Tag Archives: World War II

Remembering History: Hitler Learns War Is Lost (22 April 1945)

Berlin June 1945 (Carl Weinrother 1898–1976)
German Federal Archives via Wikimedia Commons

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.



Remembering the Munich Agreement of 1938 where both England & France Betrayed Czechoslovakia

[This is an updated version of an earlier article on this topic]

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it! “(George Santayana-1905)

Nevile Chamberlain, Édouard Daladier, Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Count Ciano
29 Sep 1938 (German Federal Archives)

The Munich Conference of 1938 saw both Britain and France abandon its ally Czechoslovakia forcing them to cede part of their territory to Germany to avoid war. Let’s look at what the situation was in 1938 and why this happened.

By 1938 there was no doubt anymore about the intentions of Germany’s Third Reich and Adolf Hitler. European nations were generally worried about a major war and to that end the two biggest powers in Europe -France and Great Britain- sought to avert it. It was based on the experience of the First World War in which millions had died. The aftermath of that war was a sentiment that total war must be averted at all costs. So far all of Hitler’s violations of treaties, such as occupying the Rhineland in 1936, had caused no major retribution even if it was a major violation of the Treaty of Versailles that Germany had agreed to in 1918. Nor had rearming Germany, also a violation of the treaty, caused any significant reaction.

While worldwide opinion of their open antisemitism was negative, they successfully held the 1936 Olympics in Germany. This despite the fact Germany was a fully authoritarian state ruled by the Nazi Party. All private schools (including religious ones) were shuttered forcing all children to go to the public school. All major corporations and businesses that were controlled by Jews were systematically targeted and forced to sell to Germans backed by the Nazi Party. All media was likewise controlled and could only report exactly what the Reich Propaganda Ministry told them to report. Movies, radios, and newspapers repeated only what was allowed to be reported or dramatized. American movies, in order to be shown in Nazi Germany, had to comply with Nazi rules which prohibited showing Jews in a positive light, criticize German policy in any way, or show any theme the Nazi Party objected to.

As Germany re-armed, it looked to expand its frontiers and bring into being a Greater Germany. Hitler was Austrian and both countries had close ties sharing a common language and culture. Many in Austria already supported such an idea long before the Nazi’s came into power. The Nazi’s had tried in 1934 in supporting a coup attempt, but it failed. By 1938 Germany was in a better position. Politicians and groups sympathetic to Hitler and unification in Austria were loudly calling for it. Austrian chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg hoped that a referendum on the issue set for 13 March 1938 would resolve it. Hitler instead threatened to invade and through his agents asked him to resign. The referendum was canceled and on 12 Mar 1938, German troops entered Austria and were unopposed. The long-wanted Anschluss had finally occurred. Neither Great Britain nor France was willing to offer any assistance to stop it from happening. In fact, many  supported it in those countries.

Sudetenland 1938-1945
Stamp Collecting World (via Wikipedia)

About the same time, Hitler was also claiming that German-speaking people living in Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia wanted closer ties with Germany. And that if this land was not given to Germany, it would have to be done by force. Needless to say the Czechoslovakian government was alarmed especially after what happened to Austria. Leaders in both Britain and France were becoming alarmed that this could spiral into a general war. The position of both governments was to avoid total war; they did not want another World War I that devastated Europe. This policy of appeasement had many supporters in politics, academia, and the media. Those who argued against it were called warmongers, or worse. The problem was that both countries had signed treaties with Czechoslovakia that if they were attacked, their enemy became theirs. Hitler knew this and stepped up the pressure.

Hitler ordered his generals to come up with a plan to attack Czechoslovakia. It was set to commence in October. Meanwhile Czechoslovakia tried to gauge the support it had and found Poland would only assist if the French did. And the French were reluctant to support Czechoslovakia if it meant direct conflict with Germany. Britain was also cool on the idea and forced President Benes to accept an arbitrator. Benes feeling he had no choice, gave in to the idea. Lord Runciman was sent to Prague on 3 August 1938 to persuade Benes to accept a plan for Sudeten Germans. In public both powers appeared to support Czechoslovakia but in private made it clear they would not go to war with Germany over the Sudetenland. As German forces appeared to be poised to invade, it was clear to both London and Paris something would have to give.

Hitler continued upping the pressure by giving speeches that blamed the crisis in Sudetenland on Czechoslovakia. He denounced the state as illegitimate, that it was targeting the German speaking people for extermination, and many other things as well. German media was full of stories that depicted the heroic German people in Sudetenland as suffering and that other nationalities would be targeted as well. Hitler made it clear that the situation could no longer be tolerated, and that Germany was prepared to resolve it if either Czechoslovakia or the other powers involved failed to stop the atrocities. German troops were poised to resolve the situation. And Hitler surmised both the British and French would deal to avoid war.

With Europe seemingly on the edge of war, this precipitated the Munich Conference of September 1938. Without consulting with Czechoslovakia, British leader Neville Chamberlain and French president Edouard Daladier decided to resolve this situation by agreeing that any territory in the Sudetenland that had over fifty percent German speaking people would be given to Germany. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, also at the conference, argued for a German military presence along with an international commission to resolve disputes (this was a German proposal but felt that it was better made by the Italians).

It was formally agreed to on 30 Sep 1938. Czechoslovakia was presented with this agreement and had no choice but to accept or face immediate invasion. Czechoslovakia found itself totally alone and the two powers-Britain and France-who had pledged to protect them now abandoned them to their fate. They had no choice but to accept but left an awful taste in their mouths knowing they had been betrayed. It would end with President Benes resigning in October knowing his country was to be invaded by Germany. This would occur in March 1939. The Germans would hold the Sudetenland until 1945.  Chamberlain would proclaim later, upon arrival in Britain, that he delivered “peace for our time.”  Daladier more or less concurred and later France would sign a non-aggression pact with Germany.


Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain waving to enthusiastic crowds of his triumph upon returning to Britain. Waving a paper signed by Hitler, he pronounced peace in our time. Hitler later chuckled that the agreement he signed with Chamberlain meant nothing.
Image: winstonchurchill.org

Germany acquired not only territory but the industrial resources that it needed (raw ore, steel and iron production, electrical plants). Czechoslovakia was diminished as a result. While many in public in Britain and France heralded the agreement as avoiding war, there were warnings it was wrong. Winston Churchill was critical of the deal and how they had abandoned Czechoslovakia to Hitler. The British Labor Party opposed the deal as well. A view began to emerge and would continue long after, that Britain and France wanted to get out of the military pact as they were not ready for war. Was Hitler bluffing or not also is discussed as well. The evidence is that Germany could have invaded but got what it wanted without firing a shot. And it was handed to Hitler on a platter by two powers that in the last war had been Germany’s enemies. It could not have been a greater present for Hitler.

Czechoslovakia was doomed by the pact. In October 1938, it was forced to hand over under the Vienna Award territory in its south to Hungary and a small concession to Poland. In March 1939, after Slovakia seceded to become a pro-German state, Hitler demanded Czechoslovakia accede to German occupation, which it did. Czechoslovakia then became a protectorate of the Third Reich. Churchill’s warning had come true. With his policy of appeasement now deemed a total failure, Neville Chamberlain realized that it was time to mobilize for war. The French would likewise prepare (but so entrenched was the avoidance of total war doctrine failed to act when it had the option to do so when most of the German army was invading Poland). In September 1939, World War II would officially begin with the invasion of Poland and declaration of war by Britain and France on Germany.

Both Chamberlain and his French counterpart would live to see how badly it would turn out. After war broke out, Chamberlain’s popularity fell and would resign as Prime Minister on 10 May 1940 and replaced by Winston Churchill though remained in the Cabinet. He would die in November 1940. Édouard Daladier, who was under no illusions as to Hitler’s goals (but knew support for standing up to Hitler was thin), had resigned his position in March 1940 but was still minister of defense when Germany invaded. He would be arrested and charged with treason by the German supported Vichy government and imprisoned. He would be imprisoned in several places, including the Buchenwald concentration camp and ended up in Itter Castle in Tyrol with other French dignitaries until liberated on 5 May 1945 after the Battle of Itter . He would return to the Chamber of Deputies after the war, served as mayor of Avignon, and died in Paris in 1970.



 “Munich Agreement | Definition, Summary, and Significance.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 20 July 1998, www.britannica.com/event/Munich-Agreement.

Mullen, Matt. “Munich Pact Signed.” HISTORY, 28 Sept. 2020, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/munich-pact-signed.

Munich Agreement. encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/timeline-event/holocaust/1933-1938/munich-agreement.

The British Policy of Appeasement Toward Hitler and Nazi Germany. encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/neville-chamberlain.

 “Munich Agreement.” Wikipedia, 13 Jan. 2024, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Munich_Agreement.

Remembering History: Auschwitz Liberated by Soviet Army (27 Sep 1945)

Child Survivors of Auschwitz, 1945
Public Domain (via Wikimedia)

On 27 Jan 1945, Soviet Union troops liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. In doing so, it revealed the horrors the Germans had perpetrated there. Auschwitz was a series of camps designated I, II, and III with also smaller satellite camps. Auschwitz II at Birkenau was the place where most of the exterminations at Auschwitz were done. Using four “bath houses,” prisoners were gassed to death and cremated. Prisoners were also used for ghastly medical experiments overseen by the infamous Josef Mengele (the “angel of death”).

As the Red Army approached, the SS began a murder spree and blew up the crematoria to try to cover up the evidence. When the Red Army finally got there, they found 648 corpses and 7,000 starving camp survivors. They also found six storehouses full of men’s and women’s clothes and other items the Germans were not able to burn before they left.

News Articles

How a Catholic pastor saved hundreds of his Jewish neighbors in the Warsaw Ghetto (Catholic News Agency, 27 Jan 2021)

For More Information:

Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial & Museum
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
Yad Vashem


Remembering History: Siege of Leningrad Broken (12 Jan 1943)


The fire of anti-aircraft guns deployed in the neighborhood of St. Isaac’s cathedral during the defense of Leningrad (now called St. Petersburg, its pre-Soviet name) in 1941.
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

After German troops invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, one of their top cities to take control of was Leningrad (former St. Petersburg, then Petrograd). As the second largest city in the Soviet Union (and its capital under the Tsar’s), it held significant importance. In August 1941, German troops surrounded the city so nothing could get in or out. This also cut off the Leningrad-Moscow railway. The residents built anti-tank fortifications and defended the city with the resources they had. Hitler decided to wait them out in a siege hoping to break down the will of the residents. Some limited supplies were able to get in but not enough for all its residents. Starvation, disease, and injuries mounted up. They did manage to evacuate about a million elderly and young people out of the city but that left 2 million to deal with the dire situation.

Food was rationed and any open space was used to plant food.  On 12 January 1943, Soviet troops punched a hole rupturing the German siege allowing supplies to come in one Lake Ledoga. A Soviet counteroffensive on 27 Jan 1944 brought the siege to a complete end after 872 days. The Russian army lost, captured or missing 1,017,881 and 2,418,185 wounded or sick. 642,000 civilians died during the siege and, 400,000 during evacuations.


Soviet forces penetrate the siege of Leningrad. (2009, November 16). HISTORY. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/soviet-forces-penetrate-the-siege-of-leningrad

Dean, M. (2020, October 21). Siege of Leningrad | World War 2 Facts. World War 2 Facts. http://www.worldwar2facts.org/siege-of-leningrad.html#siege-of-leningrad-losses

Check out books on Siege of Leningrad





Remembering History: Slavery Abolished in America (18 Nov 1865) and Japan Takes Hong Kong (18 Nov 1941)

Slavery Abolished in United States with Adoption of 13th Amendment

Celebration in the House of Representatives after adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment.
Harpers Weekly/Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain

When Georgia officially ratified the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on 6 December 1865, that made it the 27th state to ratify. In doing so, that meant the amendment had met the needed three-fourths requirement of state legislatures to needed to amend the federal constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery in the United States.

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Other states would ratify after this date so as to be put on record they opposed it as well. The last three after ratification were Delaware (1901), Kentucky (1976), and Mississippi (1995). In both Kentucky and Mississippi’s cases, they had rejected the amendment in 1865. So they revoted for it in 1976 and 1995 respectively. However, Mississippi failed to notify the U.S. archivist to officially record the vote. It was officially recorded in 2012.

With its ratification, slavery was formally ended in the U.S. and in all places (overseas territories etc.) where the U.S. had jurisdiction.


“Thirteenth Amendment | Definition, Significance, and Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 9 Nov. 2023, www.britannica.com/topic/Thirteenth-Amendment.

“13th Amendment – Simplified, Definition and Passed | HISTORY.” HISTORY, 9 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/topics/black-history/thirteenth-amendment.

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Japanese Invade Hong Kong

Japanese troops arrested foreign bankers.
Imperial Japanese soldiers arrested European bankers and detained them in a hotel.
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

On 18 Dec 1941, Japanese forces landed in Hong Kong and began a brutal assault on British forces. Prior to the invasion, Japanese forces had used bombing raids over the city hoping for capitulation. Japanese envoys unsuccessfully demanded the British Crown Colony surrender but its governor on 17 Dec 1941 declined to enter into discussions. When Japanese troops attacked and defeated a garrison of troops, they rounded up all the British soldiers and medical personnel and killed them brutally by bayonetting them to death. Seizing control of the water supplies, they turned off the water to the British and Chinese population of Hong Kong. Facing death by thirst, the British surrendered on Christmas Day.

Japan imposed martial law, which remained in place during the whole time it controlled Hong Kong. Approximately 7,000 British troops and civilians were kept in camps under appalling conditions. All functions of government were put under military control and executions of Chinese were common even for minor crimes with beheading the most common form. Banks were seized and even some bankers killed. The Japanese brought in their own banks and set up their own trading syndicates hoping to use Hong Kong as the British did to make money from overseas trade. Life was harsh under Chinese rule with food supplies for the population being limited and many dying of starvation. Medical facilities were limited, and some limited charities and social services were allowed to operate but had to rely on donations for the limited medical and charity services they could provide. Japanese language became compulsory along with Japanese textbooks in schools.

Hong Kong would remain under Japanese control until 30 August 1945 when Japan formally surrendered. General Takashi Sakai, who had been the military governor of Hong Kong since it was captured, was tried of war crimes, and executed in 1946.


“Japan Invades Hong Kong.” HISTORY, 16 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/japan-invades-hong-kong.

“Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong.” Wikipedia, 24 Nov. 2023, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_occupation_of_Hong_Kong.

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Today is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day-“A Date That Will Live In Infamy”

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

On this date in 1941, Japan launched a carrier based strike on U.S. military forces based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Their strategy was to use this attack to convince the country and its leaders that war with Japan would be futile. They achieved tactical surprise as no warning of an attack had yet been received. While decryption of their codes had revealed their intent, the warning did not reach Pearl Harbor until after the attack had begun. The Japanese legation in Washington did not deliver their government’s official response to a recent diplomatic exchange until after the attack due to problems in transcribing the message. The attack began at 07:55 local time (12:55 p.m. eastern standard time). It was early afternoon when President Roosevelt was notified by Secretary of War Henry Stimson of the attack. There was some doubt among some staff as to the validity of the report but President Roosevelt believed it. And subsequent reports would show it was true. Radio was soon reporting on it as well and the entire nation soon learned of the shocking event that had taken place in the faraway location.

The purpose of the attack was to seriously cripple the U.S. naval and air operations (both the Navy and Army Air Corps). The surprise was effective and sank or crippled numerous American ships. However the jewels of the fleet were the aircraft carriers and they were not there. And the Japanese had no idea where they were. After conducting the first two strikes, a third strike was considered to more completely wipe out the storage, maintenance and dry dock facilities. Captain Minoru Genda, who helped in the planning, argued for invasion to maximize American losses. Admiral Nagumo decided to retire because of deteriorating weather, the unknown location of the American carriers, the long turnaround time required for a third strike that would allow American forces to gather and counterattack, and the fact the Nagumo’s strike force was at the extreme limit of logistical support. They were low on fuel and another strike would require them to travel at reduced speeds to conserve fuel. So he headed home. Much later Admiral Yamamoto, who supported the decision at the time, would in retrospect say it was a mistake since it allowed the U.S. to come back quickly.

The USS Arizona (BB-39) burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941
Image: Public Domain (National Archives and Records Administration,ARC Identifier#195617)


Most of those who died at Pearl were sailors aboard the ships that were damaged or sunk. Of the 2,008 sailors killed, 1,177 were killed when the forward magazine on the USS Arizona exploded. Eighteen ships were sunk, beached, or run aground. 188 aircraft (mostly Army Air Corps) destroyed, 159 damaged. Most of the planes were destroyed on the ground. Only eight pilots got airborne and did attack Japanese aircraft but only one was shot down. Some pilots were killed or shot down later by friendly fire. Five inbound planes from USS Enterprise were shot down. The Navy lost 24 of its PBY planes. Additional casualties came from when Japanese attacked barracks. 2,403 Americans killed and 1,178 others were wounded. Since the U.S. was not at war, they are all classified as non-combatants. The Japanese lost 55 airmen, nine submariners and one captured. They lost 29 planes in battle and 74 were damaged by antiaircraft fire.

Most Americans were enjoying a pleasant Sunday. Secretary of State Cordell Hull met with the Japanese ambassador around 2:30 p.m., just when the first reports were coming in about the attack. Popular Sunday afternoon radio shows were interrupted with the stunning news about the attack on Pearl Harbor. From coast to coast, Americans were riveted to their radios listening to the latest updates. Lines of volunteers began forming outside military recruitment centers. The isolationist sentiment was ushered to the rear while most of the nation united against the Japanese. On 8 November before a joint session of Congress, President Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war.

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And, while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has therefore undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense, that always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph. So help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt Signing Declaration of War Against Japan 8 Dec 1941
National Archives and Records Administration

And a hour later Congress officially declared war on Japan. Far from causing the U.S. to cower, it brought Americans together like never before. Hitler’s decision to join with Japan on 11 Dec was somewhat of a surprise-to his German High Command! They had not planned with war with the United States so soon and now they faced a two front war with an highly industrialized power against them. Mussolini foolishly committed Italy to the war with the U.S. as well.

For Japan they had control of the Pacific until June 1942. That is when the U.S. Navy engaged the Japanese at the Battle of Midway. At the end of the battle, four Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk to our one (the Yorktown). It was a shocking loss to the Japanese (and one they kept secret for as long as possible). The Doolittle Raid had convinced them to take on the American Navy directly. They did and lost spectacularly. And it shifted the balance of power in the Pacific. Admiral Yamamoto had been correct in his assessment of how the war with America would go:“I shall run wild considerably for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second and third years.”

Yamamoto would not survive the war. President Roosevelt ordered that he be taken care of for his part in planning the Pearl Harbor attack. Thanks to the work of U.S. Naval Intelligence that had broken Japanese codes (code named Magic), his travel plans to the South Pacific in April, 1943 were learned. Orders were given and select pilots were used to target a very important high officer but were not told who it was. On 18 April 1943, a squadron of Lockheed P-38’s were assigned to intercept and bring down his transport being escorted by Japanese zeroes. There were two Japanese transports. After a dogfight with the Zeroes and transports, the transport with Yamamoto’s plane crashed into the jungle north of Buin, Papua New Guinea. Japanese search parties found his body, thrown from the aircraft and under a tree. He had two .50 caliber bullet wounds, one in his left shoulder and the other that had exited through his right eye. The true manner of his death was hidden from the Japanese public and not revealed until long after the war had ended. He was cremated, given a state funeral, and given posthumous titles and awards. Today the place where his plane crashed is a tourist attraction.


“Pearl Harbor: Attack, Deaths and Facts.” HISTORY, 29 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/pearl-harbor.

“Pearl Harbor Attack | Date, History, Map, Casualties, Timeline, and Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 1 Dec. 2023, www.britannica.com/event/Pearl-Harbor-attack.

“Pearl Harbor Attack, December 7, 1941 | the National WWII Museum | New Orleans.” The National WWII Museum | New Orleans, 7 Dec. 2001, www.nationalww2museum.org/war/topics/pearl-harbor-december-7-1941.

“Pearl Harbor Attack.” Naval History and Heritage Command, www.nationalww2museum.org/war/topics/pearl-harbor-december-7-1941.
Accessed 4 Dec. 2023.

For more information:
Home of Heroes
Pearl Harbor Remembered
The History Place
Pearl Harbor Attack(Naval Heritage & History Command)
Battleship USS Arizona History


Remembering the Winter War of 1939

Fire at the corner of Lönnrot and Abraham Streets after the first bombing of Helsinki during the Winter War
30 Nov 1939
Source:Military Museum,Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture

On 30 November 1939, in what later be called the Winter War, the Soviet Union invaded neighboring Finland. The objectives were both strategic and territorial. Under the (secret)terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed in August, Finland was placed into their sphere of influence. Prior to the invasion, the Soviet Union wanted Finland to cede land that would provide more security for Leningrad (formerly known as St. Petersburg, changed to Petrograd during World War I, and renamed Leningrad in 1924 after Lenin’s death).

Everyone, including the Russians, believed it would be easy. The Soviet Union had more troops and aircraft. It was expected the Finns would easily surrender. It did not turn out that way at all. After the initial attack and bombing of Helsinki where 61 would die, the Finns instead showed remarkable resistance. The Finnish government used pictures of the raid showing women with dead babies and those crippled by the bombings to engender sympathy from the outside world and to generate the Finnish resistance to the Russians. The Soviet Army, dressed in summer clothing as winter started to set in, quickly realized they were facing stiff opposition. President Roosevelt extended $10 million in credit to Finland (they paid it back after the war). The League of Nations expelled the Soviet Union for its invasion.

The Soviet Union though reorganized and came with different tactics in February 1940. Finnish defenses were overcome and resistance, though still strong, was up against a better organized Soviet Army this time. In March 1940 the Moscow Peace Treaty was signed. The Soviet Union got what it initially demanded and more as well. Finland’s sovereignty was preserved but it came at a cost for the Soviet Union. Most Western governments considered the Soviet Red Army as poorly led.


Hitler and his generals viewed the Red Army as weak and that an attack on it would be successful. They would invade Russia in June 1941. Finland though would go to war with the Soviet Union. as well. There are different views as to why but generally it was to get back the land lost in the peace treaty of 1940. Unfortunately, a faction of Finnish military and political leaders decided to work closely with the German Wehrmacht for a joint attack. While never signing formally the Tripartite Pact that made them an ally of Nazi Germany, the did sign the Anti-Comintern Pact. This pact signed by Germany, Japan and other countries created an alliance against the Soviet Union.

Finland would retake the territories given to Russia but continued on. They participated in the siege of Leningrad by cutting its northern supply. The Soviet Army would eventually push them back and a ceasefire was called on 5 September 1944. The resulting agreement would require the expulsion or disarming of German troops in their territory. Under pressure from the Soviets to expel German forces, Finnish troops fired on German soldiers resulting in exchanges between the two. By November 1944 nearly all German troops had withdrawn. With the end of the war in 1945, the borders were restored to the 1940 treaty. Finland had to pay war reparations to the Soviet Union. Since they fought with Germany, they had to accept responsibility for their part in the war and acknowledge they had been a German ally.

Russo-Finnish War (Britannica.com)
Winter War (History.com)
Winter War, Continuation War & Lapland War (Wikipedia.com)

Nuremberg Trials Begin (20 November 1945)

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

In the aftermath of World War II, there was debate about how to hold accountable those responsible for war crimes and especially the Holocaust. Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels were already dead by suicide. Churchill had the simplest approach of wanting to simply execute them but it was decided that tribunal would be a better method. The tribunal would reveal to the world the extent of the crimes upon humanity the persons were responsible for.

The concept of an international tribunal was novel and had never been done before. Then again, no nation had before committed to full scale extermination of whole peoples as the Nazi’s had tried to do. An international tribunal composed of representatives from Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States was formed. Defendants faced charges that varied from war crimes to crimes against humanity. Twenty- four were indicted along with six Nazi organizations such as the Gestapo that were also determined to be criminal. One was declared medically unfit to stand trial and another committed suicide before the trial began.

Each defendant was allowed to choose their own lawyers. They all pled not guilty and either argued that the crimes they committed were declared crimes after the London Charter (meaning ex post facto) or that they were applying harsh standards as they were the victors. The trials would last under October 1946 when verdicts were handed down. Twelve were sentenced to death and others got prison terms. Hermann Goering committed suicide the night before he was to be executed.



How Did Black Friday Come to Be?

Black Friday
Petr Kratochvil

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

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

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

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

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

Black Friday Shopping
Photo: Public Domain

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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