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Did Nazis and Zionists Temporarily Join Forces?

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Ed. note: Because the article covers a controversial topic, and a rightfully emotional subject, many readers have been asking for our editorial sources. While we've double-checked many of the facts in multiple places, the primary sources for the text are listed below the body copy. 
By Erik Sass

Cue The Odd Couple theme song. During the 1930s, Nazis and Zionists joined together with a common goal—getting the Jews out of Europe.

The Nazi agenda always included ridding Germany of its Jews, but it didn't always include mass murder. Prior to 1939, before the outbreak of World War II, the plan was to get Germany's 500,000 Jews to leave voluntarily.

This task fell primarily to Heinrich Himmler, the head of the Schutzstaffel (SS), Hitler's security guard. Initially opposed to the idea of mass murder, Himmler once described genocide as "un-Germanic and impossible." In search of an alternative, Himmler and his colleagues brainstormed locations to send the Jews. But due to widespread anti-Semitism at the time, welcoming nations were in short supply.

In 1936, Himmler received counsel from Edler von Mildenstein, a well-educated member of Germany's covert intelligence service. A Nazi who rejected anti-Semitism, von Mildenstein had connections in the Zionist movement, which encouraged Jews worldwide to "return" to Palestine—then a de facto British colony. Von Mildenstein believed Zionism offered a perfect solution to Germany's "Jewish Question."
On the surface, the Zionists and Nazis couldn't have been more at odds. Zionism was an attempt to rescue Jews from a long history of European persecution, while the Nazi movement represented its most barbaric manifestation. Yet, they shared some surprising common ground. Extremists in both groups believed Jews were a separate race that shouldn't mix blood with non-Jews. In other words, they believed Jews would be better off living separately, without the temptation of intermarriage. Also, they both loathed the British. During World War I, Great Britain defeated Germany and took control of Palestine—and then blocked Jewish immigration there.
But the real trick wasn't overcoming British resistance, it was convincing German Jews to go to Palestine in the first place. Even in the face of unrelenting persecution, most Jews were hesitant to flee Germany for Palestine. So, the Nazi party teamed up with the Zionists to launch a coordinated propaganda campaign. Zionists from Palestine came to Germany to teach Hebrew and display the blue-and-white Zionist flag. And an editorial in the Schwarze Korps, the official newspaper of the SS, proudly proclaimed, "Before long, Palestine will again be able to accept its sons who have been lost for over 1,000 years. Our good wishes and official goodwill go with them."


By 1937, only about 24,000 German Jews had left for Palestine, prompting the Nazis to double their efforts. To help coordinate the Nazi-Zionist project, von Mildenstein recruited 30-year-old Adolf Eichmann, who'd been spinning his wheels in the SS.
Eichmann wasn't the sharpest tack in the Nazi drawer, but he was a hard worker who knew how to get people's attention. He reached out to the top leadership of the Hagana, the real power behind the Zionist movement. Founded by the first Zionist settlers in 1920, the Hagana smuggled Jews past British patrols and actively (sometimes violently) sought to protect Jewish interests.

In February 1937, Eichmann arranged a meeting in Berlin with Feivel Polkes, a high-level Hagana commander. In exchange for encouraging Jews to leave Germany, Polkes asked the Nazis to relocate Jews to Palestine. Eichmann agreed. During this period, the harsh truth is that both sides felt increased persecution of the Jews would benefit their causes. During a second meeting later that year in Cairo, Polkes confirmed that the Hagana leaders were pleased with Nazi policies because more Jews were coming to Palestine. By 1939, another 36,000 Jews had moved there from Germany.

Friends Become Enemies

Of course, the strange partnership was doomed from the beginning. Hitler's invasion of Poland in September 1939 launched World War II and, as fighting spread throughout Europe, Jewish emigration became impossible.
Meanwhile, the Nazis explored other ways to rid themselves of the Jews. With Eichmann in charge, they began herding the Jewish population into ghettos to await the death camps. Serving as the head of transportation during the war, Eichmann played a key role in finding and deporting Jewish communities from all across Europe.
Picture 232.pngAfter World War II, the U.S. military captured Eichmann, but he managed to elude authorities long enough to escape in 1946 and flee to Argentina. In 1960, however, the Israeli secret service (composed of former Hagana members) captured Eichmann and smuggled him back to Israel. There, he was put on trial and found guilty of crimes against humanity. On May 31, 1962, Eichmann was hanged in Israel—the country he helped create for all the wrong reasons.

Editorial sources:

Hohne, Heinz. The Order of the Death's Head. The Story of Hitler's SS. Penguin, 1966, reprint 2000: pgs. 324-352 (chapter 13)

>> (In his book, Hohne cites the following microfilm copies of Nazi correspondence, including letters and reports by Eichmann and his colleague Herbert Hagen to their superiors in 1937, which can also be found at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.: "Records of the Reich Leader of the SS and Chief of the German Police [RFSS]. Microfilm Publication T-175. 678 rolls.")

State of Israel Ministry of Justice. The Trial of Adolf Eichmann: Record of Proceedings in the District Court of Jerusalem. Jerusalem: Trust for the Publication of the Proceedings of the Eichmann Trial, in cooperation with the Israel State Archives and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, 1992-1995.

>> (Hannah Arendt also recounts Eichmann's testimony in Jerusalem, in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem. At his trial, Eichmann recounted the meetings with Polkes and his journey to Palestine and Egypt in 1937. The judges believed him but said it was an "espionage" mission.)

Eichmann Interrogated: Jochen von Lang, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1983. Contains the full transcript of his interrogation by the Israeli police, which lasted 275 hours. Eichmann was interrogated by Captain Avner W. Less, a German Jew who had survived the Holocaust.

Relevant parts of these are available online via Google Books:

Cesarani, David. Becoming Eichmann: Rethinking the Life, Crimes, and Trial of a Desk Murderer. Da Capo Press, 2006: pgs. 7-10.

Lozowick, Yaacov. Hitler's Bureaucrats: The Nazi Security Police and the Banality of Evil. Translated by Haim Watzman. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2003: pgs. 26-27.

Nicosia, Francis R. The Third Reich & the Palestine Question. Transaction Publishers, 2000: pgs. 62-64.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]