December 1952: A Letter to Family and Friends
I began writing this essay several times, first on the day before Christmas and several more times during the following two weeks. But, in every case lethargy overwhelmed my noble intentions. So, the dates of my mental compositions are noted for at least some of the material that follows. I begin with a few preliminary comments before moving on to the main subject of this essay.
We hope all of you grandchildren had a joyous Christmas. Based on phone conversations with your Mom and emails from your Dad, it sounds as if everyone had a specular time being reunited at Christmas, seeing Warsaw at first hand, and visiting Krakow and some of the concentration camps. I am sure the latter visits though informative were quite depressing. It is difficult to imagine, whether you’ve visited the camps or not, the magnitude of the crime perpetuated by the Nazis. Reading about what happened is bad enough; I recall the several books written by the Italian author, Primo Levi, who was a survivor. Two of them, Survival in Auschwitz and The Reawakening, describe his experiences in the camps. Though a survivor, he never fully recovered. Not too long before his mysterious death in 1986 he wrote a third book on the same topic, The Drowned and the Saved. These books are powerful and are to be recommended when you have time for leisure reading.
Knowing the Dunham house in Warsaw would be crammed with visitors, we decided to put off our visit until sometime this summer. In fact, we recently signed up for an Elderhostel June 17 to July 3, 2008, whose theme is: “In the Footsteps of the European Jews.” The program begins in Budapest, moves on the Prague, then to Krakow, and finally to Warsaw. Based on what several of you have said about your trips to Budapest and Prague, we are eager to visit these beautiful cities. After the Elderhostel ends in early July, we plan to spend some of time visiting the Dunhams in Warsaw. .
January 1, 2008
Nana and I made out our New Year’s resolutions, most of them calling for moderation in all things. Careful diets, ample exercise, socializing with friends, and maintaining our current intellectual activities. One of mine is to write up shorter or longer recollections of my life and adventures, and that is what prompts this long epistle. Then, of course, there is the weather. During the first 10 days of December we must have had about 20 inches of snow, with more falling as the month progressed for a total of more than 33 inches, for the highest total to date since 2000 with its 35 inches.
January 11, 2008
On this date in 1951 my folks accompanied me down to Memorial Hall in Racine where I joined a group of other young men to be sworn into the U. S. Army; I was drafted to take part in what became known as the Korean War. I was apprehensive in the months leading up to January 11, knowing that I would soon be in the Army and very likely sent to fight in South Korea or, if not there, to be stationed in Western Europe. Little did I realize I would end up in far away Turkey where I would assist in training Turkish troops to fight in Korea. More important was our role under the Truman Doctrine to help modernize the Turkey Army as part of our Cold War commitment to contain the Soviet Union. Which accounts for the travels I describe below.
December 24, 2007
Reading in the New York Times about the many people gathering in Jerusalem and Bethlehem for the Christmas 2007 celebrations reminded me on my visit there back in December 1952—55 years ago! How quickly time passes. Many memories of my visit are quite clear, whereas others have faded into the past. Before they fade away completely, I decided they should be written down for future generations. So, let me talk about my memory of that visit and rest of my travels in December 1952.
The NYT reported that this year 65,000 visitors were expected in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. This large figure led me to wonder whether the 1952 crowd had been of comparable size, Based on my recollections, I doubted it but wanted to be sure. To check, I went back to the letters I wrote home while in military service—my mother thoughtfully saved them for me—to see what if anything I had said about my visit to the Holy Land. Sadly, I wrote very little about the trip—mostly some cryptic impressions. I am surprised because while overseas I regularly wrote home (with copies to my sister and brothers) once a week, usually a two-page typewritten letter. On rereading those letters I find myself surprised both by what I did say and what I did not. This discovery is what prompts me to write so extensively about my trip to the Holy Land and the other places I visited on that trip.
One explanation as to why I did not write is that the Holy Land visit came near the end of an eventful two-week trip around the Eastern Mediterranean, and I failed to take the time after returning to record my adventures. There may have been too much to say because the trip proved to be a long one. After journeying by car from Iskenderun where I was stationed in southern Turkey to Aleppo in northern Syria and then on to Beirut Lebanon for a couple of days, I flew to Nicosia in Cyprus, on to Cairo Egypt and then back to Beirut, followed by a journey by car to Jerusalem and Bethlehem for a couple of days. On the way back to Iskenderun, I visited briefly in Amman Jordan, spent a couple of days in Damascus Syria , stopped in briefly in Baalbek Syria for a look at the impressive ruins there, drove through Homs Syria (a town that in the late 1980s was reduced to rubble because the people of that ancient city were restive under the rule of Assad, and when they persisted he brought in his artillery, ringed the units around the city, and then bombarded the place for some days), stayed overnight in Aleppo, and then headed back “home” to Iskenderun.
My curiosity aroused by the New York Times article, I checked the December 24, 1952 edition of the Times. There I found an article that answered my question. It indicated that about 12,000 visitors were expected in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, including many Americans and about 4,000 Christians who lived in Israel and had not been able to travel to Jerusalem since the 1947 war that led to the creation of Israel. As you may (or may not) know, the old city of Jerusalem was then part of Jordan; the rest of the city was in Israel territory (and had been since 1947); now it is all in Israel territory. The two parts of Jerusalem were separated by a several hundred yard “no man’s land” where sudden death could be in the cards for anyone who tried to venture across. I should add that if you wanted to go to Israel, you had to travel via Cyprus because direct travel from Arab countries to Israel and vice versa was not allowed. Indeed, if your passport showed you had visit an Arab country, you had to go to the American embassy in a third country and get some extra pages for your passport before you could fly into Israel. Most complicated, which is why I didn’t get to Israel proper.
But back to the visit. I remember visiting Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity for the traditional religious services on Christmas eve. There was a bit of a crowd but not nearly as many as the Times article suggested (maybe most of the visitors remained in Jerusalem). Though the church was filled, there was plenty of standing room at the back. The service, as I recall, is what I would describe as High Episcopalian. I can’t say I was particularly moved by it. Yes, many people back in the States would have given their eye teeth to be there. Perhaps it was the influence of a couple of years of Army life that had hardened me to any possible emotional impact from a visit to Bethlehem.
Visiting the historic sights in Jerusalem proved to be more interesting—the Via Doloroso (12 stations of the Cross), the not very attractive Church of the Holy Sepulcher (part of one wall is propped up by giant steel girders) containing the tomb of Jesus which is maintained by representatives of Christianity, the Greek Orthodox Church, Jews, and Muslims, the Dome of the Rock and the AlAqsa mosque (the second oldest Muslim temple and a sacred site for Muslims) both built atop the Temple of the Mount which was the site of Solomon’s temple, the Wailing Wall (a sacred site for the Jews that at the time was much less exposed than now after extensive Israeli excavations), plus the Mount of Olives and Gethemane just outside Jerusalem. Fortunately, I had done some reading beforehand, particularly several books by the popular travel writer, H. V. Morton, whose books included In the Steps of the Master, Lands of the Bible, and In the Steps of St Paul. Runciman’s several volume treatise on The Crusades was also most helpful.
Because of a shortage of hotel rooms in the Jerusalem area, we (I was with two civilians guys –actually Hawaiians working on the Iskenderun naval base construction project-- who I met up with in Beirut) were put up at the American School for Oriental Research where we dined with the staff, slept on simple cots in one of their extra rooms. Interestingly, the school was founded in the early 1920s by a Johns Hopkins professor, the famous archeologist F. W. Albright, whom I saw in the mid-1950s when I was a graduate student at Hopkins; he could often be seen in his office trying to piece together shards of pottery. I discovered among my artifacts from the trip the business card of the school Director, a man named Tushingham. I also recall meeting Kathleen Kenyon who as Director of the British School of Archeology was working with Tushingham and his people excavating the old city of Jericho. Their question was why did the walls fall down. A bugle blast, an earthquake, or the ravages of time? I found it most interesting to visit with these people and even to contemplate the life of an archeologist.
While in the vicinity, we swam in the Dead Sea (we floated because of its heavy salt content) and we visited the Allenby Bridge which crossed the River Jordan. The river fell short of our expectations. It was little more than what we would call a small creek, it was shallow, and it looked incapable of carrying any significant amount of water from one place to another. The Allenby bridge, named after a famous British general, was built back in 1917 when the British were fighting the Ottomans (essentially, the Turks). The bridge was destroyed in 1947 when the Israeli insurgents fought to push the Brits out of the area. That bridge may well have been mentioned in T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph. .
The weather in that couple of weeks proved to be exceptional, with severe storms ravaging the entire Eastern Mediterranean area. Most of the time it was cloudy except for a couple of good clear days in Cairo. But, the trip provided lots of excitement because of the weather. Flying from Cyprus to Cairo, we had to land in Alexandria because of a dust storm at the Cairo airport. The weather was so bad flying from Cairo to Beirut a couple of days later that the pilot of the two-engine DC-3 had to descend to an altitude of about 500 feet trying all the while to maintain that altitude between the stormy clouds overhead and the raging seas below. The rough weather caused the plane to bounce up and down repeatedly, causing many people to become airsick. I gritted my teeth and so was able to retain my lunch despite the foul odor throughout the plane’s cabin.
As the plane landed at the Beirut airport I saw a large French ship, the Champollion, carrying more than 100 pilgrims to the Holy Land, that had gone aground about 600 yards from shore and was lying partly on its side, There was no way for the passengers and crew to come ashore because of the rough water. I went over the shore where rescue operations were being mounted, unsuccessfully. Remember, helicopters were not yet available. Later when the ship broke in two and on the orders of the captain about 70 people donned life jackets and attempted to swim to shore. More than 26 people drowned, many of them smashed against the rocky shoreline. Eventually, several small boats managed to get to the wreckage and take off the remaining passengers and crew. Quite exciting. Incidentally, a number of ships were sunk or grounded and numerous lives were claimed by the storm.
Several days later on the way by car (in that part of the world land travel was done by limousine usually pre-World War II Chryslers) from Damascus to Beirut a heavy snow in the mountains east of Beirut blocked the highway, forcing us to drive back down the mountain, south to the next highway (a not very good one) going west through the same mountain range but at a lower elevation to ancient Sidon, and finally north along the coast to Beirut in what amounted to a long, long detour.
The great appeal of travel to large cities, particularly Beirut (then known as “the Paris of the Middle East”), is that they afforded modern amenities—first-rate hotels, excellent French cooking, lively night clubs, and interesting shops to purchase souvenirs to send home. This was a marked contrast to life in primitive Iskenderun. In Beirut I visited the American University up in the hills overlooking the city. In the mid-1980s the American President of the university, a political scientist I had known at UCLA, was assassinated in his office; this event was an outgrowth of the civil war that began in Lebanon in the late 1960s and continues to this very day. Cyprus was like a small version of beautiful England with its ancient fortifications and quiet life; I stayed at the King George Hotel which a year or two later was firebombed as unrest swept the island. In Cairo I took the standard camel ride (I have pictures to prove it), climbed the Great Pyramid, got an up-close look at the Sphinx, toured several of Cairo’s large mosques, and visited Cairo’s then run-down museum with its many treasures including those from King Tut’s tomb. Interestingly, the famous Shepherd’s Hotel, just a couple of blocks from the hotel where I stayed, had been burned down a few months before my arrival during the anti-British riots and the deposing on King Farouk.
I was and continue to be pleased with my acquisitions. In Cairo I purchased the cover of a burial urn which is shaped like the head of a ruling queen. Though the back of the head got scratched from my travel, the face is untouched. In Aleppo I purchased a high quality Kashan rug roughly 5x7 feet for $25 which I was able to get back into Turkey without having to pay any duty. One of our officers who had a diplomatic passport let me put the rug into his valpack and thereby protect it from the prying eyes of the Turkish customs officials (the rug adorns our bedroom floor and looks even more beautiful than when I purchased it.
In Damascus I came upon a fascinating painting of the Hajj depicting the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. It was painted on the back of the glass; the colors are brown, gold, and orange. This painting obviously presented an interesting challenge because whatever was to be in the foreground had to be painted first and then covered over with paint for the background; often, multiple colors were involved. I always recalled paying about $10 for the painting but I dug through old papers from my Army days and located the receipt—I paid only $4 for the painting! But, two challenges remained. One was getting it through customs into Turkey which I did by stashing it behind the front seat of the car, held up by the cord running behind the front seat; at that time this cord helped people pull themselves into and out of the back car seat. We then threw our coats over the back of the front seat, thus hiding the package containing the painting. Though the customs officials looked inside the car, they did not probe any further. The other challenge was getting the painting back to the States without it breaking. I asking a fellow I knew from the international construction company crew to build a plywood box to ship the painting home. I packed it carefully, it arrived safely back home in Racine. It has hung on our walls at 3215 Topping Road ever since we moved to Madison 46 years ago. Sally has frequently remarked about this purchase as well as my rug purchases in Syria and Turkey: “Who but you would have ever bought something like this.” By contrast, most of my fellow soldiers spent their money of wine, women, and song.
But, there is more to the story. Our daughter Ellen who is doing a masters degree in museum studies has decided to write a thesis on Islamic art and to use this painting as the center piece of the thesis. She has already learned of a “school” of Damascus artists who painted on glass, and she is now trying to get more details about that group. The story of the Hajj is interesting. Elaborate processions of worshipers set out for Mecca every year from Damascus and from Cairo (though this kind of pilgrimage was ended in the 1920's as too expensive and no longer needed with the advent of the railways and motor transportation). At the time, however, people had to travel on camels and horses.
The order of the march was rigidly prescribed. The entourage began with a small military band, then a small group of soldiers to protect everyone from local robbers who liked to plunder the mostly well-off people who could afford to be away during the long round-trip (probably 800-1,000 miles each way!), followed by the head of the pilgrimage and his assistants, ranking dignitaries, the dean of the linear descendants of the Prophet, the muezzins and students who surrounded the Mahmal (this pyramid-shaped symbol of the authority of the Sultin-Caliph was a wooden structure mounted on a camel and decorated with a cloth covered with arabic inscriptions praising Allah, etc., and inside the Mahmal was a copy of the Quran, an expensive rug for Mecca, other gifts, and special beeswax candles for lighting the shrines in Mecca). Then came the dervishes, followed by the mounted Bedouin escorts with their weapons, drums, and other musical instruments; in addition, there was a retinue of servants to put up tents, cook meals, etc. All of this must have made for a colorful sight. The only photos available are in black and white and typically not very sharp. The procession is not portrayed in linear fashion on the glass painting but the various components are shown in what is a fascinating portrait.
To sum up, my Middle East trip proved to be most enjoyable and highly informative. It gave me an appreciation for Middle Eastern geography, culture, and politics. In addition, the trip left an indelible impression on me, which is why I have been able to write as extensively about the trip as I have. On reading this essay, my wife Sally remarked that it doesn’t say much about people I met or my reactions to what I did and saw. True. The main reason is that I can’t find a notebook in which I recorded that information. Whether I could recollect that information with any accuracy is doubtful.
Addendum (6/7/09) to “Traveling Through the Eastern Mediterranean December 1952: A Letter to Family and Friends.”
In my essay I mentioned staying at the American School for Oriental Research while in Jerusalem around Christmas in December 1952. After composing this essay, I decided to find out more about the School and Kathy Kenyon. I checked with an archeologist friend, formerly a next-door neighbor, to find out what he knew about her. He put me onto a recently-published history of the American School, a volume that contains an essay he wrote. He also told me that a biography of Kathy Kenyon was being written and he would let me know when it appears.
Reading through the Seger history (Seger, Joe D., ed. 2001. An ASOR Mosaic: a Centennial History of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 1900-2000. Boston, ASOR) and seeing the photos it contains brought back memories of my stay there. Of course, the small trees around the building at the time are now fully grown, and an addition has been built. In any case, the various essays describe the excavations undertaken under the auspices of the School that date back to the days of Albright. The book also describes briefly the collaboration between ASOR and the British School of Archeology in the excavations at Jericho. All of this whetted my appetite to read the Kenyon book.
The book on Kenyon is even more interesting (Davis, Miriam C. 2008. Dame Kathleen Kenyon: Digging in the Holy Land. University College of London. Institute of Archeology Publications). Kenyon (1906-1978) was best known for her discovery that Jericho dated back to 2600 B.C. rather than the 1200 B.C. date established by another Brit, Joshua Wells. Her claim to fame rests on her method of debris analysis. It called for digging straight-cut trenches and as this was done examining meticulously the layers of sediment as they were excavated. Her speciality was pottery and she looked for evidence of changes in the remains of pottery found as she dug down. The straight-cut trenches meant that other investigators could check on her work—in effect, the site was not destroyed in the process of excavation. She excavated actively until the 1967 war after which it became more difficult to obtain permission to dig. In addition, the Israelis took a different approach. They were quite willing to commander possible excavation sites and if necessary destroy whatever structures were on the site. This gave them an enormous advantage in making new discoveries.
By this time she was world famous in archeological circles and eventually became the vice-chancellor of one of the women’s colleges at Oxford. She was not ideally suited for the job, in part I suspect because of her drinking. After retiring from that job she retreated to the English countryside and lived a quiet life until her death in the late 1970s. Kenyon was an interesting, adventurous women who succeeded in an occupation dominated by men. And she proved herself able to operate in a Muslim world that was labeled on most maps as Palestine. A very colorful woman whom I was privileged to meet.
About the Author
At age 92 I decided to showcase my recent and current writings on a variety of topics outside of my career interests as an economist. My wife Sally’s dementia, my experiences of war, and my interests in improving higher education all compel me to write.
For most of the last decade I maintained a low profile, necessitated by my wife Sally's suffering from a decade-long siege of vascular dementia. After she passed away several years ago I wrote about our experience, in the belief that this would be helpful to the many others who suffer from dementia and their family caregivers. I am currently seeking a publisher for my book manuscript: The Forgotten: Dementia and the Right to Die.
Over the past few years I began working on several other writing projects that are described more fully elsewhere in my blog. These include a nearly-completed book manuscript on my "expected proficiencies approach to the college major'' as a vehicle for reinvigorating liberal education. I continue to write on the shortcomings of UW-Madison's affirmative action policies and programs that over the years have been renamed "diversity and inclusion" policies and programs.
Within two weeks of my graduation from UW-Madison in June 1950, the Korean War broke out. I was drafted and expected to be sent to Korea to join our fighting forces there. But instead I was sent to Turkey for 18 months. How lucky I was. I am also writing a memoir of my Korean War military experience when I served as an U.S. Army adviser in our military aid program in Turkey.
Until I began branching out beyond economics, I failed to realize what a profound effect the Great Depression and World War II had on me as I grew up. I have already captured some of these recollections, with more of them to follow.
With that introduction, I turn you over to my blog entries as well as my other writing projects described more fully elsewhere in my blog. Best wishes ~ W. Lee Hansen
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Award-winning author W. Lee Hansen, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Full bio.