Exonyms are names used in a particular language to refer to a foreign nation or country; they can be completely different from the name that country uses (in its particular language) to qualify itself. Quite often, they can be of interest from a historical point of view because they can be surprisingly conservative. The exonym is sometimes preserved for hundreds of years after the political or ethnic entity it originally referred to ceased to be.

One of the best-known cases is Germany. Many nations share their linguistic origin with the German term Deutschland, even though they have sometimes assumed a quite different form i.e. Duitsland, Tedesco or Tyskland – from the Proto-Germanic Þeudiskaz. The Slavic peoples call the Germans Niemcy or similar which means ‘a mute’, someone who does not speak Slavic. The French and Spanish, among others, employ the name of the Alamanni tribe. The English, Italians and Russians, to name a few, use a derivative of the Latin Germania or Greek Γερμανία. And the Finns and Baltic states either refer to the name of the Saxon tribe or employ a word of unknown origin, like the Latvian Vacija or the Lithuanian Vokietija.

Consider these other cases:

  • The Latvians call Russia Krievija, referring to an ancient Slavic tribal union, the Krivichi;
  • The Turks call Greece Yunanistan and the Greeks Yunan, another very old exonym which probably has for origin the word ‘Ionia’, that is the Greek region on the coast of Asia Minor;
  • In a kind of an opposite logic, Russia was called Muscovy by the Poles, and then by other Europeans as a way to deny the claim of the Moscow-based government on the totality of Russian lands;
  • The Japanese used to call China Tang even hundreds of years after the end of that dynasty. In the late 19th- and early 20th century they resorted to an even older and more obscure word Shina, which had the advantage of being similar to the equivalent Western terms.

Also, there is something particularly curious about Roman exonyms; it seems the Romans gave completely random names to any people they encountered. A people that called itself Rasenna received the name Tuscans or Etruscans. The inhabitants of Carthage became Punics, and the Hellenes or Achaeans were Greeks. Celts became Galli or the Gauls.

“Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it.”
– George Bernard Shaw

Anton Schmid

Anton Schmid was an electrician who owned a small radio shop in Vienna. He was drafted into the German army after the Anschluss of 1938. Little did he know, that his short military career would posthumously become a case for innate basic human decency.

Yellow badge Star of David called

Yellow badge Star of David called ‘Judenstern’

Schmid found himself stationed near Vilnius in the autumn of 1941. During much of the 19th century and continuing in the 20th century until the Nazi invasion, Vilnius and Warsaw were Europe’s two pre-eminent centres of Jewish cultural, intellectual, religious and political life.

In the summer of 1941, the Nazis launched a genocidal campaign of mass murder and deportations to death camps that, in three years, systematically killed about 180,000 Jews, i.e. about 94% of the Jews living in Lithuania before World War II, the largest percentage of any country.

As a sergeant of the Wehrmacht, Schmid witnessed the herding of Jews into two ghettos and the shooting of thousands of them in nearby Ponary. In a letter to his wife, Schmid described his horror at the sight of mass murder and of “children being beaten on the way”. He related: “You know how it is with my soft heart. I could not think and had to help them.”

Anton Schmid was moved by the suffering of the Jews in the Vilnius ghetto and decided to help. He managed to release Jews from jail and risked his own life by smuggling food into the ghetto. His courageous assistance involved the saving of more than 250 Jews whom he managed to hide. He also supplied material and forged papers to the Jewish underground.

Schmid was arrested in January 1942, and summarily tried before a Nazi military court on February 25. He was found guilty and executed on April 13 by the Nazis for his humanitarian acts.

If Sergeant Schmid’s acts were enormously rare, he evidently saw nothing extraordinary in them.

“I merely behaved as a human being,”

he said in his last letter to his wife. In all the hell that was breaking loose around him, he chose to stay awake, to keep his head up and his heart opened. In the midst of so much death and destruction, he found some way to value life. Schmid stood out as one of the few known German soldiers who had enough courage to do what they felt was right.

In her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Hannah Arendt singled out the example of Sergeant Schmid as illustrating the lesson that “under conditions of terror, most people will comply but some people will not.” She continued, “How utterly different everything would have been in Israel, in Germany, in all of Europe, and perhaps in all countries of the world, if only more such stories could have been told.”

On 16 May 1967, the Israeli government paid tribute to Sergeant Anton Schmid. Yad Vashem awarded his widow the medal Righteous Among the Nations which bears the inscription:

“Whoever saves one life – saves the world entire.”

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No brides walk down the aisle of a church; they walk down the central passageway. The aisle is down the side of the church.

English: A submerged hippo at the Memphis zoo,...

Hippopotamus Amphibius

The earliest known soup was made from hippopotamus.

No man-made objects can be seen from the Moon with the naked eye. One would hardly be able to make out the continents.

An adder’s bite is no more dangerous to that of a wasp. The last recorded death from an adder’s bite was that of a 5-year-old girl in 1977.

The country with the highest suicide rate is Lithuania.