The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II

Enjoy this great slideshow of photos about WW II workers in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

At the height of World War II, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was home to 75,000 residents, consuming more electricity than New York City. But to most of the world, the town did not exist. Thousands of civilians — many of them young women from small towns across the South — were recruited to this secret city, enticed by solid wages and the promise of war-ending work. Kept very much in the dark, few would ever guess the true nature of the tasks they performed each day in the hulking factories in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. That is, until the end of the war—when Oak Ridge’s secret was revealed.

Drawing on the voices of the women who lived it—women who are now in their eighties and nineties — The Girls of Atomic City rescues a remarkable, forgotten chapter of American history from obscurity. Denise Kiernan captures the spirit of the times through these women: their pluck, their desire to contribute, and their enduring courage. Combining the grand-scale human drama of The Worst Hard Time with the intimate biography and often troubling science of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Girls of Atomic City is a lasting and important addition to our country’s history.

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The true story of the woman who performed mercy abortions at Auschwitz

Gisella Perl was Romanian and Jewish. She was a gynaecologist at a time and place where very few women went into the medical professions. In 1944, she and her entire family were shipped off to Auschwitz, where Perl was instructed to provide medical care for her fellow inmates — medical care that was supposed to happen without even the most basic medical supplies.

In this position, she was officially employed by Josef Mengele, and she saw what happened to women who entered Auschwitz while pregnant. The short answer was death. The long answer was that those deaths were often horrifying and drawn-out. So Gisella Perl gave herself a new job — protecting women by helping them hide evidence of pregnancy and by performing abortions with her bare hands.

I'd never heard Perl's story before. It's heartbreaking. And it's riveting. The Holocaust History Project has a long and well-cited version.

Forced internment of British civilians during World War II

Something I didn't know about world history: During World War II, the British government rounded up thousands of its own citizens — people of German, Austrian, or Italian ancestry. Some were put into camps, others deported to Canada and Australia. Others were simply labeled as potential enemies and spied upon. The really crazy part: Many of these people were Jewish refugees who had become citizens of Britain in order to get away from the Nazis. (Via Carol Roth)

How we learned to mass-produce penicillin

Today, we are desperately trying to figure out how to combat and keep up with antibiotic resistance — the frustrating tendency for bacteria to evolve defenses against the drugs we depend on to kill them. Seventy years ago, researchers were faced with a very different problem — how to take penicillin, the antibiotic derived from mold, and turn it into something that could be produced in large quantities.

At The Body Horrors blog, Rebecca Kreston writes about this quest and how a single moldy cantaloupe helped launch the (unfortunately) brief era of antibiotic supremacy.

For something that grows so carelessly and freely on our fruits and breads, mass producing the white mold and its hidden wonder drug penicillin was devilishly difficult. After Alexander Fleming’s accidental discovery of a bacteria-killing mold contaminating his cultures of Staphylococcus aureus, it languished as a laboratory parlor trick until World War II and the desperate need for treatments to fight bacterial infections became quickly apparent

It would be another fluke – the discovery of a moldy cantaloupe - that would yield a particular strain of mold that could produce prodigious amounts of this “magic bullet” antibiotic. Factories with the expert know-how on man-handling yeast and fungi into yielding their strange fruits - alcohol distilleries and mushroom factories – were then tasked with the production of penicillin

I particularly dig this video she posted with the story, showing a behind-the-scenes look at how large quantities of penicillin were made during World War II.

Read Rebecca Kreston's full piece

He's Watching You: WWII poster meets Darth Vader in Star Wars mash-up

Boing Boing reader Brock Davis (FB, Twitter, Tumblr) shares this wonderful illustration in the Boing Boing Flickr Pool: "He's Watching You," a mash-up of Star Wars and World War II propaganda art.

"I've been wanting to draw this for a while," says Brock. "I love Glen Grothe's original 'He's Watching You' poster from 1942. The helmet of the soldier in that design is so visually prominent, it always made me think of Vader."

TOM THE DANCING BUG: Super-Fun-Pak, with Tim Tripp, Time Traveller, and MORE!

RECOMMEND: Follow RUBEN BOLLING on the twitters.

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Headhunters and diplomats

This drawing was made on a file card by John Paton Davies, second secretary of the American embassy in Chungking, China, in 1943, just after Davies and 20 other men had parachuted from a floundering C-46 transport plane into a remote region of Burma (Myanmar).

It was part of Davies' attempt to communicate with the Naga, the native Burmese who found him and his compatriots after their plane crashed. The problem: None of the Americans spoke Naga. And the Naga spoke neither English, nor Chinese. Meanwhile, Davies and company were terrified of the Naga, who had a reputation for headhunting. Hilarity ensued.

Trying to determine where signs of western civilization might be, he sketched a locomotive with cars and uttered “choo-choo, chuff-chuff.” The response was “blank incomprehension.” Next he drew a Japanese flag and tried to vocalize the sound of battle. Again, there was no understanding. He also drew British and American flags and outposts in an effort to determine where his group might find assistance and rescue. Davies’ jots also included men parachuting from airplanes, perhaps his way of communicating to the Nagas how he and his men had arrived in their company.

The Nagas’ reaction to Davies’ written and oral efforts was impassive attention, but, significantly, not hostility. The Nagas led the men to their village, and the fear Davies felt when one of the tribesman made a cutting motion across his throat was relieved when the victim ended up being a goat that was sacrificed for a banquet.

The National Archives: Headhunters and Diplomats in the Truman Library

Via Brian Mossop