Sunday, May 16, 2021

"That Time Hitler’s Girlfriend Visited Iceland and the British Invaded"

From Hakai magazine, May 11:

The location of this small island nation, along with its people and economy, played an unexpected and crucial role in the outcome of the Second World War.

Egill Bjarnason has been Hakai Magazine’s go-to writer on all things Iceland since 2017. Bjarnason, an Icelander, has introduced readers to the small island nation’s fixation on swimming lessons for all, its connection to the first moon landing, and its role in seasickness research. The following excerpt, “That Time Hitler’s Girlfriend Visited Iceland and the British Invaded,” is from Bjarnason’s first book, How Iceland Changed the World. Iceland, it turns out has shown up unexpectedly—and has had an outsized role—in many world-changing events.

I always said it. Hitler should not be trusted. Had people just taken my advice, this mess would never have happened.
—A sheep farmer in northern Iceland lecturing his workers during a coffee break, according to Nú er hlátur nývakinn, a collection of anecdotes from the region

Some of the oldest color film footage ever taken of Iceland was shot aboard a cruise ship sailing around the Westmann Islands. The archipelago of 15 dome-shaped islands sits on a volcanic hotspot just 16 kilometers off the southern coast. The largest island, Heimaey, is inhabited by a community referred to as the Eyjamenn—the island people—by “continental” Icelanders. The journey as the ship enters Heimaey’s harbor is stunning. The ship sails through a narrow inlet, passing sheer black-green cliffs that plunge into the sea, crossed by the flight of fulmars and skuas. The old film footage is silent. All it reveals, so far, is a voyage in an astounding landscape. End of shot.

Next cut: the camera is on solid ground, pointed at some of the quaint houses that once dotted Heimaey (in 1973, the town would have to be rebuilt after a volcanic eruption). The sequence moves quickly, reflecting the price of color film, but the cameraperson lingers for a few seconds on the sight of clean laundry luffing on a clothesline in the ocean breeze. Green gardens suggest the peak of summer. The idyllic motifs continue as the filmmaker’s eye is drawn to children. One girl stands with her fist gripping the neck of a dead puffin, a local delicacy. She poses with two friends. The camera then cuts to a blond boy, probably around eight years old, and stays on him long enough to capture a shy smile toward the camera. The clip suggests an eye drawn toward the innocent, the gentle and pure. In context, it’s bone-chilling.

Holding the camera was Eva Braun. Eva Braun, Adolf Hilter’s girlfriend and partner in suicide; a woman who stayed with him for a decade, through the entire Holocaust; the only woman who could call der Führer by his first name: Adolf, dear.

Braun was in Iceland in the summer of 1939, the year the Second World War began, traveling on board the Milwaukee, a cruise liner from the Nazi state-operated leisure organization Kraft durch Freude. The ship’s manifest lists her real name, next to her mother’s and her older sister’s, Gretl. Only they know about the life she leads back home; the relationship with Hitler was a secret for 14 years, based on Hitler’s idea that a bachelor status would lure female followers.

After the Westmann Islands, the ship docked in Reykjavík and rented out the entire local taxi fleet in order to view the hot springs in nearby Hveragerði. From there the ship’s course was set for the northwest and northeast, docking at the regional capitals of Ísafjörður and Akureyri. According to a pamphlet about the voyage, the Milwaukee returned to Travemünde, Germany, on August 3, less than a month before Germany kicked off the most devastating war in history by invading Poland.

Months before Eva Braun’s visit, Germany had bought a prominent villa in downtown Reykjavík, one designed by the legendary Guðjón Samúelsson, the creator of the National Theater and the Hallgrímskirkja Church. The three-floor Túngata 18 was set to host an incoming consultant and Nazi Party favorite: the retired physician Werner Gerlach. For debt-burdened Germany, he had a startlingly large budget to spend on a tiny island nation still under the rule of the Danish king....


How Iceland changed the world? How about the time it set the stage for the French Revolution?  

Laki: How A Volcano Swallowed Europe 

"Change of Climate and the French Revolution 1789"