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“The S.S. Officer’s Armchair” opens up an almost totally unknown aspect of Nazi history

“The S.S. Officer’s Armchair – Uncovering the Hidden Life of a Nazi”
By Daniel Lee   Published 2020   Available on Amazon

The armchair/SS Officer Robert Griesinger

Reviewed by BERNIE BELLAN
In 2011 a British historian by the name of Daniel Lee had just completed his PhD in history “that examined the experiences of Jews in Vichy France.”

Lee is Jewish – and, as he explains during the course of his fascinating new book, “The S.S. Officer’s Armchair”, his family, originally from Poland, lost several relatives during the Holocaust.
But, simply by accident, in 2011 he was introduced to a young woman at a dinner party he was hosting in Florence, which was where he was living at the time. That chance encounter led to Lee’s going down a rabbit hole that took him all over Europe – and to the Unites\d States as well, in search of answers to a mystery that was unveiled to him at that party.
What happened is the young woman, who had heard that Lee was a historian of the Second World War, asked him whether he might be interested in examining some documents that her mother, who was living in Amsterdam, had discovered had been hidden in the cushion of an armchair that she had owned for years – ever since she herself was a young student in Prague.
The documents evidently belonged to someone by the name of Robert Griesinger who, as evidenced by all the swastikas imprinted on the documents, must have been some sort of a functionary in the Nazi regime.
Naturally, Lee was fascinated by the story he heard. He proceeded to Amsterdam to interview the woman’s mother and to examine the documents for himself. That initial journey led to Lee’s dogged pursuit of one clue after another as to the background of Robert Griesinger – and the eventual discovery that Griesinger was a member of the SS (also the Gestapo), who was very likely involved in atrocities during the war.
But, what set Griesinger apart from other Nazis whose crimes have been the subjects of lengthy investigations, however, was that he was not at all a notable member of any of the organizations to which he belonged. He was actually a lawyer by training, but as Lee shows, he wasn’t a particularly good one; in fact, his entire life can
be said to be noteworthy not because of anything exceptional he did, rather because his achievements can be described fairly as having been so mediocre.

What compelled Lee to spend years tracing the life of such an unimportant figure? As he explains early on, “The famous fanatics and murderers could not have existed without the countless enablers who kept the government running, filed the paperwork, and lived side-by-side with potential victims of the regime in whom they instilled fear and the threat of violence.”
At the same time Lee’s comprehensive investigation of Griesinger’s life adds to the body of knowledge that other historians, especially Daniel Goldhagen, in his “Hitler’s Willing Executioners”, have developed in showing not just how thoroughly aware most Germans were of the atrocities that were being committed by the Nazis, they were, if not actively supporting the Nazis, complicit in not objecting to what was so clearly happening.
It was the active and willing participation of hundreds of thousands of low-level functionaries working for the Nazi state that allowed the machinery of the regime to function. As Lee also notes, “The narrative I trace will show how low-ranking officials might have existed in between two disconnected worlds; the first filled with the regime’s well-known high functionaries, and the second that comprised the ordinary German population.”
How Lee goes about his tireless pursuit of leads that begin to fill out the mystery of those documents in the armchair forms the basis of a first-rate mystery novel, let alone a non-fiction work that relies on detailed footnoting – as one would expect from a professional historian.
Many of the individuals to whom Lee turns for information are either initially reluctant to speak with him or simply turn him down outright, but in time he is able to interview sufficient members of Griesinger’s surviving family members to arrive at a thorough knowledge of Griesinger’s life, from birth almost to death. It would be impossible to know the exact circumstances of Griesinger’s death in 1945 in Prague, as Lee explains, since following the defeat of the Nazis at the hands of the Russians, aided by Czech rebels, the tables were quickly turned on whatever Germans were living in Prague at that time and they were subjected to much the same atrocities that Nazis had perpetrated on so many Czechs for years.
But, in true mystery style, Lee does uncover some quite fascinating information about Lee’s probable death from dysentery – again, from a most unlikely source.

In researching his book Lee decided to go back as far as he could in sourcing Griesinger’s familial roots. To his surprise, he learns that Griesinger’s father was actually born in New Orleans, which is to where Griesinger’s grandfather had emigrated in the 19th century.
The American connection proves highly important to understanding not only Griesinger’s racist attitudes, also the attitudes of many other Germans, it turns out. As Lee uncovers information about German immigration to the deep south of the U.S., he learns that many Germans were involved in the slave trade – and when many Germans returned to Germany (as was the case in the 1870s when the U.S. was in the grip of a severe economic depression), they brought back those racist ideas with them.
Griesinger came from an upper class background, moreover, in which anti-Semitic attitudes, in addition to racist attitudes toward Blacks, were also typically deeply engrained. Much has already been written about how could such a sophisticated culture as was Germany’s have produced such abhorrently racist ideas, but in “The SS Officer’s Armchair,” Lee is able to probe the thinking of specific individuals in Griesinger’s family to show how relatively easy it was for Hitler’s racism to be commonly accepted within the German upper and middle upper classes.
One character in particular, Robert Griesinger’s mother, “Wally”, proves to be an invaluable source for Lee, as he comes across a detailed diary that Wally had kept from the time she was a young girl throughout her life and during the Second World War. The resentment that Wally exhibits towards those who “betrayed” Germany during the First World War, which was one of Hitler’s paramount themes in engendering support for his racist platform, helps put a clear understanding how Hitler was able to go from being a marginal figure eventually to the unquestioned ruler of the German Reich.
Griesinger’s family lived in Stuttgart, which is located in south-west Germany. Robert Griesinger’s home is now owned by Jochen Griesinger, a nephew of Robert’s who, it turns out, is not on speaking terms with either of Griesinger’s daughters, Barbara and Jutta. Jochen, however, was quite willing to talk to David Lee – and to show him around the house.
In the course of his investigation Lee discovers that two of Robert Griesinger’s next-door neighbours in Stuttgart, Helene and Fritz Rothschild, were Jewish. The Rothschilds were able to escape to Paris and survived the war. Almost all the other Jews in Stuggart were not so lucky.
Robert Griesinger was an unexceptional student. Given the German well-known propensity for record-keeping, Lee is able to find reports on Griesinger’s educational career from his earliest days at school throughout his period at Tubingen University. Remarkably Griesinger was able to obtain a doctorate in law but, disappointingly for him, the most he was able to do with that degree was teach agricultural law at a rural agricultural college.
There is no particular indication from anything that Lee is able to uncover that Griesinger was an early follower of National Socialism. But, as was the case with so many other of his peers, Griesinger saw the opportunity to career advancement by joining the party.
Eventually Griesinger became a member of both the Gestapo (secret police) and the SS (strike force). Although Lee is not able to produce any documentation to show that Griesinger was involved first hand in either the torture or murder of anyone, he is able to deduce from various records that, even if he wasn’t directly involved in any specific activities of that sort, he was at the scene where those activities took place.
In particular, while working for the Gestapo (as a lawyer), Griesinger’s place of work in Stuttgart was the Hotel Silber, which was used by the Gestapo to detain and torture individuals. Lee surmises that Griesinger, whose office was situated directly over the basement of the hotel, would have had to have heard the screams of the torture victims.
Later, during the actual war, Griesinger served for a time on the Eastern Front, in Ukraine, where he was eventually wounded and sent back to Stuttgart for rehabilitation. But, during Griesinger’s period of service in Ukraine, his Wehrmacht unit was stationed outside Kiev, and he was in service at the time 30,000 Jews were murdered at Babi Yar over a two-day period, which was the worst massacre of Jews to that date (later to be surpassed by other massacres in Odessa and Poland).

Griesinger had long wanted to be posted to Prague during the war, as Prague was seen as a haven of tranquility for Germans living there. In 1943 he got his wish and he was able to move his wife Gisela, his two daughters, and a stepson from a previous marriage of his wife, to Prague, where they were mostly spared the deprivations that ordinary Germans were suffering throughout Germany as the result of heavy Allied bombing.
While in Prague, Lee is able to piece together Griesinger’s duties, which involved the arrest and deportation of thousands of individuals, both Jews and non-Jews. His principal duty was to arrange for the shipment of Czechs to be used as slave labourers in German factories and mines. Griesinger was also responsible for the confiscation of Czech factories from their rightful owners – always done with the imprimatur of official Nazi regulations.
As Lee works his way through an ongoing series of visits to repositories of archives and interviews with anyone who might have some knowledge of Griesinger’s life, he is able to put together an amazingly detailed description of what life would have been like for Griesinger.
Considering that he was still conducting interviews as recently as 2018 the fact that he has produced such a compelling read is testament to his skill as not just a historian, but a very talented writer who was able to work quickly, as well.
Toward the end of his book Lee revisits his motivation in wanting to go to such extraordinary lengths to describe the life of a “faceless bureaucrat”: “This book shows that it is possible to trace the life of one of those ordinary Nazis whose role in war and genocide seems to have vanished from the historical record. Returning texture and agency to one such perpetrator affords Griesinger the opportunity to stand in for the thousands of anonymous ordinary Nazis whose widespread culpability wreaked havoc on so many lives and whose biographies have, until now, never seen the light of day.”
In looking at some of the reviews posted by readers on Amazon, there is a consistent theme of gratitude expressed to Lee for opening up a door to a part of history that has hitherto remained largely unknown – not because historians were disinterested in the subject; rather, they were stymied by the lack of evidence to paint the sort of detailed picture of just an “ordinary” Nazi bureaucrat that Lee has so brilliantly succeeded in doing. If it weren’t for that chance meeting at a Florence dinner party, however, this book would never have been written.

 

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A Jewish Perspective on the Hidden Gems of Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta

Nestled along Mexico’s Pacific coast, Nuevo Vallarta and its neighboring city, Puerto Vallarta, have become popular destinations for travelers seeking sun, sea and cultural experiences. For Jewish travelers, exploring these cities offers a unique blend of relaxation and discovery; from pristine beaches to vibrant local culture, here’s a perspective on the hidden gems these destinations offer.

Traveling to Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta

Barceló Puerto Vallarta: A Tranquil Haven

Among the myriad of accommodations in the region, the Barceló Occidental Nuevo Vallarta (with bookings at https://www.barcelo.com/en-ca/occidental-nuevo-vallarta/) stands out as a serene retreat. Situated on Mismaloya Beach, this resort combines traditional Mexican architecture with modern amenities. Its all-inclusive packages cater to families, couples and solo travelers, providing an ideal base for exploring both Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta.

Exploring Nuevo Vallarta

Embracing Nature at El Cora Crocodile Sanctuary

Nature enthusiasts will appreciate El Cora Crocodile Sanctuary, located a short drive from Nuevo Vallarta. This sanctuary not only preserves native wildlife but also offers educational tours that delve into the region’s ecosystem. For Jewish travelers, it provides an opportunity to connect with nature while appreciating Mexico’s biodiversity.

Cultural Insight at the Marina Vallarta

The Marina Vallarta, known for its upscale ambiance and waterfront dining, offers a glimpse into local life. Jewish travelers can explore boutique shops and art galleries while enjoying a variety of international cuisines. The marina’s lively atmosphere during sunset, with boats bobbing gently in the marina and street performers entertaining passersby, creates a memorable experience.

Discovering Puerto Vallarta

Historic Exploration in the Zona Romántica

Puerto Vallarta’s Zona Romántica, also known as Old Vallarta, beckons history buffs and culture seekers. Cobblestone streets wind through quaint neighborhoods lined with colorful colonial architecture. Jewish travelers can visit the Zona Romántica’s eclectic art galleries, boutique cafes and the iconic Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, offering a glimpse into the city’s rich cultural heritage.

Artistic Marvels at the Malecón

A stroll along the Malecón, Puerto Vallarta’s oceanfront promenade, reveals a treasure trove of sculptures and open-air art installations. From the whimsical Seahorse sculpture to the thought-provoking Millennium sculpture series, each artwork tells a story of Mexico’s artistic spirit. Jewish travelers can engage with local artists and appreciate the vibrant cultural tapestry that defines Puerto Vallarta.

Culinary Delights

Savoring Kosher-Friendly Cuisine

While kosher options are limited in Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta, some restaurants and resorts offer kosher-friendly menus upon request. The culinary scene in both cities blends traditional Mexican flavors with international influences, ensuring there is something to satisfy every palate. Jewish travelers can indulge in fresh seafood ceviche, traditional tacos al pastor and refreshing aguas frescas while soaking in the coastal ambiance.

Community Engagement

Connecting with Local Jewish Communities

For Jewish travelers interested in community engagement, both Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta host small Jewish communities. Synagogues and Jewish community centers welcome visitors seeking spiritual connection and cultural exchange. Engaging with local Jewish communities provides a deeper understanding of Mexican-Jewish heritage and fosters meaningful connections across cultures.

Final Note

Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta offer Jewish travelers a blend of relaxation, cultural exploration and natural beauty. Whether basking in the sun on pristine beaches, exploring historic neighborhoods or savoring culinary delights, these cities provide a rich tapestry of experiences. With accommodations like the Barceló Puerto Vallarta offering comfort and convenience, travelers can immerse themselves in Mexico’s Pacific coast while appreciating its hidden gems from a unique perspective.

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Features

Gambling Statistics Shine Light on Canadian Gambling Culture

Explore pivotal statistics that highlight Canada’s gambling culture. Get a concise overview of the trends shaping the nation’s betting landscape.

Canada’s gambling culture is as diverse as its landscape, and recent statistics shed light on this thriving sector. From coast to coast, Canadians engage in various forms of betting, each with its own set of trends and numbers. This article delves into the data, uncovering the patterns and preferences defining gambling nationwide.

Canadian Gambling Statistics

User penetration refers to the percentage of consumers engaging with a product or service beyond the expected audience. Despite a 47% decline in 2023, the online gambling industry is projected to expand.

By 2027, it’s forecasted that the gambling market will cater to 20.38 million individuals. This trend suggests an increasing preference among Canadians for online gambling over traditional brick-and-mortar casinos.

The industry boasted a 97% return on investment in 2022, outperforming land-based casinos, which only saw a 61% return. With the rising interest in online betting, Canada’s online casino industry is experiencing the highest user penetration rate.

What Is the Average Expenditure on Gambling by Canadians?

Many enjoy the thrill of the occasional game of chance. The fact that you can retain all of your earnings, as there are no taxes on gambling profits in Canada, adds to the allure of gambling. In Canada, winnings are subject to taxation only for professional gamblers with a sustained winning streak.

In recent years, the trend toward online casinos has changed. The pandemic-induced closures of land-based casinos accelerated this change. It’s a profitable industry, as 60% of Canadians say they spend money gambling each month.

Canadian gambling statistics:

  • Six out of ten Canadians have gambled.
  • The monthly average expenditure for gaming and gambling in Canada is $6.75.
  • A month’s worth of gaming expenses is reported by 63% of males and 57% of women.
  • According to 73% of Canadians, gambling-related issues have gotten worse in their region.

The Increasing Attraction to Online Casino Gambling in Canada

An increasing number of Canadians are using online casinos, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. They offer various benefits regular casinos do not and are more convenient. Over time, land-based casinos’ revenue has decreased due to the growing popularity of online gambling sites.

The pandemic shutdowns accelerated the drop. For instance, the land-based casinos in Alberta no longer make as much money as they once did. Consequently, the Albertan government opened an online casino, and other governments quickly adopted similar strategies.

Casino Games at Online Casinos in Canada

Online casinos in Canada offer various games that cater to different preferences. Some of the most popular casino games at Canadian online casinos include:

  • Slots: These are the most common and varied, with themes ranging from classic fruit machines to the latest online slot games with advanced graphics and features.
  • Table Games: Classics like blackjack, roulette, craps, and baccarat are available in multiple variations.
  • Live Dealer Games: These provide an immersive experience, allowing players to interact with real dealers and other players in real time.
  • Video Poker: A favourite for many, combining elements of slots and poker in a unique format.
  • Progressive Jackpots: Games that offer the chance to win life-changing sums of money with a single spin.
  • Canadian Legalities for Online Gambling Sites
  • Casinos are legal in Canada, but each province and territory has the authority to establish its gaming regulations and issue online gambling website licences. Saskatchewan is the only province that does not host multiple online gaming sites.
  • Authorities in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba issue licences without a specific requirement, but these online casinos must operate exclusively within their respective provincial borders. Online gaming sites seeking to operate beyond these borders need a special agreement.
  • In Canada, only land-based casinos face penalties; foreign operators can only function by obtaining local licenses. Although offshore casinos cannot legally target Canadian players, they can accept them.
  • Statistics on Gambling Addiction in Canada
  • While the majority of gamblers do so without experiencing issues, there are hazards and health issues associated with it for some people. Because of this, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) carries out studies and creates resources aimed at assisting Canadians in making wise decisions regarding their gambling, both generally and, in particular, high-risk scenarios, like when they’re using alcohol or other drugs.
  • Here are some key statistics on gambling addiction in Canada for the year 2024:
  • 64.5% of Canadians aged 15 or older actively participated in gambling activities within the past year.
  • 1.6% of Canadian gamblers, representing approximately 304,400 individuals, face moderate-to-severe gambling addiction risks.
  • Canadian males reported higher gambling participation and addiction risks compared to females.
  • Indigenous Canadians showed a higher tendency to gamble (72.4%) and experienced greater susceptibility to gambling problems (4.5%) than non-Indigenous people.
  • In Canada, responsible gambling is promoted through various programs and initiatives, ensuring that individuals engage in betting activities within their means and maintain control. The emphasis is on providing resources and support to prevent gambling addiction and encourage safe, enjoyable gaming experiences.
  • Reflecting on Canada’s Responsible Gambling Journey
  • The statistics we’ve explored offer a revealing glimpse into Canada’s gambling culture, highlighting both the widespread appeal and the responsible practices of Canadian bettors. As the industry evolves, it reflects the country’s commitment to balancing entertainment with economic benefit and social responsibility. The future of gambling in Canada seems poised to be driven by informed choices and a clear understanding of the risks and rewards involved.
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Features

Caesars Windsor Reduces Operating Hours for Sports Betting Counter

Sports betting has rapidly evolved into a major attraction, drawing a diverse audience ranging from casual participants to dedicated enthusiasts, and its popularity is only increasing with the proliferation of online platforms. In particular, Canada has seen a notable rise in sports betting activities since the legalization of single-event sports betting in August 2021, which opened doors to a multitude of betting avenues, both in physical locations and online. 

The shift towards online sportsbooks has been especially significant, marking a notable change in the landscape of sports betting. Given the expansive range of online sportsbooks available to Canadians, experts like Neil Roarty provide critical reviews and comparisons that guide bettors through the complex array of online options. These sites delve into the nuances of each platform, evaluating everything from user interface and betting options to the perks and security features they offer (source: bestsportsbettingcanada.ca/).  

Despite the rising trend in online betting, traditional sportsbooks like those in casinos are adjusting to the new landscape. Caesars Windsor, for instance, has recently made significant changes to its sports betting services. Initially projected to increase job opportunities and enhance visitor footfall, thereby boosting various service-related positions within the casino, the reality has somewhat shifted. 

The casino’s CEO, Kevin Laforet, had expressed optimism at the sportsbook’s inauguration in January 2023, citing anticipated growth in employment opportunities due to expected higher traffic. This optimism was rooted in the broader economic benefits typically associated with casino expansions, such as increased employment for local and migrant communities including roles like dealers, bartenders, and security staff.

However, recent developments have seen Caesars Windsor recalibrating its approach to sports betting. According to a spokesperson from the casino, after a detailed review of betting trends at their facility, adjustments were necessary to align the sportsbook’s operations with actual guest preferences and patterns. 

As a result, the sportsbook has scaled back its operating hours to 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. each day, which has led to minor staffing changes. Importantly, all affected staff members have been retained, and the sportsbook continues to operate during peak times, especially during significant sporting events, with kiosk betting available 24/7.

Jessica Welman, editor of the Canadian Gaming Business, remarks on the overwhelming preference for online sports gambling over traditional brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. The convenience of placing bets via a smartphone or computer is a significant draw for many, enhancing the accessibility and appeal of online betting. 

Welman further noted that the market for online betting in Ontario has expanded consistently each quarter since its legalization, highlighting a robust growth trajectory that underscores the market’s potential.

However, the relationship between online gambling and its impact on physical casino revenues is complex and not well-documented. Sports betting reporter Greg Warren pointed out that most casinos do not specifically track how much of their revenue comes from sports betting as opposed to other gambling activities, which muddles the ability to analyze precise trends. 

Yet, experiences from the United States suggest that both in-person and online sportsbooks can experience growth simultaneously, indicating a synergistic relationship rather than a competitive one. According to Warren, the distinct experiences offered by online platforms and physical sportsbooks mean they can coexist and cater to different preferences.

Welman supports this view, suggesting that despite the convenience of online options, there is an enduring appeal for the physical experience of in-person betting. She argues that brick-and-mortar casinos provide a unique atmosphere that can’t be replicated online, serving as a draw for those who prefer the tangible excitement of a live betting environment. 

In line with its diverse offerings, Caesars Entertainment also maintains an online gaming app, which complements its physical sportsbook operations. This app is designed to offer users a seamless integration between the convenience of digital betting and the engaging atmosphere of in-person wagering. 

While specific details on the app’s impact on the casino’s overall business were not disclosed, it represents an integral part of Caesars’ strategy to bridge the gap between traditional and digital gambling experiences. This dual approach not only caters to a broader range of consumer preferences but also positions Caesars to capitalize on the growing trend of mobile and online betting.

As the landscape of sports betting continues to evolve, the interaction between online and in-person gambling platforms will undoubtedly remain a key area of focus for industry observers and participants alike. By maintaining a strong presence in both arenas, Caesars is well-equipped to adapt to changing consumer habits and technological advancements that have seen real money online casinos cornering many gambling markets worldwide, ensuring that it remains at the forefront of the gambling industry. 

This strategic integration highlights the potential for more synchronized growth and innovation within the gambling sector, shaping the future of how sports betting is experienced across different platforms.

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