Remembering History: Auschwitz Liberated by Soviet Army

Child Survivors of Auschwitz, 1945
Public Domain (via Wikimedia)

On 27 Jan 1945, Soviet Union troops liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. In doing so, it revealed the horrors the Germans had perpetrated there. Auschwitz was a series of camps designated I, II, and III with also smaller satellite camps. Auschwitz II at Birkenau was the place where most of the exterminations at Auschwitz were done. Using four “bath houses,” prisoners were gassed to death and cremated. Prisoners were also used for ghastly medical experiments overseen by the infamous Josef Mengele (the “angel of death”).

As the Red Army approached, the SS began a murder spree and blew up the crematoria to try to cover up the evidence. When the Red Army finally got there, they found 648 corpses and 7,000 starving camp survivors. They also found six storehouses full of men’s and women’s clothes and other items the Germans were not able to burn before they left.

For More Information:

Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial & Museum
Brittanica.com
History.com
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
Yad Vashem

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Titanic News: Titanic Lego Set, Titanic II?

 

Titanic at Cobh Harbor, 11 April 1912
Public Domain (Cobh Heritage Centre, Cobh, Ireland)

LEGO Titanic Set Rumoured For 2021 Release (Brick Fanatics, 21 Jan 2021)

An official LEGO recreation of the Titanic may be on the way later in 2021, according to a new rumour. Eurobricks user VanIslandLego told YouTuber Brother From Another Brick that the second half of 2021 will see the release of a LEGO Titanic set. The same user was apparently responsible for the first rumours around 10274 Ghostbusters ECTO-1 and 10276 Colosseum, lending some veracity to the report.

Titanic Fans Around The World In Awe Of Consett Schoolboy’s Snow Sculpture (ChronicleLive, 21 Jan 2021)

“Awesome” and “fantastic” are just some of the words used to describe a County Durham schoolboy’s snow sculpture after it went viral on social media. During last week’s snow fall, six-year-old Lewis Maddick used his day off from school to create a replica of the Titanic. His recreation of the historical ship was so impressive it immediately attracted attention when his mum Fiona shared a picture of it on Facebook. And fellow Titanic-fanatics were in awe of the snow ship when a Titanic museum in America shared Lewis’ work on their Facebook page, Titanic Museum Attraction.

Titanic II?

There have been some news articles of late about Titanic II sailing in 2022. The Standard recently reported it was back on again. It pointed to a posting on Facebook but the Facebook page most recent posting is 2 Feb 2020 where Palmer says to await further announcements later in the year about Titanic II. A check of the Blue Star Line website shows the latest news was from 2018 on CNN where the article states it will launch in 2022. What this looks like is recycling old news or making old news looking like new. So it looks like there is nothing to report here.


Remembering the Sinking of RMS Republic (II)

SS Republic (date unknown)
Original source: White Star Line
Public Domain (via Wikimedia)

On 23 January 1909, RMS Republic collided early in the morning with the SS Florida in heavy fog off Nantucket, Massachusetts. Built by Harland & Wolff in Belfast and launched in 1903, it was originally christened SS Columbusand sailed for the Dominion line. The Dominion line was a sister company of the White Star Line and owned by International Mercantile Marine. It had two voyages with the line and then, along with three other Dominion liners, were sold to White Star. It was renamed Republic (the second White Star ship to bear that name) to sail the Liverpool-Boston route. In November 1904 the ship became part of the Mediterranean-New York service.

This route was for wealthy American passengers who would travel in the ships spacious accommodations for first and second class passengers. This gave the ship the nickname “The Millionaires Ship.” The other reason was to take advantage of the westbound Italian immigrant trade to America. With space for 2,000 in third class, this would become a very lucrative route. Third class was often booked to capacity for the westbound voyage.

Collision with SS Florida

The Republic departed New York on 22 January 1909 for Naples. The next morning the ship encountered heavy fog and began sounding her horn at regular intervals to announce her presence in the outbound shipping  lane. At around 5:47 a.m., another whistle was heard. Republic reversed her engines and the helm was turned hard to port. Then out of the fog the Lloyd Italian liner Florida came into view. The 5,018 ton liner on route to New York rammed the Republicamidships on her portside. Two passengers on the Republic were killed in their cabin when Florida sliced through the hull. Three crew aboard Florida were crushed when the bow was crushed back.

Both the engine and boiler rooms began to flood. Captain Sealby ordered an evacuation of the Republic and passengers were brought on deck. Thanks to the new Marconi wireless, a CQD message was sent (the first ship to use this signal). The Florida assisted as well as the Gresham, a U.S. revenue cutter. The White Star liner Baltic responded as well but did not arrive, due to the fog and the drifting Republic, until the evening. Both the Florida and Gresham had to split the passengers rescued but Florida was overcrowded. With the arrival of the Baltic, those rescued were all transferred to Baltic.

Captain Sealby and a skeleton crew stayed aboard Republic in the hopes of saving her. However this proved futile and the ship sank stern first on 24 January. At that time with her tonnage of 15,378 it was the largest ship to sink.

Aftermath

Republic was carrying money and valuables, including a reputed $3,000,000 in US gold Double Eagles. There was no formal inquiry by the British Board of Trade. According to rms-republic.com, it was brought up in the British House of Commons:

Mr. SUMMERBELL asked the reason why there has been no public inquiry into the wreck of the s.s. “Republic” early this year?

The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Tennant) The “Republic” sank after collision with the Italian steamer “Florida” in American waters on 23rd January last.  Formal investigation was not ordered in this country, as the Board of Trade had no power to compel the attendance of witnesses from the Italian vessel, and any public inquiry that might have been held in their absence would necessarily have been of an ex parte character and possibly prejudicial to the interests of the English vessel.  Actions were entered in the United States District Court, and are, I am informed, still pending.  It was reported that the “Florida” had been arrested by a United States marshal and subsequently sold by auction. (House of Commons, 30 June 1909)

So, no formal investigation was held but perhaps an informal inquiry was made, but that is pure speculation and no proof that it happened. However White Star Line sued the owners of the Florida, the Lloyd Line, in U.S. federal court. They were found at fault and ordered to pay damages. The ship was apparently sold to pay the damages. Captain Sealby was considered a hero by many for his actions in saving the passengers of Republic. Afterwards he would go to law school and become an expert on maritime law. He would next command a ship in 1917. Due to his experience, he was called upon to give his perspective on the Titanic disaster that occurred three years later.

The sinking in some ways proved the logic of not having enough lifeboats for all. The assumption with so many ships in the North Atlantic shipping lanes, that you only needed lifeboats to ferry passengers to other ships. While the evacuation of Republic went smoothly by all accounts, the question of what would happen if ships could not respond fast enough or were near enough was not considered. It would take the tragic demise of Titanic in 1912 to correct this line of thinking. Then quite suddenly shipowners had no problem adding lifeboats for everyone aboard the ship.

Sources

Rsearch.uk: SS Columbus (Republic II)
WhiteStarHistory.com: RMS Republic (II)
Treasure of the RMS Republic

Hat tip to Mark Baber whose White Star History emails alerted me to this incident.


Remembering History:Boston Molasses Flood (15 Jan 1919)

For most of us, the notion that molasses would flood a city causing fatalities and destruction on its face seems implausible. Yet it happened in Boston in 1919.

Molasses tank in North End of Boston. Date unknown.
Public Domain (via Wikipedia)

Industrial alcohol (used for machinery and other industrial applications) was very profitable and used for the war effort. It was made from fermented molasses so large tanks were constructed to hold it. A giant tank for it was built in 1915 along Boston’s waterfront on Commercial Street. Operated by the Purity Distribution Company (a subsidiary of United States Industrial Alcohol). The tank was immense measuring 50 feet high, 90 feet in diameter and could hold up to 2.5 million gallons. Back then, the usual standard was to use rivets (welding had not been invented yet) when connecting sections of metal together. Because of the fumes caused by fermentation and the pressure created, it posed a risk. There were leaks and occasional rumbles, but a vent was in place and open during the spring, summer, and fall. However, they were sealed during the winter since temperatures were usually very cool.

Shipments for molasses came in from ships in the harbor and transferred to the tank. Then later it would be transferred to an ethanol plant via pipeline in Cambridge. A recent delivery of molasses had nearly filled the tank. But for Purity, there was another issue. With the war over and Prohibition coming, the demand for industrial alcohol was going to be severely limited (there were still uses from industrial to baking but lower demand meant lower revenues for the company).

Boston Post,January 16, 1919, describing the Boston Molasses Disaster.
Public Domain (via wikipedia)

January 15, 1920 was an unseasonably warm day with temperatures soaring up to 40 degrees Fahrenheit and higher possibly by noon that day. With the vents closed, the fumes had nowhere to go and pressure built up inside the tank. At 12:30 pm people heard sounds that sounded like machine guns firing. It was likely the rivets being popped out by the pressure inside the tank. And then the tank exploded sending the nearly 2.5 million tons of molasses into Boston. The wave was estimated to be 15-40 feet and about 160 feet wide. Traveling at about 35 miles per hour, it destroyed several city blocks, leveled buildings, damaged autos and killed 21 people with 150 injured. Since molasses is very thick, it made for difficult breathing if it got into your nostrils or mouths. Many died from asphyxiation or drowned. Horses were knocked down and died on the spot with so many that many compared them to being sticky fly paper.

Boston molasses explosion
Source: U.S. Library of Congress,Digital ID: (digital file from original) anrc 1496

Clean-up efforts started immediately but lasted for quite a while. Molasses went everywhere and no matter where you went in Boston, you were likely to encounter the sticky stuff in some form. It was on subway platforms, inside streetcars, pay telephones, even inside public buildings. Pedestrians tracked the molasses everywhere they went spreading further. Cleanup crews were kept busy cleaning it all up using salt water. And from many accounts, it appears the city would smell like molasses for some years to come.

Aftermath

Fingers were pointed at the company, who tried initially to claim it was sabotage. An investigation into how it was built, and approvals were done showed a lot of corners were cut in its design and construction. Lawsuits were filed and consolidated into one of the first-class action suits ever to be done. Stories of known leaks where kids filled buckets with the leaking molasses did not help the company either. Ultimately the company paid out to victim’s families around $628,000.

The disaster highlighted the need for more rigorous standards for construction, required safety tests for tanks containing liquids, and ongoing safety checks. It was determined the company ignored basic safety tests when constructing and ignored the groaning sounds when tank was filled. Also the company used thinner steel than was commonly used for tanks in that day. They also covered up the leaks by painting the tank brown. Later investigations have shown that as the molasses left the exploded tank, it cooled due to the Boston temperatures making it more viscous (meaning it thickened up) as it went through the streets. This made rescue efforts more difficult and cleanup more difficult as well.

The tank was never rebuilt and the property became a yard for the Boston Elevated Railway (later the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority). Today is the site of a city owned recreational complex called Langone Park. To the east is the large Puopolo Park which has a small plaque on its entrance commemorating the disaster.

Sources


Titanic News: Titanic Expert Debunks Myths

‘It’s A Myth!’ Titanic Expert Exposes Damage ‘Greater Than Iceberg’ That Sunk Vessel (Daily Express, 19 Jan 2021)

The British passenger liner, under the captaincy of Edward Smith, had roughly 2,400 passengers on board when it struck an iceberg shortly before midnight on April 14, 1912. The devastating event saw more than 1,500 people lose their lives on the “unsinkable” vessel in one of modern history’s deadliest commercial marine disasters. An official inquiry into the incident by the British Wreck Commissioner found the owners – White Star – were not to blame, but in the years since numerous myths have developed over the story.

According to expert Tim Maltin, one of these surrounds how the vessel went down. Famous sketches over the years have depicted the front of the ship raised, as the back appears to slowly disappear below the waves. But Mr Maltin told historian Dan Snow that “sadly, this is a myth” during his appearance on History Hit’s documentary ‘Debunking the Myths of the Titanic’.


Remembering History: Post-World War I Conference Leads to Versailles Treaty

World War I came to an end in November 1918. The next step was to hammer out a formal agreement that would end the war. The major allied powers-France, Great Britain, Italy and the United States-would meet to begin this process on 18 Jan 1919. The European powers, particularly Britain and France, wanted Germany punished. President Woodrow Wilson of the United States argued for a peace without victory strategy where Germany would not be treated to harshly. Unfortunately, the major powers wanted Germany punished for the costs of the war. Wilson eventually compromised in order to get an international peacekeeping organization, the League of Nations, established.

Aftermath

Map of Europe, 1923, with territorial changes under Treaty of Versailles
Image credit: Fluteflute (Wikipedia)

Germany was excluded until May and presented with a draft of the Versailles Treaty. That is when they learned that Wilson’s promises were not included. The draft required Germany and Austria-Hungary to forfeit a lot of territory and pay reparations. It also made Germany solely responsible for the war. This disillusioned the Germans and for many a bitter pill to swallow. The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919 on the five year anniversary of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand that had sparked the war. Anger and resentment over the treaty would cause problems in Germany. And it would lead to extreme parties in Germany agitating against it. The Nazi Party would use the anger to achieve power, resulting in a second world war. Exactly what Wilson and others had hoped to avoid in 1919.

Sources
Treaty of Versailles (Britannica.com)
This Day in History (History.com)
Treaty of Versailles (History.com)


Items from Titanic Rescue Ship Auctioned Off

RMS Carpathia (date unknown)
Image: public domain

The Independent is reporting that items from Titanic rescue ship Carpathia have been auctioned off by a U.S. auction house. Single lumps of coal were purchased for $600, binoculars went for $1,600, and a intact Pepsi bottle sold for $2,000 were among the items auctioned off. The online auction was done by Ahlers & Ogletree of Atlanta, Georgia.

Source:

Items From Titanic Rescue Ship Sunk Off Ireland Fetch Huge Sums At US Auction (Independent.ie, 15 Jan 2021)


Remembering History: Prohibition Ratified

On 16 January 1919, the 18th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution was formally ratified. Under the 18th Amendment, the manufacture and distribution of alcohol in the United States (outside of industrial and sacramental use) was prohibited beginning a year later on 17 January 1920. Congress passed the Volstead Act to provide teeth to the law by allowing for enforcement of this law by the federal government, specifically a special unit of the Treasury Department. President Wilson vetoed the Volstead Act but overrode by Congress.

In the 19th century, temperance movements arose to address the growing problem of families being damaged when a husband or relative became addicted to alcohol. Also it was a means of curtailing acts of public drunkenness and related problems with people gathering to drink (gambling, prostitution etc.) The movement, religiously based in many cases, gathered steam and became a political one where it campaigned the state level for abstinence laws. In December 1917 Congress passed the amendment and sent it to the states for ratification.

All but two states ratified, a few after it had met the requisite number needed to amend the Constitution. Connecticut and Rhode Island were the two that rejected the amendment. Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin all ratified after 17 Jan 1919.

Aftermath

Enforcement at national and state levels became an issue right away. Neither Canada or Mexico were dry and illegal importation was an issue. Also with Cuba 90 miles away from Florida, it would provide another avenue for rum and other alcohols to be smuggled in. Breweries switched to making non-alcoholic beverages during this time. Wineries could only produce wine for sacramental (religious use), so they too had to turn to things like grape juice or apple cider. The law was not popular in a lot of cities, resulting in the rise of illegal places (called speakeasies) where you could drink alcohol.

To meet this need, many organized crime syndicates and gangs would supply the alcohol either by owning their own breweries and/or smuggling it in from outside the country. These crime syndicates would become enormously wealthy and corrupt local governments (police, politicians, judges) in order to stay in business. Competing gangs would sometimes duke it out on the streets leaving bodies of their enemies (and sometimes the innocent as well). Chicago became particularly notorious, both for its gangs and the depth of corruption. This prompted the federal government to target the Chicago Gang run by Al Capone. While they would raid his operations (done by the famous Elliott Ness), the financial investigation would lead to a successful conviction of tax fraud.

By the end of the decade, support for Prohibition had ebbed considerably. The rise of the organized crime, the fact many flouted the laws in large and small ways, and the difficulties encountered in enforcing the law all led to is eventual demise. When the Great Depression hit in 1929, many argued the alcohol industry could provide jobs. Franklin Roosevelt added it to his campaign plank in 1932. In 1933, the U.S. Congress passed the 21st Amendment to repeal the 18th (the first such Amendment to do this) which was swiftly passed by most states. A few remained dry (under the provisions of the 21st Amendment, a state could decide to stay dry) after that but today states no longer ban its sale. There are still some counties that are dry, including the one where the Jim Beam distillery is located in Kentucky.

Sources:

 


Titanic Exhibition Coming to Idaho Discovery Center

 

Titanic advertising from New York Times, 10 April 1912.
Public Domain (Wikimedia)

Discovery Center Of Idaho To Welcome Titanic Exhibition (Idahonews.com, 14 Jan 2021)

The Discovery Center of Idaho will welcome the arrival of the world-class exhibit Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition on Feb. 15. “Interest in Titanic has endured for generations. In part, because of the sheer size and magnificence of this “unsinkable” ship,” said Eric Miller, Executive Director for Discovery Center of Idaho. “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, tells the stories of those on board Titanic’s fateful maiden voyage and includes real pieces from the shipwreck, retrieved from a depth of nearly two and a half miles. We are thrilled to be bringing this unforgettable experience to Idaho.”