Remembering History: US Army Liberates Dachau

Young and old survivors in Dachau cheer approaching U.S. troops.
29 April 1945
Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Photograph #45075
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Established in 1933, 10 miles northwest of Munich on the outskirts of a town called Dachau, this concentration camp would initially house 5,000 political prisoners. The number of those opposed to the Nazi regime would increase from the original Communists it held. Soon it would include Roma (Gypsies), religious dissenters (Catholic priests and nuns, Protestant ministers, Jehovah’s Witnesses etc.) repeat criminals and homosexuals. In 1938, Jews began becoming a large number of those sent to this camp.

Dachau prisoners were used as forced laborers for German armaments production and was used as a training facility for SS concentration camp guards. Prisoners were also used in hideous medical experiments resulting in many dying or being crippled for life. While many thousands died at Dachau, many were sent to the extermination center near Linz, Austria until a gas chamber and crematorium were added in 1942. Satellite camps supplemented the main camp and were set up near armaments factories. Collectively all these camps were administered by Dachau and part of it.

The situation by April 1945 was dire for Germany with Allied forces closing in.. Many prisoners were sent from camps nearer the front to Dachau resulting in epidemics and overcrowding. Over 7,000 mostly Jewish prisoners were forced to March from Dachau to Tegernsee in the south. Most of the camp guards left Dachau and only light resistance was given to the U.S. Army troops that arrived on 29 April 1945. Near the camp, they found 30 railroad cars full of corpses. More bodies were found at the camp but there were 30,000 survivors, many who were emaciated. The scene was appalling to the American troops. Many would write or talk about it later as one of the most horrific things they had ever seen. 30 captured SS guards were killed by American soldiers over what they saw (others claim it is was a lot more). German citizens of Dachau were later forced to bury the 9,000 dead inmates found at the camp.

(Here is a video on the liberation, but you will need to view it on YouTube.)

Sources:

Books

Gilbert, Martin: The Holocaust-A History of The Jews of Europe During The Second World War, Henry Holt & Company, New York 1985

Snyder, Lewis: Encyclopedia of The Third Reich, Marlowe & Company, New York, 1976

United State Holocaust Memorial Museum: Historical Atlas of The Holocaust, Macmillan Publishing USA, New York 1996

Internet

History.com
Holocaust Encyclopedia
Jewish Virtual Library

,,,

Remembering History: Mussolini Caught Fleeing Italy and Executed

Benito Mussolini
Public Domain

Attempting to flee Italy into Austria dressed in a Luftwaffe coat and hat, the deposed dictator of Italy–Il Duce–Benito Mussolini was caught by partisans along with his mistress Clara Petacci. The partisans executed him and Petacci, transported their bodies to Milan, and hung them upside down so that everyone (especially his supporters) could see he was dead. He ruled Italy from 1925-1943, when he was deposed and subsequently imprisoned. He was rescued by Hitler’s forces and made the puppet leader of the Italian Social Republic in northern Italy. With German troops in retreat, he hoped to avoid being captured by either British or American forces. Pictures of his body being hung upside down in Piazzale Loreto in Milan would be spread to prove that Il Duce was no more.

Sources:
History.com

Remembering the Sultana (27 April 1865)

“Sultana” at Helena, Arkansas, just prior to its explosion on April 27, 1865.
Photo: Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, digital id#cph.3a48909)

On 27 April 1865 the steamboat Sultana carrying recently released Union army prisoners of war exploded on the Mississippi River resulting in 1800 deaths. It is regarded as one of the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history.

The steamboat was already in dire need of repairs before it departed on 24 April from Vicksburg, Mississippi. Sultana’s captain and part owner, J. Cass Mason, was told a proper repair would take days. However, the War Department was paying $5 for every enlisted man and $10 for each officer. Not wanting to miss a big payday, Mason ordered temporary patches and filled the steamboat with as many officers and enlisted that he could. Thanks to a corrupt Union Army quartermaster, 2,400 enlisted and officers were steered to a ship that was rated to carry only 376.  Its decks began to sag and needed reinforcement before it departed for Cairo, Illinois its final destination.

After unloading cargo in Memphis, Tennessee the Sultana appeared top heavy. The boilers were forced to work hard against the current and swollen Mississippi River. Sometime around 0200 on 27 April three boilers exploded instantly killing many. The explosion caused massive holes and flaming debris that included hot coal that came raining down back on the ship. The Sultana erupted into flames. Frantic Union Army soldiers jumped overboard but many were weakened by being prisoners of war. Some clung to debris, and so many clamored to get on a lifeboat after it was lowered that it sank. Bodies would be found far down river and in trees.

Sadly, other historical events, such as the surrender of Confederate General Joseph Johnston and the capture of John Wilkes Booth pushed this news story aside. It never got the attention it should have.

While overcrowding and corruption are considered the reasons for the disaster, some claim sabotage by Confederate agents using a coal torpedo. Some evidence, such as testimony of eyewitnesses, suggests its possibility. However more recent examinations such as done on History Detectives shows it more likely a disaster caused by overloading a ship that was already in dire need of repair.

Sources
1. Christopher Klein, The Forgotten History of America’s Titanic 150 Years Ago,History.com,27 April 2015.
2. Sultana (Wikipedia)
3. Stephen Ambrose, Remembering Sultana, National Geographic, NationalGeographic.com, 1 May 2001.
4. Sultana Disaster, Tennessee State Library and Archives: Disasters in Tennessee, www.tn.gov
5. The Sultana Disaster (American Battlefield Trust)

Titanic Chronology: Olympic Departure Delayed Over Lifeboats (24 April 1912)

RMS Olympic Arrives In New York on Maiden Voyage, 21 June 1911
Source: U.S. Library of Commerce/Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain

In the wake of the Titanic sinking, all passenger ships were equipped with lifeboats for everyone aboard. Olympic, like her sister ship, did not have enough lifeboats but they were quickly added for her upcoming departure from Southampton on 24 April 1912. 40 collapsible lifeboats (all second-hand) had come from troopships. However, there was concern amongst the crew that these lifeboats were not seaworthy.  A request sent by crewman that they should be replaced by wooden lifeboats was declined by White Star which said that it was impossible to do that and they had passed as seaworthy by the Board of Trade inspector.

Not convinced of this, 284 firemen went on strike delaying the departure. Non-union crew were hired from Southampton and from Liverpool to make up the difference. On 25 April 1912, representatives of the strikers witnessed a test of four of the collapsible boats. One was found unseaworthy. The representatives said they would recommend the strikers return to work as a result. A separate objection about the non-union workers who were hired came up as an issue. White Star refused to fire them. This resulted in 54 crewmembers leaving the ship in protest causing the cancellation of the sailing. Later they would be charged and convicted of mutiny, but no punishment was awarded due to the circumstances. White Star Line hired them back in end fearing a public backlash in support of the strikers. Olympic would sail for New York on 15 May 1912.

 

Sources:

Encyclopedia Titanica
Ocean Liners Magazine
RMS Olympic (Wikipedia)

 

,,,

Remembering History: Hitler Learns War Is Lost

By April 1945, victories by Allied and Russian forces had reduced the once formidable German state to a shadow of its former self. Due to increased Allied air attacks on Berlin, Hitler had relocated his headquarters from the Reich Chancellery to the Fuhrerbunker, an underground complex that would serve as the command center for the remnants of the Third Reich earlier in the year. 19th April saw the Soviet Army mobilize its troops to encircle Berlin. Hitler had gone above on 20 April 1945, his 56th birthday, to award the Iron Cross to boys from the Hitler Youth.

It was on 22 April 1945 that Hitler, in an afternoon meeting, learned that Soviets were entering the northern suburbs of Berlin meeting no resistance. It enraged Hitler, who denounced the Army, and made him realize the war was lost. Hitler decided to stay in Berlin rather than flee south.

Sources:

Britannica.com
HeritageDaily.com
History.com

,,

Titanic News-Men Who Gave Up Lives, Reasons for Titanic Sinking, William Wyn survived Titanic and others

The Men Onboard The Titanic Who Gave Up Their Lives To Save Women And Children, Irish Central, 19 April 2021

Men made up 75% of the 2,240 passengers and crew onboard the Titanic’s ill-fated maiden voyage but only made up a tiny fraction of the 705 who survived the disaster. Hundreds of men – both rich and poor – bravely standing aside to give women and children a place on the ship’s lifeboats. The 175 men traveling in first-class had a survival rate of just 32%, while more than 97% of their 144 female counterparts survived the disaster. Second-class male passengers fared even worse with just 14 of 168 male passengers making their way to safety. Women in second-class, on the other hand, had a survival rate of about 74%. That is not to mention the hundreds of third-class male passengers – many of them Irish – who met their deaths on the Titanic.

No One Mistake Caused The Tragic Sinking Of The Titanic, Irish Central, 19 April 2021

A 2019 Channel 5 documentary investigates the series of mistakes that led to the sinking of the Belfast-built Titanic during its maiden voyage in April 1912. No one mistake was to blame for the disaster, according to the Channel 5 documentary “10 Mistakes That Sank the Titanic.” Instead, it was a number of factors that led to the tragedy. The Daily Mail reports on some of the fatal flaws that are featured in the “10 Mistakes That Sank the Titanic” documentary which debuted in 2019, more than 100 years after the disaster

Chester: The Incredible Story Of A Man Who Survived The Sinking Of The Titanic, The Standard, 18 April 2021

And on February 6, 1898, he was aboard the USS St Louis as an able seaman when that ship mounted a rescue of passengers and crew from SS Veendam when she collided with a sunken wreck and foundered. He also saw service in the Spanish-American war of 1898, and in the Boer War, 1899-1902. In 1907 he married Eliza Kate Abbott, and he joined the White Star Line. One day the men were assembled, and he was chosen to proceed to Belfast, where he found he was posted to Titanic as quartermaster.

,,,

Titanic Chronology-U.S. Senate Hearing into Titanic sinking begins

With Titanic’s sinking, U.S. Senator William Alden Smith saw this as an opportunity to investigate marine safety issues. Smith, a Republican Senator from Michigan, had experience in investigating railroad safety issues. Smith believed due to the sensational nature of this disaster that rapid action was needed. Another concern was that many of the witnesses-surviving passengers and crew-would disperse and return home. On 17 April 1912, Smith proposed that a hearing be done to investigate the sinking. President Taft, who lost his friend and military advisor Archibald Butt in the sinking, concurred. A U.S. naval escort was set up for Carpathia to make sure no one left before it docked.

Senator William Alden Smith of Michigan
Unknown date (between 1905 and 1945)
Public Domain

Smith, accompanied by Francis G. Newlands and other officials traveled to New York and were there when Carpathia docked in New York. They boarded the ship and served subpoenas on J.Bruce Ismay and on surviving officers and crew. The hearings began on 19 April 1912 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York and later moved to Washington D.C. The hearings, with many recesses in-between, would run for 18 days till May 25, 1912.

Sources:

Books

Behe, George TITANIC: SAFETY, SPEED AND SACRIFICE, Transportation Trails, Polo, IL 1997

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)

Lord, Walter, THE NIGHT LIVES ON, Willian Morrow and Company, New York, New York, 1986 (First Edition)

Lynch, Don & Marshall Ken, TITANIC AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, Madison Press Books, Toronto, Ontario Canada, 1992

Internet

Britannica.com
Cobh Heritage Center
Encyclopedia Titanica
History.com

,,,

Titanic News-International Ice Patrol, Butt Bridge, Chinese Passengers on Titanic

 

Straus Memorial Park, New York City, 1915. This memorial and park was dedicated on 15 April 1915.
Photo:Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, Bain Collection,call number LC-B2- 3446-4)

Hamilton Doctor Goes Down With Titanic
Hamilton Spectator, 17 April 2021

In the days following the North Atlantic Ocean sinking of the so-called “unsinkable” Titanic, word was received in Hamilton that a young local doctor was among its more than 1,500 victims. Dr. Alfred Pain, 24, was a second-class passenger returning after a year at King’s College Hospital in London. He originally tried to sign on as ship’s doctor on a freighter in exchange for a free trip home. When that didn’t work out, he bought a ticket on a tramp steamer. But then he switched his ticket for passage on the maiden voyage of the luxury ship Titanic.

History In The Hills: Titanic Local Connections
Weirton Daily Times, 17 April 2021

What followed was a daring escape from the depths of the ship using access ladders and passages used by crew members as some of the regular passages for third-class passengers were tightly locked, sealing the fate of those trapped below. Elin was admitted to a lifeboat, dressed only in her nightgown and life vest and by the grace of God survived the sinking. To me the most heart-wrenching part of her story is the fact that Pekka never did return to their cabin, and after the ship went down, from her lifeboat she called out to him in the darkness letting him know she was near.

Out There…Somewhere: Titanic Trivia, No If’s And’s Or Butt
Wjbf.com, 16 April 2021

“That’s a weird name for a bridge, you know, definitely is,” said Terry Dent of Snellville, Georgia. The Butt Bridge got a makeover a couple of years ago and with its lions holding shields and eagles landing on pillars, it’s impressive to see, but admittedly Butt Bridge is funny name. “Of course everyone remembers ‘save our Butt’. I think it’s something unique about Augusta keeps us funky,” said David Peltier. The funky bridge is named for Augustan Archibald Butt, aide to presidents who died on the Titanic.

Coast Guard Ice Patrol Commemorates The Titanic
The Day, 15 April 2021

An annual wreath drop serves as a way to remember and honor those who died on the Titanic. The Ice Patrol was formed after the passenger liner hit an iceberg and sank in the early morning of April 15, 1912. The wreaths from the ceremony will be dropped near where the ship sank during an iceberg reconnaissance flight in the next few weeks, Cmdr. Marcus Hirschberg said.

Six Chinese Passengers Survived The Sinking Of The Titanic – More Than 100 Years Later Their Stories Reach China
Post Magazine, 15 April 2021

Eight Chinese men were on board and six survived, landing in New York three days later aboard the Carpathia, the first ship to arrive at the scene of the disaster. Under the United States’ Chinese Exclusion Act, the men were transferred 24 hours later to a British steamship and sent to Cuba. What happened after that has been unclear – until now.

The Tragic Story of the Four Greeks Who Perished on the Titanic
Greek Reporter, 15 April 2021

Panagiotis Lymberopoulos, Vassilios Katavelos, Apostolos Chronopoulos and Demetrios Chronopoulos all came from the same village, Agios Sostis in the Messinia region of the Peloponnese. The last two men were brothers. Like many of the passengers, the four friends were young – the oldest one was only 33 years old – and they wanted to go to America in search of a better life. Tragically, their dreams, like those of so many others who perished on that starry night, never came true.They all died in the most famous shipwreck in maritime history, and the bodies of the two brothers never been found.

3 Madison County Connections To The Titanic
Herald Bulletin, 10 April 2021

Many local history buffs and Titanic fans know that Anderson’s Maplewood Cemetery is the final resting place of Charles Hallace Romaine. He was a first-class passenger aboard the Titanic on its maiden voyage in April 1912. Romaine survived the disastrous sinking when he was allowed to take a seat in Lifeboat No. 9 after the women and children had been given a place.
 

,,,

Titanic Chronology:Carpathia Arrives on 18 April 1912

Crowd Awaiting Survivors of Titanic, 18 April 1912
U.S. Library of Congress,Bain Collection, Control #ggb2004010347
Public Domain

It had been a long three days since Titanic sank when Carpathia arrived bearing Titanic’s survivors. What had been first optimistic news turned grim after the miscommunication had been sorted out. Titanic had sunk and 1500 had perished out in the cold North Atlantic. News as to who exactly had survived was not fully known as Carpathia had kept a media blackout during its journey to New York. There was a reporter on board but had to keep his notes secret in a cigar box lined with champagne corks. He would toss it towards a Hearst editor in a tugboat in New York harbor where it would be raced for a special evening edition of New York World. 50 tugboats full of reporters yelled at the ship through megaphones offering money for eyewitness accounts. Carpathia first stopped at Pier 59, the White Star Line pier and offloaded Titanic‘s lifeboats. They were all that were left of the ship aside from the flotsam and jetsam that would be found later in the Atlantic. Then Carpathia proceeded to Pier 54 and the Titanic survivors disembarked. It was only then it was truly known who did survive and who did not.

Sources:

Books

Behe, George TITANIC: SAFETY, SPEED AND SACRIFICE, Transportation Trails, Polo, IL 1997

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)

Lord, Walter, THE NIGHT LIVES ON, Willian Morrow and Company, New York, New York, 1986 (First Edition)

Lynch, Don & Marshall Ken, TITANIC AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, Madison Press Books, Toronto, Ontario Canada, 1992

Internet

Britannica.com
Cobh Heritage Center
Encyclopedia Titanica
History.com

,,,

Titanic Chronology: White Star Line Hires Ships To Retrieve Bodies (17 April 1912)

CS Mackay Bennett (circa 1884)
Artist Unknown
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

As the world awaits news of who survived Titanic, the White Star Line decides to hire ships to go out and retrieve bodies. Reports of bodies floating in the Atlantic had been reported and White Star wanted to retrieve them as quickly as possible for a number of practical reasons. Ocean currents would eventually move them out of the area, so getting them retrieved as soon as possible would allow families to lay them to rest. Another reason for speed was that sea creatures and birds would start consuming the bodies making identification difficult as well. The cable ship Mackay Bennett was the first ship hired by White Star (others would be employed as well) to retrieve bodies. The ship emptied itself of its normal stores in Halifax, Nova Scotia and brought aboard supplies for its new mission:

  • Embalming supplies and coffins (100)
  • Chief embalmer of John Snow & Co., John R. Snow Jr.
  • 100 tons of ice to store the bodies
  • Canon Kenneth Hind of All Saints Cathedral, Halifax

Mackay Bennett left Halifax at 12:28 pm on 17 April 1912. Due to heavy fog and rough seas, it would take four days to reach where Titanic sank. They began recovery at 0600 on 20 April. Bodies were manually recovered by skiffs and brought back to the ship. They recovered 51 bodies but realized they did not have enough embalming supplies on hand. Since the laws at the time required bodies to be embalmed before unloading from ships docking in a Canadian port, they followed a general procedure:

  • First class passengers were embalmed and placed in coffins
  • Second and third class passengers along with crew were embalmed but wrapped in canvas
  • Bodies that were too decomposed or disfigured were buried at sea
  • Bodies that were brought back were either transported by relatives to their final resting place or interred in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Sources:

Books

Behe, George TITANIC: SAFETY, SPEED AND SACRIFICE, Transportation Trails, Polo, IL 1997

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)

Lord, Walter, THE NIGHT LIVES ON, Willian Morrow and Company, New York, New York, 1986 (First Edition)

Lynch, Don & Marshall Ken, TITANIC AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, Madison Press Books, Toronto, Ontario Canada, 1992

Internet

Britannica.com
Cobh Heritage Center
Encyclopedia Titanica
History.com

,,,