25 January 2019

Media Review - Nazi Murder Mysteries - Yesterday Channel - Who put Bella in the Wych Elm (2018)

Yesterday Channel - Nazi Murder Mysteries
Yesterday Channel - Nazi Murder Mysteries
The Yesterday Channel (UK) aired a six-part series entitled "Nazi Murder Mysteries" late last year.

The fourth episode aired in early December and was one in which I participated.

Episode 4 - Who put Bella in the Wych Elm
This episode, unlike the first three, tells a story with which I am very familiar!

In 1943, three boys found a skull in a wych elm in Hagley Wood in the West Midlands. An almost complete skeleton was recovered from the tree by the police and attempts were made to identify the 30-something woman, without success. Over the decades, many rumours, theories, and conspiracy theories have swirled around the story of Bella in the Wych Elm. The skeletal remains disappeared. The coroner's report was destroyed after 15 years. Some of the police files are missing. One can see how the story is fertile ground for speculation!

This episode of Nazi Murder Mysteries summarizes the case quite well, without getting lost in some of the more outlandish theories. Its focus rests primarily on the theory that Bella may have been a Nazi spy. Naturally, this touches on the story of Josef Jakobs and Clara Bauerle which, given that Clara passed away in Berlin on 16 December 1942, can be put to rest.

Yesterday Channel - Nazi Murder Mysteries
Episode 4 - Who put Bella in the Wych Elm
There were a couple of statements which I found a bit of stretch - the idea that there was a Nazi spy ring operating in Birmingham during the war. I haven't found any evidence of that during my years of research.


I did find Richard Lund's commentary quite intriguing - he is the son of Dr. Lund, the forensic biologist who examined Bella's remains and the fragments of clothing, etc. found in the wych elm. His comment that the coroner's reports were intentionally destroyed after 15 years (the standard at the time) explains at least one piece of the puzzle.

I admit I had trouble following the story of the RAF officer, Osborn. The account of him meeting some Canadian Intelligence officers at the end of the war, officers who claimed to have been involved in the Bella investigation seems a bit far-fetched. Why would Canadian intelligence officers have been involved in the Bella case? If the Bella case was a matter of national security, and the Security Service (MI5) had been involved, would any intelligence officer (Canadian or not) have spoken about it so freely?


Review
On the whole, I thought this episode gave a well-balanced account of the Bella story, as it relates to the possibility that she was a Nazi spy. While the story may never be solved... it is certainly an enduring mystery that many can sink their teeth into.


4.5 out of 5 - well done.

16 January 2019

The Hague - Vondelstraat Wireless Training Centre

In January 1941, Josef Jakobs received wireless training in The Hague prior to being sent on his espionage mission to England. During his interrogation by MI5, he was asked many questions about the German Abwehr's activities in The Hague, most of which he could not answer. He did admit that the wireless training took place in a flat in the Vondelstraat. The exact address, however, was unclear.

When Karel Richter arrived at MI5's interrogation centre, he too admitted to being trained at a flat in the Vondelstraat. By piecing Karel and Josef's statements together, we can circle a bit closer to an exact location for the flat.

According to Richter and Josef, the Vondelstraat was a fairly broad residential street with a few green grocers and tobacco kiosks and ran west from Prinzenstraat (likely Prinsestraat) to Elandstraat. According to Josef and Richter, one side of the street had large, five story red stone apartment houses, newly built, while the other side was somewhat older. Richter said that he was taken to one of the large, new blocks of apartments and that there was no concierge but the usual continental automatic bell and front-door release. This meant that each flat had a separate number and one entrance door might access seven or eight flats. Richer and Josef could not, however, agree on the flat number. Richter thought it was #131 or 132 while Josef thought it might be #184. After repeated conversations, Josef admitted to Richter that the flat number could have been #131 although both men were still quite uncertain. Richter later stated that “it is certain that if one is coming from the Church and the library and goes down the Vondelstraat on the right hand side, the door is the last but one, just before a small square where the Vondelstraat joins the Elandstraat. I think I can remember seeing no apartments with even numbers on the right hand side of this road.”

This last bit of information is quite helpful in untangling the issue. Given that the Vondelstraat runs in an east-west direction, we can be quite certain that the flat's address was on the north side of the street, near the west end, where the Vondelstraat meets the Elandstraat.

Vondelstraat - 1929 - looking westwards (From Local Heart, Global Soul blog)
The Hague - Vondelstraat - 1929 - looking westwards
(From Local Heart, Global Soul blog)
A bit of digging confirms that the buildings on the north side of the Vondelstraat were constructed in at least two stages in the 1930s and early 1940s.

The image at right was taken in 1929 and looks in a westerly direction near where the Vondelstraat bends towards the west. One can see the ends of the houses that line the intersecting Bilderdijkstraat, Tollensstraat and 2e de Riemerstraat. There are no apartment buildings lining the north side of the Vondelstraat. It is unclear from the image if apartment buildings existed along the south side of the Vondelstraat (left side of the photograph).

Vondelstraat looking east from the intersection with Elandstraat - 1935 (from Pinterest)
The Hague - Vondelstraat looking east from the intersection
with Elandstraat - 1935 (from Pinterest)
Six years later, in 1935, we find a very different picture. The image at left, was taken from the western end of the Vondelstraat looking towards the east (opposite to the image above). One can see a long row of apartment buildings lining the south side of the street (right side of the image) as well as some buildings at the far end of the north side of the street.

Based on the identical architecture of the buildings, it would appear that the apartment buildings on both sides of the street were built around the same time.

Along the north side of the Vondelstraat, the apartment buildings from Bilderdijkstraat to 2e de Riemerstraat look identical to those along the south side of the Vondelstraat. The Huispedia site notes that several flats were constructed in 1930 which would be expected. based on the above images.

The image below is from the north side of the east end of the Vondelstraat - note the windows on the ground floor, the doors and the concrete blocks above the doors.
Vondelstraat - north side, east end (Google Street view)
The Hague - Vondelstraat - north side, east end (Google Street view)
The image below is from the south side of the east end of the Vondelstraat - note the windows on the ground floor, the doors and the concrete blocks above the doors. The only difference between the south side and the north side is that the concrete blocks on the south side above the doors appear to have more moss and mildew staining, to be expected given that the they face towards the north and get less sun exposure.
Vondelstraat - south side, east end (Google Street view)
The Hague - Vondelstraat - south side, east end (Google Street view)
As for apartment numbers, the north side of the Vondelstraat has odd numbered units. The block just east of the 2e de Riemerstraat has flat numbers 93 to 105 and the numbers decrease towards the east. The first door on the north side of the Vondelstraat, near the Bilderdijkstraat is numbered 5 to 15. The flats on the south side of the Vondelstraat have even numbers.

The question then becomes, when was the last section of apartment buildings on the north side of the Vondelstraat (west of the 2e de Riemerstraat) constructed? Were they built by January 1941 when Josef and Richter received their training?

Vondelstraat - looking east from the intersection with Elandstraat. There is no date on the postcard but a comment on the site noted the the flats on the left were constructed in 1940/41. (from www.htmfoto.net site - but currently a broken link. A note on the main site states that the site is no longer being maintained.) (postcard from the collection of Gerard van der Swaluwe)
The Hague - Vondelstraat - looking east from the intersection with Elandstraat.
There is no date on the postcard but a comment on the site noted the the
flats on the left were constructed in 1940/41.
(from www.htmfoto.net site - but currently a broken link. A note on the main
site states that the site is no longer being maintained.)
(postcard from the collection of Gerard van der Swaluwe)
The image at right was taken from the western end of the Vondelstraat looking towards the east. From the photograph, one can see that the last section of flats on the north side of the street (left of the photograph) have been constructed.

A comment on the photograph noted that: "The flats at left were completed in 1940/1941."

The Huispedia site also notes that 131 Vondelstraat was built in 1940. It would then seem quite clear that Josef and Karel received their training at 131 Vondelstraat.

But there is a slight hiccup.

The Hague - Vondelstraat - block of flats constructed in 1940/41 - flats 125-139 Copyright 2010 G.K. Jakobs
The Hague - Vondelstraat - block of flats constructed in 1940/41 - flats 125-139
Copyright 2010 G.K. Jakobs
Richter had said that the flat was the second to last door before the small plaza where the Vondelstraat meets the Elandstraat.

If one walks down the north side of the Vondelstraat from 2e de Riemerstraat towards the Elandstraat, there are six entrance doors to the "new" section of flats (constructed 1940/41).

The second to last entrance door bears the flat numbers 173 to 187. The entrance door for flats 125 to 139 (including 131) is actually the second door after the 2e de Riemerstraat or the fourth door from the intersection with the Elandstraat.

Two possibilities would seem to present themselves.

Perhaps the "new" block of flats were constructed in two sections. The first building west of the 2e de Riemerstraat (with the first three entrance doors, the middle one of which is 125-139) may have been constructed in 1940 and therefore the door for 125 to 139 would have been the second to last door before the intersection with Elandstraat. The last block of flats (with the last three entrance doors) could have been constructed afterwards. The Huispedia site, however, notes that flat 173 (which would have been the second entrance door in the second block) was constructed in 1940 as well.

The other option is that the "new" section was present in its entirety in January 1941 and that the second to last door was the actual door of the wireless training flat, in which case it would have been an odd-numbered flat between 173 to 187, and much closer to Josef's recollection of it being flat #184.

Short of tracking down the building permits for the "new" block of buildings, it would seem that the exact flat in which Josef and Richter received their wireless training will remain a mystery. Despite this, it is a bit eerie to walk down the Vondelstraat knowing the history of at least one of these buildings.

P.S.
I have considered the possibility that the flats have been renumbered since 1941, but this seems unlikely given my experience with buildings in Germany. Unless the buildings were destroyed during the war, most tend to keep the same numbers over time.

07 January 2019

Media Review - Nazi Murder Mysteries - Yesterday Channel - A Serial Killer in Berlin (2018)

Yesterday Channel - Nazi Murder Mysteries
Yesterday Channel - Nazi Murder Mysteries
The Yesterday Channel (UK) is airing a six-part series entitled "Nazi Murder Mysteries".

The third episode aired in late November and was quite fascinating!


Episode 1 - A Serial Killer in Berlin
This episode, like the first two, tells a story of which I had never heard. A number of women were assaulted and murdered in Berlin in the early years of the war, generally either on, or around, the S-Bahn lines in the southeastern corner of the city. The Criminal Police (KriPo) in Berlin use some sophisticated forensic technique and good old-fashioned detective work to eventually corner the killer, Paul Ogorzow. As it turned out, Ogorzow pleaded guilty to eight murders, six attempted murders and thirty-one assaults.

Yesterday Channel - Nazi Murder Mysteries
Episode 3 - A Serial Killer in Berlin
What I found most intriguing however, was the side-story of one of the KriPo detectives, George Heuser, who would go on to become an SS-Obersturmf├╝hrer and participate in the systematic murder of Jews, Gypsies and Russians during the German occupation of Russia (1941-1944). It rather leaves one gasping with astonishment given his sentence, particularly when one compares it with that of Ogorzow.


Review
While much of the information presented in the Ogorzow story is available on Wikipedia or other sources, seeing it on screen is always much more engaging. I very much appreciated how this episode took the story farther in linking it to the war crimes of George Heuser.


4.8 out of 5 - well done.