Archive for July, 2020

Don’t Go

July 27, 2020

My father was born in Buczacz (pronounced Buchach), Poland where soccer was the most popular sport.  The town soccer teams were split along ethnic lines, and they often played against each other.  The Poles were supposed to be the best, the Ukrainians 2nd, and the Jews the worst.  In reality the opposite was true.  Though the referees would cheat excessively for the Polish soccer team, the Jewish soccer team would invariably defeat them anyway.  After beating the Poles, the Jewish fans and players fled the stadium because if the Poles cornered any Jew following their humiliation, they would beat them senseless or possibly even murder a trapped Jew.

Hitler broke his treaty with the Soviet Union in June of 1941, and Germany invaded Soviet-occupied Poland where Buczacz was located.  As soon as the Germans took control of the town, the Gestapo issued an order for all Jewish male heads of households in Buczacz to report to the town soccer field. My Grandfather Isadore vacillated over whether he should go or not.  His first wife, my Grandmother Regina, urged him not to go.  Years later, she often recounted how she told him “don’t go, don’t go.” My grandfather didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot with the German authorities, but on the other hand he did not trust them.  In the end he decided not to go.  That night, they heard the sound of a machine gun coming from the direction of the soccer field.  My father, then 11 years old, knew immediately what had happened–the Germans had murdered all the Jewish men gullible enough to follow German orders.  His parents assured him that his fears were baseless, but a Jewish track athlete had managed to run away and escape, and he came to their house that night and confirmed my father’s fearful assumption.

Simply ordering Jews to report to their execution was a common tactic Germans used to liquidate a town or city of its Jews.  The executions were called Actions.  With most of the male leadership gone, Germans found it easier to intimidate the remaining population, moving them to ghettos or shipping them off to labor camps.  Jews who managed to escape these mass shooting were often attacked by gangs of Poles or Ukrainians during their escape. The natives killed Jews for their money, jewels, or houses.  They were quick to take advantage of a Jew’s misfortune.

10,000 Jews lived in Buczacz before World War II, making up about half the population.  7,000 were killed directly in town and most of the rest were shipped off to concentration camps.  There were a total of 3 Actions or mass shootings; but Germans, Poles, and Ukrainians murdered many Jews in individual incidents.  From a 2nd story window my father’s family witnessed a German officer shoot a teenaged girl in the head.  Her blood flowed in the snow.  The German ceremonially put gloves on before the shooting and removed them after.  Germans began rounding up Jews to send to concentration camps, and my father’s family hid in the septic tank when the Germans knocked on the door and shouted, “Jew, come out.”  My grandfather knew this was not a tenable situation–eventually the Germans would enter the house and conduct a thorough search and drag them out because their Polish neighbors would tell them Jews were inside. So he went to the countryside and found an Ukrainian farmer who agreed to hide his family in an hayloft in exchange for gold.  My grandfather gave the man some gold and promised more after the war was over.  My father and his brother hid in an hay wagon on the way to the farm and were later joined by their parents.  Still later, my Uncle Haskell stayed with them after his wife and children were taken to a concentration camp while he was at work.  The 5 of them stayed in the hayloft for 2 years, and they suffered from cold, hunger, and thirst.  The farmer gave them each 1 piece of bread a day and the water from boiling potatoes, and on Christmas he gave them butter.  During summer the farmer provided all the dandelions, cucumbers, and cherries they could eat.  The relationship was not harmonious, however.  Whenever the Germans won a major battle the farmer threatened to kick them out.  The Russians liberated Buczacz in 1944, and my father’s family was able to leave the hayloft.   My father’s family were among the 100 Jews in Buczacz who survived…~1% of the Jewish population.

Buchach - Navigator Ukraine

Buchach, Ukraine where my dad was born and grew up.  It was part of Poland when he lived here.

My Grandfather Isadore Gelbart with his 2nd wife, Ilsa.  He lost his parents, 5 brothers and sisters, and many uncles, aunts, and cousins during the Holocaust; but he saved his 1st wife, sons, and brother-in-law. Photo circa 1976. Isadore owned a shoe store until WWII.  He became a lawyer after the war at age 60.  His father was a beekeeper who made mead and sold it to bars.

My Grandmother Regina grew up in nearby Nadworna before she married Isadore. 2,000 Jews lived in Nadvorna and they suffered the same fate as the Buczacz Jews.  Shortly after occupying Nadvorna, the Germans were looking for a convenient location to mass execute as many Jews as they could.  The Ukrainians pointed out a trench used to store ammunition during World War I.  Unlike the first Action in Buczacz, most of the victims in this mass execution were women and children, killed while their husbands and fathers were at work.  Over 1000 children were shot here.  Pious Jews in Nadworna were especially persecuted.  Rabbi’s beards were set on fire, and some had their eyes poked out while being taunted about how their God was not protecting them.  Some Germans justified the executions with bizarre mental gymnastics.  Shaje Shmerier, one of the very few Nadvorna survivors, relates how on a cold winter’s day he was using an iron bar to break the ice on top of a well when a German soldier came up to him and said, “we only killed the communist Jews.  The good Jews are safe.”  Schaje thought of telling him children are not communists and don’t even know what communism is but didn’t want to stand and argue with the German.  He avoided them and had been using that particular well (which was off the busiest route) in the hopes of not running into any Germans.

Ukraine - Ukraine Poland, Nadvirna Nadwirna Nadvorna Nadworna ...

Nadvorna, Ukraine.  When my late grandmother grew up here, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then after WWI it was Poland.  It was a popular resort town during the early 20th century.  Most of the 2,000 Jews who lived here were killed during the Holocaust.

A very brief history of Galicia since 1500 when the Jews arrived.

Location Galicia in Europe.svg

The province of Galicia is half in Poland and half in the Ukraine.  It was all part of Poland when my father lived there.

Polish noblemen owned huge estates in Galicia during the feudal ages.  They started inviting Jewish merchants onto their estates because they wanted to improve their local economies.  Jews, persecuted elsewhere, were glad to live on these estates, and they started arriving in Galicia about 1500.  Eventually, prosperous towns like Buczacz and Nadworna started popping up on these estates. Jews became part of the newly emerging middle class artisans and merchants who stabilized the economy.  Cossacks, descendants of Ghengis Khan’s hordes, and Turks repeatedly attacked Galicia and occasionally laid ruin to some towns, murdering and terrorizing the Jewish population along the way.  But the towns were always rebuilt.  By the early 18th century the Austro-Hungarian Empire drove the Turks away, and it controlled the province until World War I. (My grandfather served as a cavalry officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army during the war.) Poland gained independence after World War I, and Galicia became part of Poland.  After World War II the Soviet Union swallowed up the province.  The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and the Ukraine declared its independence.  Galicia is now split between Poland and the Ukraine.



Numerous authors

Landmanshaft of Nadworna in Israel and America 1975


Led Zeppelin’s “The Lemon Song” is Like a Tribute to Howlin’ Wolf

July 20, 2020

My wife told me she would play “The Lemon Song” at my funeral, if she outlived me, but when I reminded her of this statement the other day she had a different memory. She claimed told her to play that song at my funeral.  I think my memory is correct because I’m pretty sure I won’t care what song anyone plays at my funeral.  Our memories differ over other (and more) important  events as well.  The first time we ever made love I remember we employed the reverse cowgirl posture, but she refutes my memory and says it didn’t happen that way.  How could our memories about such an important event be so different?  No matter which one of us chose “The Lemon Song” to accompany my burial, it is my favorite Led Zeppelin Song.

“The Lemon Song” is Led Zeppelin’s version of an old Howlin’ Wolf song known as “The Killing Floor” first released in 1964.  Howlin’ Wolf whose real name was Chester Burnett released at least 2 different versions of “The Killing Floor.”  In 1 version a brass section plays a prominent part and in the other there is no brass section.  The brass copies Howlin’ Wolf’s guitar playing in the former.  The version without a brass section is almost 1 minute longer.  “The Lemon Song” is the 3rd song on Led Zeppelin II released in 1969.  Led Zeppelin II was the best selling rock album of that year.

Howlin' Wolf. "Where the soul of man never dies," no less a figure ...

Chester Burnett aka Howlin’Wolf  influenced rhythm and blues rockers of the 1960s and 1970s.

Led Zeppelin - Official Website | News

Led Zeppelin is one of the most popular and successful rock acts of all time.  John Paul Jones (top) and from left to right the late John Bonham, Jimmy Page, and Robert Plant.

In “The Lemon Song” the rhythm guitar and bass open at a slower tempo than in “The Killing Floor,” but John Bonham’s drum beats are heavier and louder.  To be honest I don’t even notice the percussion in “The Killing Floor.”  Then 1:30 into the song, Jimmy Page plays a fast guitar riff that imitates the brass section from “The Killing Floor” for exactly 1 minute.  This is my single favorite guitar riff of all time, and it sounds superior to the original.  After the riff the song slows down again and there is an interplay between Robert Plant’s jazzy blues singing and Jimmy Page’s guitar playing.  Plant interpolates the lyrics “The way you squeeze my lemon, I’m gonna fall right out of bed.”  These lyrics were sung in an earlier song by another blues artist, Robert Johnson, who likely in turn stole them from some unknown blues singer.  The name of the song is a metaphor for a man’s penis, but I suppose they couldn’t name this song “The Dick Song.”  The song is basically raw sexuality.  In the final 30 seconds of the song Jimmy Page repeats his fast guitar riff.  “The Lemon Song” is twice as long as “The Killing Floor,” and Led Zeppelin almost gave it the same name.

This is the version of “The Killing Floor” that has the brass section imitated by Jimmy Page using his electric guitar.  Another version is 30 seconds longer and does not have a brass section.

In this version of “The Killing Floor” Howlin’ Wolf uses his guitar to play what the brass plays in his other version.  His guitar playing is more subtle than Jimmy Page’s interpretation.

My favorite Led Zeppelin song.

While I was researching this article I came across this version of “The Killing Floor” that predates “The Lemon Song” from a group I had never heard of–Electric Flag.  It sounds pretty good.

Jimmy Page says he was paying tribute to the old blues artists when he transformed their work into Led Zeppelin songs.  However, on some occasions Led Zeppelin has been rightly accused of plagiarism, and other artists have successfully sued them for credit and money.  On behalf of Chester Burnett, Arc Records sued Led Zeppelin for their tribute to “The Killing Floor.”  Chester Burnett received a settlement of $45,123 in 1972, and Led Zeppelin added his name to the songwriting credits.  In my opinion I don’t think Jimmy Page stole these songs from malice or greed.  I believe he honestly thought he was paying tribute to these artists by making their songs sound even better.  Page was a drug-addled hippie without a clear understanding of copyright law.  He may have mistakenly believed these songs were part of the public domain (like many old folk songs are) or simply didn’t care.  He was a musician…not a lawyer.  Moreover, when he recorded these songs, he had no idea how popular and financially successful Led Zeppelin was going to be.  He didn’t know they were going to make so much money.

Led Zeppelin did not steal “Stairway to Heaven” from a group called Spirit.  A recent lawsuit claims “Stairway to Heaven” is a rip-off of Spirit’s “Taurus.”  There is a vague similarity at the beginning of the 2 songs, but Rick Beato, a music professor, says they both use the same line cliche` found in at least 25 songs dating back to at least 1938.  “Stairway to Heaven” has a melody over this line cliche`, while “Taurus” does not.

Rick Beato, a music professor, explains how “Stairway to Heaven” is not ripped off from the Spirit song “Taurus.”

The Clarendonian Land Mammal Age

July 13, 2020

Many science writers often describe the Pleistocene of North America as resembling the modern day African Serengeti.  I debunked that notion 7 years ago in an article I wrote for this blog (See: ) In terms of biomass Pleistocene North American might have been as impressive but not when it comes to biodiversity.  Africa has almost twice as many species of mammals as Pleistocene North America. However, there was a time period during North America’s natural history when it was biologically more diverse than modern day Africa.  The Clarendonian Land Mammal Age during the middle Miocene lasted from ~13 million years ago to ~9 million years ago.  The age is named after the Clarendon local fauna based on fossils found from 24 sites in Donley County, Texas.  Scientists are aware of 34 mammal families that lived in North America during this age.  This includes 8 genera of artiodactyls such as camels and llamas, peccaries, deer, and pronghorns.  There were 15 genera of horses plus tapirs and 2 species of rhinoceros.  1 species of primitive oreodont still clung on, though they were formerly more diverse.  Bear-dogs (Amphycyon sp.) also still survived but were headed for extinction.  4-tusked gompotheres, kin to elephants, entered North America by crossing the Bering Land Bridge and colonized the continent.  Predators included 8 genera of canids and 11 genera of weasels, and there were 9 genera of rodents.  River dolphins and dugongs swam in the waters.  The bone-eating dogs (Borophagine), ancestors of saber-tooth cats (Nimravides), and false saber-toothed cats (Barbourofelis) were the dominant large predators.  Fanged cats and cat-like animals came in all sizes.

Among the amazing diversity of mammals were some remarkable morphological convergences with modern day species of African fauna.  There were giraffe-like camels that evolved long necks to feed on the tops of trees, aquatic hippo-like rhinos, and fast running gazelle-like horses.

Teleoceras | Animal of the world Wiki | Fandom

The hippo-like rhino Teleoceras.

Aepycamelus | Extinct animals, Ancient animals, Prehistoric animals

The giraffe-like camel Aegypcamelus.

Nannippus sp. by on @DeviantArt

The gazelle-like nannihippus.

Climate over most of North America during the middle Miocene was warm and mostly non-seasonal.  Before the Clarendonian Land Mammal Age tropical and sub-tropical forest covered most of North America, but the uplift of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountain Ranges caused increased aridity.  Warm savanna grassland and open woodland replaced the thick forest, and this resulted in a greater diversity of mammals, taking advantage of this more productive habitat.  Grazing herds of ungulates and burrowing populations of rodents in deep grassland soils thrived in this environment.  Climate change brought an end to the Clarendonian Land Mammal Age.  Conditions became even more arid and seasons became more pronounced.  Warm savannahs and open woodlands were replaced with steppe grasslands where  winters started to trend toward sub-freezing temperatures.  Many species of mammals could not adapt to harsher winters and simply went extinct. By the end of the Miocene and beginning of the Pliocene large mammal diversity was much reduced, but new cold-adapted species from Eurasia (crossing the Bering Land Bridge) and new immigrants from South America (crossing the newly emerged Isthmus of Panama) helped replenish biodiversity in North America. Though large mammal diversity never again approached that of the Clarendonian, it was an healthy cavalcade until the end of the Pleistocene when man wiped most of them out.

Eastern Range Extensions of Western Fauna on Xeric Limestone Prairies

July 6, 2020

I wrote an article a few years ago about roadrunners (Geococcyx californiannus). (See: ) I noticed roadrunners ranged into Arkansas–a curious eastern range extension–and I wondered why.  A few weeks ago, a scientist sent me a box of science books, and I found the answer to my question in 1 of them.  Xeric limestone prairies in Arkansas and Missouri provide excellent habitat for 3 species of western fauna including roadrunners, collared lizards (Crotophytus collaris), and Texas brown tarantulas (Aphonopelm hentzi).  Xeric limestone prairies are openings in woodlands that are created naturally but may be maintained with or without human influence.  Dry shallow soils, not more than 3 feet deep, on a bed of limestone or dolomite, favor the growth of grass over trees. Little bluestem grass dominates xeric limestone prairies, but Indian grass, side oats gramma, and big bluestem also grow on them with the summer annual grass, poverty dropseed, on areas with even shallower soils.  Grazing and fire help maintain these openings, but the dry shallow soils high in calcium can remain open without these influences.  Nevertheless, in the absence of fire or grazing woody encroachment can occur.  Juniper, blackjack oak, and black hickory may invade some xeric limestone prairies.

 Xeric Limestone Prairie in West Virginia.

Roadrunners primarily are a western species, but they have an eastern range extension into Arkansas because they like limestone prairies.

Texas Brown Tarantula.jpg

Texas brown tarantulas also range into limestone prairies in Arkansas.

Eastern Collared Lizard | MDC Discover Nature

Dry limestone prairies provide habitat for an eastern range extension of the collared lizard.

Reptiles like to sun themselves on the limestone rocks scattered throughout these prairies, and this attracts roadrunners that prefer open areas with lots of the insects, reptiles, and rodents they prey upon.  Collared lizards are 1 of the reptiles that like to sun themselves on rocks, and they may become prey for roadrunners,  but they are also predators that hunt insects and other lizards in this habitat..  Collared lizards are cannibalistic.  Texas brown tarantulas, yet another western species extending their range east on limestone prairies, are large spiders reaching 6 inches in length with a 4 inch leg span.  They can weigh as much as a McDonald’s quarter-pounder.  Their venom is not harmful to humans unless the person is allergic.  But their fangs are large and can cause a painful bite that may get infected.

Other species of animals common on xeric limestone prairies in Arkansas include 6-lined race runners, southern coal skinks, fence lizards, slimy salamanders, leopard frogs, box turtles, Bachman’s sparrows, field sparrows, prairie warblers, cerulean warblers, Kentucky warblers, painted buntings, brown thrashers, hawk wasps, and numerous species of grasshoppers.

Xeric limestone prairies are not confined to Arkansas and Missouri but are also found in parts of West Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.  However, limestone prairies in those states don’t host as many species of western fauna as those in Arkansas and Missouri.  The Mississippi River must be too big an hurdle for them.


Cartwright, Jennifer and William Wolfe

“Insular Ecosystems of the Southeastern United States: A Regional Synthesis of Support Biodiversity Conservation in a Changing Climate”

U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1828 2016