Monthly Archives: September 2016

Ernst Hess: The Jew Saved by Hitler

Ernst Hess From Jewish Voice From Germany

Ernst Hess
From Jewish Voice From Germany

Adolf Hitler is a name that has become synonymous with evil. The atrocities committed under his fanatical Nazi government have become infamous. Needless to say, “Adolf Hitler” is not a name often associated with mercy, especially where Jews are concerned. However, there were some surprising instances where even Hitler put aside his monstrous hatred of the Jewish people and extended mercy, however brief, to certain individuals.

Such a case was confirmed in 2012 when Susanne Mauss, an editor with the Jewish Voice, discovered a note to the Dusseldorf Gestapo with an order from the Reich Chancellery  ordering that a judge by the name of Ernst Hess was not to be harassed in any way. The judge, whose despite being a Protestant was classified as a full-blooded Jew under Nazi Germany’s racial laws due to his mother being  a Jew, had received the personal protection of Adolf Hitler himself.

Before the letter, Hess suffered harassment from Nazis in Dusseldorf, once being on the receiving end of a beating by a gang of thugs. It got so bad that Hess had to move his family to South Tyrol, a region of Italy populated by Germans, to escape the growing persecution. The persecution of Jews during that time period is well known, but what separated Ernst Hess from the others was the fact that he had ties to top Nazis, including Hitler himself.

During World War I, Hess briefly served as Hitler’s superior officer in the List Regiment. Hitler retained a fondness for those he had served with during the war, even if few in the regiment remembered him. Hess, on the other hand, was well regarded by other veterans, and these ties might have been instrumental in getting him the temporary reprieve from the horrors of Nazi tyranny. One of Hess’ contacts was Fritz Wiedemann, who served as personal adjutant to Hitler from 1934 to 1939.Another was Hans Heinrich Lammers, who served as Head of the Reich Chancellery.

With these friends working in his favor, Hess was able to receive unusual leeway from top Nazis. He was able to have his pension transferred to Italy, to remove the red “J” marking him as a Jew from his passport and thus be able to travel, and to enjoy the general protection from persecution mentioned above.

Unfortunately, this protection only lasted until 1942. Hess was protected from deportation by virtue of being married to a German protestant. He worked in various forced labor camps until the end of the war in 1945. Hess’ family once believed the protection afforded him extended to them, but his mother and sister were both deported. His sister, Berta, died in Auschwitz, while his mother survived and eventually moved to Brazil to be with family.

As for Ernst Hess, he survived the war and was promptly offered another position as a judge. He declined, and went on to work as the President of the German Federal Railways Authority in Frankfurt/Main. He died on September 14th, 1983, at the age of 93.



Associated Press. “’Hitler’s wish’ protected Jewish WWI vet.” July 6, 2012. Fox News. January 17, 2016.

Day, Matthew. “Adolf Hitler protected his Jewish former commanding officer.” July 5, 2012. The Telegraph. January 17, 2016.

Mauss, Susanne. “Hitler’s Jewish Commander and Victim.” Jewish Voice From July 4, 2012. Jewish Voice From Germany. January 17, 2016.


An Update and the Future of Oddly Historical

Hello readers. You might have noticed that this site has been dormant for awhile. There has been a lot going on in my personal life, and blogging fell by the wayside for the last few months. However, yesterday I decided to start updating again, but the format will be a little different going forward. I’m going to be crunched for time starting next year, since I’ve decided to go to grad school. Between school and working full time, there isn’t going to be much free time for research or writing. So, odds are updates on this blog will be sporadic. I’ll try to update bimonthly, but we will see how it goes. As for content, it will be much the same, but the posts might be a little more concise. It just depends on what I have time for.

That all being said, it’s good to be back. Once you get the blogging itch, time away from it is nice but you also feel like you’re missing something. I’ve missed it, truth be told. So I hope you all will stick around. I’ll keep the weird history coming as often as I can!

An Immortal Mummy: The Immaculately Preserved Corpse of the Lady Dai


The Lady Dai

Mummies are a recurring topic of interest on this site. I’ve had a personal interest in them since I was a kid. I remember getting out the local library’s copy of the Eyewitness book about mummies over and over. Perhaps it was a morbid fascination for a young boy to have, but that’s hardly the only strange interest I’ve pursued over the years. To regular readers, the fascination is pretty obvious. From bog bodies to frontier ruffians to dead philosophers, mummies are a pretty regularly recurring theme here. Today’s post looks at a part of the world that we’ve not explored much so far on this blog: China.

The world’s oldest continuous culture has certainly had its fair share of bizarre and interesting history. One such bit of strangeness was only discovered in 1971, when workers digging a bomb shelter near Changsha city when they stumbled across a massive tomb dating from the Han Dynasty. The more than 2000 year old complex housed more than 1000 artifacts in extraordinary condition, giving archaeologists a snapshot into the lives of the Chinese aristocracy. But the truly remarkable thing about the find lay in the center of the tomb complex. Hidden from the world for more than two millennia, the woman who is now known was the Lady of Dai, would finally see the light of day, and her mummy’s remarkable state of preservation would put even Egypt’s finest mummies to shame.


The Diva Mummy

There could be no doubt that Xin Zhui, the Lady of Dai, lived a life of luxury. Her tomb was stuffed full of luxuries only the wealthiest of Han era China could afford: a wardrobe containing 100 silk garments, 182 pieces of lacquer ware, make-up and other toiletries, and a vast array of delicacies the peasantry of her day could only dream of. To attend to her needs, the Lady of Dai saw that 162 carved wooden figurines representing servants were placed in the tomb as well. Xin Zhui lived the good life, and in her after life she wanted to be certain that the party continued. The opulence of her tomb led to the moniker by which she is best remembered—the Diva Mummy.

This luxury extended to the method by which she was buried. Her body swaddled in twenty layers of silk, immersed in a mildly acidic liquid, and sealed within four nested coffins. The coffins themselves were put in a massive burial vault constructed of cypress and lined with clay. This vault was then packed with 5 tons of charcoal, and then the top of the structure was sealed with 3 feet of clay. The elaborate construction of the tomb effectively made a water tight, air tight space where bacteria wouldn’t be able to thrive. The liquid also likely contributed to the Diva Mummy’s remarkable preservation, although no one is sure exactly how.

As for the mummy herself, at the time of her discovery she looked as if she had died only recently, not 2,000 years ago. Her skin was supple, and her joints flexed freely. Her hair was still intact, up to and including eyelashes and nose hair. Blood still remained in her veins as well—her blood type was Type A.

Pathologists were able to perform an autopsy on the Lady Dai, proving that her remarkable preservation was not merely skin deep. Her internal organs were fully intact, allowing the pathology team not only to ascertain what diseases she suffered from in life but how she died. Their results were telling. Her body was riddled with ailments familiar to any doctor today: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver disease, gall stones, and diabetes. She was obese, no doubt due to her opulent lifestyle and lack of exercise. Her lifestyle was likely what did her in—she passed away due to a heart attack at the age of 50. Her last meal was a serving of melons.


Mysteries remain.

The Diva Mummy’s tomb opened a window into a distant part of the past, giving a snapshot of the opulence of the Han aristocracy. But the discovery raised as many questions as it answered. The foremost being: how did the ancient Chinese manage to preserve her body so well? Clearly, mummification was a well developed art in Han China, but how did they develop these skills and what were the specific techniques employed? Obviously their method was not as invasive as that of the Egyptians, who removed many of the internal organs from their dead for separate preservation. It is apparent that the elaborate tomb structure played a large role in her preservation, but the strange liquid in which the mummy was immersed also played a part, although what exactly it was composed of remains a mystery.

Subsequent discoveries have only deepened the mystery. Two other mummies, likely the Lady Dai’s husband and son, were discovered in a similar state of preservation, but the liquid they were immersed in had different chemical properties. There may also be parts of the Han mummification process that are not readily apparent, such substances used in pre-burial rituals that might have had some effect on preservation. Until more discoveries remain, the how of Lady Dai’s remarkable preservation will remain a mystery lost to history.



The Chicago Tylenol Murders

By Ragesoss - Own work, GFDL,

By Ragesoss – Own work, GFDL,

Most consumers think little about the potential hazards of the products they buy on a daily basis. The assumption is twofold: first, that the powers that be have protections in place to prevent the worst from happening, and second that no one would be ghoulish enough to deliberately tamper with something an unwitting person would consume. Today this is mostly true, but it was not the case in 1982, when a series of deaths sparked a national panic and nearly brought down a pharmaceutical giant. The murders, later dubbed the Chicago Tylenol Murders, remain unsolved, but the changes they brought to American consumer culture still impact consumers more than thirty years later.

The grisly crime began in September 1982, when 12-year old Mary Kellerman complained to her parents about a cold. The Kellerman’s gave her a Tylenol capsule. She died only hours later. The same morning, a postal worker named Adam Janus died of what was initially believed to be a heart attack. His brother and sister-in-law, Stanley and Teresa, returned home after they heard news of the tragedy. They too died soon after taking Tylenol extra-strength capsules from the same bottle Adam had opened earlier in the day. Three more deaths followed in quick succession: Mary McFarland, Paula Prince, and Mary Weiner all succumbed to sudden deaths not long after consuming Tylenol capsules.

Police followed up on the only link the seven victims shared: the fact that they’d all consumed Tylenol hours or days before their death. The capsules in each case were sent to labs for testing which revealed a horrifying fact: the capsules had been laced with potassium cyanide, in a dose strong enough to kill a person many times over. Police concluded that since only Chicago area residents had been stricken by the cyanide, with no other deaths anywhere else in the country, the capsules must have been tampered with at the store level rather than the manufacturing level. They surmised that the killer must have taken bottles off the shelves of local stores, poisoned the capsules, and returned them to store shelves. So, the murders were not targeted but rather random acts against unknown victims. Police were baffled as to a possible motive for the killings.

The deaths sparked a frenzy of panic across the country. Worried people flooded hospitals and swamped poison control hotlines, concerned that they had consumed tainted medicine. Adding fuel to the fire, copycats looking for their own five minutes of fame tainted Tylenol caps with everything from rat poison to hydrochloric acid. There were over two hundred instances of copycats in the month following the Tylenol murders. For its part, Tylenol’s manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, responded to the murders and subsequent panic by pulling all Tylenol products and advertising, an act costing it millions of dollars. The future of the company was left in doubt; it seemed there was no way for the giant to rebound from this disaster.

As for the person or people who started the panic, police were at a loss. In October 1982, tax consultant James Lewis wrote a letter to Johnson & Johnson, demanding a million dollars to “stop the killings.” Police tracked down Lewis in New York. Lewis denied having anything to do with the Tylenol murders, but his denial didn’t stop investigators from suspecting him. He had a murky past. In Kansas City in 1978, he was charged with murder after police found remains of a former client of his stuffed into bags in his attic. The charges were dropped when a judge found the police searched his home illegally. Despite his murderous history, Lewis could never be concretely tied to the Tylenol murders. However, the letter was enough to charge him with extortion, which would lead to Lewis serving 13 years of a 20 year sentence in a federal prison. In 2008, the FBI reopened their investigation, with a renewed focus on Lewis as a probable suspect. However, their investigation turned up no new leads. The culprit remains a mystery.

In the wake of the murders, Johnson & Johnson took the lead, pledging to protect their customers from such attacks. They introduced tamper-proof packaging, which eventually became the industry standard for all over-the-counter medications. They also introduced the caplet, a tablet that was as easy to swallow as a capsule but much harder to tamper with. Tylenol rebounded in the wake of the killings, and once again became the top selling over-the-counter pain killer. The government responded as well. In 1983, Congress passed the “Tylenol bill,” which made it a felony to tamper with consumer products. For its part, the Food and Drug Administration established federal guidelines for manufacturers to adopt the new tamper-proof packaging.

The unfortunate truth is that it often takes a tragedy like the Chicago Tylenol Murders to put into place protections that, in retrospect, seem obvious. However, no one at the time could conceive that a person could be so twisted as to poison an over-the-counter medication used by millions of all ages. Seven people died, killed for reasons that might never be found. It is small comfort to their loved ones, but their deaths led to protections that have kept millions of people from meeting the same fate in the decades since.