Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Look out below!

Yes, those are nets for falling bodies. It seems these Chinese workers can't stop flinging themselves out of the windows.

Monday, September 27, 2010

El Museo de las Momias

Here is another stop on my vacation list - The Museum of the Mummies, in Guanajuato, MX. How come so many places I would like to see are in Mexico? Maybe it is simply because that is where all the creepy stuff goes to hide from the rest of the planet.

It seems they had a cholera epidemic way back in 1833, and the residents - who were mostly poor, could not afford to pay the grave tax. Instead of burying them, the state put them in this museum. So not only is it a creepy place, it is also a monument to man's inherrent inhumanity.

Truly a place of nightmares...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The POW Who Sneaked into Auschwitz

One of the more obscure stories from the Holocaust era remains the unusual case of British airman Denis Avey. His story did not surface until 2003, when he was invited to speak on a BBC program about War pensions. It was on this show that he decided to let out his long guarded secret, having finally come to terms with what he saw.

His remarkable tale began early in the war, in North Africa operating behind the German front lines as an SOE commando. He was captured and put on a ship, which was torpedoed as it transported him to his POW camp. He escaped the sinking and survived a nearby depth charge attack, eventually landing on the shores of Greece only to be captured again many months later.  Just the story of his evasion, capture, escape, and re-capture place him in the category of an extraordinary soldier, but his actions after he became a POW are truly outstanding.

He was taken to a very small POW camp adjoining the infamous Nazi Death Camp known as Auschwitz. His barracks was near a work camp where the Jewish prisoners were used as slave labor building the I. G. Farbin Buna plant, as their life was slowly and methodically drained away by the industrialized death machine. Being POW's, they were protected from the evils of the Hitler's Final Solution by the Geneva Convention regulations. Their conditions, while not good, were much better than the conditions the Jewish prisoners faced. These POW's enjoyed a sideline seat for events that were largely unknown to the rest of the world until the war's end.

Being an outstanding Commando, Denis Avey naturally wanted to know more about what he saw than what his small window on the Holocaust showed him. Having heard tales of atrocities, he resolved himself to find out what was really happening in the sprawling Death Camp beside them. He befriended a Jewish man, named Mr. Lobethall, who passed them daily on his trip to work at the factory site. Eventually, he convinced the man to change uniforms with him, and take his place among the British POW's. Avey then sneaked back into Auschwitz with the Jewish workers as they returned from their daily labor. His Wehrmacht guards did not pay much attention; they did not expect anyone to actually try and sneak into the larger SS Death Camp.

The fact that he did this is remarkable in itself. What is outstanding is that he did it more than once, his ultimate goal to work his way deeper and find the rumoured gas chambers. Living a double life, he lived and worked amongst the condemmed Jews, facing summary execution or gassing if caught. He was determined find the truth and bring it to the rest of the world's attention.

He never did find the gas chambers, but he did manage to help save the life of Mr. Lobethal, whose time with the POW's allowed him to recover from the tortures of the Auschwitz. Avey also gave him better shoes and food, which helped him survive and escape during the final death march as the Russians over-ran the region in the last days of the war.

Denis Avey saw many thing which haunted him for the rest of his life. He saw daily executions and beatings. He saw mass starvation, epidemics, and endured the screams of Jewish prisoners as they lay dying in their barracks at night. He watched as three million people were slowly worked to their graves in the factories surrounding Auschwitz. He described his experience as walking into a "Hell on Earth". 

After he was freed and returned to his regiment, he attempted to tell his Lieutenant, who reacted with indifference. Disgusted by the reaction, he decided not to speak about it again and told no one, not even his family.

At least, not until that fateful interview on BBC 65 years later.

Here is his Wikipedia page.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Another Stop on My Vacation List... Overtoun Bridge

This mysterious Scottish bridge is famous for it's strange effect on the canine species. It seems they want to jump off of it to their deaths on the rocks below, for some unknown reason.

At least 50 dogs are known to have done this. It is also said that a man once tossed his baby off of it after claiming it was the Anti-Christ. Later, he threw himself as well.

At any rate, it makes a fine stop on my little vacation plan.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Mysterious Spirit of the Past Haunts the Dalai Lama

In 1976, the current Dalai Lama made a startling announcement banning his followers from seeking propitiation of a certain Buddhist deity, namely the one called Dorjé Shukden. While relatively unknown to Westerners, this has created a rift in the Tibetan community, most of whom are in exile around the world as a result of the Chinese take-over of Tibet many years ago. The reasoning behind this announcement was to prevent the very thing it seems to have created, Sectarian division within the ranks of his Tibetan community at large. While most of this does not play on the radar of most Americans, there is an interesting and mysterious story behind it that spans centuries and reaches far into the last vestiges of the Mongol Empire.

This story started in Tibet during the chaos and upheaval of early 1600's Tibet, during a civil war in which the Mongols ended up winning. The 4th Dalai Lama had died shortly before and a search for a successor had been outlawed by the winning side. This search was undertaken in secret, and two small boys were located who seemed to fit the requirements to serve as the re-incarnated leader.

One of these boys, Drakpa Gyeltsen, seemed to encompass more of the previous leader's nature than the other. However, he was not picked, but later he did assume the role of another famous individual within the monastic world, but held no leadership authority. The other child became the famous Fifth Dalai Lama, known for uniting the Buddhist Monasteries, and driving the Mongol Empire out of Tibet.

In time, Drakpa Gyeltsen proved himself a much more capable and charismatic leader, rivalling the fame and power of the Dalai Lama, who eventually saw him as a threat. Many of Drakpa Gyeltsen's followers believed him to be the true Dalai Lama, and tensions rose accordingly. As tensions rose, so did the threats and harrassment.

Drakpa Gyeltsen challenged the Dalai Lama to a verbal debate one day, and walked away the winner, taking with him a small ceremonial cloth he won as a wager in the debate. He was later found dead with this cloth stuffed down his throat. Several different stories exist, and nobody really knows what truly happened.

A few of these stories involve a combination of political intrigue, jealousy, and a link to a large family inheritance. Most of the other's imply that the monk, sick of constant harrassment and assassination attempts, killed himself as part of a strange revenge ritual he perpetrated upon his enemies. The real truth will probably never be known, having been lost to the winds of history.

What is known is that soon after his death, the Dalai Lama and his court began to complain of visitations by an aggressive spirit or ghost. They believed it to be the spirit of the deceased monk, returned to exact revenge from beyond the grave. Several exorcisms were attempted, including one where the exorcist allowed himself to be possessed by the spirit and threw himself into a bonfire. As none of the these attempts were sucessful, the Dalai Lama assumed the spirit he was dealing with was no mere ghost. He later proclaimed that he had made peace with the spirit and identified it as Dorjé Shukden, saying it was to be the new protector deity of their sect.

In the intervening years, this spirit became a central figure in the "Yellowhat" sect that the Dalai Lama is a part of, eventually becoming one of the "wrathful" deities that protects the Dharma and keeps the teachings pure. In fact, stories abound of the violent end met by many of those within the Yellowhat's when their Dharmic practices became tainted by teachings from other sects. As a "worldly" deity, Dorje Shukden is said to be able to influence events and possess individuals to enable his intentions to see fruition, and to protect the Gelugpa(Yellowhat) sect. He seems a rather dangerous entity for such a peaceful and pacifist religious order.

Now, jump ahead to the early 21st Century, if you will. In Dharmasala, the seat of the Tibetan government in exile, at least three ritualistic murders have taken place involving individuals with a high standing in the Buddhist Gelugpa "Yellowhats" organization. Who commited these crimes has never been solved. Many within the sect speculate that this entity was involved in some way, and the true killers will never be found.

While this story embodies much myth and legend, it also leaves a lot of mystery in the process. The future of the Tibetan Government in exile, and even that of the Dalai Lama himself reads like a Shakesperean curse. Even the Dalai Lama himself admits he will probably be the last of his line. Is it possible that this monk from the 1600's is still exacting his revenge upon the descendants of those who killed him?