TODAY IN HISTORY: THE INFAMOUS MUNICH PACT

Nevile Chamberlain, Édouard Daladier, Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Count Ciano
29 Sep 1938 (German Federal Archives)

By 1938 there was no doubt anymore about the intentions of Germany’s Third Reich and Adolf Hitler. European nations were generally worried about a major war and to that end the two biggest powers in Europe: France and Great Britain, sought to avert it. It was based on the experience of the First World War in which millions had died. The aftermath of that war was a sentiment that total war must be averted at all costs. So far all of Hitler’s violations of treaties, such as occupying the Rhineland in 1936, had caused no major retribution even if it was a major violation of the Treaty of Versailles that Germany had agreed to in 1918.

In spring 1938, Hitler claimed that German-speaking people living in Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia wanted closer ties with Germany and began agitating that unless this was done it would be taken by force. Hitler claimed that this region was part of a Greater Germany. Needless to say, the Czechoslovakian government was concerned. Hitler had annexed Austria in 1938 and he might just do the same to Sudeten. Czechoslovakia had a pact with both France and Great Britain to come to its defense. Neither power was interested in having to defend Czechoslovakia on the battlefield. Both Britain and France sought to avoid a war and both agreed, without bothering to consult with the Czechoslovakians, they would give Hitler what he wanted. The deal was that in areas of fifty percent or more German Sudetens would go to Germany.

Hitler though, sensing he could get a lot more, wanted to put German soldiers in Sudeten and that Czechoslovakian army had to leave by 28 Sept 1938. This caused a crisis resulting in the Munich Conference of 29 Sep 1938. In attendance were British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, French premier Édouard Daladier, and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Mussolini presented a plan (that imitated a German proposal) which allowed German military occupation and an international commission to resolve disputes. It was formally agreed to on 30 Sep 1938. Czechoslovakia was presented with this agreement and had no choice but to accept or face immediate invasion. Chamberlain would get Hitler to sign a treaty and proclaim later, upon arrival in Britain, that he delivered “peace for our time.”

Aftermath
Germany acquired not only territory but the industrial resources that it needed (raw ore, steel and iron production, electrical plants). Czechoslovakia was diminished as a result. While many in public in Britain and France heralded the agreement as avoiding war, there were warnings it was wrong. Winston Churchill was critical of the deal and how they had abandoned Czechoslovakia to Hitler. The British Labor Party opposed the deal as well. A view began to emerge and would continue long after, that Britain and France wanted to get out of the military pact as they were not ready for war. Was Hitler bluffing or not also is discussed as well. The evidence is that Germany could have invaded but got what it wanted without firing a shot. And it was handed to Hitler on a platter by two powers that in the last war had been Germany’s enemies. It could not have been a greater present for Hitler.

Czechoslovakia was doomed by the pact. In October 1938, it was forced to hand over under the Vienna Award territory in its south to Hungary and a small concession to Poland. In March 1939, after Slovakia seceded to become a pro-German state, Hitler demanded Czechoslovakia accede to German occupation, which it did. Czechoslovakia then became a protectorate of the Third Reich. Churchill’s warning had come true. With his policy of appeasement now deemed a total failure, Neville Chamberlain realized that it was time to mobilize for war. The French would likewise make preparations (but so entrenched was the avoidance of total war doctrine failed to act when it had the option to do so when most of the German army was invading Poland). In September 1939, World War II would officially begin with the invasion of Poland and declaration of war by Britain and France on Germany.

The lesson of the Munich Pact is that making short term deals with dictators to gain a moment of peace comes at a high cost. The Czechs were abandoned by Britain and France to their fate because neither one wanted to stand up to Hitler. Both Chamberlain and his French counterpart would live to see how badly it would turn out. After war broke out,  Chamberlain’s popularity fell and would resign on 10 May 1940 and replaced by Winston Churchill though remained in the Cabinet. He would die in November 1940. Édouard Daladier, who was under no illusions as to Hitler’s goals (but knew support for standing up to Hitler was thin),had resigned his position in March 1940 but was still minister of defense when Germany invaded. He would be arrested and charged with treason by the German supported Vichy government and imprisoned. He would be imprisoned in several places, including the Buchenwald concentration camp and ended up in Itter Castle in Tyrol with other French dignitaries until liberated on 5 May 1945 after the Battle of Itter . He would return to the Chamber of Deputies after the war, served as mayor of Avignon, and died in Paris in 1970.

REMEMBERING HISTORY: BABI YAR BEGAN Today in 1941

Handout dated September 28, 1941 in Russian, Ukrainian with German translation ordering all Kievan Jews to assemble for the supposed resettlement.
Public Domain

With German control over their portion of Poland now complete, the elimination of Jews and others began in earnest. To facilitate this, special task forces called Einsatgruppen were charged with carrying out the liquidation in occupied countries. They oversaw the implementation of the Final Solution (Die Endlosung). At the ravine near Kiev called Babi Yar would take place one one of the most documented massacres of Jews during World War 2. Between 29-30 September 1941, 33,741 Jews were exterminated by Nazi’s and their collaborators. One of the reasons for the exterminations is retaliation for Soviet explosives that caused damage to the city and to the army headquarters in that area.

Orders were issued and posted in numerous languages on 26 September 1941:

All Yids  of the city of Kiev and its vicinity must appear on Monday, September 29, by 8 o’clock in the morning at the corner of Mel’nikova and Dokterivskaya streets (near the Viis’kove cemetery). Bring documents, money and valuables, and also warm clothing, linen, etc. Any Yids who do not follow this order and are found elsewhere will be shot. Any civilians who enter the dwellings left by Yids and appropriate the things in them will be shot.

Jews were led to believe they were being resettled and believed it right up to the end. They were driven to a designated area where they passed through several stages before arriving at Babi Yar itself. At each stage they had to surrender luggage, valuables, and later their clothing. A special pile was kept for everything collected. Men, women and children were led to Babi Yar and then gunned down by machine gun fire. Most did not know at first what was happening since the crowd was so large. And it happened quickly. Ukrainian nationals would force anyone who attempted to linger to move on with swift kicks and threats of more violence. There was no chance to escape. They were driven down into a corridor of soldiers where they were killed 10 at a time.

“Once undressed, they were led into the ravine which was about 150 metres long and 30 metres wide and a good 15 metres deep … When they reached the bottom of the ravine they were seized by members of the Schutzpolizei and made to lie down on top of Jews who had already been shot … The corpses were literally in layers. A police marksman came along and shot each Jew in the neck with a submachine gun … I saw these marksmen stand on layers of corpses and shoot one after the other … The marksman would walk across the bodies of the executed Jews to the next Jew, who had meanwhile lain down, and shoot him.” (quote from Wikipedia. Source:  Berenbaum, Michael. The World Must Know, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, this edition 2006, pp. 97–98.)

Money and valuables taken from Jews were handed over to local ethnic Germans or to local German authorities. Those that were wounded or still alive were shot. One notable survivor, Dina Pronicheva, played dead and was spared to escape later. There are 29 known survivors. The identities of those killed at Babi Yar is still ongoing. The SS would cover the area with earth to cover up the bodies. Mass executions would continue until the day the Germans were forced to withdraw in 1943.

Sources:

Books

Gilbert, Martin  The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War. Holt, Rinehart and Winston 1985

Snyder, Louis Dr. Encyclopedia of the Third Reich, Marlowe & Company, New York 1976

Internet

MARITIME DISASTER HISTORY: SS ARCTIC COLLIDES WITH SS VESTA KILLING 322 IN 1854

United States Mail steamship Arctic (launched 1850).
Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress)

On 27 September 1854 the SS Arctic collided with SS Vesta in heavy fog killing 322 people. The Arctic was a wooden hull passenger steamer ship launched in 1850 for the Collins Line. It was one of four ships the company built using U.S. government subsidies to challenge the British-backed Cunard line. The Collins Line had successfully bid to be subsidized as a mail and a passenger ship to Europe in 1847. As part of the deal in receiving the subsidies, the line agreed that in times of war they might be called into service as a troop transport or other need.

The launching of the ship in 1850 was well regarded at the time. She was considered one of the best vessels constructed up to that time and thousands witnessed her launch at Brown shipyards on the New York East River. And her top speed was 13 knots, a significant achievement making her known as the “clipper of the sea.” Not only was she fast but luxurious with her fittings and accommodations. Under captain James Luce, the ship underwent her sea trials and first regular service without incident. In 1853 she ran aground on Burbo Bank in Liverpool Bay while enroute to New York. She had to be refloated and returned to Liverpool. In 1854 she struck the Black Rock of the Saltee Islands from Liverpool to New York. Once again, she was refloated and sent to Liverpool. Arctic’s engines though were expensive to operate, and they had to rely on an invention by a Baltimore firm to reduce costs. The engines also put a strain on the wooden hulls as well.

On 27 September 1854 while enroute to New York from Liverpool, a sudden and heavy fog came up 50 miles off the coast of Newfoundland. Captain Luce did not take the usual precautions of slowing down, adding extra watches, and sounding the horn. At 12:15 pm, the Arctic collided with iron-hulled French steamer Vesta. At first Captain Luce thought the smaller vessel had taken more damage. However, the iron hulled ship had significantly damaged the Arctic and it was sinking. Under the maritime rules of the time, the ship had six lifeboats that would carry 180 people. However, there were 400 people aboard, 200 passengers and 150 crew. Discipline broke down quickly as many scrambled for the few lifeboats available. There was no “women and children first” enforced and many of the crew got into lifeboats. Those that remained had to use makeshift rafts. Captain Luce went down with the ship but survived the sinking. Two of the lifeboats made it to land. Another was picked up by another steamer. The other three lifeboats were never seen again.

The losses were staggering as all the women and children perished, including the wife of Edward Collins and two of his children that were aboard at the time. Other prominent people perished as well, and a rare copy of William Shakespeare First Folio was lost as well. News of the sinking did not reach New York until 2 weeks later due to limited telegraphy. The news brought a groundswell of anger in newspapers and public opinion. There were demands for an investigation and to change the law about lifeboats required. They were never acted upon and no one was ever held to account. Captain Luce was not generally considered to be at fault but retired. The scandal of so many crew surviving instead of women and children would result in many surviving crew members did not return to the US.

The Collins Line suffered further after that. The SS Pacific disappeared without a trace in 1856 enroute to New York from Liverpool. Many believe it collided with an iceberg and sank as it raced to arrive earlier than the Cunard liner Persia. All 55 passenger and 141 crew were lost along with its freight. Her remains were found in 1993 off the coast of Wales (some dispute this though) and some alternative theories of her fate have been put forward. The SS Adriatic was launched on April 7, 1856 but did not do her sea trials till 1857. However due to a depression, Congress reduced the subsidy to $385,000. In February 1858, the line suspended operations and in April went into bankruptcy. All of its remaining vessels were auctioned off and the company paid off its creditors. That left Cunard, for a time, without much opposition in the passenger trade between Europe and the United States.

Sources:

WELCOME TO FIRST SUNDAY OF AUTUMN

Autumn Landscape
Charles Rondeau (publicdomainpictures.net)

Summer is now gone and Autumn has officially begun here in the northern hemisphere. Summer is still throwing its hot breath though in many places. On Saturday it was a blazing 107 in Death Valley, CA while the low was 27 at Estcourt Station in Maine.  Be sure to click and read the article about that border town in Maine. Not unlike those who live in Point Roberts in Washington state but not as bad. The town is at the southern tip of the Tsawwassen peninsula, 25 miles south of Vancouver. While you can travel by air or ferry to Washington state, you have to cross an international boundary (twice) by car.  You have to cross into Canada and then enter the U.S. at Blaine, Washington (and then in reverse going back).

Already signs of the seasons are appearing in stores.  Halloween decorations are starting to appear along with boxes of costumes, food, and related items. Sadly because of Covid-19 restrictions, Halloween will be a less festive affair in many places. Halloween parties will be discouraged, trick or treat limited (probably people putting candy out on tables so you do not need to come to door). Candy makers are not expecting sales to be as high as last year. Expect them to say it means more candy for you! I guess many will have Zoom Halloween parties this year.

That means my old favorite, the Headless Horseman, will have fewer heads to stalk for.  Not to worry though, he probably will branch out to major cities where a lot of people are out on the streets protesting these days. Haunted Houses sadly will be limited in some areas but now will be virtual. Or parents might get creative and set up scary spots in their homes. Perhaps the old treat of roasted pumpkin seeds might make a come back. Trust me. The smell of pumpkin seeds roasting will make the kids want them.

Have a nice Sunday everyone.

 

BILL OF RIGHTS RATIFIED in 1789

Bill of Rights
Public Domain

On 25 September 1789, the first Congress approved 12 amendments to the U.S. Constitution sending them to the states for ratification. Under the Constitution, 2/3 of the states must approve before they can become legal. These amendments, often called the Bill of Rights, were designed to protect the basic rights of citizens that included freedom of speech, press, right to assemble, the free exercise of religion, limiting the government from unlawful entry into your home without a warrant, bearing arms, the right against self-incrimination in criminal trials and that you could not be tried for the same crime twice.

These amendments were influenced by the English Bill of Rights (1689) and by Virginia’s Declaration of Rights written by George Mason. As part of the original ratification of the Constitution, it was agreed that these would be the first amendments to be immediately adopted. These amendments were very important to the American colonists who had rebelled against England. They reflect the wrongs of the English government inflicted on its citizens and sought to make sure no U.S. government would ever do the same to its citizens. Mason and others were concerned that unless such limits were put into place, the temptation to misuse government would arise.

And history has largely proved this thinking correct. Unless you have a written constitution (not one that can be easily amended or changed as some parliamentary countries can do) the temptation to misuse government power can lead to tyranny being imposed. By limiting the powers of government, dividing it into separate branches, the U.S Constitution makes it impossible for one person to have all three powers: legislative, executive and judicial. The Bill of Rights ensures that citizens given basic freedoms that the government cannot take away.

Ten of the twelve amendments were ratified by December 1791. One was defeated and another went into limbo.

27th Amendment

“No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

Originally proposed on 25 September 1789 as part of the original Bill of Rights. Since it did not pass the 2/3 requirement but had no expiration date, it sat in a form of constitutional limbo for 80 years then was ratified by Ohio. It then went back into limbo again until 1978 when Wyoming, angry at a Congressional pay hike, passed it but then again it went into limbo until the 1980’s.

Gregory Watson, who had noticed it was still alive as an undergraduate at Austin State University, took up the cause as an aide to a Texas legislator. From 1983-1992 other states, angry at Congress for their pay hikes, also ratified it. It was declared ratified on 7 May 1992. Many states would also post-ratify the amendment as well. Of all the amendments, it took the longest to get ratified at 74,003 days.

Sources:

REMEMBERING HISTORY:LEWIS & CLARK EXPEDITION

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
Public Domain (Wikipedia)

On 23 September 1806, and amid much public excitement, the expedition of William Clark and Meriweather Lewis returned to St. Louis, Missouri. They were the first to record an overland journey from the Mississippi River to the Pacific coast and back. They had set out two years ago and came back with a wealth of knowledge about the territory of the newly purchased Louisiana Purchase.

Under President Jefferson, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803 for a price of 3 cents per acre for some 828,000 square miles of land. It is considered one of the best land deals ever. Jefferson commissioned the expedition of Lewis and Clarke to explore this territory and report back what they found. The expedition left in May 1804 with about four dozen men and equipment. Traveling up the Missouri River in six canoes and two longboats they would winter in Dakota before crossing into Montana where they saw the Rocky Mountains for the first time. They would meet the Shoshone Indians on the other side of the Continental Divide, who would sell them horses. The journeyed through the Bitterroot Mountains, down the rapids of the Clearwater and Snake rivers, until they reached the Columbia River and to the sea. They arrived at the Pacific Ocean on 8 November 1805 and were the first European explorers to do this overland from the east. The paused for the winter and then made their journey back to St. Louis in the spring.

The journals that were kept noted longitude and latitude with detailed notes on soil, climate, animals, plants, and native peoples. They identified new plants and animals (the grizzly bear for one). They also named geographic locations after themselves, loved ones, friends and even their dog. They experienced a variety of diseases and injuries during their journey but only one person perished. Their expedition is considered one of the most consequential and remarkable in U.S. history. Their travels in Oregon would lead the U.S. to able claim territorial rights later.

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Autumn Equinox Today

                                                                                  Solstices and Equinoxes
                                                                                         Image: NASA

For those who watch the calendar, today marks the official end of summer and the beginning of autumn with the equinox today. It begins today at 13:30 UTC (go here to see the time it begins in your area). There are two equinoxes in the year: March and September. When these equinoxes occur the sun is directly on the equator, and the length of day and night is almost equal. In the Northern hemisphere, the September Equinox heralds autumn while in the South it is the beginning of spring.

For those of us in the North, it means a transition from summer to winter.  During this period  days start getting shorter and nights longer. Depending on where you live, you will likely have moderate warm days followed by long and cooler nights. Harvests of many crops often take place during the fall and in the old days you would make preparations to store food for the winter. Harvest festivals are very popular and in particular Halloween. Pumpkins begin appearing along with all kinds of Halloween decor culminating, of course, in All Hallows Eve (Halloween) on October 31.

English Autumn George Hodan (publicdomainpictures.net)

SUNDAY TITANIC NEWS-DID AURORA BOREALIS CAUSE PROBLEMS FOR TITANIC?

Aurora Borealis by Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900)
Public Domain (Wikipedia Commons)

The Daily Mail had an interesting report about a claim concerning the Northern Lights (aurora borealis). An independent weather researcher is arguing that the presence of the Northern Lights that night contributed in its demise. The compass would have been off by a degree and wireless communication would have affected  as well. It would make receiving them more difficult or not at all. It is certainly interesting and certainly adds something new to the events of that night.

Solar Flare May Have Contributed To The Sinking Of The Titanic By Throwing Off Compass Readings And Causing Radio Interference, Study Suggests (Daily Mail, 15 Sept 2020)

TODAY IS ROSH Hashanah

Shofar with inscription wishing Happy New Year
Alphonse Levy
Public Domain

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins at sundown today, at ends two days later on sundown. It is called Yom Teruah in the Bible and commands that “you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation.” It is also the first of the Jewish High Holy Days specified in Leviticus 23. Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Jewish civil year.

It is marked by the sounding the shofar (an ancient musical horn made from a ram’s horn) and attending synagogue services and reciting a special liturgy. Festive meals are an important part of the two days with an emphasis on sweet foods on the second day to evoke a sweet new year. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, this year many synagogues have to separate readers of the 10 verses due to social distancing rules. And in many cases the services will be streamed online for those that cannot attend due to these same restrictions.

Commentary on Titanic news and other related items.