Category Archives: History

Nazi Germany Prepares For Final Solution (31 July 1941)

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

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

Sources:

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Remembering History: England Defeats Spanish Armada (29 July 1688)

 

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

On July 29, 1688 naval forces of England and Spain engaged in an 8-hour furious battle off the coast of France that determined the fate of both countries control of the seas. Spain had created the armada to not only gain control of the English Channel but also to land an invasion force in England. England since the early 1580s had been conducting raids against Spanish commerce and had supported Dutch rebels in Spanish Netherlands. The other reason was to restore Catholicism that had been outlawed since the reign of King Henry VIII

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

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

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

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

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

Significance

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

Sources:

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

Battle of Kursk (4-13 Jul 1943)

On 13 July 1943, the largest tank battle in history came to an when the Russian Army repulsing the German offensive. Both Germany and Russia had concentrated their forces near the city of Kursk in western Russia. The Soviet Union held a 150-mile-wide pocket into German lines. The German attack began on 5 Jul with 38 divisions of which half were tanks moving from south and the north. The Soviets had better tanks and air support by this time, unlike previous battles. The fighting was bitter and intense but the Soviet antitank artillery managed to damage or destroy nearly 40 percent of the German armor. Some of the tanks destroyed were the newer class Mark VI Tiger tanks. After six days of warfare, German General Field Marshal Gunther von Kluge called off the offensive. The Germans retreated to their original positions by 23 Jul making it a decisive victory for the Russians, though a very costly one.

 

 

 

Sources:

History.com
Today in WW2 History

Remembering History: Liberty Bell and Commodore Perry Goes to Japan

Liberty Bell
Photo: National Park Service
Public Domain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

 


Remembering History: Anne Frank Family Goes Into Hiding (6 Jul 1942)

Anne Frank – 1940
Photographer Unknown
Public Domain (United States/Netherlands)
Wikimedia Commons

Although neutral, Germany invaded the Netherlands (Holland) in May 1940. Although resistance was very strong, the bombing of Rotterdam by the German Luftwaffe had left its city center in ashes. Although the army wanted to resist, without enough artillery and air support to stop the bombers, the Netherlands surrendered on 14 May 1940. It would remain occupied until 1945.

As would become the norm in countries where Germany invaded, strict rules about Jews were immediately imposed. Jews were dismissed from government held jobs, forbidden from visiting public places, and other restrictions were imposed as well. Deportation of Jews began in 1941 sending many to the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. Dutch people opposed the action and organized a two-day strike in February 1941. It did nothing to stop the deportations and by this time every Jew had to wear the Star of David badges on their clothing. There were many atrocities committed against the Jews but one of the worst was the forced eviction of Jews from the Jewish psychiatric institution Het Apeldoornse Bosch. Disabled and mentally ill jews were sent to Auschwitz to be killed.

On 6 July 1942, fearing deportation to a Nazi concentration camp, Otto Frank decided to take his family into hiding along with the Van Pels family. They would later be joined by Fritz Pfeffer. Otto Frank had left Germany when Hitler came into power and settled in the Netherlands selling first pectin and later spices. He had hoped to set up a business in Great Britain, but the plans never came to be. When the Germans invaded and new rules forbade Jewish ownership of companies, he was helped by his employees to keep his business out of German control. Now faced with likely deportation, they decided to go into hiding.

The place that was chose was a Secret Annex above the warehouse of the company he owned. Access was through a bookcase that covered the door. They had to be very quiet in the early morning when workers arrived so as to not attract attention. Usually, some helpers who assisted them came up to join them for lunch (the workers left at this time for their lunches). Johannes Kleiman, Victor Kugler and Bep Voskuijl came up frequently as did Jan Gies. Miep Gies stayed below to keep an eye on things. They were able to learn what was going on through them and listening to a radio. During this time, Anne Frank began writing her diary recording her life and her thoughts about having to hide during this time.

They were able to hide out successfully for two years but on 4 August 1944, the Gestapo discovered the Secret Annex and arrested them along with two Christian helpers. All who hid in the Secret Annex were deported. Only Otto Frank would survive and return home. He would discover the diary written by his daughter, which was published and shared with the world. It would be made into several movies and documentaries.

Lingering questions remain as to whether or not they were betrayed or whether the Gestapo got lucky that day. It is likely that someone, perhaps a known Dutch collaborator, passed on information that Jews were hiding out in the warehouse. It is also possible the raid that occurred had nothing to do with Jews but looking for other things but unfortunately resulted in the discovery of the Secret Annex.

Sources:

Anne Frank House
History.com
Holland.com-Invasion and Occupation During World War II

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Happy Independence Day

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.

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

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. 

 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.

Fourth of July Parade Boise, Idaho
Circa 1917-1920
Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress,digital id#cph 3a18275)

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IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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 of 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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

— John Hancock

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts:
John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut:
Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania:
Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware:
Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland:
Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia:
George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia:
Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

Welcome To July

Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry-July
Limbourg Brothers (1385 – 1416)
Public Domain US/Wikimedia

July is the seventh month on both the Gregorian and Julian calendars. On the old Roman calendar, it was the fifth month since the new year did not start till March. It was called Quintillis until it was renamed July in honor of Julius Caesar. This occurred in 45 BC when the Julian calendar was adopted and January became the first month of the new year. In the Northern Hemisphere it is considered one of the warmest months of the year. Conversely it is considered one of the coldest months in the Southern Hemisphere where it is winter. The symbols for July are the ruby (birthstone) and Larkspur or Water Lilly for the flower.

Baker’s Larkspur
Kate Symonds/USFWS
Public Domain

Slideshow of Former Widener Home Lynnewood Hall

Lynnewood Hall, 2013
Photo: Shuvaev/Wikimedia Commons

Few estates showcase the wealth of the Gilded Age than Lynnewood Hall in Elkins Park in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Built by A.B. Widener between 1897-1900, it was a masterpiece of design. The 110-room mansion sat on 300 acres that were meticulously cared for and adorned with statues. The mansion was 70,000 square feet and designed by the noted American architect Horace Trumbauer. Aside from being a place to live, it was also to be the home of one of the largest private art collections in the country. It is estimated to have cost $8 million to build. Sadly, both his son George Dunton Widener and grandson Harry, died when Titanic sank in 1912. George had two other children who were not aboard at the time. His wife Eleanor and maid did survive but it was a devastating blow to AB. He would die in 1915.

Between 1915-1940, it was a private art gallery open to the public by appointment. In 1940, over 2,000 pieces of art were donated to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.  When Joseph Widener passed away in 1943, none of his children wanted the responsibility (meaning cost because it took a lot of money to keep the house and grounds maintained). It was abandoned and left to slowly disintegrate until 1948 when a developer bought it for a very low price. After that it was purchased by the Faith Theological Seminary. They sold off most of the land and now sits on 33 acres. Most of the art that was left was sold off prior to the sale. The seminary sold off many the famed interior detailing to raise funds. You must go to the National Gallery in Washington to see the Widener art collection, which is still preserved.

The house has been left to rot having been stripped of its precious art and detailing. Some rooms and areas are still in good condition as the slideshow indicates. It has been added to the list of endangered historic properties in the region. The secret tunnels referred to in the title were possibly used by staff to navigate the large house without being seen by Widener’s guests. The home was up for sale in 2014 for $20 million but that was brought down to $17.5 million in 2017. It appears off the market but not really known if it was sold or not. Perhaps it ought to be renovated and made open to the public (for a fee, of course) like many mansions and estates in Britain and France. You can view the slideshow here.

Remembering History: Germans Take Paris (14 June 1940)

German Troops in Paris, 14 June 1940
Photo: Heinz Fremde (1907-1987)
German Federal Archives:Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-126-0350-26A / Fremke, Heinz / CC-BY-SA 3.0

On 14 June 1940, the open city of Paris was taken by the German army. There was no opposition. Le Havre in the north fell as to German control. The Maginot Line in the east was broken by the German 1st Army under General Erwin von Witzleben near Saarbrucken. The French government had relocated to Bordeaux and appealed to the United States to enter the war. Prime Minister Winston Churchill had asked the French to hold on and not surrender.

In the United States, the fall of France was seen as a catastrophe but there was hesitation on what to do. The French premier Paul Reynaud asked President Roosevelt for aid in either a declaration of war or, if not possible, any help they could provide. Roosevelt was sympathetic but advisors such as Cordell Hull, the Secretary of State, argued any open support for the French would be seen as a declaration of war by the Germans. Public opinion was still in support of the U.S. staying out of the European war, and the Congress would not wholly support it either.

Parisians had been fleeing the approaching German troops. It has been estimated that over 2 million Parisians fled ahead of the German arrival in Paris. Parisians awoke that morning with messages blaring over loudspeakers that a curfew would begin at 8 pm that night. The Germans took quick control raising the German swastika on the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. The Gestapo quickly began to start rounding up those already on lists for arrest, interrogation, and execution or deportation to Germany. While the United States did not offer any formal support for France, it implemented a freeze on Italian and German assets in the country (meaning they had no access to funds in U.S. banks or to any property they owned).

By this time, the formal relationship between had already deteriorated. As a response to Kristallnacht in 1938, the U.S. ambassador had been withdrawn. Only a Charge d’Affairs*represented the U.S. from that point on. Germany withdrew its ambassador in response. This would remain unchanged until Germany formally declared war on 11 December 1941.

*A charge d’affairs is a diplomat who handles the ordinary duties of an ambassador when they are not present (whether temporary or permanent). Often this will occur when an ambassador has ended his tour and they are awaiting a new one to be posted. A person acting in this capacity has the same immunities that the ambassador does. In formal ceremonies, a charge d’affairs is treated with a lesser precedence than an ambassador.

Sources:

History.com
History.net
World War II Database


Interesting History: Ben Franklin’s Famous Electricity Experiment

Franklins_experiment
Ben Franklin’s Famous Experiment To Capture Electricity on 10 June 1752. Public Domain

On June 10, 1752 Benjamin Franklin conducted an experiment on electricity that has become both famous and legendary. Electricity was not well understood but many knew the effects of lightning. Franklin was fascinated by the subject and decided to conduct an experiment on a stormy day. He used a kite with a key to gather electricity the storm gave off and used string to transfer it to a Leyden jar. His son was the only witness to it. Franklin made sure he was grounded and that the string his hands were touching were not wet. Franklin’s delving into electricity would give us words we use today:battery, conductor, and electrician. He also developed the lightning rod,a very useful tool if you live in an area where you get thunderstorms. Simply put, a lightning rod on a house (or other elevated structure) acts to capture the electricity from lightning and then sends it through a wire to the ground thus avoiding it passing through the structure (which can cause damage). There are more modern variations of it but all use the same principle of grounding electricity so it does little harm to people or structures.

Attempts to replicate Franklin’s Experiment show how lucky he was and that it is difficult to do even under controlled circumstances. Some doubt it happened at all. Mythbusters found that in their recreation of the experiment he likely would have died. But they concede some parts were feasible such as collecting a charge from a damp string and accumulating it in a Leyden jar. So did it happen or not? Like all good stories, there is likely something to it. If he did do it as claimed,he was truly fortunate or blessed because it is extremely hazardous to do. Many places ban such experiments because of how dangerous it is. Whether he did as claimed or through some other means we may never know the full tale. But likely he did try something close to it and obviously he never tried it again.

Further Reading

Benjamin Franklin’s Inventions, Discoveries, and Improvements
Encyclopedia Britannica
History.com