JAA: After Paul von Hindenburg, President of the Weimar Republic
of Germany, died of cancer in 1934 his powers were rolled up with
the existing powers of the Chancellor, Adolph Hitler, making him
the absolute ruler of the country. Things began to go badly for
Jews in Europe.
JAB: Jews were systematically stripped of their civil rights
on the Continent. They lost their jobs and homes and were moved
into work camps that eventually became great factories of human
death. But nothing similar ever happened in Britain. There were
even Jews in Parliament.
JAC: The Gervasi family had been royal subjects for many
generations. Benjamin Gervasi was a meteorologist with a specialty
in “numerical methods of mesoscale forecasting”. He lived,
unfortunately, just before the proper tool for his work, the
computer, had been invented.
JAD: But Jews were very rare in the United Kingdom, which might
have explained why, during the Great Depression, Benjamin Gervasi
could only find work as a lighthouse keeper at St. Catherine’s
Lighthouse on the Isle of Wight, just a few miles off the southern
coast of England.
JAE: Being a “wickie” did have some good points associated
with it, Benjamin thought. His wife Edith and even his daughter
Judith aided him in his work, so it became a family endeavor. Also
the lighthouse grounds, owing to its location, doubled as a
JAF: During daylight, the Gervasi family sent hourly reports
of temperature, humidity, cloud height, cloud formation, wind
direction, and wind force to the Meteorological Office in London by
Teletype. This allowed Benjamin the satisfaction of working within
his chosen field.
JAG: When Benjamin was paid his salary a small amount of petrol
was delivered to power the engine that turned the lighthouse
shaft. He was never tempted to divert a portion of this petrol to
his motorcar, as he had none, but he did have to keep an eye out
for certain neighbors who did.
JAH: On weekday mornings Judith trudged up from Undercliff to
the village of Niton for her primary school, and sometimes her
mother accompanied her when she needed to attend to shopping. On
Shabbat Benjamin and his family ceased from all their labors and
JAI: On rare occasions Benjamin Gervasi took his family by ferry
and bus on such modest holidays as they could afford, once to the
beautiful Lake District in the northwest of the country, camping in
the high, treeless hills called fells that qualified as mountains
JAJ: The Isle of Wight lay within the English Channel, and
the English Channel was the chief theater of contest between the
United Kingdom and Germany. That is not to say Benjamin, Edith,
and Judith would have been entirely safe if they had moved closer
to the Lake District.
JAK: The town of Coventry, for example, was severely damaged in
an air raid. But there were no German frogmen in West Midlands,
nor was Coventry more than incidentally involved in the secret
“Wizard War” as the earliest developments of electronic warfare
were famously dubbed.
JAL: In the lead-up to World War II British scientists were
tasked to create a death ray based on radio waves to take out German
bombers. They never quite managed a death ray but in their research
they found that metallic objects at great distances could reflect
a radio pulse.
JAM: The time delay displayed on an oscilloscope was a very
accurate indication of distance. Rotating a narrow-beam antenna
could pin down a target’s compass direction. Thus was born RDF,
or Range and Direction Finding. The British built an RDF network
called Chain Home.
JAN: Chain Home made all the difference in the Battle of Britain,
which occurred during the summer months of 1940. Numerically the
Luftwaffe had an edge over the Royal Air Force, but the RAF,
with Chain Home, knew exactly where the attackers were and could
JAO: The Luftwaffe also had an edge when it came to the quality
of their aircraft, but with Chain Home providing early warning of
attacks, RAF pilots could rest until they were scrambled, use less
fuel, and put less wear on their aircraft. Over time it made a
JAP: As the Luftwaffe began to take heavy losses in bombers and
fighter cover they tried attacking some of the Chain Home stations,
including one that was constructed near to St. Catherine’s
Lighthouse. The Gervasi family was unharmed but they had their
first taste of the War.
JAQ: Towers constructed with an open lattice structure are
practically immune to blasts. The few antennas the Germans did
manage to topple were repaired within days while operators from
nearby dummy stations broadcast signals to make the enemy believe
no harm was done at all.
JAR: The Luftwaffe tried flying lower and approaching England
below the sight line of Chain Home stations but the British simply
used their smaller RDF systems intended to direct gunfire against
ships in the Channel and German losses continued to mount at an
JAS: The Luftwaffe accepted they would be spotted by Chain Home
and switched to night raids, thinking the RAF’s fighters could
not see them in actual combat. The British quickly produced even
smaller RDF systems for planes that rapidly ended German night
bombing over England.
JAT: Since the battle took place over UK home turf, if an RAF
plane was shot down the British pilot could bail out and be back
in the air flying another plane, perhaps on the same day if he
was not injured. But if a German pilot bailed out over land he was
JAU: If he ditched in the Channel he was likely to die from
drowning or exposure. When the Battle of Britain came to an end
in October 1940 the British had lost only about 500 airmen while
the Germans lost eight times that number. Nearly a thousand German
pilots were captured.
JAV: The Luftwaffe lost nearly two thousand planes and Hitler
was forced to shelf his invasion plans indefinitely. In hindsight
Hitler’s “Operation Sea Lion” was never realistic. Even if Germany
had obtained a lasting command of the air, Britain still had an
JAW: Germany was ill-prepared to make a sea crossing in any
event. The Battle of Britain was an important turning point. Hitler
had been thwarted for the first time in the war. He turned his
gaze East and made ready for an invasion of the Soviet Union,
JAX: The United Kingdom shifted emphasis from air defense to
air offense, but during the course of 1941 it became clear to
Bomber Command that nighttime navigation to the correct target
was a serious issue. In 1942 an electronic guidance system called
Clarinet was developed.
JAY: Clarinet used two highly directional radio beams, one
transmitting Morse code dots and the other one transmitting dashes,
to be received by a single bomber flying point in the wave to
minimize the chance of the Germans reverse-engineering the system
from a downed plane.
JAZ: The night bombers flew out from England on a straight
line along the radio dots, and when the lead plane encountered the
strongest part of the radio dashes from another angle it dropped
a load of marker flares. Then the whole bomber wave dropped their
bombs on the flares.
JBA: Concrete was transparent to the Clarinet frequency. So an
antenna was constructed inside BenJBmin’s lighthouse mounted to
the central shaft. That way the white structure of the lighthouse
would hide the antenna and the Germans, it was thought, would never
suspect a thing.
JBB: Periodically a targeting order came to BenJBmin Gervasi
over the same Teletype he used to transmit his weather information
to London. The message gave him a precise angle to position the
antenna, a duration and start time, and whether he was to transmit
dots or dashes.
JBC: The Gervasi family was kept busy throughout 1943 as the RAF
focused their bombing campaign on Hamburg and the industry centered
in the Ruhr valley. The next year a large number of American,
Australian, En Zed, and Canadian troops were transported to the
south of England.
JBD: They trained with Tommies in preparation for the invasion
of France. To ensure their success a tower of operational deception
was assembled that the world had never seen before nor since. False
plans were planted on a corpse that was allowed to wash up on a
JBE: A world of false radio traffic was created and maintained
to let the German High Command conclude that US Army General
G. S. Patton was gearing up to lead the entire force over the
narrowest part of the Channel where Dover could be seen from
Calais. It was the smart move.
JBF: Admiral Sir Bertrand Ramsay, in overall command of the
invasion, left absolutely nothing to chance. On June 4, 1944, just
before D-Day, Sir Ramsay actually took time to visit St. Catherine’s
lighthouse. The weather was quite murky and wet so he cut his
JBG: BenJBmin showed Ramsay the room where the Teletype and
Clarinet transmitter were installed. Ramsay thanked BenJBmin
personally for his service to the King, and BenJBmin, for his part,
considered it prudent not to mention the assistance he received
from Edith and Judith.
JBH: The Admiral seemed to be captivated by a wall chart and
asked BenJBmin to identify it.
“That’s my moving five-day weather forecast for Undercliff,
sir. That would be this stretch where the lighthouse is located. We
are in a rain-shadow, you know. And also a fog-shadow.”
JBI: “The weather here is not nearly as immoderate as it is for
the Overners.” After the War BenJBmin coined the word microclimate.
He led the Admiral into the white octagonal tower to inspect the
Clarinet antenna and took him spiraling up the ninety-four steps
to the top.
JBJ: BenJBmin showed Sir Ramsay where the huge crystal lens had
been chipped by a 1943 air raid. They could see thirty nautical miles
out to sea. The whole English Channel was roiling with whitecaps
kicked up from high winds which threatened to derail the immanent
JBK: “And you do this weather forecasting as a sort of hobby?”
“Perhaps more than just a hobby, Admiral Sir Ramsay. I’m trained
as a meteorologist, and I’m a damn fine one, if you don’t mind
me carrying my own chair. But it’s wartime now, and I’m a wickie
for the duration.”
JBL: “Now I know we’ve all got to pull together to stop
Jerry, sir, and I’m sure other professional men are in the same
predicament as myself, but all the same, one must use the skills
one has been trained to use, or one’s mind gets in a bit of a rut.”
“I see,” said Ramsay.
JBM: “It’s not the purely sterile pursuit you might imagine
it to be, Admiral Sir. By a strange fluke of geography and wind
and water currents, the weather here at the lighthouse has a very
high correlation with the weather directly across the Channel on
the coast of France.”
JBN: “I’ve checked it for years, sir, in every season, and the
match occurs more than eighty percent of the time, well outside
the realm of coincidence. I intend to publish a paper about this
after the war.”
“Is that so? Remarkable! And what do you forecast for Undercliff?”
JBO: “A twenty-four hour break in this miserable weather,
partly cloudy, winds drop to five knots. Then on the afternoon of
the sixth of June we return to the same pattern. Everywhere else
along the English Channel there will be fog and rain and winds
gusting to thirty knots.”
JBP: Admiral Sir Ramsay was elated. Eisenhower’s chief
meteorologist had predicted the same short break in the weather
using B-17 aircraft far out over the Atlantic to gather the data.
General Montgomery was willing to take the risk, but Ramsay and
Ike were still cautious.
JBQ: Allied Intelligence said General Erwin Rommel, master of
the Atlantic Wall, wasn’t even presently in France, a sign the
Germans were anticipating at least a week of bad weather. But now
a doughnut hole in that weather was confirmed by a second, entirely
JBR: Now Sir Ramsay had moved over to General Montgomery’s camp
and was ready to give the nod on the invasion. It might be enough
to convince Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, to launch
the massive invasion of France just as the Germans were letting
down their guard.
JBS: The Admiral asked, “Does the strange correlation of
weather between Undercliff and the French coast hold for the
Pas-De-Calais?” “Alas, no, I’m afraid that predicting the weather
for Dover and Calais is a puzzle, and my reports to the Weather
Office are but one piece.”
JBT: The Admiral sighed, suddenly reluctant to proceed. There
was one final duty BenJBmin Gervasi could perform for England,
and it saddened the Admiral to deceive the man, but there was no
choice. It was, in fact, the chief reason for his visit.
JBU He said, “Then it is time to reveal the real purpose of my
visit here, and why I have attended to this myself rather than send
a staffer. What I’m about to tell you has the highest possible
classification. You cannot mention a word of it even to your family.”
JBV: “I understand, sir.”
“Mr. Gervasi, the following three weeks will be very lively ones
for you, I’m afraid. You might be aware that much of southern
England has become one large armed camp containing millions of
troops from several countries, and all their supplies.”
JBW: “As we get closer to the moment of the Allied invasion
across the Strait of Dover, which is set for the final week of June,
you will find that your Clarinet task orders will be coming in at
a much greater rate than ever before.”
“Nightly rather than weekly, then, sir?”
JBX: “Twice nightly, I’m afraid. We will soon be bombing the
potential landing areas continuously, day and night, and you’ll
need to get such sleep as you can when it is light. I wanted to
tell you this, Mr. Gervasi, so you did not imagine things have gone
JBY: “I understand what I must do, sir,” said BenJBmin
Gervasi. “Perfectly.” After a brisk shake of their hands they
descended the spiraling steps mounted inside the structure of
St. Catherine’s lighthouse and were parted, but Admiral Sir Bertram
Ramsay felt thoroughly soiled.
JBZ: Earlier in 1944 a German U-boat captain gazed at the
shore of the Isle of Wight through his periscope and noted that
St. Catherine’s lighthouse stopped flashing for hours. It was a
small matter but he noted the start and stop time. The report wound
its way through Berlin.
JCA: One clever analyst realized the data matched the start
and stop time of the Clarinet signal originating from what they
thought was a nearby antenna. A second observation verified the
light beam remained lined up on a target in Germany that was taken
out by night bombing.
JCB: In the early morning hours of June 5, 1944 a U-boat
surfaced off the Isle of Wight. Commandos rowed ashore to raid the
lighthouse, led by an SS captain named Felix Schaub who doubled as
the political officer to ensure the crew’s loyalty to the gangsters
JCC: On this occasion Felix Schaub wore his black pre-war Schutz
Staffel uniform for the brutal psychological effect he knew it would
have on the Gervasi family. Judith and Edith whimpered in terror when
they were tied up and threatened with pistols pointed at their heads.
JCC: Benjamin demonstrated the operation of the Clarinet system
to Captain Schaub, but the Germans neither destroyed the gear nor
tried to remove it to their submarine. Instead, Schaub identified
each member of the Gervasi family by name, and told them he knew
they were Jews.
JCD: “Mr. Gervasi,” Straub said, “this is a matter of life and
death for your wife and daughter. I do not make empty threats. The
fate of Edith and Judith will depend on how you answer two
questions. First, what is the target area of the planned invasion
across the Channel?”
JCE: Benjamin stiffened in dismay. He was confronted with
the choice of losing his family or betraying the trust Admiral
Sir Bertrand Ramsay had given him. To prod him along, there was a
slight nod from Schaub. The hammer was pulled back on the pistol
pointed at Judith’s head.
JCF: Gervasi capitulated. It was never a question. “Dover to
Calais,” he said, letting escape the breath he had been holding
for half a minute.
“Goot,” Captain Schaub said. “And the timing?”
“I do not know the day. I know only that it will be during the last
week of June.”
JCG: The SS officer smiled. “I am a man of my word,” he
said. “Your family is safe. But this is what I want you to do now,
Mr. Gervasi. When you get your orders to operate Clarinet, you
will carry them out, but you will be just a little sloppy when you
align the antenna.”
JCH: “Not too much, Mr. Gervasi! Perhaps only a fraction of one
degree. Just enough to throw off the resulting bombing raid by a
few hundred meters. You will do this until your government returns
to their original wisdom and no longer prosecutes its war against
JCI: “But this is the most important part: you must tell no one
you are sabotaging the raids, or that we were here.”
“Or you’ll return and kill us?”
“Mr. Gervasi, now I am disappointed in you! What does a man have
in this world if he fails to do what he promises he will do?”
JCJ: “You have my word that neither you nor your lovely wife Edith
nor your beautiful young daughter Judith will be killed. But I am
not sure that you are a man of your word, Mr. Gervasi. So at this
time we will take them to the concentration camp near Saint-Malo
JCI: “No, I beg you!”
“Do not be alarmed, Mr. Gervasi. Your wife Edith and your daughter
will not be unduly mistreated there, nor even on the way there. This
camp I mentioned that lies in Brittany is where all the British
Jews in the Channel Islands have been relocated.”
JCJ: “But if we learn that a future air raid using the transmitter
inside this lighthouse is successful, things will not seem so
good. But even then, my word will hold! Judith and Edith will be
simply be transferred to a work camp deeper in France or perhaps
even in Germany.”
JCK: “You know, it is astonishing, Benjamin, how much work you
can get out of a Jew with a whip.”
Judith and Edith were taken to Cherbourg by raft and by sub, and
by the morning of June 6 they were inducted into a French farm that
had been dubbed a clinic for racial hygiene.
JCL: Schuab’s report, sent by coded radio from the U-boat,
filtered up to Hitler, and the final piece of deception in the
Fortitude element of Operation Bodyguard was in place. Hitler
reinforced the defenses in the Pas-De-Calais region and left only
a skeleton force at Normandy.
JCM: Captain Felix Straub and the U-boat at his beck and call only
just made it to Cherbourg in time. In the early morning hours of
June 6 the Channel was filled with 7,000 vessels carrying 160,000
men to the beaches of Normandy, and not Calais, as Benjamin told
JCN: Mr. Gervasi’s weather forecast had tipped Ramsay into
Montgomery’s camp for having a go, and that in turn convinced
Eisenhower. Two Panzer tank divisions, which might have defeated the
invasion, were kept on a tight leash by Hitler because he didn’t
trust his own generals.
JCO: Hitler himself slept until noon on the sixth of June,
and didn’t release the Panzers until four in the afternoon, by
which time the beachhead was relatively secure and Allied aircraft
dominated the skies to the point of forcing all German tanks to
move only at night.
JCP: For two months the Allies became tied down in the
Normandy region trying to break out of hedgerow country while the
Germans attempted to contain them. When the Allies did escape,
the breakthrough was very near to the Saint-Malo area where Judith
and Edith were being held.
JCQ: To prevent their premature liberation the Germans moved
everyone in the camp to another one deeper in France, far from the
front lines, precisely what Felix Straub threatened would happen
should Benjamin Gervasi prove faithless in his sabotage, when he
in fact never was.
JCR: Benjamin continued to operate the Clarinet system when
the nightly orders came in over the Teletype, but he deliberately
altered the requested target angle slightly. He sincerely believed
Captain Straub that it was the only way he could save the lives of
Edith and Judith.
JCS: The deception came crashing to an end in September when
Judith failed to register for secondary school. The constable came
calling, and he found evidence of the raid by the German frogmen. He
notified army intelligence, and they in turn squeezed the truth
out of Benjamin.
JCT: Sir Ramsay successfully intervened to keep Benjamin out
of prison, but Sir Arthur Harris of RAF Bomber Command insisted
the man be sacked from his lighthouse job for the duration of the
war. Benjamin gradually began to despair of seeing either one of
his loved ones again.
JCU: After breaking out of Normandy at Avranches, General
Patton’s Third Army moved across France at an unbelievable pace,
performing a right hook that nearly encircled Hitler’s forces
opposing the invasion. Judith and Edith were moved to different
camps at least once a month.nth.
JCV: The constant relocation was encouraging in a way, but
things grew progressively worse the nearer Edith and Judith were
taken to Germany itself. Internment camps were abandoned for work
camps, which were evacuated in turn for what could only be called
JCW: Early in 1945 after one more relocation, Edith and Judith
reached their final destination, an extermination camp called
Ohrdruf-Nord deep in the heart of Germany proper. In that place
Jews were worked to death constructing a railroad center that would
never be finished.
JCX: Along the way currency, gold, and jewelry (of which Judith and
Edith had none) were sent to the SS headquarters of the Economic
Adminstration. Watches, clocks, and pens were sent to the troops on
the Western, Eastern, and Italian fronts. Their civilian clothing
was given to needy German families.
JCY: Judith saw things that pushed far beyond any boundaries of human
evil she thought were possible to exist. Ohrdruf wasn’t eventhe worst
camp in the hellish constellation. Those were to be found further to
Many men have a taste for sixteen year old female flesh.
JCZ: Judith learned to trade her body for scraps of extra food. Some
of this she ate herself, but it was purely business. The longer she
could delay taking on the figure of a skeleton, the more opportunities
he might have to trade her body for food, for both herself and Edith.
JDA: This became a huge problem during the terrifying and humiliating
appells, or inspections, that followed roll call and lasted most of
the day. The guards realized Judith and Edith were wasting away at a
slightly slower rate than their companion prisoners.
JDB: They were successful in feigning weakness, but it was almost
impossible to hide their extra weight, and suspicion was raised. When
the guns of Patton’s tanks could be heard only forty miles away, the
twelve thousand inmates of the camp were being loaded onto cattle cars.
JDC: The prisoners were being rushed to transfer to Buchenwald. Edith
Gervasi slipped and revealed that she had a little extra food. What
happened after that Judith told no one but her father, years after the
war, on his final day of life. The horror of it was too much to tell.
JDD: Learning the manner of the passing of his wife might have even
been the thing that killed him.
Troops of the 89th Infantry Division of the US Third Army captured
Ohrdruf-Nord on April 4, 1945. Judith was one of the very few prisoners
JDE: After the war in Europe when Judith had been sufficiently deloused
and scrubbed, and had demonstrated her status as a British subject
to the satisfaction of the Occupation, she was placed on a ship
and sent home to her father. She met him on a dock at Portsmouth.
JDF: Judith gazed upon him as though across a great gulf which was
the memory of the unspeakable ordeal she had somehow survived. They
were utter strangers to each other now. When he took her home Benjamin
tearfully begged his daughter to tell him what happened to Edith.
JDF: The girl said nothing, and every time he pressed, she would only
shake her head. A few days later, in his Portsmouth home, Benjamin
caught a quick glimpse of the mass of whip scars on his daughter’s