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The joys of researching Rockefeller Center for Lilac Girls

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How lucky I am that one of my characters in Lilac Girls worked for the French Consulate, since I got to learn everything I could about the lovely French Building that housed it. (Before it moved further uptown, New York’s French Consulate was located in the French Building of Rockefeller Center.) Caroline Ferriday worked there as a volunteer, so a few scenes are set there in the consulate offices.

On the way to the French Building the Titan Atlas, above, sets the scene in front of Rockefeller Center. A collaboration by artists Lee Lawrie and Rene Paul Chambellan, it is one of the most recognized symbol of the complex.

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The rear of the French Building as seen from the plaza

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The lovely cornerstone IMG_0647Above the Channel Garden entrance, Lee Lawrie’s gilded French peasant woman sews fleur-de-lis seeds across a plowed field. According to Christine Roussel’s The Guide to the Art of Rockefeller Center the poor fleur-de-lis has had a stormy past. French revolutionaries in 1789 set out to obliterate this symbol so closely associated with French monarchy, burning any trace of it from textiles and chiseling it off buildings, but it was so loved it endured and remains France’s most iconic symbol.

IMG_0801Here is one of my favorite pieces in Rockefeller Center, the sterling silver Cartier plane. It’s an exact replica of the Hispano-powered Breguet biplane that famed French aviators Dieudonne Costes and Maurice Bellonte flew across the Atlantic in 1930 (the reverse of Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 journey from New York to Paris.)

Handcrafted in France by Cartier silversmiths and members of the French aircraft company Avion Breguet, (which built the original plane,) the cockpit opens, the propeller and wheels turn and the flaps move. It was a gift from the French ambassador to the U.S., on behalf of the Republic of France, given in 1933 to Rockefeller Center as an endorsement of the newly-built Maison Francaise. What an exquisite gift and how lucky the people who work in this building are to see it in their lobby everyday.

rockefeller-centerAn exquisite gilded panel by Alfred Janniot stands over the man in entrance to the French Building, which features the three Graces: Poetry on the left, elegance on the right and beauty in the center.

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How wonderful it must have been to have the Librarie de France (once located in the concourse under the GE Building, later moved to the French Building) right downstairs! How sad that it is closed now, due to rising rents.

Writing shed gets a Periwinkle Studio facelift

IMG_1222I love everything Periwinkle Studio does, especially the new block printed fabrics, designed by artist Judith Drew Schubert, here on Martha’s Vineyard.

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Thanks to Periwinkle, the writing shed is starting to feel like home.

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Check them out at judithdrewschubert.com. You can find Judith’s painting gallery there as well…love  Arnie’s Cow Barn!

Herta Oberheuser, one of the main characters in Lilac Girls

Herta Oberheuser is one of the three main characters in my novel Lilac Girls. It was a fascinating research experience getting to know and understand her better. The only female doctor at Ravensbruck, Hitler’s only all-female camp, Herta played an important role there.

Herta, below, ended up at Ravensbruck by answering an advertisement in a medical journal for a camp physician at a “woman’s re-education camp.”

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At Ravensbruck she worked closely with Dr. Karl Gebhardt and Dr. Fritz Fischer on the pseudoscientific sulfonamide experiments (operating room below) performed on Polish prisoners. The survivors of the experiments became known, to the camp staff and prisoners alike, as “The Rabbits,” since they’d become the Nazi’s laboratory rabbits and because they hopped about the camp on their damaged legs. images-3 copy

Dr. Karl Gebhardt, below, Herta’s supervisor in the experiments, received a guilty verdict at the trial and was executed on June 2, 1948. During the trial he offered to have the same operations performed on himself to prove the surgeries were not life-threatening.

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Dr. Fritz Fischer (below) after his arrest for his part in the sulfonamide experiments. He was one of the few defendants to express remorse for his participation.

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Herta, shown below after her arrest for crimes against humanity

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Beginning December 9, 1946, an American military tribunal opened The Nuremberg Doctor’s Trial, procedings against 23 prominent doctors and administrators for voluntarily participating in war crimes. Herta was tried along with her Ravensbruck colleague Fritz Fischer seated to her left, below. Since Herta was the only woman defendant in the trial there was an intense debate concerning where she should sit. Inside the box with her co-defendants? In the front of the box? In a chair outside the box? The resulting decision was that she would sit with her co-defendants, in the order in which she was listed in court documents.

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Herta was found guilty and sentenced to twenty years in prison but was released early by American authorities. Can’t reveal much more or it would spoil the ending of the book!

Best bags ever

Love these canvas bags a great little shop in Edgartown carries–such a nice idea that allows you to carry books with you everywhere.

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My fave!

The Incredible April in Paris Ball

April in Paris Ball 1957     One of my favorite scenes in Lilac Girls takes place in 1957 at The April in Paris Ball, held at the Waldorf-Astoris Hotel. For decades the ball was one of New York’s most glamorous and  extravagant benefits (the gift bags were over the top–suitcases filled with luxury items that chauffeurs carried to the guests’ limousines.) Through the years the ball featured a three ring circus, a full scale opera and a herd of French cows that gave champagne instead of milk. The theme in 1957: celebrating the 200th anniversary of Lafayette’s birth. It was all for a good cause. The galas benefitted French and Anglo charities.

Jacqueline Kennedy at Ball

Lovely Jacqueline Kennedy.

 

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French actors Françoise Arnoul and Gérard  Philipe (as young and not-so-young Lafayette) enter in style.

Marilyn, Arthur Miller and Ambassador to Great Britain

Former U.S. ambassador to Britain Winthrop Aldrich, Marilyn Monroe and her husband, playwright Arthur Miller.