Tag Archives: WWII

“Victory Day” in Bulgaria

I was always wondering, why many Bulgarians celebrate Victory Day as if this victory was their own country’s achievement and usually without reflecting that Bulgaria was anything but a victor of WWII.

The country was a close ally of Nazi Germany for most of the war. The capital Sofia and many people in it became victims of the air raids by the Western allies. Then the country was invaded by the Soviets who established a Stalinist puppet regime that was for 45 years one of the worst and most suffocating in Eastern Europe.

“Victory Day” – really…?

I think history is a bit more complicated and ambiguous than that.

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-6. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

On Gertrud Kolmar and some other “forgotten” authors

literatur_2015_gold-2

This blog post is part of the German Literature Month, hosted by Lizzie (Lizzies Literary Life) and Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat). I read Gertrud Kolmar’s poetry in November.

After the end of WWII a heated discussion took place between authors that stayed in Germany during the Nazi era and others who had emigrated.

The controversy was led by two rather mediocre authors, Frank Thiess and Walter von Molo on the side of those who decided to stay in Germany and by Thomas Mann on the side of the literary emigrants. This controversy has left traces until today and the work of W.G. Sebald for example can be only understood when you consider this historical backdrop.

What was it all about?

Thiess and von Molo considered themselves and those authors who were against the Nazis but stayed in Germany as representatives of the Innere Emigration (inner emigration). According to them they suffered consciously the horrors of the Nazi regime to bear witness and to – if possible – send hidden messages to their readers which they smuggled into their books (one reason for the particular popularity of historical novels during this time). While according to them they suffered terror, war and permanent personal threats under the Nazis, the literary emigrants like Thomas Mann or Lion Feuchtwanger lived according to their perception rather well and undisturbed in their comfortable exile and were now, after WWII trying to lecture the “inner emigrants” about moral and declaring the literature of this group of authors per se as worthless.

Thomas Mann who was directly attacked in a rather distasteful way was answering that all books published in Nazi Germany stank of blood and shame and should be destroyed.

Six decades after the end of WWII we can see this controversy in a more rational and distanced, less emotional way. I would say both sides had a point, and both were partly wrong in their judgement.

Indeed, the situation of writers and intellectuals who remained in Germany after 1933 and who were not joining the ranks of the Nazis was very difficult to say the least. Many of them were banned, some were imprisoned and there was a permanent threat on their lives which must have been a terrible strain on them. Some of them complied with the requests of the new regime, some made compromises and only a very few of them really resisted the Nazis completely. Some were discredited in the eyes of the Nazis by their political or racial background – those were the ones that were threatened most, but who anyway rarely had a chance to publish anything during that period. Therefore the term inner emigration is a quite mixed box which contains an assortment of cowards as well as real heroes and all shades in between. But to think that writers who had emigrated had it nice in their exiles is far from the truth that it is insulting and it shows simply the ignorance or mischievousness of the ilk of Thiess and von Molo. Most emigrants were destitute and permanently threatened by expulsion or by the secret agents of the Nazi and Stalinist regime that ruthlessly eliminated critical voices also abroad. The other problem that emigrant authors faced was the lack of publication opportunities and therefore lack of possibilities to make a living. Only Thomas Mann, Feuchtwanger or Stefan Zweig could live from their writing, all the others lived usually miserable from charities.

Also Thomas Mann’s verdict is rather harsh and with all due respect to this great author a bit exaggerated in my opinion. All literature published in Germany between 1933 and 1945 may be morally discredited by the fact that writing and publishing about things that didn’t offend the Nazis included silence about their unbelievable crimes and thus a silent acceptance if not endorsement – still I think that it should be scrutinized on a case to case basis since I am not a supporter of the collective guilt thesis even for books – the question of the literary value is something else. To give an example from the French literature: Celine was an insane anti-Semite who published appalling brochures in which he advocated the mass murder of millions of Jews – but at the same time he is the author of one of the literary most important French novels of the 20th century. Disturbing and disconcerting, but you see the problem here. Sometimes a book is so much better than its author.

There is quite a number of books that were published in Germany during the Nazi era by authors that were no Nazis and that are worth being read today. Some of these books are of high literary value. I want to just drop a few names and titles for those who are interested in finding out more about this interesting topic.

Eugen Gottlob Winkler (1912-1936), the author of excellent essays and an accomplished poet, committed suicide at the age of 24 in order to avoid torture and imprisonment by the Nazis. Unfortunately his slender oeuvre is untranslated in English.

Gertrud Kolmar (1894-1943), one of the most remarkable German poets of the 20th century could publish two collections of poetry in that period although she was Jewish. She was gassed in Auschwitz 1943 or died during the transport from Theresienstadt to the concentration camp.

Jochen Klepper (1903-1942), author of the novel Der Vater (The Father) and of posthumously published diaries committed suicide with his Jewish wife and stepdaughter after their emigration request was denied.

Albrecht Haushofer (1903-1945), fellow student of Rudolf Hess and son of NS geo-politician Karl Haushofer, but nevertheless a member of resistance circles wrote his Moabiter Sonette (Moabit sonetts) while in prison; the manuscript was found in his coat pocket after he was executed by an SS commando a few days before the end of the war in Berlin.

Felix Hartlaub (1913-1945), whose diaries are of highest literary and documentary value disappeared without traces during the final battle of Berlin in the first days of May 1945.

Friedo Lampe (1899-1945) published a novel that was immediately banned after publication, and another one that was censored by the Nazis. Lampe, who was probably the stylistically most advanced writer of his generation, was shot a few days after the end of WWII by a Russian soldier.

Most of these authors were never translated into English, which is a pity. Only Haushofer and Kolmar are so far known to the English-reading public.

Here is an example of Gertrud Kolmar’s (i.e. Gertrud Chodziesner) poetry:

Der Engel im Walde

Gib mir deine Hand, die liebe Hand, und komm mit mir;
Denn wir wollen hinweggehen von den Menschen ….
So lass uns fliehn
Zu den sinnenden Feldem, die freundlich mit Blumen und Gras unsere wandemden Füsse trösten,
An den Strom, der auf seinem Rücken geduldig wuchtende Bürden, schwere,
giiterstrotzende Schiffe trägt,
Zu den Tieren des Waldes, die nicht übelreden …
Wir werden dürsten und hungem, zusammen erdulden,
Zusammen einst an staubigem Wegesrande sinken und weinen…

The Angel in the Forest

Give me your hand, beloved, and follow me.
And we will go away from men. . . .
So let us flee
Unto the musing fields that will console our wandering feet with friendly flowers and grass,
Unto the river, bearing patiently upon its back the weighty burden of the full,
freight-laden ships,
Unto the forest animals that speak no ill ….
And we will thirst and hunger and endure together,
And together someday on a dusty roadside we will fall and weep …

(translation by Henry A. Smith)

Kolmar had the opportunity to emigrate but refused. She didn’t want to leave her old father unattended back in Germany. The exact date of her death is unknown. Since there is a record of her on the transport lists from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz from 2 March 1943 but no record in the lists of inmates in the concentration camp it means that she was most probably gassed immediately after her arrival there or died during the transport.

Reading her poetry (or works of any other victim of that regime) one should remember well her verses from the poem Die Dichterin (The Woman Poet):

Mein Herz wie eines kleinen Vogels schlägt
In deiner Faust. Der du dies liest, gib acht;
Denn sieh, du blätterst einen Menschen um.
Doch ist er dir aus Pappe nur gemacht.

My heart beats like that of a little bird
In your fist. You who read this, take care;
For see, you turn the page of a person.
Though for you it is only made of cardboard.

(translation by Henry A. Smith)

For those interested in Gertrud Kolmar’s poetry and life, I can highly recommend the biography by Dieter Kühn: Gertrud Kolmar. A Literary Life. Kolmar, like all the other authors I mentioned, is worth to be discovered.

Kolmar

Gertrud Kolmar: Das lyrische Werk, Kösel, München 1960

Gertrud Kolmar: Dark Soliloquy, transl. Henry A. Smith, Seabury Press, New York 1975

Gertrud Kolmar: A Jewish Mother from Berlin – Susanna, transl. Brigitte M. Goldstein, Holmes & Meier 2012

Gertrud Kolmar: My Gaze Is Turned Inward: Letters 1938-1943, transl. Johanna Woltmann, Northwestern University Press 2004

Gertrud Kolmar: Worlds – Welten, transl. Philip Kuhn and Ruth von Zimmermann, Shearsman Books 2012

Dieter Kühn: Gertrud Kolmar. A Literary Life, transl. Linda Marianiello, Northwestern University Press 2013

 

Eugen Gottlob Winkler: Dichtungen, Gestalten und Probleme. Nachlass, Neske, Pfullingen 1956

Jochen Klepper: Der Vater, dtv, München 1991

Jochen Klepper: Unter dem Schatten deiner Flügel. Aus den Tagebüchern der Jahre 1932-1942, Brunnen, Gießen 2005

Albrecht Haushofer: Moabit Sonnets, transl. M.D. Herter Norton, W.W. Norton, New York 2013

Felix Hartlaub: In den eigenen Umriss gebannt (2 vol.), Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 2002

Felix Hartlaub: Kriegsaufzeichnungen aus Paris, Suhrkamp, Berlin 2011

Felix Hartlaub: Italienische Reise, Suhrkamp, Berlin 2013

Friedo Lampe: Septembergewitter, Wallstein, Göttingen 2001

Friedo Lampe: Von Tür zu Tür, Wallstein, Göttingen 2002

Friedo Lampe: Am Rande der Nacht, Wallstein, Göttingen 2003

Friedo-Lampe-Gesellschaft e.V.: Ein Autor wird wiederentdeckt: Friedo Lampe 1899-1945, Wallstein, Göttingen 1999

Johannes Graf: Friedo Lampe (1899-1945). Die letzten Lebensjahre in Grünheide, Berlin und Kleinmachnow, Frankfurter Buntbücher, Frankfurt/Oder 1998

Patrick Modiano: Dora Bruder, transl. Joanna Kilmartin, University of California Press, Oakland 2014 – Modiano mentions Friedo Lampe and Felix Hartlaub in his novel.

© Kösel Verlag, 1960
© Henry A. Smith and Seabury Press, 1975
© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Sea and Poison

On 5 May, 1945, during the last months of WWII – the war in Europe was just coming to an end – an American B-29 airplane went down over Fukuoka, Japan. The highest ranking surviving soldier was brought to Tokyo for further interrogation. The other eight survivors were brought to the Department of Anatomy of the University of Fukuoka. There they were subjected to medical “experiments” that were carried out without anesthetics by Unit 731 under its commander General Shiro Ishii and with the support of several doctors and nurses from Fukuoka Hospital.

The so-called “experiments” for which Unit 731 was notorious were so gruesome that they can be only compared with that of Dr. Dr. Mengele in Auschwitz. A biography of Ishii mentions an example of the “scientific” experiments of Unit 731:

“To determine the treatment of frostbite, prisoners were taken outside in freezing weather and left with exposed arms, periodically drenched with water until frozen solid. The arm was later amputated; the doctor would repeat the process on the victim’s upper arm to the shoulder. After both arms were gone, the doctors moved on to the legs until only a head and torso remained. The victim was then used for plague and pathogens experiments.” (Byrd, Gregory Dean: General Ishii Shiro)

In the case of the American soldiers, the vivisections meant that inner organs were consecutively extracted in order to see how long the soldiers would survive. It was murder with a so-called “scientific” alibi and under the cruelest conditions you can possibly imagine (no use of anesthetics, as already mentioned!). All prisoners died after unimaginable suffering.

Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo was one of the first authors to shed a light on Japan’s moral guilt for the war crimes committed by Japanese soldiers, but also by respectable medical doctors, nurses and scientists. His novel The Sea and Poison is based on the Fukuoka crime.

The narrator of the novel that is set in Japan in the 1950s, is a man with a lung disease (just like Endo himself who suffered from tuberculosis and who had a part of his lung removed). He is treated successfully by a Dr. Suguro, an unfriendly and uncommunicative man with a swollen face that looks somehow creepy. But he is obviously a good professional in his field. The narrator investigates out of curiosity about Dr. Suguro and meets someone who knows the past of this strange person.

Dr. Suguro was during the war part of the team of doctors and nurses that carried out the vivisections in Fukuoka. During that time Suguro was a young practitioner at a hospital. One of the first surgeries after he starts his duties in Fukuoka Hospital and in which he participates, is the lung operation of an old woman, a welfare patient. The operation is not necessary from a medical point of view and it will end with the death of the woman, but since she is “only” a welfare patient and will probably die anyway from her disease, the responsible doctor is not hesitating to use her (without her knowledge or even consent) for this human experiment in the name of a very doubtful “scientific progress”,

Suguro finally gives in to participate in this surgery which is supposed to bring at least some more scientific results and might help to find a better treatment for similar cases in the future. Suguro is shocked and devastated by what he sees and he shows compassion to the woman before the surgery. Sometimes he is giving her extra food when nobody watches. But he, the young practitioner doesn’t stand up to the driving force behind this completely useless and lethal surgery: Dr. Toda, the main surgeon, wants to make a career for himself and for this he needs to have under all circumstances a big number of surgeries performed. That in many cases these surgeries will end necessarily with the death of the patient, is not a matter of concern to Dr. Toda. Welfare patients seem to be not fully human to him, interesting only as human “material” and as long as it is in the name of “science” (i.e. his personal ambition), anything is in the right order for him.

Toda is in many ways the complete opposite of Suguro. He is talkative, over-ambitious, and he enjoys exercising power, a fact that results also in a constant bickering directed at Suguro, who has moral scruples and choose this profession obviously out of the real wish to help people, not to make a career at all costs. But Suguro is weak and he collapses morally. Japan, like Germany, was not a society where subordinates were used to doubt or even to stand up to their superiors or any higher authority when receiving orders that were ethically doubtful or inhumane.

A minor figure but nevertheless an important character in the book is the nurse Ueda with a rather unhappy personal history. She is more passive and chose this profession neither out of enthusiasm nor out of the wish to make a career. But her unhappy private life and frustrated pre-disposition together with her experience in Manchuria have taught her to follow orders and how to deal with “inferior” people and races. She is participating in the operation without enthusiasm but also without sign or even thought of rebellion against this unnecessary and lethal surgery.

When the surviving American soldiers are brought to the hospital, it is again Toda who takes the initiative. The post of the deacon of the faculty is vacant and the spectacular vivisections will be the perfect opportunity for him to bring himself in position for this important job. None of the doctors and nurses who participate in the vivisections because Toda puts some pressure on them rejects this request and so these “scientifically” disguised crimes take place under the hands of doctors whose profession it should be to protect and save lives.

I don’t think that Endo wanted to write a kind of documentary novel that was meant to expose the terrible crimes of a part of the Japanese doctors and medical staff during WWII, and I also don’t think that Endo should be blamed for not writing in very much detail about the sufferings of the American soldiers, or for changing some details in his novels compared to the reality, such as the use of anesthetics (which were not used during the real vivisections of the soldiers). It’s a novel after all and any author is entitled to change or adapt certain details when it suits him – otherwise he should write a report, not a novel.

We can assume that Endo’s readers in Japan were (just like the author himself) aware of the details of this case, which were reported in length by all Japanese newspapers during the trial of 1948 against some doctors and medical staff. We can only guess why he introduced the use of anesthetics contrary to the real story. It might be simply for the pragmatic reason not to shock the readers more than necessary, it might be a concession to the publisher, it might be even considered as an act of compassion toward the victims of this crime. And that he doesn’t describe the graphic details of the vivisections has also to be seen in the framework of the artistic tradition of Japan.

It is a constitutional moment of many Japanese novels and movies to make extensive use of the ellipsis as a narrative device (think of Kurosawa’s or Ozu’s movies). It’s more important to see that there are doctors and nurses that have a profession that is aiming to heal people – and they come together to commit a number of sadistic murders. As for the sufferings of the victims, it is left to the readers’ imagination. No need to describe something that would have more similarity with a splatter movie than with the situation in any normal hospital in the world.

It has to be mentioned that Endo was a catholic author. He lived several years in France and was familiar with the work of authors like Bernanos or Mauriac. Additionally he was suffering from tuberculosis and had to undergo surgery to remove one of his lobes. So we can suggest that he had a lot of his own experiences with doctors and hospitals flow into this novel, as well as his views on the freedom of will and personal ethical responsibility for one’s actions.

In my opinion, the three main characters in the book are based on typical representatives for different approaches of people working in hospitals or in the medical profession in general. There are the ones that choose this profession out of the genuine wish to help other people and to render a valuable service to mankind (like Suguro). For others (like Ueda) it is just a profession like any other. And for a number of people (like Dr. Toda) it is an instrument to display power, a vehicle for their personal ambition, a place where they can use any means that suits the only aim that matters: to rise in the hierarchy, to gain more recognition, prestige, money, and power for themselves.

The main question for Endo seems to be: where are the ethical limits for the work of a doctor or medical professional? The surgery that the welfare patient has to suffer is completely useless, will not help her, cure her disease or make her life more comfortable. In the contrary it will kill her. But since she is a welfare patient, she seems to be the suitable ‘material’ to gain at least some (very doubtful) additional knowledge that might help to cure similar diseases in the future more efficiently. (At least this is the alibi that the doctors make up for themselves.) It is clear that already this case shows a complete lack of humanity from the side of the doctors and is against all ethical principles of medicine. And it is also obvious that doctors or nurses that are already so morally compromised to perform such surgeries will not protest against any order to undertake vivisections on prisoners that have absolutely no medical justification and are simply a cruel form of murder.

For me this is clearly a book about the importance to act according to ethical principles under all conditions. Just as the way to Auschwitz started when people were not protesting against the boycott of the shop of their Jewish neighbor, the way to the ‘medical’ experiments of a Dr. Dr. Mengele started when people were not protesting against the declaration of certain people as being ‘lebensunwert’ (not worth living).

Considering today’s discussions about reproduction medicine or euthanasia in many countries, or the participation of medics in the torturing of prisoners in Guantanamo or elsewhere, the question of individual ethical responsibility of doctors is as acute as ever. Therefore Endo’s disturbing but important novel, as depressing as the story is, has lost nothing of its urgency and strength.

Postscriptum:

The real doctors and nurses that participated in the Fukuoka vivisections were sentenced to death or very long prison sentences in 1948.

General MacArthur, the military commander of Japan commuted all death sentences and reduced the prison sentences considerably.

In 1958 all Fukuoka killers were free again. Most of them held later high positions in medicine, science, and the pharmaceutical industry in Japan.

Emperor Hirohito, who created Unit 731 and who was fully aware of the biological warfare and human experiments and who encouraged the deeds of this Unit, never saw a court.

General Ishii – still today considered a hero by many Japanese – received immunity for his crimes in return for delivering the results of his “scientific research” to the Americans(!).

Results of the biological human experiments of Unit 731 were used in the US and the Soviet Union for their respective military Biological Warfare programmes.

The Japanese Supreme Court confirmed in 2007 that victims of Unit 731 or their family members are not entitled to any financial compensation.

the-sea-and-poison

Shusaku Endo: The Sea and Poison, transl. Michael Gallagher, Tuttle Publishing, Rutland Tokyo 1991

On the Fukuoka case:

Marc Landas: The Fallen. A True Story of American POWs and Japanese Wartime Atrocities, Hoboken, John Wiley 2004

On Unit 731:

Peter Williams, David Wallace: Unit 731 – Japans Secret Biological Warfare in World War II. Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., London 1988

Sheldon H.Harris: Factories of Death. Japanese Biological Warfare, 1932–1945, and the American Cover-up. Routledge, New York 2002

Toshiyuki Tanaka, Yukiko Tanaka: Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in World War II, Westview Press Inc. 1998

On similar cases in Nazi Germany:

Alexander Mitscherlich / Fred Mielke (eds.): Medizin ohne Menschlichkeit (‘Medicine without Humanity’), Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2009

Ernst Klee: Auschwitz, die NS-Medizin und ihre Opfer (‘Auschwitz, NS Medicine and its Victims’), Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2012

Robert J. Lifton: The Nazi Doctors, Macmillan, London 2000

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 


The Colour of September

Fergus Steyn is a bit bored after his retirement. After a professionally successful but obviously quite lonely private life, he is indulging in his childhood memories especially since he was invited as a conference speaker. The conference is on the experience of those Dutch who were repatriated from the former Dutch East Indies after WWII and Fergus Steyn is supposed to deliver a speech and a conference paper on that occasion.

After an early childhood in a caring middle-class family in Batavia (now Jakarta), young Fergus is spending a hard time after the invasion of the East Indies by Japanese troops. Dutch women and children are interned in a camp near Bandung, whereas the men – among them also Fergus’ father – are brought to a slave labor camp in Burma. But Fergus is lucky: his family is surviving the hardships of war and internment and is being repatriated in 1946. But the journey to the Netherlands proves to be much more difficult as the Steyns expected: the women and children are first brought to Ceylon before they are reunited with their husbands and fathers and they have to pass a quite long period on this tropical island before they can proceed with their journey home.

During the ship passage and the time in Kandy, Ceylon, young Fergus (called “Taffy”) gets acquainted with other children with a similar background. There is the ever-hungry Bollie and his big brother Hermann, Filip and his sister Flortje, the Indo boy Jop called “Djangkrik”, and the charismatic girl Pinkie who forms a kind of gang with a secret language and code of this odd group of kids in puberty. The three months in the jungle camp of Kandy are like a paradise for the children: they get acquainted with strange animals and people, they watch films almost on a daily basis in the outdoor cinema, they make friends with gurkha soldiers, while their mothers drink tea and make small talk and try to speed up their reunion with the husbands who are stranded somewhere in Thailand and waiting for a transport to bring the families back to Holland.

Fergus develops an innocent friendship with Pinkie but on one occasion Pinkie is touching Fergus’ leg and this touch is the beginning of a new feeling. Only later, after Fergus has departed from Kandy (and Pinkie) and has returned home with his family, he begins to understand that he loved Pinkie. The invitation to the conference is bringing this lifelong feeling of having missed an opportunity, of not having lived a love that he never experienced again, back to the retired Fergus Steyn. Under the pretext to prepare the conference speech he is visiting two of his childhood friends from Kandy, a slightly disappointing experience. But at least he gets the address of Pinkie, now an old lady living in London with her husband. Finally Fergus is preparing to meet his first love so many years later…

Carel Jan Schneider (1932-2011), the author of “Kandy” was publishing his books under the pseudonym F. Springer. Maybe he thought that for a diplomat – he held various positions in the diplomatic service including that of the last Dutch Ambassador in East Berlin – it is not proper to publish novels and stories, maybe he just wanted to avoid gossip about his mostly autobiographical works. And Fergus Steyn seems to be really the alter ego of its author. “Kandy” is a melancholic book and like his acclaimed novel “Bougainville” has an unlived love as a central topic. The “Forever and ever!”, the oath of the youth gang that was once created by Pinkie, is being replaced by a “Too late!” at the end of the book. What happens in between is told by F. Springer with delicacy and in an elegant style.

F. Springer is an author that is still to be discovered in the English-speaking world, although most of his books are translated in German and “Bougainville” also in French. As far as I know, none of his works is up to now being translated into English. Publishers are kindly invited to change this: they will render readers a valuable service. F. Springer was for very good reasons compared with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Graham Greene.

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F. Springer: Kandy, Querido 1998; Die Farbe des September, Suhrkamp 2000 (transl. Helga van Beuningen)

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.