Remembering History: The Failed Plot to Kill Hitler (20 July 1944)

Martin Bormann, Hermann Göring, and Bruno Loerzer surveying the damaged conference room
20 Jul 1944
Source: German Federal Archives via Wikimedia Commons

On 20 July 1944 a bomb placed in the briefing room of  Wolf’s Lair would explode in an attempt to kill Hitler. It failed and many of the conspirators, including Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, would either be executed or commit suicide. So, who were the conspirators and why did it fail? Let’s find out.

The conspirators were a combination of both civilians and military and had varying reasons for coming together. Some opposed the anti-Jewish policies and were shocked by Kristallnacht; others were upset with how Hitler had mismanaged the war. Many wanted to save Germany from a catastrophic defeat they saw coming. Some of them no doubt would have faced a military tribunal had they survived for war crimes for working or assisting with the elimination of Jews. An earlier plot to kill Hitler on his airplane had failed, so the plan was changed. Called Operation Valkyrie, the plan was to take control of cities, disarming the SS, and arresting Nazi leaders.

Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg was to place a bomb under a table at the East Prussian headquarters called Wolf’s Lair. Then once Hitler was confirmed dead, a radio announcement would go out saying that the Nazi Party had murdered Hitler and ordering the Reserve Army to take control of key installations in Berlin, arresting Nazi leaders. Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, former mayor of Leipzig would become chancellor with former army chief of staff Ludwig Beck becoming president. Then the new government would begin negotiating for an armistice.

Stauffenberg arrived with two bombs on 20 Jul 1944 but was unable to arm one of them. In the briefing room where military aides were briefing Hitler, he placed the briefcase with the bomb under the table and near Hitler. He excused himself and left the room. Unfortunately, the briefcase was moved to under a thick leg of the table. When it detonated at 12:42 PM, Stauffenberg believed Hitler had been killed and put Operation Valkyrie into action. Hitler was wounded but not killed but the stenographer and three officers died. However instead of acting right away, many of the conspirators waited until Stauffenberg arrived in Berlin three hours later. By that time rumors of Hitler’s survival sapped the courage of many to go through with their plans. Precious time was lost, and it was too late now.

General Friedrich Fromm, who knew of the plot and condoned it, quickly saved himself by arresting the key conspirators and executing them. Hitler would go on the radio on 21 July 1944 to announce his survival to the nation and that those who had done this would be taken care of. The Gestapo swung into action arresting and torturing the remaining conspirators. Some were hauled before the infamous Volksgericht (People’s Court). There the infamous Nazi judge Roland Freisler handed out death sentences. Some were hung or shot, and a few were strangled with piano wire. Fromm did not escape eventually being arrested, tried, and executed. General Beck was allowed to commit suicide but only wounded himself and had to be shot. The surprising revelation that Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was involved (he knew of the plot but took no active role in its planning or execution) shocked Hitler. Due to his popularity-and to avoid a trial-he was told if he committed suicide his family would be spared. Upon his death from an “illness”, he was given a full military funeral.

The assassination attempt did not weaken Hitler but strengthened it. His grip was tightened, and they went after not just those involved but other enemies, they could get rid of at the same time by claiming they were part of the plot as well. Over 7,000 were arrested and 4,980 were executed. The barbaric deaths of some by piano wire was specifically ordered by Hitler.

Sources

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2024e, July 13). July Plot | History, leaders, executions, & Facts. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/July-Plot

Fails, A. P. a. H. (2020, July 17). Assassination plot against Hitler fails. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/assassination-plot-against-hitler-fails

The July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. (n.d.). https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/the-july-20-1944-plot-to-assassinate-adolf-hitler

Suggested Reading

Allen, W. S. (1984). The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town, 1922-1945. Franklin Watts.

Gregory, D. A. (2018). After Valkyrie: Military and Civilian Consequences of the Attempt to Assassinate Hitler.McFarland.

Jones, N. (2019). Countdown to Valkyrie: The July Plot to Assassinate Hitler. Frontline Books.

Keegan, J. (2005). The Second World War. Penguin Books.

Schmidt, E. (2021). The Hitler Conspirator: The Story of Kurt Freiherr von Plettenberg and Stauffenberg’s Valkyrie Plot to Kill the Fuhrer. Frontline Books.

Shirer, W. L. (2011). The Rise and Fall Of The Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. Simon and Schuster.

Titanic News Channel is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Remembering History: Rome Bombed by United States (19 Jul 1943)

[Editors note: This has been updated from 2023 with updated source information.]

Daily News, Los Angeles- Headline on Bombing of Rome
Source: RareEarlyNewspapers.com All Rights Reserved

By 1943, Italians had seen shortages in basic goods and supplies requiring rationing as their merchant marine had been decimated by the war. This led to a lot of grumbling about the war and its effects on Italy. Mussolini’s popularity had begun to wane. He had convinced Italians that the Allies would never bomb the eternal city of Rome. Then on 19 July 1943, the U.S. bombed the Rome railway yards.

Both President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had made a public appeal for Italians to reject Mussolini and save their country. The Allies by this time had invaded Sicily, and thanks to a clever deception, Hitler thought it initially a diversion. The Axis had been furthered weakened by its defeat in North Africa which had seen losses by both German and Italian forces. The advance of the Allied troops shook the Italian government. The bombing of Rome really caused panic in Rome as people went out into the streets.

It was much worse though as panic gave way to anger at Mussolini. People started destroying effigies of the dictator. And oddly, there was actually celebration of the attack as it was seen as leading to Mussolini’s demise. Hitler met with Mussolini to shore up his confidence after the attack. The attack had shaken him as well. Mussolini appeared unusually quiet in the meeting (he spoke poor German) and relied on the transcript later. Hitler tried to restore his confidence worried he might cave in and seek an armistice with the Allies. In the end, Mussolini agreed to continue the war though by this time he knew the truth. The Italian army was beaten and there was no way they could win the war. He could not tell that to Hitler fearing what he might do in response.

Hitler for his part was concerned that either Mussolini would surrender, or his own people might remove him. He quietly ordered Rommel to take control of the Greek islands in case something went wrong in Rome. The Germans would be ready to pounce when it did. And events happened faster than expected. Within a week the Fascist Grand Council would relieve Mussolini and he was put under arrest by the King.

Sources

Mullen, M. (2020, July 16). America bombs Rome. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/america-bombs-rome

This day in History: The Americans Bomb Rome (1943) – History collection. (n.d.). History Collection. https://historycollection.com/day-history-americans-bomb-rome-1943/

Americans bomb Rome in 2-hour daylight raid – UPI Archives. (1943, July 19). UPI. https://www.upi.com/Archives/1943/07/19/Americans-bomb-Rome-in-2-hour-daylight-raid/6801563205263/

MarshallV. (2022, May 22). The Allied Campaign in Italy, 1943-45: A Timeline, Part one. The National WWII Museum | New Orleans. https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/allied-campaign-italy-1943-45-timeline-part-one

 

Harland & Wolff Still Waiting On Government; New Jersey Man Died on Titanic

Harland & Wolff David and Goliath crane in Belfast, 2006
Plastic Jesus (Dave) via Wikimedia Commons

Jolly, J. (2024, July 17). Titanic shipyard owner Harland & Wolff awaits news of funding lifeline. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/business/article/2024/jul/16/titanic-shipyard-owner-harland-wolff-awaits-news-of-funding-lifeline

Harland & Wolff, the owner of the Belfast shipyard that built the Titanic, has insisted that it is still awaiting a government decision on a £200m intervention despite signs that Labour is due to reject the financial lifeline. Harland & Wolff (H&W) was forced to suspend its London-listed shares a fortnight ago, and it has missed two deadlines to file audited accounts, raising questions over its finances and its ability to fulfil a £1.6bn contract to build the three fleet solid support ships that will carry supplies such as ammunition and food to the navy’s aircraft carriers.

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Michal, J. (2024, July 16). Have you heard of the South Jersey man aboard Titanic? Cat Country 107.3. https://catcountry1073.com/south-jersey-businessman-died-on-titanic/

Over 1,500 people died at sea that night. Horrible deaths, too. Among them, believe it or not, was a South Jersey native. His name was Frederick Sutton. Sutton was born in England but came to the US in the late 1800s. He ultimately ended up settling in present-day Haddonfield in Camden County. According to Encyclopedia Titanica, Sutton did pretty well for himself in life, making his fortune in multiple business ventures from coffee importing to holding leadership positions in multiple banks. The venture that led him to the southeastern most points of NJ, however, was his interest in real estate. Real estate + the beach… makes sense, right? Reportedly, Frederick Sutton was one of the founding fathers of a little fishing town on one specific South Jersey beach. Today, we call it Wildwood.

Suggested Reading

Eaton John P. & Haas Charles, TITANIC TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY, SECOND EDITION, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, New York, 1995 First American Edition

Rossignol, K. (2012). Titanic 1912: The Original News Reporting of the Sinking of the Titanic. Createspace Independent Publishing Platform.

Wilson, A. (2012). Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived. Simon and Schuster.

Titanic News Channel is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Remembering History: Storming the Bastille (14 Jul 1789)

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

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

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

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

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

Aftermath

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

 

Sources

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2024c, July 11). Bastille Day | Definition, history, traditions, celebrations, & facts. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Bastille-Day

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2024a, May 17). French Revolution | History, Summary, timeline, causes, & facts. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/French-Revolution

Mullen, M. (2023, July 14). Bastille Day – Definition, Date & facts | HISTORY. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/topics/european-history/bastille-day

Suggested Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More Info on Dive to Titanic, Titanic Liability Law Being Used In Bridge Collapse, Titanic Exhibition Coming to Boston

RMS Titanic pictured in Queenstown, Ireland 11 April 1912
Source:Cobh Heritage Centre, Cobh Ireland/Wikimedia Commons

The BBC is reporting that the upcoming dive by RMS Titanic Inc. will be gathering the most detailed photographic record of the wreck. They will be using state of the art technology and remotely operated  vessels to go over every part of the ship they can.

Francis, J. a. a. A. (2024, July 12). RMS Titanic shipwreck: Bid to make ultimate photo record. https://www.bbc.com/news/articles/c1we095wzv1o

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NTSB drone image of Francis Scott Key Bridge and Cargo Ship Dali (26 Mar 2024)
NTSB
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

When the freighter Dali struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, it sought protection from liability using an 1851 law called Shipowners’ Limitation of Liability Act of 1851. This act was famously used by the owners of Titanic to limit liability claims and became known as the Titanic Act since then. This act limits the liability by setting the value to just the value of the ship and its contents. It is from this pool that all liability payments will be drawn from. This forces all claims to go to this one court and limits the damages the company pays. The act was done to prevent American ship owners from having to pay out huge liability awards that could result in the company shuttering.

Now this limitation is quite striking when you consider air or rail disasters that result in significant legal damages often having to be paid either by court judgment or settlements. So for a ship owner, this can really keep you from being sued for astronomical sums of money. The downside, of course, is that for those who lost cargo or relatives, the money to be paid out will be quite small. Now the law does have some qualifications. If it can be proven the ship owner was negligent, then they cannot get coverage under this law. In the case of the Dali, they are using the act to limit the damages they will pay out. Not only did a bridge come down but several people died. So the City of Baltimore is challenging their claim arguing they were negligent and thus cannot be afforded protection under this act. The city is only going to get $300 million from Chubb, and the cost of building a new bridge will be a lot higher than that. A good review of the law and how it will be used in this particular case was done by two New York attorneys who wrote for their state bar association. It is worth a read to understand how this law works.

Reilly, R., & F. Gleason, T. (2024, July 10). What does the Titanic have to do with the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse? New York State Bar Association. https://nysba.org/what-does-the-titanic-have-to-do-with-the-francis-scott-key-bridge-collapse/

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Exhibition News

Titanic: The Artifact Exposition is coming to Boston on 17 October 2024. It will be at the Saunders Castle at Park Plaza. For information and details, go to https://titanicboston.us/ for information on dates, times, and how to purchase tickets.

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/titanic-the-artifact-exhibition-coming-to-boston-302192296.html

Suggested Reading

Brewster, H. (2013). Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage: The Titanic’s First-Class Passengers and Their World. National Geographic Books.

Eaton John P. & Haas Charles, TITANIC TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY, SECOND EDITION, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, New York, 1995 First American Edition

Lord, Walter, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, New York, 1955. Multiple revisions and reprints, notably Illustrated editions (1976,1977,1978 etc.)

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RMS Titanic Inc to Dive to Titanic; U.S. Government Ends Legal Fight To Stop It.

Titanic Wreck Bow
Image: Public Domain (NOAA-http://www.gc.noaa.gov/images/gcil/ATT00561.jpg)

RMS Titanic Inc. is set to dive to Titanic later this month. Originally, they wanted to retrieve the Marconi wireless before further decay of the ship made it impossible. However, the U.S. government objected to the dive as it would be a violation of the Titanic Treaty now in place and thus the wreck a protected gravesite. RMS Titanic countered it had already sought and obtained permission from the court overseeing the salvage. The company has scaled back its plans and will no longer seek to remove anything from inside the hull. Also, they will not be using manned submersibles but remotely operated vehicles for the actual dive.

Sources

Finley, B. (2024, July 3). US ends legal fight against Titanic expedition. Battles over future dives are still possible | AP News. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/titanic-shipwreck-expedition-legal-fight-rmst-b3e4309440ef220ac7cc7ccf1af2bd4b

Guinness, E. (2024, July 2). Titan submersible: First dive to Titanic wreck since OceanGate disaster to take place this month. The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/titanic-oceangate-titan-submersible-disaster-shipwreck-b2572458.html

Suggested. Reading

Behe, G. (2012). On board RMS Titanic: Memories of the Maiden Voyage. The History Press.

Brewster, H. (2013). Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage: The Titanic’s First-Class Passengers and Their World. National Geographic Books.

Lord, Walter, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, New York, 1955. Multiple revisions and reprints, notably Illustrated editions (1976,1977,1978 etc.)

Titanic News Channel is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

Himmler decides to begin medical experiments on Auschwitz prisoners.
History.com
https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/himmler-decides-to-begin-medical-experiments-on-auschwitz-prisoners
Original Published Date: November 16, 2009
Last Accessed on: July 8, 2024

Nazi Medical Experiments
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/nazi-medical-experiments
Last Accessed on July 8, 2024

The Holocaust: Nazi Medical Experiments
JewishVirtualLibrary.org
https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/nazi-medical-experiments
Last Accessed on July 8, 202

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sources

Anne Frank. (2024, February 27). Anne Frank Website. https://www.annefrank.org/en/anne-frank/

Andrews, E., & Andrews, E. (2023a, August 3). Who betrayed Anne Frank? HISTORY. https://www.history.com/news/who-betrayed-anne-frank

Sullivan, M. (2024d, July 1). Anne Frank’s family takes refuge. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/frank-family-takes-refuge

Suggested Reading

Frank, A. (1993). The Diary of Anne Frank (B. M. Mooyart, Trans.). Bantam.

Gies, M., & Gold, A. L. (2009). Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family. Simon & Schuster.

Sullivan, R. (2022). The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation. Harper.

Titanic News Channel is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Remembering History: The Chicago White Sox Accused of Throwing World Series (5 Jul 1921)

“Fix these faces in your memory” cartoon that ran in newspapers in 1920 after the scandal broker in 1920.
Source: Anderson, Wayne (2004) “The Fix” in The Chicago Black Sox Trial: A Primary Source Account, Great Trials of the Twentieth Century, New York, United States: The Rosen Publishing Group
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The 1919 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds has been forever tainted by allegations that the game was thrown by some White Sox team members being paid by a gambling syndicate being run by Arthur Rothstein. The scandal changed baseball forever resulting in imposition of new rules of player conduct and putting into power a baseball commissioner who would preside like a dictator over baseball for decades. So, what happened? Let’s find out.

The White Sox were heavily favored to win the game in 1919 but many players were upset with being underpaid by team owner Charles Comiskey. It is believed that first baseman Chick Gindil may have initiated contact and through intermediaries New York gambler Arnold Rothstein offered money for the players to lose some of the games intentionally. Rumors of game fixing began on the first day of the game (1 Oct 1919). A lot of money was being placed against the Reds, which raised suspicions. The rumors reached the press box which started getting sports writers interested. As the games went on, plays were being watched more carefully and what the players were doing (or rather, not doing right). By Game 5 though, those involved were upset that they had not be paid and won Games 6 and 7. The gamblers struck back, and threats were made against the players and the families. Game 8 was lost by the Sox ending the series. The main conspirators received $5,000 each with Chick Gandil, who was the one who initiated the scheme, receiving $35,000.

Rumors swirled into the 1920 season and newspaper stories of corruption in other ball clubs emerged as well. Finally what appeared to be a rigged regular season game between the Cubs and the Phillies in August 1920 led to a grand jury being convened in September to investigate the 1919 World Series. Pitcher Eddie Cicotte confessed to his role and signed a waiver of immunity. Shoeless Joe Jackson soon testified to receiving $5,000 from his teammates. Lefty Williams and Oscar Felsch also confessed as well.  In October indictments for conspiracy were handed down for seven members of the White Sox, forever dubbed the Black Sox:

  • Arnold “Chick” Gandil (1st Base)
  • Eddie Cicotte (Pitcher)
  • Claude “Lefty” Williams (Pitcher)
  • Charles “Swede” Risberg (Shortstop)
  • Oscar “Happy” Felsch (Outfielder)
  • “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (Outfielder)
  • Fred McMullin (Infielder)
  • Buck Weaver ( 3rd Base)

The media and the public were unforgiving. Numerous stories appeared on how they sold out baseball and baseball fans over what happened. It was a major public relations nightmare for both the American and National leagues (back then they were separate unlike today). The trial took a mysterious turn when signed confessions and other documents mysteriously disappeared from the Cook County Courthouse. Both Cicotte and Jackson retracted their confessions, and without direct evidence what the jury heard were second hand or hearsay accounts. White Sox player “Sleepy Bill” Burns gave the most damning testimony when he said that Rothstein was involved and Cicotte had said he would fix the game. White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, who many felt had mistreated his players by not paying his player enough and not paying promised bonuses, was grilled on the stand so hard by the defense counsel that he became enraged. The jury got the case on 28 Jul and returned with a not guilty verdict three hours later.

Baseball Owners Respond

Prior to the jury verdict and even before the scandal broke out, the baseball team owners wanted to change how things were run. A National Commission governed the sport, but they realized things had to change. One suggestion was to get a recognized federal judge to sit on this commission and help direct baseball in a better direction. They looked at noted baseball fan and federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, but he demanded that he be made sole commissioner with nearly unchecked powers as commissioner. Although there were misgivings, the baseball owners agreed to his demands and made him the sole commissioner. This was unheard of back then as usually you wanted power vested in a group rather than one person. Landis would rule baseball from 1920-1944 and he would rule it with an iron fist. He would be the first and the last commissioner to have unchecked powers as he did.

Commissioner Landis Sets a New Tone for Baseball

Landis speaking at a church in 1921 is reported as saying he would tolerate any crooks in baseball.

Now that I am in baseball, just watch the game I play. If I catch any crook in baseball, the rest of his life is going to be a pretty hot one. I’ll go to any means and to anything possible to see that he gets a real penalty for his offense.

Like everyone else, he watched how the federal trial was going on against the White Sox players. When evidence disappeared requiring some charges to be dropped and new ones added (McMullin was dropped in the new charges), Landis responded by putting all eight on the ineligible list, banning them from major and minor league baseball. Comiskey released the seven who still were under contract, so they were effectively barred from professional baseball. However, Jackson, Williams, Felsch, and Weaver were able to play in a semi-pro game though sports writers heavily criticized it and the public for attending.

The acquittal seemed to end it and everyone in a celebratory mood afterwards. Both players and the jury went to an Italian restaurant and celebrated, it is said, long into the night. Their joy was short lived though. The following day (3 Aug 1921) Commissioner Landis issued the following statement:

Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ball game; no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ball game; no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing ball games are planned and discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball. Of course, I don’t know that any of these men will apply for reinstatement, but if they do, the above are at least a few of the rules that will be enforced. Just keep in mind that, regardless of the verdict of juries, baseball is competent to protect itself against crooks, both inside and outside the game.

 With that statement, Landis set a standard that still applies to this day. No ball player who colludes with gamblers or promises to throw a ball game is going to find a home in baseball. And even if a jury acquits them, baseball is the final arbiter of who can and cannot play. Now one can argue that if a person is legally acquitted of a crime of conspiracy to throwing a game, he should be welcomed back. Except that Landis knew, as did others, that there were signed confessions out there that mysteriously disappeared, and they recanted confessions after they vanished. The jury never got to see those confessions, which likely would have made a difference in the outcome. Unlike someone who steadfastly says he is innocent and is proven at trial that someone else was, the evidence here was certainly conclusive that they had conspired to through the game for gamblers.

Landis refused to reinstate any of the eight even with a lot of support and statements that perhaps they had been misled, their baseball stats from the games showed they had not thrown the games, or other reasons. To this day their expulsions stand despite sympathy for Jackson and Weaver. Landis moved to crack down on any association with gambling. Two team owners who had purchased a racing horse track had to sell it. Other baseball players who associated themselves in any way with gamblers or gambled on the game were struck off and out of the game. Also playing baseball outside of the season for pay was discouraged without permission from Landis.

Babe Ruth got into hot water with Landis for not getting his permission and for a while made him ineligible to play again for the Yankees until Landis met with him. Landis was also strict with the team owners making them disclose holdings they had in minor leagues and to honor their contracts with players. He was not a fan of the farm system, but it has become the way most teams develop promising players for the major leagues. While apparently a liberal on racial matters, he upheld the unofficial ban on black ballplayers playing in professional baseball and forbade teams from playing black baseball teams (though it was done unofficially). While it is debatable how racist Landis was, there were indications many players were and would not tolerate nor accept a black ballplayer. Perhaps, and this is not an excuse for his actions, Landis feared ugly incidents in the club house that would do more damage to the sport than gambling did.

Sources

Andrews, E., & Andrews, E. (2023, August 24). What was the 1919 ‘Black Sox’ baseball scandal? HISTORY. https://www.history.com/news/black-sox-baseball-scandal-1919-world-series-chicago

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2024b, June 21). Black Sox Scandal of 1919 | Summary, trial, players, & facts. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/Black-Sox-Scandal

Lamb, B. (2022, September 14). The Black Sox scandal. https://sabr.org/journal/article/the-black-sox-scandal/

Wikipedia contributors. (2024b, June 26). Black Sox scandal. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Sox_Scandal

Why We Celebrate the Fourth of July

The Spirit of 76 (Yankee Doodle) by Archibald Willard (1836–1918)
1912
Public Domain va Wikimedia Commons

On 2 July 1776, the Continental Congress adopted a resolution that formally declared that American colonies independent of Britain. A final document had to be created explaining the reasons. A committee of five composed of John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Morris, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson worked on a draft form for the Congress to approve. On 4 July 1776 the Declaration of Independence was published. Although John Adams believed 2 July would be remembered for generations, it would be the day the Declaration was published that would be remembered.

Declaration of Independence (1819) by John Trumbull (1756-1843).
Public Domain

It would be spread in July and August in a variety of ways. It was published in newspapers throughout the American colonies. It was spread via word of mouth by horseback and by ships. Newspapers published the Declaration and was read aloud for people and troops serving the Continental Congress. It was also sent to Europe as well. The Declaration clearly spelled out the reasons for the split and roused support for the American Revolution. It was a shocking document read in London and in other capitals. For it laid out clearly and precisely the reasons why a people could, and under the proper circumstances, rise up and replace their government with something better.

Thomas Jefferson, one of the principal writers of the Declaration, wanted to convey in a commonsense manner the reasons for the split. He wanted everyone who read or heard it read aloud to know exactly why this had to occur. He drew upon well-known political works in the language he used. His most important goal was to express the American mind against the tyranny of Britain.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

“4th-of-July-1819-Philadelphia-John-Lewis-Krimmel” by John Lewis Krimmel – Unknown. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

The Declaration announced to the world the uniqueness of the American Revolution. This was not like simply toppling a monarch and replacing him with a Cromwell or another king. It was about creating a government that believed and supported civil liberties along with the idea of self-government. A government that ruled with the consent of the governed, and not the other way around which was common in most of the world. The Declaration would become the cornerstone of what the United States would stand for and inspire others around the world to believe in it as well.

Today many are not sure of what happened in 1776 because they were not taught or learned why this occurred. There are those who try to rewrite history to fit their own narrative, often for political or social reasons or causes. The American Revolution occurred because people had become tired and frustrated by a government that was remote to their needs. They were British citizens, and many had families that came from Britain and settled in the colonies. They assumed they had the same basic rights of all English citizens, but the government saw the colonies as a means of revenue to refill their treasury. And they had little representation back in London, unlike there where you had a House of Commons that represented each borough.

When the British imposed taxes and restrictions on the American Colonies, many were disturbed by these actions and began protesting them. Attempts in some small ways of self-governance were met with indifference or hostility. The infamous tax on tea that led to the famous Boston Tea Party (1773). While this act was not celebrated by everyone (John Adams and George Washington, both thought it was wrong), it became a defining act of defiance, and the British took note since 45 tons of tea (worth a lot of money) was destroyed. The British closed down the port, demanded compensation, ended the Massachusetts Constitution, ended elections of public officials, instituted martial law as all courts were moved to Britain, required housing of British troops on private property. And to further snub the local Protestants, French-Canadian Catholics were allowed to worship openly.

These rules, called the Coercive Acts, led to the First Continental Congress of 1774. Many thought what happened was wrong but this was too far. The British hoped the acts would stop further acts of rebellion but ended up doing the opposite. It brought together people of all levels against the British and further convinced many that they now lived under a tyranny. The First Continental Congress, while disagreeing about the Boston Tea Party, was strongly united against Britain because of the Coercive Acts. In their declaration they formally censured Britain for these acts, imposed a boycott of British goods, declared they had a right to govern themselves, and called on colonists to form militias. For most it came down to a simple word: sovereignty. And so, the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776, they declared to the world the reasons why they had to formally break with Britain and declare their independence. Those that signed the declaration knew they would become targets, and many did. Some were arrested, imprisoned, or executed. Families were destroyed. Many leaders would lose all their wealth during the war to follow. And it was no sure thing they would win.

Britain was one of the premier powers of Europe at the time, with France being the other. They had a highly trained army and navy against a ragtag group of colonials though some had military experience (like George Washington). And the British showed, along with German mercenary troops, they were indeed not to be doubted. Yet something remarkable did happen. Despite all the odds against them, battles lost, cities taken, and at times appearing hopeless, the Americans did turn it around and show the British that they were determined and resolved in their desire to win. And they did to the surprise and shock of the world. They had defeated Britain and achieved their independence. What came of it was an American republic, distinctly different from anywhere else, where government was set to serve the people and constrained by a constitution, to prevent a tyrant from ruling outright. And the first amendments to this constitution would enshrine and limit those powers they so detested the British had done to them.

 

Suggested Reading

O’Donnell, P. K. (2017). Washington’s Immortals: The Untold Story Of An Elite Regiment Who Changed The Course Of The Revolution. Grove Press.

Warren, J. D., Jr. (2023). Freedom: The Enduring Importance of the American Revolution.

Wood, G. S. (2003). The American Revolution: A History. Modern Library.

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