Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The story of Horace (known as Jim) and Rosa

Looking south along Fifth Avenue from 94th Street. 4:00 PM. Photo: JH.
February 16, 2010. Presidents Day made for a quiet weekend in New York with many people away for the three day weekend. Snow was forecast at the end of the day yesterday; flurries flurried on before midnight.

Frequent NYSD readers know I am an avid reader of obituaries, particularly those published in the European press, especially the British and most especially Telegraph of London. The Brits are less formal in their reports of people’s lives. Eccentricities, bad habits, even crimes are freely described when applicable. However, beyond that are the astonishing characters – the ones you find in novels or films – where bravery or courage step in and elevate the man or woman. Such is the following from this week’s Telegraph about a man who most likely never heard or never even would have heard of had it not been through the dispatches in memoriam.

This is a good story. The only question I might have in the end is who will play Horace a/k/a Jim in the movie, and who will play Rosa in this suspense/romance?

From the Telegraph in London.

Horace Greasley, who died on February 4 aged 91, claimed a record unique among Second World War PoWs – that of escaping from his camp more than 200 times only to creep back into captivity each time.

The reason for the frequency with which Greasley put his life in danger, he admitted with engaging good humour and frankness, was simple: he had embarked on a romance with a local German girl. Rosa Rauchbach was, if anything, running even greater risks than Greasley.

A translator at the camp where he was imprisoned, she had concealed her Jewish roots from the Nazis. Discovery of their affair would almost certainly have meant doom for them both.

Greasley recounted the almost incredible details of his wartime romance in the book Do The Birds Still Sing In Hell? (2008), which he had been "thinking about and threatening to write" for almost 70 years. But while the book is described as an "autobiographical novel", the story was largely confirmed at his debriefing by MI9 intelligence officers shortly after the war.

Horace Joseph Greasley, nicknamed Jim, was one of twin boys born on Christmas Day 1918 at Ibstock, Leicestershire. He was 20 and working as a young hairdresser when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, and the Military Training Act made all men between the ages of 18 and 40 legally liable for call-up. Horace and his twin brother Harold were conscripted in the first draft.

A client whose hair he was cutting offered, when Horace mentioned that he was going into the Army, to get him a job as a fireman, a reserved occupation which would actually pay better than joining the services. Horace Greasley turned the offer down.

But his war proved a short one. After seven weeks' training with the 2nd/5th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment, he landed in France at the end of the "Phoney War" as one of the British Expeditionary Force; on May 25 1940, during the retreat to Dunkirk, he was taken prisoner at Carvin, south of Lille.

There followed a 10-week forced march across France and Belgium to Holland and a three-day train journey to prison camps in Polish Silesia, then annexed as part of Germany. Many died on the way, and Greasley reckoned himself lucky to have survived.

In the second PoW camp to which he was assigned, near Lamsdorf, he encountered the 17-year-old daughter of the director of the marble quarry to which the camp was attached.

She was working as an interpreter for the Germans, and, emaciated as he was, there was, Greasley said, an undeniable and instant mutual attraction.
POW Greasley confronting Heinrich Himmler (in glasses) in the POW camp, demonstrating (with his shirt off) how they need more rations. He was not aware that hthis superior officer was Himmler himself.
Within a few weeks Greasley and Rosa were conducting their affair in broad daylight and virtually under the noses of the German guards – snatching meetings for trysts in the camp workshops and wherever else they could find. But at the end of a year, just as he was realising how much he cared for Rosa, Greasley was transferred to Freiwaldau, an annex of Auschwitz, some 40 miles away.

The only way to carry on the love affair was to break out of his camp. From Silesia, bordered by Germany and German-occupied countries, there was little hope of escaping back to Britain. The nearest neutral country was Sweden, 420 miles to the north. Perhaps for this reason the guards were lax, and the Germans seemed to consider that those trying to escape were effectively attempting suicide.

Greasley reckoned that short absences could be disguised or go unnoticed. Messages between him and Rosa were exchanged via members of outside work parties, who then handed hers on to Greasley, the camp barber, when they came to have their hair cut. When, with the help of friends, he did make it under the wire for an assignation nearby, he would break back into the camp again under cover of darkness to await his next opportunity.

Sometimes, Greasley reckoned, he made the return journey three or more times a week, depending on whether Rosa's duties among various camps brought her to his vicinity. His persistence in their love affair was not the only testimony to his daring. A wartime photograph shows Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, inspecting a prison camp and a shirtless skinny PoW close to the fence confronting him.

The prisoner has been identified as Horace Greasley, who said he did not know who Himmler was at the time, but realised that he was some superior officer. Greasley said that when the photo was taken he was demanding more food for the prisoners, having taken off his shirt to show how thin he was. Rations did not improve as a result.

Rosa repaid his attentions, he said, by providing small food parcels and pieces of equipment for him to take back into the camp, eventually including radio parts which enabled 3,000 prisoners to keep up with the news by listening to the BBC.

Greasley was held prisoner, working for the Germans in quarries and factories, for five years less one day, and was finally liberated on May 24 1945. He still received letters from Rosa after the war's end, and was able to vouch for her when she applied to work as an interpreter for the Americans.

Not long after Greasley got back to Britain, however, he received news that Rosa had died in childbirth, with the infant perishing too. Horace Greasley said he never knew for certain whether or not the child was his.

After demobilisation he returned to Leicestershire, swearing that he would never take orders from anyone again. He ran a hairdressers', a taxi firm and a haulage company in Coalville, where he met his wife, Brenda, at a fancy dress party in 1970. They married in 1975, retiring to the Costa Blanca in Spain in 1988.

Greasley was delighted with the publication of his book and was to have undertaken a return visit to Silesia for a television company this spring, having, he said, been promised the company of "a very attractive 21-year-old female nurse for the entire journey".

He died in his sleep before the offer could be made good.

Horace Greasley is survived by his wife and by their son and daughter.
Back to basics. Friends and Fans of Tom Guinzburg, Board Member of The Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, turned out in droves last Wednesday evening at Michael’s restaurant to attend a fundraiser for The Society’s Dream Team. Tom was honored for his service as chairman of The Dream Team for the past two decades.

The Dream Team was started in 1988 by a member of the Associates, Pamela Murdock, with the cooperation of the Social Services Committee and the Department of Social Work of MSKCC. Tom was a founding member of the committee and took over as chairman shortly after its inception.

The Dream Team is the only organization of its kind in the world, like a "Make a Wish" for adults -- The Dream Team coordinates with the MSKCC social workers who invite MSKCC’s adult patients (18 and over) to ask for a dream. There is no other Dream Team in America -- dedicated to fulfilling the hopes and dreams of adult patients, battling different forms of cancer.

The Society’s Dream Team has been made up of an anonymous group of men and women -- many of whom you know well -- who have been quietly making dreams come true without anyone ever knowing who they are. The Society decided to formally introduce The Dream Team at last Wednesday’s party when they honored Tom and introduced the group’s new Chairman and long-time Board member, Mary Davidson, and her committee members.

In the 22 years they’ve been active, The Dream Team, has made more than 1500 dreams come true for the adult patients of MSKCC. All of the dreams have been underwritten and coordinated by the members of The Dream Team who have collectively donated over $2 million to fulfill the dreams. This is in addition to the kindness of countless strangers who have responded with millions of dollars of donations of time, talent and services to help make dreams come true for our patients and their families.
The scene at Michael's.
Members of the Dream Team are dedicated volunteers who use their own resources to make the dreams of adult patients come true – whether it’s finding a gown for patient’s daughter to wear to her Senior Prom to reuniting family members from all over the world. A few of the most typical dreams for patients include family reunions, memorable trips with children, Broadway entertainment, sporting events and shopping sprees. The Team is able to make each dream come true with the financial support and generosity of individuals and companies.

The event at Michael’s raised over $60,000 for its initiatives.
Barbara Cirkva and CeCe Black Beryl and Peter Pantaleo with Martha Kramer Fox
Doug Leeds, Connie Bennett, Martha Webster, and Robert Benton Jeffrey Liddle, Alexis Waller, and Charlie Churchill
Lee and CeCe Black Dr. David Kissane, Mrs. Peter D. Jones, Tom Guinzburg, Dr. Annette U. Rickel, and Clelia Zacharias
Jennifer Creel and Ashley McDermott John Glass, Melissa Morris, and Chappy Morris
Webb Egerton, Robyn Joseph, Leslie Stevens, and Ruth Fleischmann Shoshanna Gruss and Tom Guinzburg
Ashley McDermott and Doug Leeds Paige Peterson and Michael Carlisle
Susan Calhoun and Charlie Moss Christopher Cerf, Michael McCarty, and Paige Peterson
NYSD caught up with Cynthia Rowley, who's marketed herself brilliantly with the Swell Life franchise, last Friday at her Gagosian Shop after party.

NYSD: Do you have any plans for Valentine’s Day? Are you pro- or anti-Valentine’s Day?

Cynthia: I’m sure pro. Oh, yeah. Share the love. In my work we have like pink, um, paper heart chains. Yeah, we’re big on Valentine’s.

Did you ever think of designing something that was Valentine’s Day-related, like a dress?

Cynthia: No, but when my husband and I were first dating, for Valentine’s Day, he made me a T-shirt that had those little candy hearts glued all over it.
Cynthia Rowley herself and with an adoring fan (who nearly cried and asked for an internship).
NYSD: Did it make a mess?

Cynthia: Well, that sort of happened later.

NYSD: What happened earlier? How much sugar was consumed?

Cynthia: [laughs] As soon as I started telling that story, I was like, “I’m not sure I should be telling that story.” I thought it was very thoughtful though. I’m big on Valentine’s.
Bill Powers (husband of Cynthia Rowley), Peter Arnold (President of Cynthia's company), artist Will Cotton
Hannes Bend and Michelle Finocchi. Brooke Shields.
Some pictures of garments she made specifically for the afterparty are below. The press release described them: "Wearable photographic reproductions of approximately fifteen Cynthia Rowley runway looks will be available in editions of 100. Printed, front and back and to scale, each garment will be branded with a numbered, handcrafted "Cynthia Rowley for Gagosian" label."

And in Cynthia's words: "It was lace, and then it was printed on a digital printer, and then it was photographed on a person, removing the body parts, and then printed again on a digital printer. And then cut out and made into a garment. So it’s like 2D-3D-2D-3D-2D-3D, or something like that." Fabulous!

Thomas Pham, designer. Arielle Delfino, writer for Elle Girl Japan in an outfit she calls "Mourning for a Queen." Lillian.
Jennifer Wright, Molly Crabapple, and Freja Langer-Gidér.
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Photographs by Paige Peterson (MSKCC).
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