• Frieda Belinfante
Frieda Belinfante was a Dutch cellist, conductor, a prominent lesbian and a member of the Dutch resistance during World War II.
Born in Amsterdam on May 10th, 1904, she was the daughter of Aron Belinfante and Georgine Antoinette Hesse, Frieda descended from a line of Sephardic Jews who arrived in Holland in the 17th century and whose ancestry can be traced back to 16th-century Portugal. Other well-known descendants include the writers Emmy Belinfante, Isaac Cohen Belinfante, Jewish theologian Moses Cohen Belinfante and the journalist Emilie Belinfante (the younger). Many of the Belinfante descendants perished during the Holocaust. Belinfante was born into a musical family. Her father, Aron, was a prominent pianist and teacher in Amsterdam who was the first pianist to present the entire cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas during a single season in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. Belinfante began her study of the cello at age 10. She graduated from the Amsterdam Conservatory and made her professional debut in the Kleine Zaal recital hall of the Concertgebouw at age 17, assisted at the piano by her father. Her father died a few months after. Following her debut, Belinfante studied intermittently with cellist Gérard Hekking in Paris, with whom she developed a close friendship. After directing high school, college and professional chamber ensembles for several years, Belinfante was invited by the management of the Concertgebouw to form Het Klein Orkest in 1937, a chamber orchestra for which she was to be artistic director and conductor.
Belinfante held this position until 1941, and it made her the first woman in Europe to be artistic director and conductor of an ongoing professional orchestral ensemble. Concurrently, Belinfante made weekly appearances as guest conductor on the Dutch National Radio, and appeared as guest conductor with orchestras in the Netherlands and in Northern Europe. In the summer of 1939, Belinfante attended the master class of Dr. Hermann Scherchen in Neuchâtel Switzerland to perfect her conducting skills. In recognition of her abilities, Scherchen awarded her first prize over 12 professional male conductors also enrolled in that class. The Nazi occupation interrupted Belinfante's musical career, which she did not resume until after the war.
Belinfante became a good friend of the artist Willem Arondeus, an openly gay man who was a leader of the Raad van Verzet (Resistance Council) in the Dutch resistance. She actively contributed to the resistance movement, mainly by forging personal documents for Jews and others wanted by the Gestapo. Together with Arondeus, she was part of the CKC resistance group that organised and executed the bombing of the population registry in Amsterdam on March 27th, 1943, which destroyed thousands of files and hindered Nazi attempts to compare forged documents with documents in the registry. The plan successfully destroyed 800,000 identity cards of Jews and non-Jews alike. The CKC group came under scrutiny by the Gestapo after the bombing, forcing Belifante and other members into hiding. While in hiding, Belinfante learned of the arrests and executions of the other CKC members, including Arondeus. Belinfante disguised herself as a man and lived with friends for 3 months before being traced by the Nazis. The resistance helped her avoid capture and cross the border to Belgium and France, where the French Underground helped her make her way to Switzerland. When she and her travel partner arrived at the border in the winter of 1944, they were forced to cross the Alps on foot to reach safety. Her former teacher Hermann Scherchen saved her from being sent back over the border by verifying that she was a Dutch citizen and his former pupil. On arriving in Montreux, she was given refugee status and worked for a short time as a farm laborer. Belinfante was repatriated to the Netherlands as soon as the war ended.
Belinfante emigrated to the United States in 1947, eventually settling in Laguna Beach, California and joining the music faculty of UCLA in 1949. Desiring to continue her conducting activities, she formed an ad hoc group she named The Vine Street Players in 1953, an orchestral ensemble of colleagues from the local area universities as well as studio musicians from Hollywood. The formation of the Vine Street Players proved fortuitous for Belinfante. A successful performance in the Redlands Bowl by the ensemble under Belinfante's direction prompted local civic and cultural leaders to invite Belinfante to form a permanent orchestral ensemble in Orange County. She subsequently became the founding artistic director and conductor of the inaugural Orange County Philharmonic Society, which incorporated as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization in 1954 and became the first such ensemble in Orange County. Concerts by the Orange County Philharmonic Orchestra were free to the public, funded entirely by donations from sponsors and memberships. The orchestral musicians agreed to donate their time for rehearsals free of charge with the permission of their union local stewards, while receiving a fee for the performances as Belinfante herself did. Belinfante insisted on this arrangement with sponsors, and that all concerts remain free of charge for all future attendees. The founding board of directors adopted Belinfante's suggestions as their business plan with the stated mission of maintaining a resident professional orchestra in the county.
Under Belinfante's direction, the orchestra grew into a "B"-class musical institution taking into account its budget, programming and geographical penetration in the ensuing years. Its activities usually included a 4- to 6-program season in all major concert venues throughout the region, as well as youth concerts, cultural development programs and chamber music recitals in the community with principals of the orchestra and Belinfante assisting in several capacities. Belinfante's involvement with the Orange County Philharmonic came to an abrupt end in 1962 when her contract was not renewed. Financial pressures had been mounting because the musicians' union wanted the players to be paid for rehearsals. Additionally, board members and supporters from the community felt a male conductor would raise the stature of the orchestra and increase revenue. In a 1994 interview, Belinfante said she believed that gossip about her sexual orientation was used to quell the objections to her removal. Belinfante's recorded output was sparse and poorly maintained. None of the pre-war recorded radio performances survive, and only the very last recording of her American career is preserved in archive. However, more than three decades of critical reviews exist internationally that document Belinfante's superlative musical gifts. Her conducting technique was noted for her command of period style, cohesive ensemble, clear and decisive baton technique, transparent ensemble textures, buoyant and propulsive rhythms, and conducting all performances without a score.
Belinfante continued her musical activities on a limited scale after her dismissal from the Orange County Philharmonic. Belinfante established a private studio in Laguna Beach that trained numerous musicians. She also joined the board of directors of the Laguna Beach Chamber Music Society, acting as booking agent and artistic advisor to that group for more than 20 years. Belinfante summed up her career in a Los Angeles Times interview: "It was just too early for me. I should be born again. I could have done more, that's what saddens me. But I'm not an unhappy person. I look for the next thing to do. There's always something still to do." In later years she earned recognition for her accomplishments. In 1987, the Orange County Board of Supervisors and the City of Laguna Beach both declared February 19 'Frieda Belinfante Day", honoring her contributions to musical culture in the region. Belinfante's life became the subject of the documentary, "But I Was a Girl" (1999). In 1994, The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum officially recognized Belinfante's contribution to the Dutch Resistance in World War II. Belinfante died on March 5th, 1995 from cancer, aged 90, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her story was also featured in an exhibition, funded by the Dutch government, about the persecution of gays and lesbians during the Second World War.
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Les saglots longs
Blessent mon coeur
Et blême, quand
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure;
Et je m'en vais
Au vent mauvais
Pareil à la
- Paul Verlaine, Chanson d’automne (1866)
6 June marks the commemoration of the historic D Day landings that took place over 77 years ago in 1944. Every year I exchange messages with family members, friends, and also some of my army veteran comrades with whom I served in the past. The simple messages of remembrance are a reminder to us of the sacrifices made by British and the Commonwealth, American, and the French on that fateful day when Allied forces stormed the beaches on Normandy.
On Sunday I got a post of an ex-veteran friend who flew combat helicopters with me simply posting a picture of local delicacy Lincolnshire Chine, a traditional dish of cured pork and parsley only made in Lincolnshire, and a cryptic message ‘chanson d’automne’.
Why would he send this odd post today of all days?
I knew he read modern languages at Oxford and he was always prone to quoting French poetry at every opportunity, no matter how inappropriate the situation - like the time we were fortunate to have avoided a rocket attack from the Taliban but for some cool headed piloting and as we took a breather to thank God we made it out he bursts into poetry. He was (and still is) ferociously clever but wears it lightly behind his amiable character. But for all that I don’t think other senior officers liked him too much in the officers mess as he was always making wicked fun of the more boorish of the officer class from other supercilious regiments (he made me laugh a lot). He was a pure hearted farmer at heart and he longed to go back to his family farm lands in Lincolnshire after his time was up in the army.
I nicknamed him Lucy after the great Roman patrician, soldier, and statesman, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus. Cincinnatus was the outstanding Roman military leader who displayed humility, loyalty, and modesty. At the height of his power and fame he displayed the highest civic duty by giving up everything to go back to his simple farm life - which in time became the Roman civic ideal. I still think the nickname suits my ex-comrade in arms very well.
It took a few gulps of wine through Sunday lunch with French friends before I realised his what his message meant.
Unless you’re from Lincolnshire then the chances are you’ve never heard of stuffed chine. Unique to Lincolnshire, stuffed chine is a traditional dish made with cured pork and parsley. Once a county staple, its popularity has declined over the years as the younger generation looks to more modern cuisine and the older cuts are slowly forgotten. In the days before fridges and freezers, families would cure their meat to last them through the lean winter months. Each family would have a couple of pigs to kill - some of the meat would be salted and hung, and the rest used fresh.
Communities were tightly knit and there was often a friendly agreement between neighbours to stagger their kills and share fresh meat among the families, who then reciprocated when they in turn killed their pigs. Neighbours would pass on and receive this “pig cheer” all through the winter months while the pig killing went on, thus ensuring they always had fresh meat.
Once spring approached, however, they would look to use up some of the meat that had been salted and put away. Stuffed chine was traditionally served when the May Hiring Fair was in town (a kind of outdoor employment exchange, where people made themselves available for temporary work), and the largest chine was usually saved for Christenings – seeing a fresh row of parsley growing in a garden was often the sign that there was a baby on the way!
When the time came to use the chine it was soaked in cold water overnight, then carefully sliced from the spinal side towards the rind. Finely chopped parsley was packed tightly into the deep pockets in the flesh, then the joint was turned over and the process repeated on the other side. Next, the chine was very tightly wrapped up in muslin or an old pillowcase and simmered until cooked through. The cooked meat was left to cool still wrapped in cloth in order for it to set. Once completely cooled it was unwrapped, sliced thinly and served with a sprinkle of vinegar to cut through the fat.
Few butchers still use this traditional method as the cooked chine has to be carefully sliced by hand to avoid the bones, which due to the large bone-to-meat ratio makes it quite an expensive cut. For this reason many butchers choose to use collar bacon instead, which contains no bone and can therefore be sliced by a machine. There is something rather beautiful about the strips of pink salty pork divided by the flashes of punchy green parsley that immediately draws you in when you see it standing proudly in the butcher’s shop.
Paul Verlaine is bored waiting for his order of Lincolnshire chine. Any longer and he’s liable to shoot someone.
But what has that got to do with the message ‘a song of autumn’?
Paul-Marie Verlaine is one of the most beloved French poets regarded by the French. His poem Chanson d’Automne (1866) is among the most beloved in French poetry. It captures his nostalgia for lost time in fewer words, and possibly just as well, as does Proust in six volumes.
So what has Lincolnshire Chine got to do with Paul-Marie Verlaine?
Paul-Marie Verlaine lived and worked in Lincolnshire in 1875, teaching French, Latin and drawing at William Lovell's school. He had spent eighteen months in prison for shooting and wounding his lover Rimbaud and, when released in January that year, considered becoming a Trappist monk before deciding (the next best thing?) to become a school master in England. He came to London, registered with an employment agency and was soon heading north to this remote and, on the face of it, inhospitable backwater.
Verlaine then spent a year as a schoolmaster in the village of Stickney, just north of Boston, Lincolnshire, in the mid-1870s and it is said that he became enamoured with this Lincolnshire delicacy. Verlaine continued to search for stuffed chine as he journeyed around Britain, but as is still the case today, he failed to find it outside Lincolnshire.
But why would a fellow veteran send me a post about Lincolnshire Chine to commemorate D Day?
Although it might have surprised Verlaine had he known it, the first lines of his poem were used by the British in the Second World War to signal the start of D-Day to the French resistance.
6 June 2021 was the 77th anniversary of the D-Day, which began the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France. D-Day (or "Operation Overlord") was a herculean planning task, requiring remarkable coordination both between the British, American, Free French, and Commonwealth armies, and with French resistance fighters on the ground, who were charged with helping aerial bombers disrupt German transportation routes, so as to impair the Germans' ability to send reinforcements.
One of my favourite details of the whole plan was how the Allies alerted the French that it was time to begin sabotaging rail-lines: they had the BBC Radio Londres broadcast lines from Paul Verlaine's poem ‘Chanson d'automne.’
On 1 June 1944, to tell the resistance to stand by for further alerts, the BBC transmitted the first three lines:
Les sanglots longs
Per Arthur Symons' translation: "When a sighing begins / In the violins / Of the autumn-song".
"The Germans wrongly believed that these lines were addressed to all Resistance circuits in France, and that when the next three lines were broadcast it would mean that invasion would follow within forty-eight hours. The lines were directed to a single Resistance circuit, Ventriloquist, working south of Orléans, instructing it to stand by for the next three lines, which would be the signal for it to carry out its railway-cutting tasks - in conjunction with the Allied landings.
Then, on June 5, to signal that sabotage efforts should begin, the next three lines were sent:
Blessent mon coeur
Symons: "My heart is drowned / In the slow sound / Languorous and long."
Both lines were intercepted by German forces, who took them as significant but didn't take adequate action; for one thing, they overestimated the scope of the sabotage operations to come. The second three lines of the Verlaine poem were broadcast over the BBC to the Ventriloquist Resistance circuit, instructing it to act at once in carrying out its railway-cutting sabotage. The SS Security Service radio interception section in Paris heard this as it was broadcast.
Believing, rightly, that the broadcast of the section of the poem was related to invasion, but wrongly, that it was an Allied call for railway sabotage throughout France, the Security Service immediately alerted the German High Command in the West.
An hour later, the German Fifteenth Army warned its various corps that intercepted messages pointed to an invasion within forty-eight hours (the parachute landings were fewer than three hours away). The German force responsible for most of the imminent assault area, the Seventh Army, which had received too many false warnings in the past, took no action.
The combination of airstrikes and ground sabotage proved extremely successful, especially as they wound up forcing the Germans to cross the Seine via ferry. The Germans ended up sending two panzer divisions all the way from the Russian front to fend off the invasion, but because of sabotage and bombings, it took less time to travel from the eastern front to France than it did for them to proceed from eastern France to Normandy.
This is a good time as any to also point out at the Allied invasion of the Nomandy beaches would not have gone as well as they did without the help and support of the French themselves. I think there has been a skewering of perceptions that the D Day landings and the subsequent liberation of France was purely due to the Allied forces. What gets overlooked is the bravery and courage of the home grown French Resistance that played a crucial part also.
Truth be told as Allied soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, 6 June 1944, the French Resistance were paving the way for their arrival. The French Resistance, the covert volunteers who had been struggling against the Nazis since 1940, leaped into action. They put their lives on the line as at no other time in the Second World War, risking everything to help the professional soldiers. This was their chance to liberate their country, and they seized it with both hands.
The French Resistance first emerged following the fall of France in 1940. With the nation’s armed forces shattered, some French people fled to Britain to remain free and continue the war. Most others bowed, with varying degrees of willingness, to the occupiers and the collaborating Vichy regime. But a few took another path, forming cells of spies and guerrillas who kept the hope of a free France alive. They provided intelligence to the Allies, sabotaged German facilities, and smuggled downed airmen and escaped POWs to safety.
The risks were incredibly high, and many Resistance members met horrible deaths at the hands of the Nazi regime. But their numbers kept growing, and by June of 1944, 100,000 Resistance members were waiting to rise up.
From the start, the Resistance had received support from elsewhere in the Allied camp. Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), America’s Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and the exiled Free French forces under General de Gaulle had all made efforts to strengthen the volunteer force. They had forged connections with existing Resistance cells, fostered the growth of new ones, and provided them with supplies.
Perhaps the most important support the Allies gave came in the form of radio sets. These allowed the Resistance to more effectively coordinate with the rest of the Allies and with each other. Central to this was Radio London, a propaganda station the Allies used to keep hope alive in Europe. By transmitting pre-arranged code phrases in the personal messages part of its broadcasts, Radio London let Resistance members know about specific events, such as supply drops.
Immediately before D-Day, the Allies sent in the Jedburgh teams; three-man groups of Allied soldiers who were parachuted into France with radio sets. They joined up with Resistance cells, supporting them in their work and bringing them under Allied military leadership.
The Americans and British couldn’t afford to entirely trust the Resistance or even the Free French. Therefore, they kept details of the plans for D-Day from these critical allies until the last minute. In the lead-up to D-Day, signals told the Resistance that something was coming. They were encouraged to launch attacks on specific types of targets to prepare the way. At the start of June, a signal told them that the invasion was imminent, but when and where remained a closely guarded secret.
The Resistance carried out several distinct but related operations around D-Day:
• Plan Vert – sabotaging the railway system.
• Plan Tortue – sabotaging the road network.
• Plan Violet – destroying phone lines.
• Plan Bleu – destroying power lines.
• Plan Rouge – attacking German ammunition dumps.
• Plan Noir – attacking enemy fuel depots.
• Plan Jaune – attacking the command posts of the occupying forces.
Some of these plans went active in the weeks leading up to the invasion. Plan Vert was particularly effective. Together with an Allied bombing campaign, the Resistance destroyed 577 railroads and 1,500 locomotives, three-quarters of the trains available in northern France. As part of Tortue, they also destroyed 30 roads and, again with British bombers, 18 of the 24 bridges over the northern stretch of the River Seine.
These attacks on the transport network were crucial to the success of D-Day. With trains out of action and roads ruined, the Germans struggled to get reinforcements to the front. The work of the Resistance crippled any potential for a significant counter-attack.
So on the night of 5 June 1944, when the crucial message arrived from Radio London, they knew attack was coming and more importantly they were ready.
This is what they waited for since 1940, it was time for for Plan Violet. Across the country, they sprang into action, cutting phone lines and attacking communications centres. 32 telecommunications sites were destroyed in these attacks.
Emboldened by the Allies’ arrival, many Resistance cells went on a war footing. They ambushed German troops heading for the front. In some towns and villages, they killed or drove out the occupying authorities.
Close to the Allied landings, some of these operations were carried out in coordination with the SOE and Jedburgh teams, or with paratroopers who had landed behind German lines. As the regular forces advanced, the Resistance rose up to help and to punish the occupiers who had oppressed them for the past four years.
Unfortunately, this ended badly for some groups. Far away from the newly arrived armies, they lacked the support they needed to survive now that they had revealed themselves. Some of these groups were forced on the run. Others were killed weeks before the Allies could reach them. French leaders encouraged them to stand down and return to guerrilla operations until regular forces reached them, in hopes of saving lives.
Having understood the meaning behind my friend’s cryptic message of Paul Verlaine’s poem gave me pause for thought as I reflected on the bravery and the sacrifices made by all who took part in D Day, both on the beaches and behind occupied enemy lines.
The nature of war always reveals the true nature of those who fight. War, someone said, is not human nature, but a habit. We tell the dead to rest in peace, when we should worry about the living to live in peace.
So I messaged back to ‘Lucy’, my witty ex-comrade in arms, and quoted a stanza from Paul Verlaine well known poem, Crimen Amoris.
I knew ‘Lucy’ would understand that I got his message on this most solemn of days to commemorate the bravery and sacrifices of the Greatest Generation through the prism of our own shared experience of war in Afghanistan:
Nous avons tous trop souffert, anges et hommes,
De ce conflit entre le Pire et le Mieux.
Humilions, misérables que nous sommes,
Tous nos élans dans le plus simple des voeux.
Too greatly have we suffered, angels and men,
In this endless war between the Worst and the Best,
Humiliated, unhappy have we been
In darkling flights by the simplest vows addressed. ***
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