Category Archives: History

How Did Black Friday Come to Be?

Black Friday
Petr Kratochvil
publicdomainpibtures.net

The day after Thanksgiving in the United States has been called Black Friday for quite a long time, yet its origins are somewhat confusing owing to some clever remaking of the day by the retailers.

Its historical origins had nothing to do with Thanksgiving but a financial crisis in 1869. On 23 September 1869 a crash occurred in the U.S gold markets that was likely triggered by the actions of Jim Fisk and Jay Gould who tried to buy up as much gold as they could. In doing so, it drove the price of gold sky-high allowing them to sell at a huge profit. When their actions became known, it sent the gold market crashing down but also spread to the stock market resulting in bankers and farmers losing substantial sums of money. Thus, that date on a Friday became known as Black Friday.

The link to retail appears to come from a story about making huge profits on the day after Thanksgiving. In origin story, retailers lived on or near the infamous red line. That red line means they are operating at a near loss or in fact “in the red” meaning they were not making profits. The day after Thanksgiving brought in so many shoppers that they went into the black (meaning making profits), so it became known a Black Friday. While this version is somewhat accurate in that many retailers looked forward to the start of the Christmas season to generate high revenues, it is not the origin of Black Friday either.  Shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, often considered the start of the Christmas season in the United States, does give an indicator as to what consumers are willing to spend If the economy is good. On the other hand, if the economy is not doing well people may not spend much and only buy things they need and items on sale.

There are some who believe it has ties to racism on Southern plantations in the 1800’s. According to this story, it is claimed that owners would buy slaves at a discount on the day after Thanksgiving. This has led to some in the African American community to call for the boycott of stores on Back Friday. Except there appears to be no basis for this story. So far nothing has been found to show that slave auctions of this kind took place the day after Thanksgiving in that era. Like misinterpreting the word picnic as racist (picnic comes from a French word about eating outside and has nothing to do with race), this appears to have been created to fit someone’s perspective on the origins of the day.

The modern use of the term in fact comes from the 1950’s and from the city of Philadelphia. Police called it Black Friday to describe all the chaos that ensued from shoppers racing to shop before the Army-Navy game that was held on Saturday. The bedlam was so bad that no day off was granted to police on this day to deal with the hordes of cars and people in the city. Another factor was that criminals would take advantage of the large crowds to steal wallets, purses, and of course shoplift as well. Retailers were not happy with this connotation and tried unsuccessfully to change it to “Big Friday.” This was unsuccessful, so they tried to remake the day by saying this was the day retailers needed to make a profit. This appears to have worked and the darker roots from Philadelphia have been largely forgotten.

Black Friday Shopping
Photo: Public Domain

By remaking the day using sales to drive people into stores, it became an event on its own that spawned other major retails days. Black Friday was marketed as a day to get great bargains and all the major retailers jumped aboard. People began lining up early and some retailers decided to open on Thanksgiving (usually in the evening) to take advantage of the desire to buy discounted items. Ironically it then created things that harkened back to Philadelphia. In recent years when stores opened to the throngs waiting outside, chaos ensued when people raced into the store to grab what they wanted. People got trampled, fights broke out between adults bickering over who was entitled to the product. Many stores started to regulate the number of people in their store at any given time. This has been somewhat successful but when a surge of people all stampede at the door, the best the security guards can do is jump aside or be trampled on.

While Philadelphia is rarely mentioned, the chaos outside usually hearkens back to it. Mall parking lots are jammed, streets are full of cars trying to get in or out, and even freeways near those shopping malls are impacted as well. Up in the air, helicopters fly overhead filming the chaos below. And in major cities or areas where crowds are enormous, the police are often around to manage as best they can the traffic and crime that is going on. The Internet has made a dent, but you must wait for the product to arrive, so it is off to the store! In recent years retailers had started opening on Thanksgiving so people could get in early. Some like Target have rethought that and now are closed for Thanksgiving Day. And that is a good sign. Thanksgiving is a special holiday that should be treated on its own. And Black Friday is all about the shopping.

Sources

What’s the Real History of Black Friday? (History.com)
Black Friday History and Statistics  (BlackFriday.com)
Black Friday (Wikipedia)

 

The Humble Turkey and Thanksgiving

Here are some fun and interesting facts about the turkey and Thanksgiving.

Turkey is native to North America and has two breeds:

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)
This is found in eastern and central North America and Mexico.

Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata)
Found in the Yucatan Peninsula and Central America.

A wild turkey, photographed in Berkeley, California, 29 April 2010.
Image credit: Feezo
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Turkeys were domesticated by native peoples. The Spanish brought back turkeys to Spain and from there they gradually made their way into the cuisine of Europe. English explorers and settlers would bring back turkey to England where they were apparently domesticated since records indicate they were being eaten by the British in the 16th century.

Ocellated Turkey, Belize 2010.
Image credit: TonyCastro
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Due to its abundance in North America, Mexico, and Central America, the turkey was not seen as something special due to its availability. This is probably the reason why it was not mentioned as a meat served at the first Thanksgiving though it was likely served.

Beef and pork were seen as holiday meats and were generally only eaten on important days like Christmas, Easter, or other special events. The Irish, for example, preferred pork for St. Patrick’s Day since it was easier than cattle since they take up lots of space while pigs could be kept in a pen. This only changed when Irish came to America and found beef in easy abundance and luckily for them delicatessens had corned beef.

By the 18th and 19th centuries, turkey starts showing up more as a meat to be used when you did not want to slaughter a pig or a cow. Turkey also started becoming popular for feasts as well, though not at center stage just yet. In A Christmas Carol the kids were waiting excitedly for the goose to come back from the baker showing its importance for Christmas feasting. Turkey starts showing up more in books and illustrations as a Christmas food. In 18th and 19th century America lobster was seen as a poor man’s food since people of wealth could afford beef, pork, goose, or turkey.

During the latter part of the Victorian Era (1837-1901), turkey would replace beef and pork for Christmas. As upper-class people and Queen Victoria embraced it, others followed suit and it would replace the goose for Christmas. In the United States, turkey became associated with Thanksgiving due to both images and stories of it being eaten at the first Thanksgiving. As stated earlier, there is no mention of turkeys at that meal, but it is more than likely they were served. As the image of turkeys being part of that Thanksgiving seeped into the American consciousness, it eventually found its way to become part of the celebration itself. Turkey quickly displaced beef and pork (to the displeasure of their producers) as the central part of the feast. Today it is mostly unthinkable to not think of turkey as part of the Thanksgiving feast (with apologies to my vegetarian friends).

Today millions of turkeys are sold at Thanksgiving either frozen, fresh, or sometimes smoked. While the U.S. is a major consumer of the bird, more turkey is eaten in Israel than anywhere else. They really like turkey for their big feasts but of course it is served with Kosher accompaniments so you will not be having mashed potatoes made of milk and butter (since Kosher forbids the mixing of meat and dairy).

Despite their numbers being severely dropped for a while due to hunting and other things, the wild turkey is making a comeback and large flocks have been seen in the wild and sometimes in suburbs as well. Wild turkeys can fly short distances, but their domesticated cousins are flightless. The possible exception might be heritage turkeys raised outdoors and free to roam and eat.

Wild turkeys can be a bit of a nuisance though. They can get nasty, sometimes bite, and they leave some of their presence behind to be cleaned up. Sometimes it requires effort to chase them away though if a coyote or mountain lion should appear (and attack the flock) that generally gives them the hint to move on.

Thanksgiving Grace (1942)
Photo: Public Domain (US Library of Congress, digital id#fsa.8d10749)

Roasting turkey in an oven is traditional but, in many areas, not always possible. In the early days, many homes did not have ovens as we know them. They might have open hearths or perhaps an area where they could heat up and put a turkey in. This led to bakers, who had ovens, often for a fee leasing out their ovens to cook a bird. Others would cook them in fat in large open containers in pits dug for this purpose. Others found ways to roast over an open fire by turning them often (a sometimes risky and tiring task since you had to stand close and manually turn it like today’s rotisserie sans electricity).

Fried Turkey
Image: Cygnus921
Filckr

Deep frying turkey may have started in the American South but went back further possibly to England, France and perhaps even to the Romans. Deep frying does cook faster and keeps it moist, but the key is the amount of oil used and how stable the platform to cook is. Some used deep pits, so this prevented fires or leakage. Above the ground requires the cooking platform to be kept clear of anything that might burn if there is a leak resulting in a fire.

The most common reason for mishaps with deep frying turkey is people do not pay attention to the amount of oil used to the weight of the bird. One hilarious video on YouTube had this guy lowering the turkey into the pot outdoors while saying he had followed the Archimedes rule of displacement. He miscalculated, hot oil spilled out of the pot and ignited with the open flame below, and then fully ignited. The other common reason is that people put a frozen bird into hot oil thinking there will be no problem. I am not sure if they didn’t pay attention in chemistry class or never heard why you do not put water into a hot pan with oil in it. The result in an explosion that can, if too close to the home (or foolishly enough inside it) means your home or apartment is going to be severely damaged. Or worse.

During World War II, the military tried to make sure troops everywhere had Thanksgiving even front-line troops. Those who served on military bases, ships, or in London probably had the best. For submarines the cook(s) had to contend with the unexpected action of the sub diving as they were cooking made Thanksgiving meal an adventure both in cooking and serving. And for those on the field with Germans in sight, getting those meals meant coming under direct enemy fire causing some commanders to question the wisdom of delivering meals while in an active fire zone.

And of course, Thanksgiving can be a source of humor as well. Just look at some vintage clips from shows past and present about it. The most classic one of course is the famous and never duplicated one from WKRP. As a promotion they decided to drop turkeys into a parking lot in front of a mall. And, well, you have to watch to find out.

 

Happy Thanksgiving (4th Thursday November U.S.)

[Note: This has been updated with new source information, grammatical corrections, and more images]

Home To Thanksgiving, Currier & Ives, 1867
Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, digital id# pga 00780)

Thanksgiving was not an official national holiday until 1863. A letter from a 74-year-old magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale, inspired President Abraham Lincoln to create a national holiday. She wrote in 1863 that we needed to have a national day of Thanksgiving so that everyone could celebrate it on the same day. At the time Thanksgiving was celebrated by the various states but not on the same date. She wanted President Lincoln to make it a national day so it would become a permanent part of “American custom and institution.”

Thanksgiving Grace (1942)
Photo: Public Domain (US Library of Congress, digital id#fsa.8d10749)

Other presidents had ignored such requests. Lincoln decided to act on her request and directed a proclamation be drawn up. On 3 October 1863, President Lincoln’s proclamation that establishes Thanksgiving as a national day was issued. It sets aside the last Thursday of November as a “day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Secretary of State William Seward actually drafted the proclamation which Lincoln signed. Thanksgiving became a national holiday and was celebrated on that date until 1939. President Roosevelt in 1939, 1940 and 1941 changed it to the third Thursday (to extend the Christmas season) causing considerable controversy. A joint resolution of Congress in 1941 resolved it by decreeing Thanksgiving would fall on the fourth Thursday of November.

(Scene from the 1942 movie Holiday Inn starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. At the time the movie was made in 1941, Thanksgiving had shifted back and forth starting in 1939. This animation from the movie illustrates this perfectly.)

Lincoln’s proclamation was written during the American Civil War, a terrible time in U.S. history. Today we forget why this day was made a national holiday. It was to thank God for the blessings of liberty but also to ask his help. In our politically correct times, this proclamation is not always read in full or edited. So here is the original proclamation. Read it and understand why Lincoln thought a National Day of Thanksgiving was needed for the United States of America.

 ==

Proclamation Establishing Thanksgiving Day
October 3, 1863

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.
Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward, Secretary of State

=

Sources

“Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of Thanksgiving.” American Battlefield Trust, www.battlefields.org/learn/primary-sources/abraham-lincolns-proclamation-thanksgiving.

Current, Richard N. “Abraham Lincoln | Biography, Childhood, Quotes, Death, and Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 18 Oct. 2023, www.britannica.com/biography/Abraham-Lincoln.

History.com Editors. “Thanksgiving 2023.” History.com, 16 Nov. 2023, www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/history-of-thanksgiving.   Accessed 22 Nov. 2023.

Silverman, David J. “Thanksgiving Day | Meaning, History, and Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 22 Nov. 2023, www.britannica.com/topic/Thanksgiving-Day.

Victorian Traditions/Shutterstock.com

 

Remembering Britannic (21 Nov 1916)

HMHS Britannic seen during World War I.
Image:public domain

On 21 November 1916, HMHS Britannic was sunk by mine near the island of Kea in the Aegean Sea. The ship sank in 55 minutes and 1,035 people were rescued, only 30 perished. Britannic was the third and last ship of the Olympic class liners built by White Star Line. The other two were Olympic and Titanic. Britannic was launched in February 1914. Many design changes were made prior to launch due to lessons learned from Titanic. Those changes were:

  • Double hull along the engine and boiler rooms raising six of the watertight bulkheads up to B deck.
  • More powerful turbine installed due to increase in hull width.
  • Watertight compartments were enhanced so that the ship can stay afloat with six compartments flooded.
  • Motorized davits to launch six lifeboats (only five out of eight were installed before war service). Manual operated davits were used for the remaining lifeboats. The new design also allowed all lifeboats to be launched even if the ship was listing. There were 55 lifeboats with capacity for 75 each so that 3,600 people could be carried.

When World War I broke out, the ship had to be retrofitted as a hospital ship. Most of the furnishings were stored in a warehouse to be placed back aboard after the war. The Britannic began service as a hospital ship on 12 December 1915. She was sent to the Aegean Sea to bring back sick and wounded soldiers. Her first tour of service was ended on 6 June 1916 and she was sent back to Belfast to be refitted back as a passenger liner. As this was underway, the ship was again recalled to military service on 26 August 1916 and was sent back to the Mediterranean Sea.

On the morning of 21 November 1916, the Britannic under the command of Captain Alfred Barnett was steaming into the Kea Channel when at 8:12 am a loud explosion shook the ship. The explosion, unknown at the time whether it was a torpedo or mine, damaged the first four watertight compartments and rapidly filled with water. Water was also flowing into the boiler room. Captain Bartlett ordered the watertight doors closed, sent a distress call, and ordered the lifeboats be prepared. Unfortunately, while they could send messages, damage to the antenna wires meant they could not hear the responses back from ships responding to their SOS.  Britannic was reaching her flooding limit and open portholes (opened by nurses to ventilate wards) were bringing more water in as well.

As the ship was still moving, Bartlett did not order lifeboats be lowered but two lifeboats were lowered anyway. They were sucked into the ships propellor and torn to bits killing everyone in those two lifeboats. Bartlett ordered the ship stopped to assess the damage. The ship was listing so badly that the gantry davits were inoperable. Thinking the sinking had slowed, he ordered the engines back on to try and beach the ship. The flooding increased as more water was coming in aided by the open portholes the nurses had opened to air out their wards early in the morning. Bartlett ordered the engines stopped and to abandon ship. She would sink at 9:07 am, 55 minutes after the explosion. Thankfully the water temperature was high (70 F), they had more lifeboats than Titanic, and rescue came less than two hours. Nearby fisherman were able to help and at 10:00 am, the HMS Scourge arrived and later the HMS Heroic and later the HMS Foxhound.

1,035 survived. Of the 30 lost, only five were buried as their bodies were not recovered. Memorials in Thessaloniki and London honor those lives lost. Survivors were housed on the warships and the nurses and officers were put into hotels. Most survivors were sent home, and some arrived in time for Christmas. Speculation about whether it was a torpedo or a mine was resolved when it was learned that a German submarine (SM U-73) had planted mines in the Kea Channel in October 1916. The loss of two Olympic class ships was a major blow to White Star Line. They would get, as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, the German ocean liner Bismarck (renamed Majestic), which replaced Britannic. They also got Columbus which was named Homeric.

Britannic has been largely forgotten except when news of expeditions were made to the wreck site over the years. The wreck itself was bought by noted author Simon Mills, who has written two books on the ship. An expedition in September 2003 located by sonar mine anchors confirming German records of U-73 that Britannic was sunk by a single mine. The expedition found several watertight doors open making it likely the mine strike was during a watch change on the ship. One notable survivor was Violet Jessop. She had been on Olympic as stewardess when it collided with the HMS Hawke, aboard Titanic in the same capacity when it sank, and then aboard Britannic as a stewardess with the Red Cross.

Sources
Tikkanen, Amy. “Britannic | Ship, Wreck, Sinking, Titanic, and Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 16 Dec. 2011, www.britannica.com/topic/Britannic.

“Britannic, Sister Ship to the Titanic, Sinks in Aegean Sea.” HISTORY, 13 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/britannic-sinks-in-aegean-sea.

Hickman, Kennedy. “World War I: HMHS Britannic.” ThoughtCo, 29 May 2019, www.thoughtco.com/world-war-i-hmhs-britannic-2361216.

Suggested Reading

Chirnside, Mark (2011) [2004]. The Olympic-Class Ships. Stroud: Tempus
Lord, Walter (2005) [1955]. A Night to Remember. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin
Mills, Simon (2019). Exploring the Britannic: The Life, Last Voyage and Wreck of Titanic’s Tragic Twin. London: Adlard Coles

,

Remembering the Gettysburg Address (19 November 1863)

Photo: Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, digital id# cph.3a53289)

On 19 November 1863 President Abraham Lincoln delivered what would be the most memorable speech given by a president in U.S. history. He was attending the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery (now called Gettysburg National Cemetery) in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Four and a half months prior the Battle of Gettysburg had taken place resulting in a major victory for the Union armies. The casualties to both sides were considerable. It also had the highest number of Confederate and Union generals who died in battle as well.

Edward Everett, the best orator of the time, delivered a two hour speech preceding Lincoln’s. When Lincoln spoke, it was only for a few minutes. His speech was only 271 words long after the long speech of Everett’s, so it could have been easily forgotten. People attending gave different accounts of how it was received. Some said a dignified silence, others polite applause. Edward Everett thought it was well done and said so to Lincoln in a letter. Once the text got out to the general public, Democrat leaning newspapers derided it while Republican ones praised. The Times of London thought it a ludicrous speech.

Yet this speech would become famous. It would become oft quoted and praised by many as time went on. Far from being ludicrous, as the Times of London thought it was, it became a standard for other orators to try and emulate. And his eloquent words: “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, shall not perish from the earth,” are still stirring to this day.

The Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
19 November 1863

Sources:

The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln. www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm.

“Gettysburg Address | Text and Context.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 12 Nov. 2023, www.britannica.com/event/Gettysburg-Address.

“President Lincoln Delivers Gettysburg Address.” HISTORY, 10 Mar. 2010, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lincoln-delivers-gettysburg-address.

,

Suez Canal Built (17 Nov 1869)

Suez Canal, between Kantara and El-Fedane. The first vessels through the Canal.
Image Source: Appleton’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, 1869
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

When the Suez Canal officially opened to ships on 17 November 1869, it changed forever how important cargo and passengers would reach Asia. Up until it opened, ships went down the African coast to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa (where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet), to enter Asia. It was certainly a shorter trek than going overland (which used to be the case until the Ottoman Empire closed them off forcing Europeans to find alternative routes to get spices from Asia) but still took a while especially when you had to rely on wind and current to get you there. The Suez Canal cut the travel time substantially and only ships that could not fit into the canal would have to take the longer route.

The genesis of the Suez Canal began in 1854 when Ferdinand de Lesseps (former French consul to Cairo), negotiated a treaty with the Ottoman governor of Egypt to build a canal 1oo miles across the Suez isthmus. Plans were drawn up by an international team of engineers and c0nstruction began in 1859. The Suez Canal Company (formed 1856) was given the right to operate the canal for 99 years. Initial work was done by hand, making it slow until dredgers and steam shovels arrived from Europe. Both labor disputes and a cholera epidemic slowed construction causing a four-year delay in getting it completed. When it opened in 1869, it was only 25 feet deep, 75 feet wide at the bottom, and 200-300 feet wide on the surface. This resulted in less than 500 ships using it the first year. Major improvements would be made in 1876 that allowed for nearly all the ships of the day (and today as well) to pass through it. The Suez Canal became one of the most heavily trafficked shipping lanes in the world.

Aftermath

The British decided to get control of the Suez Canal.  In 1875, Great Britain bought the stock of the new Ottoman governor making them the largest shareholder in the Suez Canal Company. When they invaded and took control of Egypt in 1882, they took control of the Suez Canal as well. Later under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, the Egyptian government (now nearly independent of England), Britain retained rights to protect the canal. In July 1956 Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the canal. This resulted in the Suez Crisis of 1956 in which Israel invaded Egypt and British and French troops arrived to occupy the Canal Zone. In 1957, both Britain and France withdrew under international pressure and in March 1957, the canal was once again open to commercial traffic. It would shut again in 1967 during the Six Day War. Tensions between Egypt and Israel would make the Suez Canal a front line between both parties. In 1975 Anwar Sadat would reopen the canal as a gesture of peace and negotiate a peace treaty with Israel. Today the canal plays a vital role in shipping cargo from Asia to Europe and North America. Its strategic importance is recognized by all powers in the region occasionally causing scuffles or even attacks by belligerents wanting to disrupt oil and cargo shipments.

Sources:

Smith, Charles Gordon, and William B. Fisher. “Suez Canal | History, Map, Importance, Length, Depth, and Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 6 Nov. 2023, www.britannica.com/topic/Suez-Canal.

“Suez Canal Opens.” HISTORY, 9 Feb. 2010, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/suez-canal-opens.

Goebbels Blames the Jews for World War II (16 Nov 1941)

[Editor’s note-When this was originally posted the short bio was not included along with an additional photo.]

Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda
Heinrich Hoffmann (1885-1957)
German Federal Archives via Wikimedia

On 16 November 1941, Joseph Goebbels publishes in the German magazine Das Reich that the “Jews wanted the war, and now they have it.” This was part of the Nazi propaganda scheme to shift blame for the war to Jews and thus rationalizing  the Final Solution–the elimination of Jews.  German soldiers and the SS were infused with this propaganda and anti-Communist rhetoric to carry out their task of eliminating the Jews with enthusiasm.

[T]he prophecy which the Fuhrer made…that should international finance Jewry succeed in plunging the nations into a world war once again, the result would not be the Bolshevization of the world…but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe. We are in the midst of that process…Compassion or regret are entirely out of place here.

Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945)

Joseph Goebbels joined the Nazi Party in 1924. He had obtained a PhD in German literature from the University of Heidelberg in 1920. Prior to joining the party, he had worked as a writer, journalist, and clerk. The same year he joined the Nazi Party, he became editor of the Völkische Freiheit (Folkish Freedom) where he honed his propaganda skills for the party. Goebbels became an admirer of Hitler and became unfailingly loyal to him. He was also a rabid antisemite.

He came to Hitler’s attention in 1926 due to his organizational skills, devotion to the party, and his clever propaganda. He was made a regional Gauleiter (party chief) for Greater Berlin. He built up the Nazi Party organization and ran his own newspaper (Der Angriff or The Assault in English) until 1935 where he advanced the Nazi Party goals of anticommunism, antisemitism, and promoted Hitler becoming dictator of Germany. He would be elected to the Reichstag in 1928 representing the Nazi Party in Berlin.

Goebbels was a tireless agitator as the District Leader in Berlin. He railed against the Communist and Social Democratic party members, marched with the SA (Storm Troopers) into working class neighborhoods where support for those parties was strong. Bitter street fights would result, and Goebbels would call those who were injured or killed as suffering for the party. He made sure through his paper and other media of the heroism of those who suffered. Films were made to dramatize the events and led to the creation of the Horst Wessel Song, named for one of those who were killed in 1930. The song would become the party’s anthem.

The image he crafted was one of bloodied stormtrooper (and overly muscled as well) that would appear in Nazi propaganda for years to come. They died, the party said, fighting the Marxist enemy.

Hitler would appoint him as Reich leader of propaganda for the Nazi Party in 1929 and would hold that position until his death in 1945. Hitler relied on Goebbels in the critical elections of 1932. Goebbels was the first of that era to use radio and film for mass propaganda techniques. Films of Nazi rallies, speeches, and other important events were filmed and broadcast over the radio to inspire supporters and draw new ones in. Hitler was depicted by Goebbels as energetic and using all the modern modes of transport to get around Germany. Films showed him flying all over Germany on the same day holding events.

German students publicly burn collected, “un-German” writings and books on the central boulevard “Unter den Linden” in Berlin.
10 May 1933
Photo: Pahl, Georg
German Federal Archives via Wikimedia Commons

After Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933, Goebbels would be instrumental in implementing the Nazi’s desire to control all aspects of German culture. Hitler established the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda in March. At thirty-five years of age, he was the youngest member of the cabinet. Goebbels was tasked with decontamination of German culture, and nothing was considered outside of their control. Film, radio, and the press all fell under Goebbels control, and he used it to its fullest advantage. To make sure German’s accepted the anti-Jewish measures, Jews were cast into the worst possible light. Viewpoints unacceptable to the Nazi Party were silenced, books and publications were suppressed, and supported book burnings to cleanse the German spirit. Preaching national unity, Goebbels rallied people to support Hitler and the Nazi Party against those who had damaged Germany. And Jews were at the top of the list along with Communists, Socialists, certain religious groups, and others such as Roma. The doctrine of racial purity that party believed in excluded large swaths of people from German society.

Goebbels was the chief instigator for Kristallnacht in 1938. He convinced Hitler that the murder of the German diplomat in Paris was the perfect opportunity for a nationwide attack on Jews. And when Germany needed to invade other countries, he helped develop the Führer cult which glorified Hitler as both Germany’s war leader and savior. Mass propaganda was used to convince people that countries had to be invaded to save them from their mess created by Jews and Liberalism. Of course, during this whole time, the mass propaganda depicting the Jews and others negatively made it easier to target, imprison, and execute them. Right up until the end the near deification of Hitler and the rabid antisemitism would continue until the war ended in 1945. Goebbels was a complete supporter of the Final Solution-the Holocaust-the extermination of all Jews.

One of Goebbels last tasks in the final years was as Plenipotentiary for the War Economy which Hitler appointed him to in 1944. Goebbels had worked hard to keep morale up especially after the defeat at Stalingrad. In the new position, he was to help maximize manpower and arms production. He was not highly successful and ran into opposition with other ministers particularly Albert Speer who was in charge of armaments.

After Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945, Goebbels became the new Reich Chancellor. He refused the idea of surrender and knew full well he would be put on trial and executed. He and his wife Magda poisoned their six children and then both committed suicide on 1 May 1945. The corpses were partly burned but never buried. There were repeated burials and exhumations, and they were finally buried in Magdeburg at the SMERSH facility in 1946. The remains were exhumed again in 1970 under orders from KGB director Yuri Andropov and destroyed. They were then dumped into the Biederitz river.

Sources:

“Joseph Goebbels Publishes His Screed of Hate.” HISTORY, 16 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/goebbels-publishes-his-screed-of-hate.

Joseph Goebbels. encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/joseph-goebbels-1

 

,,

Today is Veterans Day (U.S.)

Veterans Day 2023
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Public Domain

Veterans Day is a day set aside to thank and honor military personnel who have served in peace and war. The day originally began as Armistice Day to celebrate the end of World War I. It was first officially celebrated on 11 November 1919 and was originally the celebrate veterans who served in that war. In 1954 after many Americans served in both World War II and Korea, veterans organizations petitioned the name be changed from Armistice to Veterans Day to celebrate all who served in the military. Congress approved this change on 1 June 1954 and has been known as Veterans Day since then.

In 1968 as a result of the Uniform Holiday Bill, Veterans Day was shifted to the third Monday in October. Since this law allowed more three day weekends for federal workers (and states that followed the federal holiday calendar) and would allow more people to travel and spend money, this was thought good. The writers of the law never bothered to check and see if people wanted Veterans Day on the third Monday in October. And they were surprised when many states refused to honor the new date and stuck with November 11 for Veterans Day.

The reason is not hard to understand. This patriotic holiday had been celebrated since 1919 and many generations had grown up with with it. In 1975 President Gerald Ford signed into law specifying that Veterans Day would always be celebrated on November 11 no matter what day of the week it falls on. Currently most federal holidays, if they fall on a non-working day (Saturday or Sunday), the nearest working day is the holiday. Meaning if it falls on a Saturday, Friday is a federal holiday. If the holiday falls on a Sunday, the official holiday is Monday. And if it falls into the middle of the week, Monday is when the holiday is observed. Thanksgiving and Fourth of July are two other holidays where they are observed on a specific day every year.

The day is marked with important ceremonies such as the national ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. It starts at precisely 11:00 a.m. with a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is followed by a parade of colors by veterans’ organizations and then speeches and remarks from important dignitaries. Almost always the sitting president will attend though on occasion the Vice President will act in his place should he not be in attendance.

Veterans Day is to honor those who have chosen to serve our country, past or present. We honor and thank them for their service and remember as well that some gave all as well. They give up a lot so that we are protected. And this day is a big Thank You to all of them.

 

 

 

Remembering History: Kristallnacht (9-10 Nov 1938)

Kristallnacht, 1938, Magdeburg
German Federal Archives

On November 9-10 1938, a violent wave of anti-Jewish pograms broke out in Germany, Austria and Sudetanland. Called Kristallnacht (means literally Night of Crystal but commonly called Night of Broken Glass) violent mobs destroyed synagogues, looted Jewish owned businesses, homes and schools, and arrested 30,000 Jewish men who were sent to concentration camps. Police and fire were ordered to stand down and only act to prevent damage to German buildings. Nearly all the Jewish synagogues were torched, except those close to historical sites or buildings.

Thanks to the presence of foreign reporters in Germany at the time, this event became known to the world changing perceptions about the Nazi regime.

Nazi officials depicted the event as a genuine response of the people to the assassination of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris by Herschel Grynszpan on 7 Nov 1938. Grynszpan, a 17-year old boy, was distraught over his family’s deportation from Germany to Poland. Vom Rath’s death two days later coincided with the anniversary of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. The Nazi Party leadership assembled in Munich used the occasion to push for demonstrations against the Jews arguing that “World Jewry” had conspired to commit the assassination. However, Hitler ordered that the demonstrations should not look they were prepared or organized by the Nazis’. They had to look spontaneous. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels was the chief instigator following Hitler’s orders in his speech to the assembled party officials.

The regional Nazi party leaders issued instructions to their local offices about how to proceed. Reinhard Heydrich, as head of the Security Police, sent instructions to headquarters and stations of the State Police and SA leaders about the upcoming riots. The SA, Hitler Youth and others were ordered to wear civilian clothes so it would like genuine public reaction. Heydrich ordered the rioters to not endanger non-Jewish German life or property.  The rioters were also ordered to remove all synagogue archives prior to vandalizing and destroying them. Police were ordered to arrest as many young Jewish men their jails would hold.

Violence began to erupt in the late evening of 9 November and in the early morning hours of 10 November. The two largest Jewish communities, Berlin and Vienna, would see massive destruction. Mobs of SA and Hitler Youth shattered store windows. They attacked Jews in their homes and looted. They publicly humiliated Jews in the streets. Many Jews were killed as well though numbers vary but likely in the hundreds. Jewish cemeteries were desecrated. Those who were arrested by the SS and Gestapo ended up in Buchenwald, Dachau and Sachsenhausen and other camps as well.  Many would die in the camps and many who were released had promised to leave Germany. Kristallnacht would spur Jews to emigrate from Germany.

Aftermath

German leaders blamed Jews for the riots and fined the Jewish community one billion Reich Marks. To pay the fine, Germany seized property and insurance money. This left Jewish owners personally responsible for repair costs. Kristallnacht accelerated more laws and decrees to deprive Jews of the property and their ability to make a living. The Aryanization of businesses required many Jewish owned businesses and property to be transferred to non-Jews. Usually they got paid a fraction of the true value of the business or property. By this time, Jews could not be government workers or in any aspect of the public sector. Now many professions in the private sector were unavailable as well (doctors, lawyers, accountants etc.). Jews were no longer allowed to have a driver’s license, expelled from any German school they were still attending, be admitted to German theaters (movies and stage) or concert halls.

Kristallnacht was covered by newspapers in the United State and elsewhere. It was front page news in the United States in large banner headlines and perhaps the largest story of Jewish persecution to be reported during the Nazi years. Despite attempts by German censors to prevent images from getting to newspapers in the United States, pictures got out and got printed in the 28 November 1938 issue of Life magazine. A telling heading published on the front page of the Los Angeles Examiner says it all:

Nazis Warn World Jews Will Be Wiped Out Unless Evacuated By Democracies (23 Nov 1938)

President Roosevelt denounced the attack on Jews at a press conference on 15 November 1938 and recalled the US ambassador to Germany (the US was the only one to do this) and not replaced till 1945. A chargé d’affaires would handle diplomatic relations with Germany until war was declared in 1941. The US and other countries had restrictive immigration quotas in place at the time. However, 12,000 German Jews already in the United States were allowed to stay and not be sent back to Germany. Attempts to allow refuge for children under 14 were introduced in Congress but despite widespread support did not get voted into law.

Kristallnacht is rightly seen as the turning point in Nazi policy and world-wide opinion of the regime. The Nazi’s began concentrating their pogroms into the hands of the SS and more restrictive policies on the Jews. They radicalized and expanded the measures to remove Jews from the economic and social life of Germany. It would lead to policies of forced emigration and deportations to the East and the goal of Judenrein-a Germany free of Jews.

Sources:

“German Nazis Launch Kristallnacht.” HISTORY, 24 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nazis-launch-kristallnacht.

Berenbaum, Michael. “Kristallnacht | Definition, Date, Facts, and Significance.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 4 Nov. 2023, www.britannica.com/event/Kristallnacht.

Kristallnacht.encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/kristallnacht.

,

Remembering History: Beer Hall Putsch (8-9Nov 1923)

Munich Marienplatz during the failed Beer Hall Putsch (9 Nov 1923)
Photographer unknown
German Federal Archives via Wikimedia Commons

The end of World War I had left Germany in dire economic straits. The allies demanded reparations through the Versailles Treaty resulting in staggering inflation as Germany tried to pay. By 1923 the German mark was valued at four billion marks per dollar causing many who disliked the new democratic government to join the nationalist Nazi Party. Others were drawn the Nazi’s as well for their strong anti-communist views and their vocal dislike of Jews.

Adolf Hitler planned a coup in Bavaria that he hoped would spread and bring down the central government. On 8 November 1923, Hermann Goering surrounded the Munich beer hall where Bavarian officials were meeting with local business leaders. Hitler, with the aid of Nazi stormtroopers, charged into the hall with Hitler firing off a gun proclaiming the revolution has begun. The Bavarian officials decided to reluctantly support Hitler. However, the following day they would rescind that support and ordered troops to surround the Nazi forces that had taken control of the War Ministry building. Hitler decided to lead a March to the center of Munich. He had 3,000 marchers with him to 100 or more policemen blocking them. Shots were fired and 16 Nazis and 3 policemen were killed. Goering was wounded the groin and Hitler had a dislocated shoulder and managed to escape.

Defendants in the Munich Beer Hall Putsch, 1 April 1924
Photographer: Heinrich Hoffmann (1885–1957)
Source: German Federal Archives via Wikimedia Commons

The Beer Hall Putsch collapsed, and Hitler was arrested. He was charged with treason and sentenced to 5 years in jail. During his time in the Landsberg fortress, he wrote his autobiography Mein Kampf. Political pressure on the Bavarian government got his sentence commutated and he ended up serving only nine months in jail. The Nazi movement would continue to grow in strength in the 1920’s gaining more support against the Weimar government, Communism and Jews. The Beer Hall Putsch would be remembered by the Nazi Party.  Although they lost, they used it for propaganda purposes and celebrated the heroes of that day.

Sources:

“Beer Hall Putsch | Facts, Summary, and Outcome.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 1 Nov. 2023, www.britannica.com/event/Beer-Hall-Putsch.

“Beer Hall Putsch Begins.” HISTORY, 21 July 2010, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/beer-hall-putsch-begins.