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Germany

Werner Hess shows students the passport Germans required he carry around as a young boy. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

By Victoria Espinoza

Young students in the Northport-East Northport school district were given a firsthand account of one of the most pivotal and horrific periods in human history.

Holocaust survivor Werner Hess, 96, spoke to Northport elementary students last week to share his story and encourage attendees to be kind and accepting of one another.

Hess’ life changed when Hitler came to power while he was living in Frankfurt, Germany. His mother was able to help him escape to England in 1939 and, Hess eventually arrived in the United States in 1940. He talked about how the events leading up to World War II were encouraged by racial hate speech, and isolating and mistreating certain groups of people.

“These horrible sufferings must not be forgotten, and the lessons of the Holocaust must not be diminished into just a footnote in history,” Hess said at Dickinson Avenue Elementary School May 26. “We must educate generations…and combat all forms of racial, religious and ethnic hatred before it is too late.”

The passport with a large red “J” for Jew. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

Hess told the children to imagine living how they are now, except being forced to no longer see their friends, and family members being sent off to concentration camps to do slave labor. Hess himself went through that reality when he was about the same age as the fourth- and fifth-graders he spoke to.

Hess’ family had lived in Germany for generations, and his grandparents fought for Germany in World War I. Hess had plans to go to college and become an accountant, however he said this became impossible once Jewish people were no longer allowed to attend college in Germany. This led Hess to drop out of school and learn how to make women’s handbags in a factory in his town. However, soon enough the government shut down the factory, and Hess’ Christian supervisor helped him get work elsewhere undercover, where he was hidden from inspectors.

The only part of Hess’ childhood the Northport students could relate to was that he was playing on a local soccer team. He was  the only Jewish boy on the team. He had played for years, however one Sunday in 1935 he was told by the coach he could no longer play due to his religion.

“Quite a blow to a 14-year-old boy,” he said.

Eventually Hess said Jewish-owned stores were closing down, with signs on their windows saying, “owned by Jews, don’t shop from Jews.” Books written by Jews were burned in his town, statues erected for well known Jewish leaders were destroyed and Jewish names were removed from street signs. Hess lost his citizenship, and was given a passport with a large red ‘J’ on it to identify his religion. Hess said he watched synagogues, including the temple where his bar mitzvah was held, Jewish owned stores, including his parent’s fish store and homes burned down by the government, and Jewish citizens rounded up and taken to concentration camps. He saw German troops marching through his streets singing, “Jewish heads must roll, Jewish blood must be spilt.”

Gestapo officers came to Hess’ house to arrest his father and bring him to a concentration camp.

“We are all created in the image of God, you may not like each person you meet in your life, that does not mean you must hate an entire race, ethnic group or religion. You must respect the human rights of everyone.”
—Herner Wess

“After they were convinced that my father was sick and dying, they asked for me,” he said. “I was hiding in the attic of the apartment we lived in. They told my mother I should report to them when I returned home or else I would be killed on site. Trembling and with tears in her eyes, my mother came to my hiding place and sent me off to the designated assembly point.”

When Hess arrived at the train station he was told the last round of transfers just left and they would get him on the next train, but it never showed and he was sent home.

“Whether it was just luck or higher powers that protected me I don’t know,” he said.

When Hess was 17-years-old, shortly after his father died, he was able to escape Germany and fled to England.

“Saying goodbye to my mother at the train station in Frankfurt was very, very difficult,” he said. “Put yourself in my position. Having just lost my father, saying goodbye to my mother and not being assured if we would ever see each other again. Forced to leave family and friends, and head to a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language.”

He said traveling to England was not easy, and people were constantly taken off trains by border guards and shipped to concentration camps to be murdered — including his aunt, uncle and cousins.

Eventually Hess was able to bring his mother to England and in 1940 he left for America. Three years later he was drafted into the Army.

“It was not only the Jewish people who suffered during this time,” Hess said. “Millions of innocent people of all religions were killed. We are all created in the image of God, you may not like each person you meet in your life, that does not mean you must hate an entire race, ethnic group or religion. You must respect the human rights of everyone.”

After Hess finished speaking students asked him dozens of questions about his life, what soccer position he played, what it was like making handbags, what he misses about Germany and if he’s ever been back. Students looked in awe at his original passport he used to travel out of Germany, and saw the red ‘J‘ and Swastika symbols covering the front.

“In those 12 years he [Hitler] turned one of the most civilized nations in the world into one of the most barbarous of all time,” he said. “Please do not bully your friends, because everyone is different, but that doesn’t mean you need to hate them. So be nice to each other.”

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This past weekend, I spent some delightful time with my grandson and was introduced to electronic music. He plays and composes this type of music, so I wanted to know more about it, and I was dazzled. In a corner of his bedroom, with relatively few, modest-sized electronic instruments, he can construct and deconstruct and reconstruct sounds as they graphically appear on a screen in front of him. He can reproduce the sound of any musical instrument, then combine that sound with any other, such as an industrial sound, and create a unique sound with the help of a synthesizer. There is often a strong beat associated with the musical line, but not always. Traditional musical instruments can be combined with unique sounds. And pauses can be built in for a vocalist.

I’ll try to explain how this was made possible. Advances in technology, from the development of tape recorders last century to the laptop computer of today played a part. According to some research I did on the Internet, the earliest electronic devices for performing music were developed at the end of the 19th century. Italian Futurists explored sounds not precisely considered musical. Then in the 1920s and ’30s, electronic instruments were introduced and used to play the first compositions.

The big breakthrough came with magnetic audiotape, sort of analogous to the development of film for movies. Audiotape enabled musicians to tape sounds and then modify them, by changing speed or splicing out mistakes and inserting better parts of takes. It was a boon to recording commercial music, be it classical or popular.

Germany was first on this scene, actually during World War II, and that work was brought to the United States at the end of the war. Musique concrète was created in Paris, France, in 1948, wherein fragments of natural and industrial sounds were recorded and edited together to produce music from electronic generators. Japan and the United States joined in this development in the 1950s and ’60s.

Computers were now available, and they could be made to compose music according to predetermined mathematical algorithms. In 1957, the RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer became the first that could be programmed by its user, making possible the fusion of electronic and folk music, for example. Its user now had the ability to pinpoint and control elements of sound precisely.

By the 1970s, the synthesizer helped make electronic music a significant influence on popular music. Electronic drums and drum machines entered disco and new wave music. Toward the end of the last century, the Musical Instrument Digital Interface or MIDI enabled everything from experimental art music to popular electronic dance music. Pop electronic music became connected to mainstream culture.

In the last decade, many software-based virtual studio environments have emerged, allowing viable and cost-effective alternatives to typical hardware-based production studios, many of which have gone out of business. Microprocessor technology can help make high quality music using little more than a laptop.

When my grandson, who just turned 18, sits in his bedroom and composes full-orchestral music from bits and pieces of sounds he has recorded — aided by his drum machine and bass synthesizer, that he then plays over the Internet — we are seeing the democratization of music creation. He doesn’t even need those bits and pieces, although he sometimes likes to add them.

Synthesized music can be created entirely from electronically produced signals. My grandson is, in fact, marching along the same path as Paul Hindemith and the Beatles. Only today he has more technology to help him than they did.

Will all this eventually replace large orchestras? He says, “Yes.”

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Those of us along the North Shore and particularly in Setauket, who routinely live with tales of the local spies, might be especially interested in the life of Doris Sharrar Bohrer. One of the few female spies for the Allies during World War II, she died earlier this month at the age of 93 and was not publicly recognized for her extraordinary work until this century.

A Class of 1940 graduate of Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, she applied to take the civil service exam and was for whatever reason assigned to the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner to the CIA. There, after typing for a year, she was sent to photo reconnaissance school, where she learned to interpret aerial maps and photographs. Few women in the OSS rose beyond the typing pool. A posting in Egypt followed, where she would make 3-D balsa-wood relief maps from the aerial photos that helped prepare the Allied troops for the invasions of Sicily and then of the rest of Italy. Soon she was moved to Bari on Italy’s Adriatic coast, advising where to drop and to pick up OSS agents from behind enemy lines.

In examining aerial photos, she was able to see closed cattle cars with passengers heading east, and her group located the Nazi concentration camps. However, she told The Washington Post in 2011, “we were too late” in finding the concentration camps. “We kept wondering where the trains were going.”

During the war, she packed a Browning pistol in a shoulder holster but was denied the right to carry a hand grenade as a female Yugoslav partisan co-worker could do. In fact, some of her male counterparts were condescending and even outright hostile to women intelligence agents, calling them “the girls.” These included her superior officer who denied her the grenade. So she had an engineer friend fashion a dummy grenade that she carried into the mess hall where some of the other agents were having lunch. When her superior officer reached across to grab it away, she picked it up and smashed it against the table.

The boys scattered “out the windows,” she told Ann Curry of NBC News many years later. “They just disappeared. And I sat there and ate my salad.”

After the war, Bohrer was assigned to Germany, where she spied on the Soviet Union. She interviewed German scientists who had been detained by the Soviets in order to find out for the CIA as much as possible about the state of Soviet science. This was during the lengthy Cold War.

Bohrer retired from the CIA in 1979 as deputy chief of counterintelligence, training U.S. officers on tactics of foreign espionage operatives. In effect, she spied on the spies. She married Charles Bohrer after World War II and after retirement became a residential real-estate sales agent in the 1980s and ’90s in the Old Town section of Alexandria, Virginia. She also bred and raised poodles, some of which won ribbons and prizes. Her husband retired as director of the CIA medical office.

In 2013 two high-ranking CIA women directors thanked Bohrer and Betty McIntosh, another CIA operative, at the Langley, Virginia, headquarters for their service.

Bohrer’s work had remained secret until The Washington Post discovered in 2011 that she and McIntosh, the author of two books, lived at the same retirement home in northern Virginia; McIntosh had carried out propaganda work in China. Both women had not known each other during the war but had become good friends. Bohrer, whose husband died in 2007 after they were married 61 years, is survived by her son and his two grandchildren. McIntosh died in 2015 at age 100.

Bohrer had wanted to learn to fly to defend the U.S. after the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. She never did take up aviation but found looking at aerial photographs “an interesting way to look at the world. It was almost as good as flying,” she told The Washington Post. Like the Setauket spies, Bohrer and McIntosh went unheralded for many years but their stories are now told to the world at large.

A murder mystery thousands of years old and a continent away is coming to Long Island, where middle school and high school students can look at a rare face from human history.

During the ice age, an arrow went through a man’s shoulder blade, nicked an artery that leaves the aorta and caused him to bleed to death. Some time after he died, weather conditions effectively freeze dried him, preserving him in a remarkably pristine state until German hikers found his five-foot, five-inch body protruding from a melting glacier in 1991. He was found in the Ötztal Alps (on the border between Austria and Italy) — hence the name Ötzi.

David Micklos, executive director of the DNA Learning Center, stands next to the only authorized replica of Ötzi outside of the South Tyrol Museum in Italy. Photo by Daniel Dunaief
Dave Micklos, executive director of the DNA Learning Center, stands next to the only authorized replica of Ötzi outside of the South Tyrol Museum in Italy. Photo by Daniel Dunaief

While Ötzi, as he is now called, remains preserved carefully in a special facility in Italy, a master craftsman and artist has created a painstaking replica of a 45-year-old man killed at over 10,000 feet that is now on display at the DNA Learning Center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

“Kids are fascinated by it,” said Dave Micklos, the executive director of the DNA Learning Center, who has shared the newest mummified celebrity with students for several weeks in advance of the official exhibit opening in the middle of February. “The story is quite fascinating: it’s an ancient murder mystery. We take it from the forensic slant: what is the biological evidence we can see on Ötzi’s body that tells us who he was and how he died.”

Ötzi, or the Iceman as he is also known, has become the subject of extensive investigation by scientists around the world, who have explored everything from the over 60 tattoos on his body, to the copper axe found next to him, to the contents of his stomach and intestines, which have helped tell the story about the last day of Ötzi’s life.

“It’s a story that’s been assembled, bit by bit,” Micklos said. “Each scientific investigation adds new twists to the story.”

The Learning Center came up with the idea to create a replica and proposed it to the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology in Bolzano, Italy. Eventually, the museum granted the center the rights to use the CT scans, which provide detailed anatomical features. Ultimately, artist and paleo-sculptor Gary Staab used the images and studied the Iceman himself.

Staab, who has recreated copies of extinct animals for museums around the world, used a three-dimensional printer and sculpting and painting techniques to create an exact replica of a man who probably didn’t know he was in immediate danger when he was hit, because he seemed to be taking a break, Micklos said. Staab built one layer at a time of a resin-based prototype, then worked on the skin through sculpting, molding and painting.

A close-up of Ötzi the Iceman mummy’s replica at the DNA Learning Center. Photo by Daniel Dunaief
A close-up of Ötzi the Iceman mummy’s replica at the DNA Learning Center. Photo by Daniel Dunaief

Nova produced a television feature called “Nova’s Iceman Reborn” on PBS that captures the process of combining art and science to make a replica of the rare and highly valued fossil, which viewers can stream online through the link https://www.pbs.org/nova.

Long Islanders can see the replica at the Learning Center, where they can ask a host of questions about a man born during the copper age — hence the copper axe — and about 2,500 years before Rome was founded. Visitors interested in seeing Ötzi need to purchase tickets, which cost $10, ahead of time through the Learning Center’s website at www.dnalc.org.

Ötzi’s entire genetic sequence is available online. The Learning Center is the first science center worldwide to focus on DNA and genetics.

The center is especially interested in helping students understand what DNA says about human evolution. In one experiment, students can compare their own DNA to Ötzi, a Neanderthal and another ancient hominid group, called the Denisovans. Students can see how similar modern DNA is to Ötzi and how different it is from the Neanderthals and Denisovans. The 5,200 year differences with Ötzi is “no time in DNA time,” Micklos said.

Ötzi’s genes reveal that he had atherosclerosis and the deposition of plaques on the inner walls of the arteries. Ötzi was a healthy, active, relatively long-lived man in the Paleolithic era, who ate a diet of natural, unprocessed foods, and yet he had heart disease. His heart condition came as a surprise to scientists.

A 3-D resin model of Ötzi’s head before being painted. Photo by Daniel Dunaief
A 3-D resin model of Ötzi’s head before being painted. Photo by Daniel Dunaief

In addition to his genes, Ötzi’s body left clues about his life, where he’d spent his last day and what he’d eaten. Scientists have explored the contents of each part of his digestive tract, which, remarkably, remained well preserved during those thousands of years.

Ötzi had eaten different kinds of ibex meat, which is a goat found in the mountains. The pollen that was in his system, which came from the air he inhaled and from the food he ate, were pieces of a puzzle that showed where he’d been. The pollen near the top of his digestive track came from coniferous trees, including relatives of spruces and pines, which came from higher altitudes. Stored deeper in his system was pollen from deciduous trees, like birch and hazel, which grew lower in the valleys.

In addition to the Ötzi replica, the Learning Center also has reproductions of the clothes he was wearing and the artifacts he was carrying, which included a couple of containers of birch bark sewn together with fibers.

The Learning Center is developing a program to help students from the age of 10 to 18 explore Ötzi, so students can ask what the artifacts tell them about neolithic time.

Micklos said students have shown a strong interest in this old replica.

“It’s a little bit morbid, but not too much, and it’s a little gruesome, but not too much,” he said. “Everybody loves a mummy,” he continued, citing the popularity of the mummy exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Juergen Thieme stands near the beginning of the beamline and is pointing in the direction the light travels to the end station, where scientists conduct their experiments. Photo from BNL

He’s waited six years. He left his home country of Germany, bringing his wife and children to Long Island.

Now, months after first light and just weeks before the first experiments, Juergen Thieme is on the threshold of seeing those long-awaited returns.

A physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory and adjunct professor at Stony Brook, Thieme is responsible for one of the seven beamlines that are transitioning into operation at the newly minted National Synchrotron Light Source II. The facility allows researchers to study matter at incredibly fine resolution through X-ray imaging and high-resolution energy analysis.

“We have invested so much time and so much energy into getting this thing going,” Thieme said. “When you open the shutter and light is coming to the place where it’s supposed to be, that is fantastic.”

The beamline is already overbooked, Thieme said. Scientists have three proposal submission deadlines throughout the year. The most recent one, which ended on June 1, generated over 20 submissions, which Thieme and the beamline team read through to check their feasibility and then send out for a peer review.

The proposals include studies in biology, energy, chemistry, geosciences, condensed matter and materials science.

One of the drivers for the construction of the $912 million facility was developing a greater understanding of how batteries work and how to store energy.

“Although batteries are working very well already, there is room for improvement,” Thieme said. The importance of energy storage suggests that “even a small improvement can have a huge impact.”

Indeed, when he returns to Germany and drives through the countryside, he sees thousands of windmills creating energy. Wind speed and energy demands are not correlated, he said. “There is a need for an intermediate storage of energy.”

The NSLS-II also has the potential to improve commercial industries. Mining rare earth elements, which have a range of application including in cell phones, is a potentially environmentally hazardous process. By using the NSLS-II, scientists can see how bacteria might change oxidation states to make the materials insoluble, making them easier to obtain.

For years, Thieme was on the other side of this process, sending proposals to beamlines to use his training in X-ray physics and X-ray optics to conduct environmental science projects, including analyzing soils.

Six years ago, Qun Shen, the Experimental Facilities Division director for the NSLS-II, asked Thieme if he would consider joining BNL. The two had met when Thieme brought students to the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, where Shen was the head of the X-Ray Microscopy and Imaging Group.

Thieme said he presented the opportunity to his family. His three children voted with a clear yes, while his wife Kirsten was hesitant. Eventually, they decided to go.

Following that offer, Thieme looked at the future site of the facility and saw a green lawn. “I was asking myself, ‘What do I do for the next six years?’” he recalled. “I can tell you I was extremely busy.”

He said he worked on design, planning and evaluations, which included numerous calculations to decide on what to build. “One of the big aspects of constructing a facility at NSLS-II is to reach out to the broader community and try to solicit input from them and try to develop the scientific capabilities to meet their needs,” said Shen. “He has certainly done very well.”

Thieme’s beamline will accelerate the process of collecting information for scientists, Shen said. For some projects, the existing technology would take a few days to produce an image. The beamline Thieme oversees will shorten that period enough that researchers can “test out and revise their hypothesis during the process,” Shen added.

Thieme is eager not only to help other scientists unlock secrets of matter but is also hungry to return to his environmental science interests.

Thieme and Kirsten live in Sound Beach with their 16-year-old son Nils, who is in high school. Their daughters, 23-year-old Svenja, who is studying English and history, and 21-year-old Annika, who is studying to become a journalist, have returned to Germany.

Thieme is inspired by the NSLS-II. “We are building a state of the art experimental station” he said. “To be competitive with other upcoming facilities, we have always to think about how to improve the beamline that we have right now.”