Thursday, April 17, 2008

Another beautiful April day in New York

Forsythia hanging down along the 96th Street transverse. 3:30 PM.
The night before last when I was over at the Pierre attending the Versailles-Giverny dinner, down at Cipriani 42nd Street, City Harvest was holding its 14th Annual Practical Magic Ball and raised almost $1.25 million for the cause, which is: feeding hungry New Yorkers.

City Harvest is in the business of collecting food from restaurants, events, markets that is left over at the end of the day and re-distributing it throughout the city to feed those who need it. There are lot of us who need it in New York. And a lot of us are children and elderly people.
Arthur Backal, Heather Mnuchin, Susan Rosenbach, Sheri Gellman, Linda Petrone, and Pamela Kaufmann
So City Harvest buys these trucks, hires people to do the job of collecting and redistributing. This is a demanding and expensive order. Food and hunger is not a sexy charity, although from the looks of things it is about to become so.

The men and mostly women who have volunteered over the years to raise the money and keep the machine running really had to work to get the fund-raising job done. A few years ago, they also acquired some new blood, up-coming women (and some men) who’ve used their connections and resources to increase the fund-raising. They have been very successful.
The scene at Cipriani 42nd Street.
At Tuesday night’s Practical Magic Ball: Rob Morrison of WNBC’s Today in New York will was Master of Ceremonies. There was a cocktail reception and a silent auction followed by dinner and live auction. This year’s Co-Chairs were Sheri Gellman, Pamela Kaufmann, Heather Mnuchin, Linda Petrone, Susan Rosenbach and Jeffrey Weiss. The Dinner Chairs were Arthur Backal and Timothy White, and the Journal Chair was Nick Mautone.

Special guests included Emmy Rossum, Melissa George, Katie Lee Joel, Michael Imperioli, Christine Quinn, Jeff Zucker, along with many prominent New Yorkers including Heather and Steven Mnuchin, Malaak Compton-Rock, Susan and Gary Rosenbach, Tracy Nieporent, Emilia Saint-Amand and Fred Krimendahl, Chefs Eric Ripert, Tom Colicchio, Donatella Arpaia, Terrance Brennan and Michael Psilakas.
Christine Quinn
Eric and Sandra Ripert with a friend
Heather and Steven Mnuchin with Jilly Stephens
Heather Mnuchin, Steven Mnuchin, Timothy White, Malaak Compton-Rock, and Emmy Rossum
Wendy Knight and Terrance Brennan
Inga Rennert with Mitch and Nina Davidson
Emmy Rossum
Pamela Kaufmann, Linda Petrone, Timothy White, Heather Mnuchin, and Sheri Gellman
Adam Perry Lang, Kerry Heffernan, Michael Psilakas, and Terrence Brennan
Eric Ripert and Drew Nieporent
Katie Lee Joel
Victoria and Michael Imperioli
Melissa George and Kara Harshbarger
Pamela Kaufmann, Linda Petrone, Jilly Stephens, Sheri Gellman, and Susan Rosenbach
Jeff and Caryn Zucker
Last night in New York. Down at the Pierre there was the Turn of Our Century Ball at which more than 500 turned out to honor Jeffrey Peek, Chairman and CEO of CIT with the Ann Vanderbilt Award for Achievement in recognition of his personal contribution to Partnership with Children over the years.This year CIT celebrates its 100th anniversary. The company was founded by Henry Ittleson, husband of one of the founders of Big Sisters, Blanche Ittleson.

The Award given to Mr. Peek was named after the founder and first president of Big Sisters, Inc. which was founded in 1908 and is now known as Partnership with Children. The Partnership is a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening the emotional, social and cognitive skills of at-risk public school children in order to help them succeed in school, in society and in their lives.
Hilary and Liz Peek
Enter Jeff Peek
They raised a million dollars last night. Jeff Peek and his wife Liz are very active in New York philanthropies including the School of American Ballet. A socially active couple as well (and Liz Peek also writes a business column for the New York Sun) they “chose” the organizations they support because of the work they do with assisting young people in developing their own lives.

The evening’s Chairs were Beatrice Broadwater, Thong Nguyen and Liz Peek. The Founders Committee includes Anthony Ittleson and Wendy Vanderbilt.
Zibby Tozer with Eugene and Gretchen Grisanti
Alexandra Lebenthal and Jay Diamond with Janice and Chris Williams
After cocktails, I got a ride with Sylvester and Gillian Miniter over to the Mandarin Oriental in the Time Warner Towers where the Friends of New Yorkers For Children were holding their annual Fools Fete, celebrating New Years in April. New Yorkers For Children was started twelve years ago by Nicholas Scoppetta, the New York City Fire Commissioner. NYFC was created to assist children in foster care in facing the matter of growing up and being independent. They carry out their objective in a number of ways including helping with private funds including college scholarships, tutoring programs, mentoring, networking opportunities and school supplies such as computers.

Commissioner Scoppetta was a child in foster care and he knows the path these children face.
The red carpet leading to the Mandarin Oriental for Friends of New Yorkers For Children's annual Fools Fete.
The Fools Fete is one of the younger social galas in New York. It is a very dressy affair and there’s an electricity in the air during the cocktail hour; people are glad to be there and looking forward to the evening which is mainly a dinner dance with the beautiful Sky Nellor DJ-ing.

More about last night’s two galas, and lots more pictures of them will be on Monday’s NYSD.
Kendall Griffin, Samantha Lee, and Megan Salt
Alex Lind Rose and Adelina Wong Ettelson
Tinsley Mortimer and Dabney Mercer
DJ Sky Nellor
Beau Pittman his mom and Sandy Hill
Jaci and Morris Reid
Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos
Stephanie LaCava and Mark Gilbertson
Ashley McDermott and Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos
Ferebee Bishop, Alison Aston, and Annie Taube
Beth Schapiro
Frederick Anderson, Douglas Hannant, and Ashley McDermott
Scott Currie and Virginia Madsen
Meanwhile, this week’s Telegraph of London included an obituary of a man named Sidney Dowse who died recently at age 89. I’d never heard of Mr. Dowse before but I was intrigued when I learned that he had been one of the British officers imprisoned by the Nazis who made The Great Escape, the novel made into one of the greatest  suspense thriller films of the 1960s. One thing the film did not provide (at least not memorably) was the fascinating background of some of the characters on whom the story was based. One of them, you will learn if you didn’t know, was Sidney Dowse, the subject of this obituary. Mr. Dowse lived to the fullest, had a most interesting life, and, as it turned out, a rather charmed one in many ways.

Sydney Dowse, who died on Thursday aged 89, was one of the principal constructors of the tunnel used in the Great Escape; he was among those who got away, and was at large for 14 days before being recaptured and sent to the "death camp" at Sachsenhausen, where he dug another tunnel to gain a few more days of freedom.

Dowse had been in captivity for just over a year when he arrived in May 1942 at Hermann Goering's "escape-proof" camp, Stalag Luft III, at Sagan. He made two unsuccessful attempts before further efforts by the prisoners were put on to a more formal footing by the formation of an escape committee under the chairmanship of Roger Bushell, known as "Big X".

The committee decided to attempt a mass break-out through three tunnels - known as Tom, Dick and Harry - dug from the north compound to the nearby woods. Dowse had dug tunnels at his previous camps and was soon recruited to work on Harry. The trapdoor to the tunnel in Block 104 was beneath one of the stoves that were in the corner of every room. A 25ft shaft was dug into the sandy soil beneath the block before the tunnel headed for the camp perimeter.

Sydney Dowse.
Although Dowse spent most of his time underground, he also befriended a German corporal who worked in the censor's office at the camp headquarters. Through this contact he obtained numerous authentic documents, which were passed to the escape committee for copying, and much valuable military intelligence. He even managed to persuade the corporal to provide him with a tailored suit, which he subsequently wore for his escape.

By mid-March 1944 the 336ft-long Harry (the only surviving tunnel) was complete. On the night of March 24 the tunnellers broke surface, but they were a few yards short of the covering woods. This caused delays; and Dowse, who was the 21st man to exit, and his Polish friend "Danny" Krol, were unable to catch their intended train. Their plan was to head for Poland, where they hoped to link up with the Polish resistance. The ever-resourceful Dowse had obtained a three-week supply of genuine food vouchers from the German corporal, so the two men decided to set off on foot and follow the main railway line eastwards.

Having walked for 14 days, they were close to the Polish border when a member of the Hitler Youth spotted them. They were arrested, the last to be recaptured. While Dowse was taken to Berlin for interrogation, Krol was handed over to the Gestapo and was the last of the 50 prisoners executed on the orders of Adolf Hitler. (Dowse was descended from a distinguished German family and always assumed that this had saved him from the Gestapo.)

Sydney Hastings Dowse was born on November 21 1918 at Hammersmith and was educated at Hurstpierpont College. In July 1937 he joined the recently formed RAF Volunteer Reserve, learning to fly at weekends. At the outbreak of war he was called up for regular service and completed his pilot training.

Dowse initially flew Coastal Command Ansons on anti-submarine and convoy escort operations with No 608 Squadron. At the end of 1940 he volunteered to join the expanding reconnaissance force and, after converting to the Spitfire, joined No 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (PRU).

The high-flying Spitfires spent much of their time monitoring the movements of Germany's capital ships, and Dowse, who flew many such sorties, was mentioned in dispatches. On September 20 1941 he set off on the familiar route to the Brest Peninsula to photograph the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, but his aircraft was shot down over the French coast and he was forced to bale out; he was suffering from a leg wound and was soon captured.

In December Dowse escaped from the hospital where he was being treated, but three days later he was caught by a guard as he crossed the German-Dutch border and sent to Stalag IXC, at Bad Sulza. By mingling in a working party, Dowse soon managed to get away again. He travelled by train towards Belgium, then continued on foot towards the German-Belgian frontier, where, suffering from extreme exhaustion, he was recaptured. After hospital treatment he was imprisoned at Oflag VIB, where he helped to build four tunnels, through one of which six officers escaped in April 1942. A month later Dowse was transferred to Sagan.

Jimmy James.
After his interrogation in Berlin following the Great Escape, Dowse was sent to the "death camp" at Sachsenhausen, where he found three others who had been spared, among them his friend Jimmy James. Within days of their arrival the men were discussing how to get out.

Undeterred by the threat of execution if they escaped, the four, together with another prisoner, started a tunnel. Dowse and James were the two diggers using spoons and a kitchen knife. It was a massive undertaking, yet they dug a tunnel 110ft long.

On the night of September 23 the five men broke out, an event which astonished the Germans who launched a widespread search and placed a high price on their heads. Dowse travelled with "Wings" Day, and a few days later they were captured on the outskirts of Berlin. On their return to Sachsenhausen they were chained to the floor of a death cell and cruelly interrogated. They did not expect to survive.

In the event, after five months of solitary confinement, they were released back into the main camp, where they witnessed daily executions.

From February 1945 they were moved to other concentration camps with a group of prominent prisoners to be held as possible hostages. They were moved to Dachau and then to the Tyrol, where they were liberated by Allied forces in May 1945. On May 13 Dowse and his comrades were flown back to Blackbushe and a period of convalescence. In due course it was announced that Dowse had been awarded an MC for his conduct whilst a prisoner. He was released from the RAF as a flight lieutenant in January 1946.

Sydney Dowse with Raymond Van Wymeersch
Dowse served as an equerry at Buckingham Palace and had a long and successful career as a civil servant. For a number of years in the 1950s, at the time of the communist insurgency, he served in Malaya as assistant secretary to the Penang Settlement. In 1966 Dowse and his colleagues sought compensation for those who had suffered in concentration camps. The Foreign Office claimed that the RAF men were "held under conditions which could not be equated to those of concentration camps proper". Airey Neave MP, who had escaped from Colditz, led the protests. After an acrimonious debate in Parliament a lengthy inquiry was held, and two years later the Ombudsman found in favour of 12 British servicemen who had been imprisoned in Sachsenhausen, including the RAF men.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary in March 1994 of the escape from Stalag Luft III, Dowse organised, and financed, a memorial service at the RAF church at St Clement Danes followed by a champagne reception at the RAF Club. Seventeen of the survivors were amongst those who attended and, 10 years later, some of them were reunited at the Imperial War Museum, where Dowse met the actor John Leyton, who played him in the film The Great Escape. Leyton commented: "It was an honour and a privilege. What you did was absolutely extraordinary."

Despite the loss of so many men, Dowse always believed the Great Escape was worth it. In later years he observed: "We caused havoc to the Germans. We tied up thousands … looking for us."

Dowse had an irrepressible enthusiasm and easy-going bonhomie. In Sagan he gained the nickname "Laughing Boy", but this disguised a tough and determined resolve. His friend Jimmy James remarked: "His spirit was undimmed; even in Sachsenhausen he was as ebullient as ever."

In retirement Dowse divided his time between his elegant homes in Chelsea and Monte Carlo. Well known at the Savoy Hotel in London, he never needed to book for dinner, always being shown to one of the best tables.

Throughout his life Dowse was passionate about rugby. Both before and after the war he turned out for Harlequins (whose tie remained his favoured neckwear), and at Stalag Luft III, during breaks from his tunnelling duties, he played in the camp's 1st XV. He continued to enjoy the fine things in life - including his Rolls-Royce and fast sports car - into old age, and once remarked: "Once one escapes from [Sachsenhausen], life holds no difficulties."

It is thought that Sydney Dowse married three times, but at the time of his death he was single.

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