Category Archives: History

REMEMBERING HISTORY: BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR

Battle Of Trafalgar by William Lionel Wyllie (1851-1931)
Public Domain (US)
Wikimedia

The Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815) saw many battles on land but the most pivotal naval one was on 21 Oct 1805. It was the naval battle that established British naval supremacy for 100 years. It was fought west of Cape Trafalgar, Spain putting it between Cadiz and the Strait of Gibraltar. 18 French and 15 Spanish ships would fight a British fleet of 27 ships. Admiral Pierre de Villeneuve commanded the combined French/Spanish fleet while Admiral Horatio Nelson commanded the British fleet.

Villeneuve had hoped to avoid battle with the British when he slipped the fleet out of Cadiz on 19-20 October heading for the Mediterranean Sea. Unfortunately, Nelson caught him off of Cape Trafalgar on 21 October. Villeneuve ordered his ships to form a single line heading north. Nelson order his fleet into two squadrons and to attack from the west at right angles. He signaled his famous message at 11:50 am from his ship Victory: “England expects that every man will do his duty.”

Nelson’s squadron attacked the van and center in Villeneuve’s line.*  Nelson’s squadron broke through ignoring six leading French and Spanish ships in the first attack. Those six ships under Admiral Pierre Dumanoir did turn around to help but were driven off. The rear of Villeneuve’s fleet was destroyed, and Villeneuve was himself captured.

The battle ended around 5:00 pm with 19 or 20 French & Spanish ships surrendering with crews and prisoners of war around 14,000 men. Admiral Nelson died during the battle but knew before he died of British victory. The British lost no ships but 1,500 crewmen were either killed or injured. The Battle of Trafalgar ended forever any dreams Napoleon had to invade England.

Aftermath
Napoleon did not learn of the defeat for many weeks due to being involved in military battles on land. He censored news of the defeat in Paris for a month. And then in a brazen propaganda move had the French newspapers portray it as a great victory over the British. Villeneuve would return to France in 1806 but was found dead in an inn room with six stab wounds from a knife. It was ruled a suicide, but some suspect he was killed. The battle made it clear Britain was master of the seas, but it did not slow Napoleon down on his strategy to conquer and defeat the Third Coalition and Austria. Napoleon buttoned up the continent to deprive British trade. French and Spanish armies would occupy Portugal in 1807.

In 1808, Napoleon uneasy with his Spanish allies, invaded and took control of Spain. French troops and their supporters were disliked by many Spanish who took up arms. The British, after liberating Portugal, would drive out the French and used the Spanish guerrillas to harass the French. British forces under General Wellington would drive the Spanish out after the Battle of Salamanca in 1812. The French forces in Madrid would surrender ending the Peninsular War but starting the final campaign to drive Napoleon from power.

*During the age of sail, fleets were divided into van, center, or rear squadrons and named after each squadrons place in the line of battle. You can read about how this was developed here.

Sources:
Brittanica Online
Military.wikia.org
Wikipedia

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REMEMBERING HISTORY: AL CAPONE Goes to jail

Al Capone Mug Shot 1939
Al Capone mug shot, May 16 1929, Chicago, Illinois
Source: FBI

On 17 October 1931, Alphonse Gabriel Capone (commonly known as Al Capone or Scarface), an American gangster who had achieved notoriety as the boss of the Chicago Outfit, was convicted of tax evasion. It ended the reign of one of the most notorious criminals of the 1920s and 1930s.

The son of Italian immigrants and originally from Brooklyn, New York he went to Chicago in 1920 where he was helping crime boss Johnny Torrio run his illegal enterprises. The 18th Amendment, commonly called Prohibition, had come into effect in January 1920. Under this law (called the Volstead Act), the manufacture, transportation, and transportation of alcohol was banned. Passed as means to end the terrible effects of alcohol intoxication and addiction, it instead allowed the rise of criminal enterprises that dominated the 1920’s. From illegal production or importation of alcohol to operating places to drink (speakeasies), it poured millions into criminal enterprises.

While other criminal activity still went on (smuggling, gambling and prostitution), alcohol was the biggest income producer for gangs such as Torrio ran. When Torrio retired in 1925, Capone took over control. Capone had to deal also with rival gangs such as Bugs Moran. Violence between gangs was often in public and bloody culminating in the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. Bugs Moran would have been there but saw a police car and left thinking it was a raid. In fact, it is believed that the men, dressed as policemen and associated with the Capone gang, shot the seven men associated with the Moran gang. It officially remains unsolved, but most believe Capone responsible for the murders.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre became national news and with Capone’s alleged association to it, his notoriety increased. Capone had relied on bribing city officials, intimidation and various hideouts to avoid arrest. He did spend 10 months in Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia for carrying a concealed handgun but ran his operation from jail. The effect though of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was to bring the federal government into the situation. From corrupt city officials, police, and magistrates, the case was made the city was under the control of gangsters like Capone. President Hoover directed federal agencies concentrate on Capone and his allies.

Using a multi-agency approach, the Treasury and Justice Departments came up with plans on that attacked from two sides. First was to attack the gangsters for income tax evasion and then second to use small elite squads of Prohibition Bureau agents (this included the famous Eliot Ness) to be used against the bootleggers. William A. Strong, publisher of the Chicago Daily News (and who had urged Hoover to act), used his newspapers resources to gather intelligence to aid the investigations. The famous Untouchables in Chicago led by Eliot Ness were responsible for trying to inflict economic damage on his organization. Unlike what was shown in the movie The Untouchables, it was a large unit and the income tax angle was done elsewhere.

As the treasury bore down on him, Capone tried get his tax records into shape to prevent going to jail. He offered to pay for certain years in hopes of a reduced sentence and fine. A letter from his lawyer conceding large taxable income was a great gift to the prosecution. With a ledger and his accountant, the government position was to imply his control. Capone’s spending was presented to paint a vivid picture of someone who lived quite large having access to large sums of money to spend. It worked. He was convicted of evading $215,000 in taxes with an income of $1,038,654 during a five-year period.  Judge Wilkerson gave him the maximum penalty for the five counts: 11 years. He was also fined $50,000, $7,692 in court costs, and interest on the $215,000 that had not been paid.

His career as head of the Chicago Outfit would be at an end. He was sent to the Atlanta U.S. Penitentiary in May 1932. However, Judge Wilkerson became concerned when he got reports of special treatment. Capone was suffering from both syphilis and gonorrhea. He had taken cocaine and suffered withdrawal symptoms as well. He was transferred to Alcatraz in August 1934. Due to neurosyphilis that eroded his mental faculties, he would spend most of his time in the hospital section. After completing his term in January 1939, he was sent to another facility to serve out his contempt of court sentence. He would be paroled in November 1939 and received treatment at Union Memorial Hospital.

After treatments, he would go to Palm Island Florida where he remained for the rest of his life. He got treatments with the newest mass-produced drug called penicillin. It could not reverse his disease but helped him lived longer. He would die from heart failure on 25 January 1947. He was originally buried at the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Chicago. His remains were later removed (along with his family’s) to Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillsdale, Illinois.

Aftermath

With the repeal of the 18th Amendment with the adoption of the 21st Amendment in December 1933, Prohibition had come to an end. Only a few states choose to remain dry (that would change much later) ending the income for illicit alcohol that had given rise to gangs like the Chicago Outfit. Organizations like Chicago Outfit would take a quieter approach and avoid public violence to avoid either local or federal police investigations. These organizations focused on prostitution, union racketeering, and gambling after the Capone years. In later years, much to the chagrin of J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI, it would be found these criminal organizations had become very powerful and worked together.

Sources

Al Capone

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

 

 

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TODAY IS COLUMBUS DAY (U.S. OBSERVED)

Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547)
Public Domain

Today is Columbus Day in the United States.  Celebrating Columbus began in 1792 in New York City and became an annual tradition.  As a result of 11 Italian immigrants being murdered by a mob in New Orleans in 1892, President Benjamin Harrison declared Columbus Day as a one-time national celebration. This was also part of a wider effort to ease tensions and to placate Italian Americans and Italy, which had expressed official dismay at the murders.

Italian Americans began using Columbus Day to not only celebrate Columbus but their heritage as well. Serious lobbying was undertaken to enshrine the holiday in states and ultimately the federal government. Colorado proclaimed it a holiday in 1905 and made it an official holiday in 1907. In 1934 after lobbying from the Knights of Columbus and New York City Italian leader Generoso Pope,  Congress passed a statute requiring the president to proclaim October 12 as Columbus Day each year and asked Americans to observe it with “appropriated ceremonies” in schools, churches, and other places.

However it was a not yet a federal holiday. The effort to make it a federal holiday began in 1966 when the National Columbus Day Committee lobbied to make it a federal holiday. This was achieved in 1968 and has been a federal holiday since then. Like most federal holidays, it is often celebrated on a Monday of the week the date it falls on. The exception being if falls on a Saturday, it would be celebrated on Friday.

Columbus is recognized for his discovery of the New World. He, like many, were eager to discover the riches of Cathay, India and Japan. Since the Ottoman Empire closed off using Egypt and the Red Sea to Europeans (land routes were closed as well), European explorers were eager to find a sea route. Columbus (and he was not the only one) held the belief that by sailing west they would be able to get to the Indies. While many educated Europeans (like Columbus) believed the Earth was round, they had no concept of how it big it really was. Thus they thought East Asia was closer than it actually was.

After securing financing from the Spanish monarchy, Columbus set sail on 3 August 1492 with three ships–Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Nina–from Palos, Spain. On 12 October 1492 land was sighted. They would find Cuba later and Columbus thought it was Japan. They landed on Hispaniola in December and left a small colony behind. Returning to Spain in 1493, he was received with high honors by the Spanish court.

Columbus would lead four expeditions to the New World exploring the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and South and Central American mainlands. His original goal of finding a western ocean route to Asia was never accomplished. And he likely never truly understood the full scope of what he had accomplished. The New World–North America, the Caribbean, Central and South America–would open up new opportunities for exploration and wealth. Spain would become one of the wealthiest and powerful nations on Earth as a result.

Columbus died on 20 May 1506. Gout was considered the cause of his death, but doctors today believe it was reactive arthritis.

For information about Christopher Columbus, here are some sources online to view:
Britannica Online
History.com

REMEMBERING OSKAR SCHINDLER

Oskar Schindler 1945
Oskar Schindler 1945
Yad Vashem
Public Domain (Wikimedia)

Oskar Schindler (immortalized in the movie Schindler’s List), was a German industrialist and Nazi Party member who saved 1,200 Jews from the Holocaust. He employed them in his enamelware and munitions factories in Poland and in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. His connections to the Abwehr and Wehrmacht helped him protect his Jewish workers from being sent to an extermination camp. He also used bribes to Nazi officials (and also luxury items he procured on the black market) as well. Initially he was more interested in making money and thought the Jews were cheaper to use for labor than the Poles.

With his factories deemed essential to the war effort, he was able to help his Jewish workers. He not only sought exemptions for them but also their wives and children. He was also able to claim Jewish workers with disabilities for exemptions as well. He expanded the Krakow facility to include a kitchen, dining room for workers, and an outpatient clinic. When he learned of the planned deportation of Jews from his Wehrmacht contacts, he had the workers stay at the factory to prevent them from coming to harm. He witnessed the Nazi’s doing this, changing his view forever about them. From that point on, he decided to save as many Jews as he could

Amon Goth mug shot 1945
Amon Göth mug shot, 29 August 1945
Executed 13 Sep 1946, Krakow, Poland
Public Domain (Wikimedia)

With the establishment of the Plaszow concentration camp in 1943, the camp commandant SS-Hauptsturmführer* Amon Göth wanted to move all factories inside his camp. Göth, a sadist and feared by everyone, was convinced by Schindler not to do this. And he allowed Schindler to build a subcamp to house his workers keeping them safe and fed from random executions. With the Red Army approaching in July 1944, Schindler learned of plans to close all factories not related to the war effort. He switched the enamelware factory to making anti-tank grenades and moved it to Brunnlitz. However there were two harrowing episodes for his workers. 700 on his list were initially sent to a concentration camp before being re-routed back to the factory in Brunnlitz. 300 hundred women on his list were sent to Auschwitz and were in danger of being killed. Schindler, since his regular connections did not work this time, had to send his secretary with bribes of luxury items and food so that they could be freed. Schindler would continue to pay bribes and help Jews he found until the end of the war.

Schindler was broke by the end of the war and accepted assistance from Jewish organizations. He emigrated to Argentina in 1949 but his business ventures were unsuccessful. Back in Germany in 1958, he did not have much luck either and went bankrupt in 1963. He also suffered a heart attack as well. He remained in contact with many Jews he had met during the war and received support from them as well. He died on 9 October 1974 and is buried in Jerusalem on Mount Zion. He is the only member of the Nazi Party to be honored in this way.

A tree was planted in his honor in 1962 on the Avenue of the Righteous. In 1993 he and his wife Emelie were named Righteous Among the Nations. This award, bestowed by the State of Israel, is reserved for non-Jews who took active role in saving Jews from the Holocaust. The book Schindler’s Ark (Schindler’s List in US) by Thomas Keneally is a historical novel based on Oskar Schindler. The book was adapted into the 1993 movie Schindler’s List by Steven Spielberg.

*The SS rank and rate structure was different from regular Wehrmacht owing to their origins as a separate unit initially as personal bodyguards to Hitler. The Hauptsturmführer was equivalent of a captain in most armies. In the SS, it meant he was the head storm leader of a company sized unit.

Sources:

GREAT CHICAGO FIRE OF 1871

Currier & Ives lithograph shows people fleeing across the Randolph Street Bridge. Thousands of people literally ran for their lives before the flames, unleashing remarkable scenes of terror and dislocation. “The whole earth, or all we saw of it, was a lurid yellowish red,” wrote one survivor. “Everywhere dust, smoke, flames, heat, thunder of falling walls, crackle of fire, hissing of water, panting of engines, shouts, braying of trumpets, roar of wind, confusion, and uproar.”
Original Source: Chicago Historical Society
Public Domain

On 8 October 1871, what became known as the Great Chicago Fire began and would last till 10 October. The fire began around 9 pm on October 6 possibly at a barn owned by the O’leary family or in the nearby area southwest of city center. It consumed a shed on that farm and then spread outward. Due to a period of hot, dry and windy conditions, the fire would spread rapidly. With homes and buildings built mostly of wood, it also provided fuel for the fire as well.

The fire leapt the south branch of the Chicago River destroying central Chicago. It leapt across the main river branch and consumed the north side as well. 300 people were killed and a large swath of the city (about 3.3 square miles) was destroyed. 100,000 people were left homeless because of the fire. After the fire help poured in from all over the country and internationally as well. Money from Great Britain helped build the Chicago Public Library that would be free to everyone.

After the great Chicago fire of 1871, corner of Dearborn and Monroe Streets
Public Domain

The aftermath brought reconsideration of many things particularly in the area of building construction. Fire prevention became a big topic and construction of brick rather than wood buildings would result. With the right infrastructure in place, it would prevent such a catastrophe from happening again. Rebuilding began right away with higher standards and sometimes with buildings that were considered better than the ones that burned down.

Sources:

REMEMBERING HISTORY: END OF WARSAW UPRISING

On 2 October 1944 the Warsaw Uprising came to an end with the surrender of surviving Polish rebels to German forces. The uprising began two months earlier when the Red Army was approaching Warsaw. The rebels supported the Polish government-in-exile and hoped to gain control of the city before the Soviets arrived. They did not want the Russians to gain the city and establish a communist regime in Poland.

While the rebels had initial gains, they were poorly supplied. Hitler sent reinforcements and the rebels and German soldiers engaged in brutal street fights. The Red Army did take a suburb of Warsaw but proceeded no further. Stalin ordered the Red Army not to assist the rebels and denied a request to use their airbases to supply the rebels. This would be remembered down the road by the Polish people. Both Churchill and Roosevelt asked for his assistance. Churchill, without Soviet approval, had supplies dropped by the RAF, the South African Air Force, and the Polish Air Force. Stalin finally relented and gave air clearance for the U.S. Army Air Force to make supply drops. However, it was too late by the time the supplies came.

Warsaw, the capital of Poland, destroyed by German Nazis, January 1945.
Public Domain (Wikipedia)

Out of arms, supplies and food, there was no choice.  After 63 days, they had no choice but to surrender. In retaliation for this uprising, the remaining population of Warsaw was deported. The Polish people were always meant to be eradicated as were the Jews. Plans had been drawn up before the war to turn Poland into a German colony. Warsaw was to be Germanized. Once the remaining population was deported, German destruction of Warsaw was sped up. They had started after the earlier Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Using flamethrowers and explosives, special teams went to work destroying whole neighborhoods, historical monuments, archives, and any place of interest.

By January 1945, 85% of the buildings in Warsaw were gone. Approximately 25% was done during the Warsaw Uprising. The losses are staggering to consider:

  • 10,455 buildings
  • 923 historical buildings (94% of these were destroyed)
  • 25 churches
  • 14 libraries which includes the National Library
  • 81 schools
  • 64 high schools
  • The University of Warsaw and Warsaw University of Technology

Of course, prior to this all Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues were seized, looted and destroyed as well.

Aftermath

The Soviets took the position that the rebels did not coordinate their plans with them. Of course, the chief reason they did not aid them is that they supported the democratic Polish government-in-exile in London. And Stalin was not interested in supporting them. His goal had been before the war to allow the west to fight themselves to exhaustion allowing for the Soviet Union to expand in their direction. Those that led the uprising and members of the Home Army were persecuted by the Soviets after the war. They were arrested, tried, and deported to Soviet gulags. They had a show trial, not unlike ones during the Great Purge, where confessions were introduced to show they were actually in league with the Germans!

Warsaw Uprising Monument
Source: Dhirad 2004

Fortunately, those captured by the Germans and freed by American-British forces were spared this. Stalin and his propaganda machine twisted the facts to show the failings of the Home Army and the Polish government-in-exile. All criticism of the Red Army and Soviet Union by Polish people were forbidden. All references to the Home Army were censored, all books and movies on the Warsaw Uprising were either banned or edited out the Home Army. When that did not work, they made the Home Army soldiers into heroes that were betrayed by their corrupt officers. This would remain in effect until the 1980’s with the rise of Solidarity that challenged the Soviet backed regime. It was not until 1989 that a monument was built in Poland.

In the West, stories of the heroism of the Home Army were told. They were valiant heroes fighting against the Germans. The Soviets were criticized for their non-involvement and that it helped them get rid of partisans that would have opposed them. Despite all the official censorship that existed, many Poles knew what happened and led to growing anti-Soviet sentiment that manifested into the Polish labor movement Solidarity. This peaceful movement in the 1980’s would effect change in Poland and later, as the days of the Soviet Union waned, Poland would gain back the freedom it had lost in 1939.

Sources:

REMEMBERING HISTORY: NUREMBERG TRIALS END IN 1946

Nuremberg Trials. Defendants in their dock, circa 1945-1946.
(in front row, from left to right): Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel
(in second row, from left to right): Karl Dönitz, Erich Raeder, Baldur von Schirach, Fritz Sauckel)
Public Domain (Wikipedia)

When World War II came to an end, it was decided to hold accountable officials and others responsible for crimes of war and the Holocaust. Some like Martin Bormann were tried in absentia. It was the first time in history this ever had been done. Usually when wars ended, treaties were signed, and prisoners of war released.  In this case an international tribunal comprising representatives from France, Great Britain, United States, and the Soviet Union (USSR), held trials for defendants who faced a wide range of charges.

The defendants were both high ranking officials of the Nazi government as well as military and SS leaders. 199 defendants were tried in Nuremberg. 161 were convicted and 37 were sentenced to death (there were some tried by the US outside of the tribunal, namely those involved with the Einsatzgruppen).  Unfortunately, Hitler and some of his closest aides (like Joseph Goebbels) committed suicide so they were never brought to trial.

Many Nazi’s fled Germany and were never held accountable for their crimes. Trials of Nazi’s would continue after the tribunal ended in many countries as they were brought to justice. Adolf Eichmann, who helped plan and carry out the deportations of Jews, was found in Argentina. Israeli agents captured him and brought him to Israel in 1960 where he stood trial. He was found guilty and executed in 1962.

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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.

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