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Hitler's Nephew, Stalin's Daughter and Other Famous Defectors

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Here are four defectors whose stories you won't soon forget.

1. Hitler's Nephew

© Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

William Patrick Hitler was born in England to a German father, Alois Hitler, and an Irish mother, Bridget Dowling. When William was still a boy, his father moved back to Germany, but his mother refused to go, raising her son alone in England. Alois kept in touch with the family and so, when his famous Uncle Adolf rose to power, young William moved to Germany in the hopes that he would be given a high-profile job. After hounding him for months, Uncle Adolf agreed to give William a cushy position as long as he renounced his British citizenship and promised never to return home. Sensing something wasn't right, William went back to England and capitalized on his famous family by writing an article for Look Magazine called, “Why I Hate My Uncle."

The popularity of the story gave William and his mother (pictured above) the opportunity to travel to America as part of a lecture tour. While there, World War II broke out, and the two were essentially stranded in the United States.

Hoping to do his part in the war effort, Hitler asked for and received special permission from President Roosevelt to enlist in the U.S. Navy in 1944.

According to a newspaper story printed at the time, when he introduced himself at the draft office, the recruiter thought he was joking and responded with, “Glad to see you, Hitler. My name’s Hess.” a reference to Nazi leader Rudolf Hess.

William Hitler served valiantly in the war and received an honorable discharge in 1947. Then, he simply disappeared.

In 1998, author David Gardner went looking for Hitler’s lost nephew and found that, after the war, William and his mother had become U.S. citizens and changed their name to Stuart-Houston. William started a successful medical laboratory business, got married, moved to Long Island, had four boys, and died in 1987. At one point during the interview, William's wife claimed that her sons made a pact never to have children—so the Hitler bloodline would end with them. The oldest son, Alexander Adolf Stuart-Houston, has denied that such a pact exists, though the men never married or had children.

2. The Littlest Defector

When the Polovchak family moved to Chicago from Soviet-controlled Ukraine in January 1980, they hoped to find the American Dream. However, it wasn't meant to be. After less than six months, the family decided to move back home. Well, most of the family did anyway. Young 17-year old Natalia and her 12-year old brother Walter were determined to stay in America. So just days before they were to board a plane, the siblings, with the help of family living in Chicago, filed for religious asylum, claiming they faced religious persecution in the Soviet Union due to their Baptist upbringing.

Because of Natalia’s age, her parents couldn't legally make her come home. However, because Walter was still a minor, his parents asked for assistance from the Chicago Police Department to have their son returned to their custody. Under advisement from both the U.S. State Department and Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Chicago PD instead placed Walter in the care of the State of Illinois as a minor in need of supervision.

With their hands tied in the U.S., the rest of the Polovchak family went home without him, but they continued to fight for their son’s return through political and legal channels. Before long, everyone from the Soviet Embassy, the FBI, the KGB, and the ACLU were embroiled in the controversial court cases that followed.

Sympathy for Walter caused the U.S. Government to intentionally drag its feet, stretching these court procedures out for six years in order to give Walter enough time to become a legal adult and decide for himself where he would like to stay. He was sworn in as an American citizen just a few days after his 18th birthday and still lives here today.

3. Stalin's Daughter

Svetlana Alliluyeva was born in 1926 to Nadezhda Alliluyeva and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. She was the youngest of Stalin’s three children and his only daughter. Her mother died under suspicious circumstances when Svetlana was only six years old, leaving her in the care of nannies for much of her childhood, and only receiving occasional visits from her busy father.

While the two were never close, Stalin still had a forceful hand in his daughter’s life, especially her love life. Although it wasn’t the official reason, it’s believed that Svetlana’s first love was sent into exile because of their relationship. She later married another man, but even after the couple had a son and named him after Stalin, the Premier refused to meet his son-in-law.

She married again two years later, to Yuri Zhadanov, son of Stalin’s second-in-command, Andrei Zhdanov, but the marriage didn’t last. She met her next love, Brajesh Singh, in 1963, 10 years after her father's death. Although the two were never allowed to marry, they often referred to each other as husband and wife. Singh died three years later due to complications from various ailments, and Alliluyeva was allowed to take Singh’s ashes to his family in New Delhi, India. With her first taste of freedom, Svetlana went to the United States Embassy and asked for political asylum.

After moving to America, she wrote her autobiography, Twenty Letters to a Friend, denouncing her father’s regime and the Communist way of life. While here, she married William Wesley Peters, a top apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the couple had a daughter. After this marriage also ended in divorce, Svetlana and her daughter moved to the UK, then later back to the Soviet Union, where they were both, surprisingly, granted citizenship. However, they left again and bounced between the UK and the US throughout the 1980s and 90s.

She lived in obscurity until 2007, when filmmaker Lana Parshina tracked her down to record a series of interviews, resulting in the 2008 film, Svetlana About Svetlana. As of 2010, Joseph Stalin’s only daughter lives in a retirement home in southern Wisconsin.

4. The Reluctant Communist

In 1965, to avoid deployment to Vietnam, U.S. Army Sergeant Charles Jenkins, stationed in South Korea, surrendered to a bewildered North Korean soldier. Jenkins thought he'd be sent to Russia and then returned to America as a part of a prisoner exchange, but instead, North Korea reported that he had asked for political asylum. In response, the U.S. branded him a traitor and issued a warrant for his arrest. With no way to communicate with the outside world to plead his case, Jenkins had little choice but to stay in North Korea.

Unlike other countries, North Korea did not provide an easy life for defectors. Jenkins was quarantined in a one-room house with other American defectors, where they received political indoctrination under constant threat of violence. In 1972, they were moved to separate homes, but life didn't get much better. Jenkins was assigned professions and given a small ration of food, but otherwise eked out an existence like everyone else. The violence continued as well, most notably when North Korean doctors held Jenkins down and, without anesthetic, removed a U.S. Army tattoo from his arm with a pair of scissors.

Hitomi Soga, a Japanese woman, was 21 years old when she met Jenkins in 1980. Hitomi had been kidnapped by North Korean agents to teach spies Japanese, and was later “given” to Jenkins as a wife to prevent him from “dirtying” the Korean bloodline. While their marriage was arranged - and despite a 20-year age difference – the two actually fell in love and had two daughters. At about the same time, Jenkins and other defectors were ordered to appear in a 20-hour propaganda film, Unsung Heroes, acting as villainous U.S. military leaders. When American intelligence acquired the film, it was the first time they could confirm that Jenkins was still alive.

Figuring they would never be allowed to leave, the Jenkins family made the best of their situation, suffering through the country's most difficult times in the 1980s and 90s. However, in 2002, their luck changed when North Korea admitted that Japanese civilians, like Hitomi, had been abducted. To make amends, abductees and their families were allowed to return to Japan. Jenkins was resistant – he feared North Korea was testing his loyalty, and worried about the American arrest warrant – but he was finally convinced to leave with his family in 2004. Once in Japan, Jenkins offered to have his marriage to Hitomi dissolved, figuring she had only stayed with him before because she had no choice. She refused.

To clear his conscience, on September 11, 2004, Jenkins, at the age of 64, put on his old Army uniform, and reported for duty at Camp Zama, a U.S. Army base near Tokyo. His 40-year absence marked the longest any American deserter had ever gone before turning himself in. Jenkins pleaded guilty to charges of desertion and aiding the enemy, but denied making disloyal statements (those charges were later dropped). Although he could have received life in prison, he was sentenced to 30 days in the brig and a dishonorable discharge, though he was released five days early for good behavior.

In his memoir, The Reluctant Communist, Jenkins regrets that he let his country, his family, and himself down in 1965. Some feel his 40 years of hell in North Korea were punishment enough, while others say he’s still a traitor. Although he has made a happy life with his wife and children, he’ll be the first to say that walking to North Korea was the biggest mistake he ever made.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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