Remembering History: England Defeats Spanish Armada (29 July 1588)

Defeat of the Spanish Armada (Philip James de Loutherbourg, 1796)
Public Domain

On July 29, 1588 naval forces of England and Spain engaged in an 8-hour furious battle off the coast of France that determined the fate of both countries control of the seas. Spain had created the armada to not only gain control of the English Channel but also to land an invasion force in England. England since the early 1580s had been conducting raids against Spanish commerce and had supported Dutch rebels in Spanish Netherlands. The other reason was to restore Catholicism that had been outlawed since the reign of King Henry VIII

The invasion fleet was authorized by King Philip II and was completed in 1587 but delayed by a raid by Sir Francis Drake on the Armada’s supplies. It did not depart until May 19, 1588. The fleet consisted of 130 ships under the command of the Duke of Medina-Sidonia. It had 2,500 guns, 8,000 seamen, and 20,000 soldiers. The Spanish ships though were slower than their English counterparts and lighter armed as well despite their guns. Their tactic was to force boarding when their ships were close enough. They believed with the superior numbers of Spanish infantry they could overwhelm the English ships.

The English were commanded by Charles Howard, 2nd Baron Howard of Effingham. Like his counterpart, he was an admiral with not much sea experience but proved to be the better leader. His second in command was Sir Francis Drake. The English fleet was at its height 200 ships but in the actual combat was at most 100. Only 40 were warships and the rest smaller, but they were armed with heavy artillery that were able to fire at longer ranges without having to get close to the enemy to be effective. The English strategy was to bombard their enemy from a distance and not give them the opportunity to get close and possibly board their ships (which had smaller number of soldiers aboard than the Spanish had).

As the Spanish Armada made its way, it would be harassed by English ships that bombarded them at a distance negating Spanish attempts to board. The Armada anchored near Calais, France on 27 July. The Spanish forces on land were in Flanders and would take time to get Calais. However, since there was no safe port and enemy Dutch and English ships patrolled the coastal shallows, it meant those troops had no safe way to get to the Armada.

Around midnight on 29 July, the English sent 8 fire ships into the anchored Spanish fleet. The Spanish were forced to quickly scatter to avoid the fire ships. This meant the Armada formation was now broken making them easier targets for the English to attack. They closed to effective range and attacked. Surprising to the English, the return fire was mostly small arms. It turns out most of the heavy cannons had not been mounted. And those that were did not have properly trained crews on how to reload. Three Spanish ships were sunk or driven ashore. Other ships were battered and moved away. The English also were low on ammunition, so they had to drop back and follow the Spanish fleet.

The Spanish fleet had to flee north and around Scotland and from there head back to Spain. The English fleet turned back for resupply. It was a long road back to Spain for the Armada. Autumn had arrived and gales in the North Atlantic made passage tough. Ships were lost to bad weather, navigational errors, foundered near Ireland, and possibly battle damage as well. Only 60 of the 130 survived with an estimated loss of 15,000 men. The English losses were much smaller with fewer men wounded or killed in battle. It appears most of the deaths that came later were due to disease (possibly scurvy). Damages to the English ships were negligible.


With the defeat of the Spanish Armada, England was made safe from invasion. The Dutch rebels the English backed in Spanish Netherlands were saved as well. Spain up to that point had been considered to be the greatest European power, so it was a major blow to their prestige that would have ramifications down the road for them. Also, it heralded a major change for naval battles. This was the first major naval gun battle where the combatants fought at a distance rather than closing and boarding. Warships that could move quickly and had artillery that fire at long range would become the norm on the seas from that point on. England would now become a major world power. Spain still was in the game for several decades (the English were not successful either in trying their own invasion) and was still a major colonial power. England and Spain formally ended their conflict in 1604. Spain, however, would eventually go into decline as England and other European powers would successfully expand into Asia and establish their own colonies and trade routes.


This Day In History: Spanish Armada Defeated
Encyclopedia Britannica: Spanish Armada

Nazi Germany Prepares For Final Solution (31 July 1941)

Portrait Reinhard Heydrich in Uniform of SS-Gruppenführers ca. 1940/1941
German Federal Archives via Wikimedia Commons

On 31 July 1941 Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering, following instructions by Hitler, sent a letter to SS General Reinhard Heydrich directing him to “to submit to me as soon as possible a general plan of the administrative material and financial measures necessary for carrying out the desired final solution of the Jewish question.” In the instruction, Goering recalled a general outline that had been drafted on 24 January 1939 that called for the emigration and deportation of Jews in the best possible way. The program to be implemented by Nazi Germany was the mass and systemic extermination of Jews in al countries under German control.

Heydrich had already started implementing the strategy by bringing back the medieval ghetto in Poland. Jews were forced to live in cramped walled areas and held as prisoners. Their property was confiscated and given to Germans or local non-Jewish people. The instructions from Goering would lead to the Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942 where details on implementing this mass murder scheme would be decided upon.



Remembering History: 14th Amendment Adopted Ending Citizenship Question (28 Jul 1868)

In the aftermath of the American Civil War, several amendments to the U.S. Constitution were needed to correct several important issues. The first was slavery which was outlawed by the 13th Amendment. Another question was about who qualifies as a citizen under the law. It may seem obvious now, but a clear and concise definition was not in the Constitution. Without such a definition, a state could pass a law that would declare person or a group of people as non-citizens on their own. Some laws already existed in the South that severely limited or completely denied African Americans citizenship. Some newly readmitted Confederate states enacted laws that severely restricted their legal rights, angering Northern states.

President Andrew Johnson, who had succeeded Lincoln after his assassination, supported emancipation but as a former slaveowner, did not support the 13th (Congress overturned his veto) and likewise did so on the 14th as well. The 14thamendment not only granted full citizenship to the former slaves, but it also rescinded the three-fifths rule of those enslaved for congressional representation. Now every person counted in determining congressional representation rather trying to make fractions out of people. Everyone age 21 and over was granted the right to vote as well. The amendment had enforcement provisions in it as well if a state chose to ignore the law and impose laws contrary to it. Confederate states had to approve both the 13th and 14th Amendments to rejoin the United States.

When Louisiana and South Carolina ratified the amendment on 9 Jul 1868, that gave it the necessary three-fourths majority to ratify. It was then sent back to Congress for formal certification and became law on 28 Jul 1868. Due to Jim Crow Laws, which many Southern states enacted to make it difficult to vote, those laws would have to be addressed by later court decisions and federal laws. Segregation, where blacks and whites could have separate but equal facilities, was made constitutional in 1897 in Plessy vs. Ferguson. It was overturned by the 1954 case Brown vs Board of Educationending segregation.


Agricultural Disaster: Grasshoppers Devastate Midwest (26 July 1931)

Headline from Iowa City Press-Citizen, 27 Jul 1931

On 26 July 1931 swarms of grasshoppers would descend on the American Midwest resulting in millions of acres of farmland to be destroyed.

In 1931 the United States was in the throes of the Great Depression with many out of work, rural banks closing, capital to invest in industries limited, and the cost of living hard for most Americans. The American Midwest, which supplied much of the nation’s needed grain and other foods, was hit hard not only by the bad economic times but a drought as well. Agriculture faces many threats but one of the most serious are voracious insects such as grasshoppers and locusts. There had been such pestilence before in America. There had been one in July 1874 when Rocky Mountain Locusts swarmed through North Dakota to Texas destroying crops. There too the Midwest was beset by drought, which is considered to be a cause of large swarms being formed to find food.

Locusts and grasshoppers are similar to each other, can look the same in many cases, but have differences as well. Both belong to the same family- Acrididae- and can look the same but have differences as well. Grasshoppers are found worldwide while locusts are generally found in Africa and Asia. Both are solitary meaning after they are born, except for mating, they do not have much contact with others of their kind. Both eat plants and will devour the entire plant. Grasshoppers tend to eat a more varied diet than locusts. Both however can swarm when foods become scarce. Locusts though actually change color, unlike grasshoppers, when they swarm. Both though are a pestilence to farmers.

By July 1931, severe drought had devastated Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. On July 26, swarms of grasshoppers descended and began eating all the cornstalks right down to the ground. The swarms were so massive that they actually blotted out the sun in some areas. They covered everything and seemed everywhere. You could not walk without stepping through them as they ate their way across the land. Anything that stored grains, unless well sealed, would be targeted as well if they could find a way in.

Photo of grasshopper devastation on Iowa farm July 1931

The result were farms completely devastated once the grasshoppers were finished. The grasshoppers consumed every part of the cornstalk leaving nothing behind before they moved on. President Hoover allocated federal aid to help farmers after the crisis. However, the combined problems of the drought, the Great Depression, and the grasshoppers caused many to close up and move elsewhere to start over. Grasshoppers are still a threat today, somewhat minimized with pesticides, but can still swarm when drought limits their food supply.

There was a major grasshopper swarm near Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2014. Due to drought and limited vegetation, the swarm headed to both urban and suburban centers. The swarm was so thick that it was picked up on radar. The grasshoppers destroyed or damaged home lawns, outdoor gardens, and just like in 1931 were everywhere.

ABC News. “Grasshopper Swarms so Dense They Show up on Radar.” ABC News, 2 June 2014,


“Grasshoppers Devastate Midwestern Crops.” HISTORY, 13 Nov. 2009,

“Iowa History Daily: July 27 – Great Grasshopper Horde of ’31.” Notes on Iowa, 27 July 2022,

Grasshopper Plague of the Great Plains – Legends of Kansas.

Green, Josie. “The Most Devastating Plagues in US History Caused by Insects.”, May 2021,

Featherstone, Nicky. “Locust Vs Grasshopper: What’s the Difference?” Forest Wildlife, Mar. 2023,

Fascinating History: Machu Pichu Discovered (24 July 1911)

Martin St-Amant - Wikipedia - CC-BY-SA-3.0
Martin St-Amant – Wikipedia – CC-BY-SA-3.0

Machu Pichu is one of the most exciting archeological discoveries of the 20th century. High in the Andes northwest of Cuzco, Peru, this former sacred city of the Inca leaders lay undiscovered when the Inca fell due to the Spanish invasion in the sixteenth century. The Spanish never found Machu Pichu so it remained virtually untouched for hundreds of years and its location known only by those who lived nearby. In the summer of 1911 American archeologist Hiram Bingham was directing a Yale archaeological expedition to find Vilcabamba*, a lost city of the Incas. Vilcabamba was alleged to have been a secret stronghold of the Incas during the rebellion against the Spanish in the sixteenth century. Its location was a mystery and the Spanish never found it but Bingham was determined to follow the clues scattered in chronicles from that period. The clues seemed to indicated it was near Cuzco.

Traversing the Andes even during the best of times is not easy and he risked his life visiting several Inca sites. He was urged by a local prefect to visit the Urubamba River valley to find the ruins of Choquequirau (“Cradle of Gold”). He ended up meeting Melchor Arteaga,a Quechua-speaking resident, and on 24 July 1911 was taken to the ruins of Machu Pichu. He found well preserved stonework and noticed the similarity of the structures to the Temple of the Sun in Cuzco. Since the ruins were covered in vegetation, a second expedition in 1912 was undertook to excavate the area. Subsequent expeditions would continue to do that task in 1914 and 1915. Reconstruction would also take place as well to restore the city to its former glory. Peru declared it a Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and UNESCO has declared it a World Heritage Site.

Unlike Hiram Bingham and others who came to the site in the early days, visitors can either walk the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu (there are several options from the full six day hike to just one day) or take a train. Due to the effects of so many people visiting the site, Peru has put restrictions to limit the numbers of hikers and visitors to Machu Pichu. Those taking the longer trails should know that the ascent can lead to altitude sickness.  Machu Pichu is 7,970 feet above sea level. If you have ever visited Cuzco, there is a reason they have air tanks ready for visitors.

*Bingham believed he had found Vilcabamba but in 1964 American archaeologist Gene Savoy believed the excavation of Espíritu Pampa was a more likely candidate. Subsequent excavations and other research has determined that this was the likely site of Vilcabamba.

1. Hiram Bingham (Encyclopedia Brittanica)
2. Machu Pichu (Destination Machu Pichu)

Remembering History: Storming the Bastille (14 Jul 1789)

The Storming of the Bastille by Jean-Pierre Houël (1735–1813)
National Library of France
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

On 14 July 1789, the storming of the Bastille, a formidable stone prison originally built to protect the eastern entrance to Paris, is considered the launch of the French Revolution and celebrated as a holiday in France. The prison often held political prisoners and was seen as a sign of tyranny. By this time in 1789, the prison only held seven prisoners none of whom were of a political nature. Four were charged with forgery and two were considered mad or lunatics. The Bastille was actually being scheduled for demolition to make way for public square.

France was facing economic and social problems. Louis XVI had inherited considerable debt from his predecessor but continued to spend (along with his wife Marie Antoinette) considerable sums of money further deepening government debt. Crop failures in 1788 led to a national famine and the cost bread prices to soar. Unemployment was a factor as well and many thought they had lost jobs due to lessening of customs duties with England (resulting in more jobs there than in France). With violent food riots breaking out, King Louis XVI tried to resolve it through the Estates-General (a national assembly of clergy, nobility and the common person).

While in theory all three were equal, two of the other parts could outvote the third. This left many deputies upset demanding a greater voice and proclaiming their own National Assembly. This would lead to the famous Tennis Court Oath of 20 June 1789 not to separate until they had a constitution. Many nobles and clergy crossed over to this National Assembly which Louis XVI gave consent to. His ordering of army regiments into Paris though made many fear he was going to break up the assembly by force. The dismissal of Jacques Necker, a non-noble minister for the government on 11 July, triggered massive protests and destruction of custom posts. Custom posts were hated as they imposed taxes on goods.

On 14 July a mob seized muskets and cannons from a military hospital and then decided to get more at the Bastille. The governor of the Bastille saw the mob and invited them in to discuss terms of surrender. Outside the crowd grew restless awaiting word and it is possible some thought the delegates had been arrested. A group climbed over the outer wall and climbed in to open the drawbridge to the courtyard. The governor broke his pledge not to fire and bullets rang out killing 100 outright leaving others wounded. The royals only lost one soldier. The arrival of the French Guards, sympathetic to the mob, would force the governor to surrender after having cannons blasting away at the Bastille. Without adequate provisions, he surrendered the Bastille. Some of the royalist troops would be butchered after the surrender. The governor was taken prisoner and beheaded by the mob.


The Bastille was dismantled, and its only prisoner later would be Louis XVI. He would be executed on 21 January 1793 along with his wife. The French Revolution, once thought a means to reform France into a constitutional monarchy, slid into a revolutionary government that completely overturned the ancien regime. During its tenure, it became increasingly bloody killing off enemies of the new order. Anyone who was thought to disagree with them could be denounced and executed. Instead of creating a better stable system, it became one long food riot as one professor said to me once. And the revolutionaries fought amongst themselves as to who was the better one to lead. That led to more bloody executions and the guillotine became the image of the French Revolution. Ultimately the people tired of this turmoil and wanted order. And it would come from Napoleon Bonaparte, but that is another story.



The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2024c, July 11). Bastille Day | Definition, history, traditions, celebrations, & facts. Encyclopedia Britannica.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2024a, May 17). French Revolution | History, Summary, timeline, causes, & facts. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Mullen, M. (2023, July 14). Bastille Day – Definition, Date & facts | HISTORY. HISTORY.

Suggested Reading

Clarke, S. (2019). The French Revolution and What Went Wrong. Arrow.

Davidson, I. (2018). The French Revolution. Pegasus Books.

Dickens, C. (1998). A Tale of Two Cities. Courier Corporation.

Doyle, W. (2018). The Oxford History of the French Revolution. Oxford University Press.

De Tocqueville, A. (2020). The State of Society in France Before the Revolution of 1789: And the Causes Which Led to That Event (H. Reeve, Trans.). Independently Published.

Palmer, R. R. (2017). Twelve Who ruled: The Year of Terror in the French Revolution. Princeton University Press.

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Remembering History: Liberty Bell and Commodore Perry Goes to Japan

Liberty Bell
Photo: National Park Service
Public Domain

On 8 Jul 1776, the “Liberty Bell” rang out from the tower of the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia to call citizens to hear the reading of the Declaration of Independence. The 2,000-pound copper bell had been originally commissioned to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the Pennsylvania constitution in 1751. Due to cracking, it had to be recast twice before being installed in June 1753. The bell was used to summon people for special announcements and occasions.

When the British were approaching Philadelphia in autumn 1777, the bell was removed and hidden in Allentown. After the American War for Independence ended in 1781, the bell was returned where Philadelphia served as the nation’s capital from 1790-1800. The bell was rung annually to celebrate George Washington’s Birthday on 22 February. It was not called “Liberty Bell” until an epic poem written by an abolitionist in an 1839 poem.

Its famous crack was likely caused in 1835 for the funeral of John Marshall, chief justice of the United States Supreme Court. And then got bigger when it was rung for Washington’s Birthday rendering it unusable. Today it is ceremoniously tapped on important events in Independence Hall (formerly the Pennsylvania State House).


Japan had been closed to most of the world since 1639. The Dutch were allowed to maintain a trading post in Nagasaki and along with the Chinese, were the only ones allowed to have contact and trade with Japan. Foreigners were subject to arrest and execution if they landed on Japanese soil. The Tokugawa Shogunate, which had ruled since the early 1600’s, had closed Japan and it brought an era of peace and stability to the country. However, by the late 19th century, the Tokugawa was showing its age. While the Western world had changed, Japan was still feudal in many ways hindering its development. As other countries began industrializing and some of its people were exposed to its wonders, the time for change was approaching. With a mission to open relations with Japan, Commodore Matthew Perry was sent with a squadron of four vessels with letters from U.S. President Milliard Fillmore arriving on 8 Jul 1853 in Tokyo bay.

Commodore Matthew Perry, circa 1856-1858
Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, online collection (The Met object ID 283184)
Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)

The arrival of the American ships was a shock to the Japanese. At first, they refused communications and then sent messages to move his ships to Nagasaki. Messages went back and forth between the parties but Perry was firm that he would consult with direct representatives of the Emperor. All gifts and compromises were rejected by Perry and made sure their guard boats were herded away. He performed battle drills daily so that the Japanese could see how well trained his crews were and the weapons they had at their disposal. Finally on 14 July an imperial barge appeared carrying two imperial princes, Ido and Toda. A historic meeting took placed at a special meeting constructed for the event.

The letters from President Fillmore and one from Commodore Perry offered friendship and the advantages of opening up trade with the United States. And that a treaty could be drafted to formalize the agreement. Commodore Perry promised them time to consider the proposals and would return the following spring for an answer. Perry, though was asked to depart right away, would have his forces linger for three days. During this time, they would conduct hydrographic studies and also deliver a subtle message he would go when he decided to go. For the Japanese, it meant their carefully constructed isolation was being challenged. Perry would return, and after the usual delays and threats, the Treaty of Kanagawa (1854) was signed allowing for trade between the two nations and the exchange of ambassadors. The Japanese would send their first diplomats in 1860.

Japan would be changed forever. While stability and prosperity had occurred during the Tokugawa period, the agricultural sector was not producing enough. This resulted in famines and unrest. As more Japanese became exposed to Western culture via contact with the Europeans and Americans, it showed a world outside different from their own in many ways. And if they wanted to build up their country, they would need to learn how to develop themselves to be on par with Western nations. Resentment against imposed treaties with Western nations also fed into the desire to change the status quo as well.  In 1867, the Tokugawa was overthrown, and power restored to the Emperor formalized with the Meji Constitution of 1889. It would remain in effect till 1947.


Liberty Bell
Independence National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service)

Commodore Perry
Brief Summary of the Perry Expedition to Japan, 1853 (Naval History and Heritage Command)
Treaty of Kanagawa (


Himmler Orders Medical Experiments on Auschwitz Prisoners (7 Jul 1942)

Heinrich Himmler, 1942
German Federal Archives (via Wikimedia Commons)

On 7 July 1942, Heinrich Himmler orders that experimentation on women at the Auschwitz concentration camp begin and also to investigate extending this to males. How and why did this happen? Let’s find out.

Himmler, as head of the Schutzstaffel (SS), believed in exterminating all European Jews. As head of the SS and the assistant chief of the Gestapo, he controlled all the police forces in Germany. This allowed him the power to carry out Hitler’s Final Solution and why he was the one who called for a conference that would devise how these experiments would be conducted. The conference attendees included SS General Richard Glueks (hospital chief), SS Major-General Karl Gebhardt, and Professor Karl Clauberg (a leading German gynecologist) and members of the Concentration Camp Protectorate.

Gate to Auschwitz I with its Arbeit macht frei sign (“work sets you free”), 2010
Image credit: xiquinhosilva
Flickr via Wikimedia Commons

The conference decided that medical experimentations would take place but also done in a way that the women would not know what was being done to them. The experiments would be to devise methods of sterilizing Jewish women using massive doses of radiation and uterine injections. It was also decided to examine if X rays could be used to castrate men and use it on male Jewish prisoners. Adolf Hitler agreed to this, but it was kept top secret as they were concerned many would object (it had happened before when they tried exterminating disabled and those in hospitals with severe mental conditions). This program would further the Nazi’s aims to rid the world of Jews outside of their extermination camps. They knew that in time they would get control of countries where setting up extermination camps would not be practical, so developing means to sterilize Jewish men and women (and others they didn’t like as well) would allow them to continue eliminating Jews but under the guise of using medicine to eliminate them.


Himmler decides to begin medical experiments on Auschwitz prisoners.
Original Published Date: November 16, 2009
Last Accessed on: July 8, 2024

Nazi Medical Experiments
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Last Accessed on July 8, 2024

The Holocaust: Nazi Medical Experiments
Last Accessed on July 8, 2024

Remembering History: Anne Frank’s Family Takes Refuge (6 Jul 1942)

May 1942 photo for passport
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam.
Public Domain via Wikipedia Commons

After receiving word that they would be deported to a Nazi work camp, Ann Frank and her family take refuge in a secret annex of an Amsterdam warehouse. Her family was from Germany and fled in 1933 to Holland to escape Nazi persecution. The Netherlands declared its neutrality but that did not stop the Germans from invading on 10 May 1940. After the bombing of Rotterdam, its military forces surrendered, and its government and royal family fled to London Germany would occupy the country until the German surrender in May 1945.

The initial phase of the occupation was mild and often called the “velvet glove” where Germans under Arthur Seyss-Inquart did not impose the harsher rules of occupation found in other countries. The economy was doing well, and repression of the Jewish population was light. Starting in June 1941, that changed as Germany started demanding more from the occupied territories which lowered the standard of living. Repression of Jews began now in earnest as many were now deported to extermination camps.

Otto Frank had come to Amsterdam from Germany in 1933 with his wife Edith and their two daughters Margot and Anne. He worked for Opetka, which sold pectin and spices for jam production. A second company he started, Pectacon, sold wholesale spices, pickling salts, and herbs for sausage production. As things got more tense with Germany, he tried, unsuccessfully to move his business to Britain. When the occupation came and German laws about making businesses Aryan, he transferred ownership to his employees to keep it out of German hands. He unsuccessfully sought to emigrate to the United States.

Otto approached his bookkeeper, Miep Gies, to see if she could help hide his family. He also asked other employees to assist as well in bringing food to them in the secret annex hidden behind on a movable bookshelf. Another family, Van Pels would join them later as would Fritz Pfeffer making 8 people in total hiding in the Secret Annex.

For the next two years Ann would record in her diary her thoughts, humor, insight, and what was going on inside the annex. There were a lot of disagreements between the various people living together and Anne records how her father acted as a peacemaker. For two years they kept quiet during the day as people worked below and Nazi patrols were out on the streets. It all came to an end on 4 August 1944 when Dutch police officers with a member of the SS in charge raided the Secret Annex and arrested them all. Two employees were also arrested. They were all sent to Auschwitz, including the two men who had helped them. When Otto got off the train in Auschwitz, it was the last time he saw his wife and children. He would learn after the war his wife died in Auschwitz. Both Margo and Ann were moved to the Bergen-Belson concentration camp in Germany, where they both perished of typhus.

Otto would be the only one to survive and returning to Amsterdam he was given Anne’s diary by Miep Gies. After reading it, he was advised by others who had read it to have it published. It took a while, but it was first published in 1947 and into English in 1952. It has since then been translated into 70 languages and became a best seller and acclaimed movie. The diary stands as a testament to the six million Jews whose lives were taken by the Holocaust.