WASP mascot. She was conceived by author Roald Dahl for his story The Gremlins. Disney Animation created hundreds of mascots for the military, including this Fifinella, as they were planning on doing a cartoon adaptation of The Gremlins, but it never happened. If you’re interested in Disney Studio’s involvement in World War II, I highly recommend the book Disney During World War II: How the Walt Disney Studio Contributed to the Victory of the War by John Baxter (I keep meaning to do a review of this book, by the way). It is available on Amazon, and I have seen it in the Disney parks.

If you’re in Palm Springs, I highly recommend visiting the Palm Springs Air Museum. Active Military and their immediate families can get in for free, and retired Military with ID can enter at a discount. Additionally, if you purchase your ticket at Palm Springs’ Visitor Center you can buy it at a discount. To learn more about exhibits, hours, and admission, please visit Palm Springs Air Museum’s website.

That wraps up my Palm Springs posts! I hope you enjoyed!

Atomic Testing Museum

When I heard that Las Vegas was home to the National Atomic Testing Museum, I was quite giddy with excitement and it went to the top of my list of things to do during our short stay.

The image of the atom or of a mushroom cloud may bring out different feelings in different people. For some, it is a horrific icon, of a time when the United States used the ultimate in destructive power to completely level two whole cities. While others see it as a savor, something that brought an end to the bloodshed of the Second World War. For others it is an icon of nostalgia, believing that while the Cold War raged, it was a safer time period. For me, the word “atomic” has many meanings, mostly as part of the optimistic look we had toward the stars, and how atomic power and the space race then influenced design. But, as a history major, I am not unaware of the cost of such beautiful design. Little Boy and Fat Man killed thousands. But also brought an end to a very horrific war, and, some historians estimate, saved millions, as Japan seemed unrelenting. I see both sides of the coin of the terror of the atomic bomb, nuclear power (for example the Chernobyl disaster), but I also see the problems it has solved, and while the National Atomic Testing Museum highlights the pluses of the atomic bomb, and the sciences that followed, it is not without the other side represented as well.

The museum begins with World War II, the Manhattan Project, and the end of the war with the dropping of the bombs, and the decision to choose the land outside of Las Vegas as a testing ground in the 1950s. It follows the aftermath of WWII, the 50s period of “Duck and Cover”, Civil Defense, and the influence on popular culture. I especially liked the fallout shelter display, which also had a catalog of the mannequins used, offering both before and after pictures, some whose after picture was just a black rectangle with the word “missing” below. J.C. Penny produced the images, as they provided the clothing for the mannequins set to be bombed. A clever marketing scheme if there ever was one! By 1963 nuclear testing moved underground, due to fallout, and the museum showcases the transition, and technology developed for the move to underground testing.

I was so very pleased I was able to visit this extremely unique museum as it was also very educational, and is worth a visit if you find yourself in Vegas. Admission costs $22, though discounts are offered to a wide variety of groups, so check their website to see if a discount is available for you!

The Monuments Men

Yesterday Portland received a mid-winter treat; snow! Portland proper really doesn’t get a lot of snow, as we are basically at sea level.  So when we do get snow, the whole city pretty much freaks out and shuts down. But seeing as The Monuments Men came out today, Patrick and I braved the snow covered city to go to the movies.

When I was in college I took a World War II course.  For one essay, we were told to access the Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers (FRUS) and select a topic within it to write an essay about, using FRUS as our key source of information.  In scanning through the FRUS documents that covered WWII, I came upon a letter written by Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone to President Roosevelt.  Stone was not only a Chief Justice, but also the Chairman Ex-officio of the Board of Trustees of the National Gallery of Art, and it was with this role that he chose to write his letter to the president.  Stone expressed concern over works of art and monuments in Europe that were being damaged, stolen, and/or destroyed by the Axis and suggested a group be created to halt such actions and repair damages and return works of art.  Eventually the American Commission for the Preservation and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in Europe, also known as the Roberts Commission, was created, and eventually led to the creating of a special branch within the military known as the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Organization, nicknamed The Monuments Men.  These men, and a few women, worked on tracking down what the Nazis had systematically stolen, as well as attempt to alleviate the damage that was being done to historic buildings, and return stolen works.  My essay lead me to a few books on the subject, and I recalled upon and rewatched a documentary titled The Rape of Europa, and became enthralled with the work this group was doing, as well as the reasons behind the Nazis’ actions (fact: Hitler wanted to be an artist!).  As I worked on my essay, I began to wonder why this had not been made into a film, and now finally, it has, starring favorite actors such as George Clooney and French dreamboat Jean Dujardin.

While I am thrilled that there is now a film covering the exploits of the Monuments Men, it does fall short in many ways.  The film makes it out to seem that the Monuments Men were a ragtag group made up of but a few men, when this isn’t true (there were over 300), but we all know things need to be pared down for the sake of simplicity and storytelling.  The film also shows the destruction of some items that we do not actually know the fate of, such as Raphael’s “Portrait of a Young Man”.  Some paintings may have been painted over, or sold on the black market. But, despite these issues, I’m happy that this subject, one that was glossed over in every US and European history class (or art history class for that matter!) I’ve ever taken, is finally being showcased in the main stream and I hope that it brings to light what great lengths people went to to protect some of the most meaningful works of art in the world as well as call attention to the still missing works of art.

To learn more about the Monuments Men, and the astounding trials that the Louvre went through to protect its works, I beg that you watch The Rape of Europa (which is currently available to watch instantly on Netflix), and if that isn’t enough, read the books that both films are based upon, which are under the same titles, The Monuments Men and The Rape of Europa, and also check out The Spoils of War.  You can also learn loads on The Monuments Men website.

Fur Cape & Ostrich Purse: Found by my dad
Green Sweater Set & Heart Earrings: Antique Alley, Portland
Belt: Red Light, Portland
Stockings: Coffee Seams, What Katie Did
Fur Overshoes: Woo Vintage, Vancouver, BC
Shoes (that you can’t see because they are in the overshoes): Buffalo Exchange, Portland
Gloves: ???
Snood: April’s Bag
Army Man Brooch: Expo

Broken Threads

When I completed my review of Nazi Chic? Fashioning Women in the Third Reich, I made note of other books on fashion and World War II that I was looking forward to reading and sharing my thoughts with you.  And today I share with you my thoughts on Broken Threads: The Destruction of the Jewish Fashion Industry in Germany and Austria.

Broken Threads stems from a fashion exhibit that was produced by the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre in 1999 and shares a collection of essays written by a variety of authors on the subject of Jews and the fashion industry during the Second World War.  Nazi Chic author Irene Guenther is among the essayists and a few of the pieces are translated from German.

The book opens with a wonderful introduction that discusses the origins of the book, and why fashion is an important part of WWII history, and brought up a great point – fashion is a way to bring in new audiences to Holocaust education.  What so few people know is that the Jews were integral to the fashion industry.  Prior to the WWII, Jews in Germany operated nearly eighty-percent of the department and chain stores, sixty-percent of the wholesale and retail clothing business and forty-percent of the wholesale textile industry.  They had talent regarding fashion design, knowledge of textiles and extreme business savvy that made them excel in the fashion world.  But by being such a pillar of the fashion industry, the Jewish owned businesses became easy targets once Hitler rose to power.  Jewish fashion was deemed a perpetrator of modernism, something the Nazis felt was un-German.  According to the Nazis, modernism was degenerate, and the fashion coming from the Jews was labeled hideous, and a “satanic mockery of womanhood”.  Boycotts ensued, Aryan take-overs of businesses began, and those shopping at Jewish owned businesses were labeled as traitors, which even became grounds for divorce in Germany.

In 1933 Adefa, the Federation of German-Aryan Manufactures of the Clothing Industry, was created.  The group aimed to eradicate Jews from the fashion industry, and perpetuated that their goods were superior to those made by Jews.  Members had signs in their store windows boasting that their garments were “made by Aryan hands” and the garments also bared sewn in Adefa labels.  Additionally, the group produced fashion shows and exhibits showcasing their German goods and aimed to produce a true German style.

Eventually, the boycotts and work of Adefa culminated in in Kristallnacht, where 7,500 Jewish businesses were destroyed. After that horrific night, Adefa felt its goals of ridding the fashion world of Jews was complete and began to focus on removing Jewish methods and technique from the industry.   Then, on August 15, 1939, as Jews were forced into the ghettos, Adefa proclaimed success over the Jewish “monopoly” in the clothing industry and dissolved.

In the ghettos Jews were then, ironically, forced to work to produce clothing and shoes for Nazi officials, their wives, the military and even for “Aryan” businesses, who contracted cheap ghetto labor in order to gain huge profits, and the same thing continued into the death camps.

Broken Threads also offers more details regarding the rationing process, noting precise points to garment numbers, but the images painted regarding the lack of inventory, and desperate means that women went to clothe themselves and their families are not as harsh as those described in Nazi Chic.  Other topics of discussion are the history of Jews in the garment industry, dating back to biblical times, the history of the department store, and the Aryanization that occurred in Vienna.

In many respects I wish I could have read Broken Threads prior to Nazi Chic.  It is a much easier read, includes a timeline and pictures throughout, while covering many of the same topics as discussed in Nazi Chic.  The only topic really omitted is the discussion of women in the military.  So for those wishing to learn more about the fashion industry under the Third Reich, and not the military aspect, then Broken Threads is a much better read, and I would recommend it for anyone with the slightest interest in the subject.

Broken Threads is available on Amazon.

Nazi Chic?

A minor warning before we get started today. Today’s post may be viewed as controversial and maybe even frivolous. However, I find it an enthralling and important topic. Further more, I do not support the horrible and anti-Semitic views of the Nazis nor do I sympathize with them.

When you think about World War II, you think about Pearl Harbor, Rosie the Riveter, air raids over Britain, and the horrors of the Holocaust.  Us vintage lovers may also think about the fashion of the time, and how the silhouettes were sleek and sexy or the dawn of slacks and fashionable casual wear.  But for the most part, when we think about the fashion, we think about our nation’s war time fashion, whether that’s the United States, Canada, Britain or Australia.  We simply don’t think about Germany.

To many, the topic of fashion during WWII, and specially German fashion, may be deemed unworthy of attention or shallow in contrast to the atrocities that the Nazis committed.  But Irene Guenther, author of Nazi Chic? Fashioning Women in the Third Reich paints a portrait of a nation not only at war with the world, but at war with itself and how fashion played a role under Hitler’s rule.

There are a lot of good things and a lot of not so good things to Guenther’s book.  First off, it’s not an easy read.  It reads like a text book.  It’s taken me longer than I care to admit to finish. Part of that may be because the first part of the book I care little about – World War I.  The book is difficult in some parts to read, while easy in others.  It is also of the type where there is a section of pictures in the center, instead of throughout.  I’m sorry, but when discussing items such as art, fashion and architecture, I believe that pictures should be along side words.  She also takes time to discuss the extravagance of some of the higher up male officials of the Nazi party, and rationing of food, areas I found unnecessary.

Now, let’s talk about the good and the extremely fascinating. Nazi Chic? is filled with incredible battles within Nazi Germany toward what its ideal woman should be, and what “German Fashion” meant.  It also discusses how early on Nazi Germany set itself up for the economic failure.  Nazi Germany thought itself supreme, and quickly did away with accepting imports, which included much of the fabric and some of the clothing the country needed.  But this was just one nail in the Reich’s coffin.  At the time, the Jewish population had nearly total control over the German fashion industry, from design to manufacture to sales.  They had the skill set and the know-how.  By eradicating Germany of the Jews, Germany lost much of its clothing and fashion industry.  Much of the Aryan takeovers resulted in poorer quality goods and as even Magda Goebbels, wife of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, noted, upon observing many of her favorite Jewish designers disappearing, “Elegance will now disappear from Berlin along with the Jews.” And, boy, was she right.  Despite Germany’s early start to rationing, supplies for the average German ran out and over the war years, women were far from elegant.  Between the lack of imports, the amount of items going to the soldiers and the disappearance of the Jewish garment industry, shops were bare.  Burlap sacks were unwoven and rewoven into underwear, sweaters and socks.  Those who had lost someone to the war reworked their male family members’ remaining clothing items into new items for themselves.  The extreme shortage of leather left many out in the cold with regards to footwear, and over time, materials that we now think of as being average for footwear, such as cork, wood, and for the vintage fanatic, Plexiglass, were all innovations of the shortages Germans suffered.

Both those higher up officials and their wives could still have nearly everything they wanted, and sometimes by the most unique means.  While it wasn’t unheard of for Nazis to take what they pleased from the homes of the Jews they forced into the ghettos and later concentration camps, the Nazis would go on to use those in such horrid locations as a virtual sweatshop.  Auschwitz, the most infamous of the Nazi death camps, had a warehouse, dubbed “Canada” where the items that were taken from the Jews were thrown.  Aware of the goods, Frau Höss, the wife of the camp’s commandant, Rudolf Höss, took items from “Canada”, along with two female inmates, and forced them to design and make clothing for her and the Höss family.  Gossip and jealousy ensued, and to avoid further resentment, Frau Höss established a sewing room detail at the camp where a select few inmates were required to produce two custom-made pieces each week for the female SS guards and the wives of SS officers.  Everyday clothes, lingerie and evening gowns were sewn and if the women are pleased with the work, the inmates were given an additional piece of bread.  How fascinating that prior, items made by Jews were deemed degenerate, were now a prized possession.  While Frau Höss and other Nazi women were enjoying the luxury of custom-made garments, and the average German woman was darning and patching, it was those in the camps who suffered the most.  They were wearing filthy “pajamas” day in and day out, and most of the time not even given the basics of underwear.  By war’s end and the camps were liberated, those women who survived and had the strength stormed the SS headquarters of their camps and took tablecloths to make a dress or skirt.

Most interesting to me is the brief mention of how the swastika was treated in fashion.  While it was common place on uniforms and their accessories, as well as armbands and party pins, it also found its way into the everyday fashion and home of Germans.  Guenther makes note that it appeared on dog collars and bedsheets, and even as a ladies’ hat, however she either never discovered images of these, or chose to omit them in her picture pages.  Those interested in vintage fashion, especially that of 1940s are familiar with that of sweetheart jewelry – items that carry a patriotic theme such as the stars and stripes or a “V” for victory – but we never think about the notion of Nazi sweetheart jewelry.

Other topics discussed are the issue of women in uniform, Germany’s fashion institutes, attitudes toward France, hypocrisy of what it meant to be a German woman, and Kristallnacht. But do not expect to read anything about Coco Chanel or Hugo Boss.

While the book may appear thick, nearly a third is notes and bibliography.  And Guenther’s notes are nearly just as interesting.  You can tell that this subject means a lot to her, and that she spent many years reading and interviewing people on the subject to compile this astonishing book that is in fact the first English language book on the subject of Nazi Germany fashion.

Overall, I found Guenther’s book to very interesting, and at times shocking.  I will note that Nazi Chic? is written in typical essay format, and while it does include first-hand accounts, these are not shared directly, but rather indirectly, and the reader is only aware of such personal tales when reading the conclusion.  I recommend the book for those with a high interest in the history of the Nazi Party, and/or the garment industry and those who are fanatical about 1940s fashion.  Interested in buying? Click here.

I have a few more books on the subject of fashion during World War II and I look forward to reading them and sharing them with you as well.