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In Full Flight

13 February 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

Few life stories are as confounding as that of Anne Spoerry (1918-99), a physician whose tale of unconscionable evil and quest for expiation spanned several decades and two continents.

In Kenya, where the Swiss-French expatriate made her home starting in the late 1940s, Spoerry was revered as “Mama Daktari,” an indefatigable “mother doctor” and the first female member of the Flying Doctors service of the African Medical and Research Foundation (the nongovernmental organization now known as Amref Health Africa). For more than 30 years, she piloted her small plane across thousands of miles to remote areas of the country, in order to provide medical care to an estimated 1 million patients. By the time of her death, her reputation as an altruist extraordinaire had spread throughout the world via numerous admiring articles and honors.

Then her pre-Africa life came to light. At the end of Spoerry’s life, a nephew found in one of her safes a cache of personal papers that revealed a closely guarded secret. She once had been known as “Dr. Claude,” a notoriously brutal kapo during her time as an inmate at Ravensbrück, a women-only Nazi concentration camp. A post-World War II French court found her guilty of “anti-French and anti-patriotic behavior” in 1946. The following year she was arrested in Switzerland, having been charged with torture by the Central Registry of War Criminals and Security Suspects. Her father bailed her out of jail, but the possibility of further trials and imprisonment loomed, and with the help of her family’s connections, she fled to Africa. “In Full Flight: A Story of Africa and Atonement” is the attempt by one of Spoerry’s many friends to make sense of her stunning, opposing personae.

John Heminway, a winner of two Emmys, first met and interviewed Spoerry in Kenya in 1980, when he was working in Africa as a journalist and filmmaker. He was curious about Spoerry’s past but was rebuffed when he asked her about it. Nonetheless, Spoerry let him accompany her as she flew from one rural village to another on her medical rounds—treating and operating on many of Kenya’s poorest inhabitants and vaccinating them against polio and smallpox. Mr. Heminway wrote often about these journeys, and an expanded version of one of these profiles appeared in his book “No Man’s Land” (1983). But throughout the 20 years that Mr. Heminway continued both to write about and socialize with Spoerry, he was never able to persuade her to open up about her life before she became Mama Daktari. On that, she remained silent and inscrutable.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Non-Fiction

10 Comments to “In Full Flight”

  1. TPV is my source of industry news. I visit at least 5 times a week and really enjoy what TPV does for me.
    Keep Going!!

  2. Once you sell your soul, you can never buy it back.

    • I don’t know what a ‘Kapo’ is exactly, but if Spoerry was an inmate of a concentration camp rather than one of the Nazis running it, perhaps she was more coward than cold-blooded killer.

      Someone with no conscience would never feel the need to expiate their crimes.

      I would love to know more about this woman’s life and who she might have been had the war not intervened.

    • That may or may not be true. But what a magnificent penance.

    • I am very glad that you believe this to be so. In fact, no contract for the sale of a soul is enforceable under Natural Law, and the goods can be reclaimed merely by demanding them back. So long as the soul is still in the soi-disant seller’s possession, there is little our side can do to make the bargain stick.

      My colleagues in the Retail Damnation Service have spent many years dinning this information into the heads of their junior operatives. It is very well that the humans should be deceived into despair, imagining their souls to be lost beyond saving; but for us to deceive ourselves is lethal to the Business. ‘Drinking one’s own ink,’ one of the humans has called it; and there is no beverage more intoxicating, or less salubrious.

      (Signed)

      H. Smiggy McStudge
      Cultural Division

  3. Redemption stories are my favorite.

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