May 31st 1962: Eichmann hanged

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Adolf Eichmann (1906 – 1962)

 

On this day in 1962, the fugitive Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann was executed in Israel. During the Nazi rule of Germany Eichmann was one of Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s top men in the paramilitary organisation the SS, charged with overseeing the deportation of Jews to extermination camps. For this role, and his prominent participation in the 1942 Wannsee Conference that planned the ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Problem’, he is considered one of the chief architects of the Holocaust. After the fall of the Third Reich with Germany’s defeat in the Second World War and Adolf Hitler’s suicide in 1945, many top Nazi officials faced charges of war crimes. Many were captured, and either committed suicide rather than face trial (like SS leader Heinrich Himmler), were executed after the Nuremberg Trials (like Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop), or were sent to prison (like Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess). Eichmann however, fled first to Austria and then to Argentina in 1950, where he lived until he was captured by Israeli intelligence services. Eichmann was subsequently put on trial in Jerusalem for war crimes, found guilty and was executed by hanging in 1962.

 

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Eichmann’s false Red Cross identity records he used to enter Argentina as ‘Ricardo Klement’ in 1950

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April 29th 1945: Hitler marries Eva Braun

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Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun

 

On this day in 1945, as Germany’s defeat in the Second World War became imminent, Adolf Hitler married his lover Eva Braun; the two committed suicide the next day. Hitler’s National Socialist Party, more commonly referred to as Nazis, came to power in 1933 with Hitler as Chancellor. He immediately set about consolidating his power and establishing a dictatorship in Germany, making himself Führer. An ardent nationalist, Hitler targeted groups he considered a threat to Germany, including Jews, communists, gypsies, homosexuals and the disabled. His regime committed atrocities on an unprecedented scale; the Holocaust saw the deaths of six million Jews and World War Two, which Hitler’s aggressive foreign policy precipitated, was the most destructive war in history. Hitler’s relationship with Eva Braun predated his rise to power, but they never married as Hitler feared it would damage his image. Their relationship was thus kept quiet, but was nonetheless apparently affectionate. Hitler was one of the greatest monsters history has ever seen but he was still a human, and Eva Braun has therefore been an object of fascination since the extent of their relationship was realised after the war.

 

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Exterior of the Führerbunker in Berlin, where the wedding and following suicide took place (source: http://www.ww2incolor.com/german_leadership/FB2.html)

 

At the end of the war, as the Allied forces moved on Berlin and defeat seemed all but certain, Hitler (along with some of his advisers and Braun herself) relocated to the Führerbunker. In the early hours of the morning on April 29th 1945 the pair got married in a small civil ceremony in the bunker, the culmination of a relationship that had lasted over ten years. The newlyweds hosted a modest wedding breakfast, attended by the bunker’s fellow residents such as Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, and promptly made their wills. The next day, April 30th 1945, the couple committed suicide together, with Braun ingesting a cyanide capsule and Hitler shooting himself. In one fell swoop their love affair was over, as was Hitler’s brutal dictatorship and the war that had plagued Europe since 1939.

 

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Newspapers herald the news of the Führer’s death

 

“From our first meeting I swore to follow you anywhere even unto death. I live only for your love”
– Eva Braun in a letter to Hitler, after the July 1944 attempt on his life

April 27th 1810: Beethoven composes Für Elise

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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

 

On this day in 1810, the famous German composer Ludwig van Beethoven composed his piano piece Für Elise. Over the course of his life the deaf musician composed nine symphonies, five piano concertos, thirty-two piano sonatas and sixteen string quartets. This piece was not published until 1867, long after Beethoven’s death, as the manuscript had been lost. However when it was recovered, Beethoven’s manuscript for the composition was dated 27th April 1810. Für Elise translates as ‘For Elise’, and scholars have long debated the identity of the woman who inspired Beethoven to write this beautiful piece.

 

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Opening lines of Für Elise

 

 

It is now one of the most famous piano pieces of all time and one of Beethoven’s best known works. Every adult or child who begins to learn how to play the piano remembers this tune and hopes that a way down the line they will be able to play Für Elise. This piece is also particularly remarkable as it came towards the end of Beethoven’s life when he was almost certainly completely deaf, or at least heavily impaired. It is a true testament to his genius that he could compose such a piece without ever being able to hear it out loud; that is what makes Beethoven one of the greats.

April 14th 1759: Handel dies

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On this day in 1759, the German composer George Frederic Handel died aged 74. Famous for his Baroque pieces, Handel was born in Germany in 1685 but moved to Britain later in life. He gained a reputation there for his Italian operas, and some of his works were performed for Queen Anne and her successors on the British throne. Handel enjoyed royal patronage, and his music is regularly played at royal coronations even to this day. However he is perhaps best known for his biblical choral masterpiece: Messiah.

 

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The monument to Handel in Westminster Abbey

 

Handel died in 1759, and was honoured with a state funeral and burial in Westminster Abbey. Alongside his grave is a monument (pictured above), sculpted by Louis Francois Roubiliac, which was unveiled in 1762 and features a statue of Handel which supposedly has the exact likeness of his death mask.

March 23rd 1933: Enabling Act passed

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The Reichstag on the day of the bill

On this day in 1933 the German Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which essentially made Adolf Hitler dictator of Germany. The law gave Chancellor Hitler legal powers to establish his dictatorship as it gave the Cabinet the power to enact laws independently of the legislature (the Reichstag). Its formal name was ‘Law to Remedy the Distress of People and Reich’. Hitler had been appointed Chancellor on January 30th and just before the scheduled election, the Reichstag fire occurred. The Nazis used the incident to suggest a Communist revolution was imminent and passed the Reichstag Fire Decree which suspended civil liberties and habeas corpus.

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Hitler’s Reichstag speech promoting bill

The Nazis failed to gain an absolute majority in the Reichstag and so Hitler drafted the Enabling Act to secure his position. The Nazis pressured and threatened representatives of the Reichstag to pass the bill, positioning SA men and Nazi swastikas in and around the building. With the bill’s passing, Hitler’s dictatorship was assured, and thus began a brutal regime which would last until 1945.

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Newspaper reports on the bill’s passing

“The authority of the Führer has now been wholly established. Votes are no longer taken. The Führer decides. All this is going much faster than we had dared to hope”Joseph Goebbels after the passage of the act

March 19th 1945: Hitler’s ‘Nero Decree’

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Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)

On this day in 1945, Chancellor of Germany Adolf Hitler issued his ‘Demolitions on Reich Territory Decree’. This action came towards the end of World War Two as the Allied forces led by the Soviet Union, United States and United Kingdom, made further advances into Germany. One of the last actions of his dictatorship, this decree called for the destruction of German infrastructure in order to impede the Allied advance; Hitler intended for the enemy to find only ‘scorched earth’. Due to Hitler’s readiness to sacrifice Germany in order to put up obstacles for the Allies, this action was compared to the infamous Roman Emperor Nero who supposedly orchestrated the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD.

 

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Emperor Nero (37 – 68)

Some have suggested Hitler intended for the German population to be destroyed as punishment for losing the war, and to ensure there would be no Germany after National Socialism. The decree was, luckily for Germany, not implemented by his disillusioned subordinates. Hitler was unable to enforce it, as he was soon confined to his bunker and killed himself just 42 days after issuing the Nero Decree. It was the last act of a desperate man, and shows his willingness to destroy the Germany he supposedly loved. The comparison to a Roman emperor is interesting. Rome has typically been invoked as a hallmark of civilisation, and empires throughout history have liked to compare themselves to the ancients. The British Empire, modern America, and dictatorial regimes like Nazi Germany have all made comparisons to Rome. However, it is unlikely Hitler would have been pleased with being likened to one of the most infamous and megalomaniacal emperors.

March 8th 1911: International Women’s Day launched

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German poster for the 1914 International Women’s Day

 

On this day in 1911, International Women’s Day was launched in Copenhagen by Clara Zetkin. Zetkin, a German socialist activist, led the Women’s Office of the Social Democratic Party. The official commemoration of the day began in an attempt to draw attention to the struggle for female suffrage and women’s rights. Activists organised demonstrations and protests for March 8th in order to have more far-reaching impact. Initially only celebrated in Europe, it soon became a global phenomenon, spreading to Russia, Australia and the United States. Ever since 1996, the UN has established official themes for International Day; this year’s theme is ‘Inspiring Change’.

 

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Clara Zetkin (1857 – 1933)

 

This is an important day to remember not just the victories women’s rights activists have achieved but also the obstacles still in place for women around the world. In many countries women are still considered second-class citizens, and even in supposedly liberal and democratic Western nations women are still not treated equally. Pay gaps persist, sexual harassment is all too common, the sexualisation and idealisation of women in the media is endemic, and men still dominate the lists of CEOs and world leaders. International Women’s Day reminds us there remains a lot to be done and most of this is a battle of hearts and minds, trying to change the preconceptions which result in institutionalised inequality. This year’s vague theme of ‘Inspiring Change’ suggests a progressive and forward thinking attitude which we can hope may set the stage for addressing the serious problems of gender inequality around the world.

February 2nd 1943: Battle of Stalingrad ends

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Soviet soldier waving Red Banner in February 1943

On this day in 1943, German troops surrendered to the Soviet Red Army in Stalingrad, thus ending the 5 months of fighting. The Battle of Stalingrad is among the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare, with nearly 2 million casualties. The Germans had attempted to invade Russia and capture Stalingrad, but the Russians fought back and cut off and surrounded the German army. The Russian winter soon set in, with sub-zero temperatures weakening the German forces.

 

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Aftermath of the Battle of Stalingrad

Eventually, the remaining army surrendered, and 91,000 were taken prisoner (including 22 generals). The German failure at Stalingrad was a key turning point in the Second World War, as the army never recovered from their defeat. The Nazi invasion of Russia has become symbolic of the disorder at the upper echelons of the Nazi machine. It was a shocking miscalculation which perhaps cost Germany the war. It is often compared to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812; both France and Germany had been doing well in the war until the disastrous attempt to invade Russia during winter. In these occasions, the motherland defended herself.

January 17th 1945: Evacuation of Auschwitz

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Entrance gates to Auschwitz’s main camp

 

On this day in 1945, the evacuation of the Auschwitz concentration camp begins. The Soviet army were fast approaching, and the Nazi officials at Auschwitz had previously begun dismantling gas chambers to hide their crimes. Himmler ordered the evacuation as the Red Army closed in. 60,000 prisoners from Auschwitz were forced on a death march toward Wodzisław Śląski (Loslau) where they would be sent to other camps. Around 15,000 died on the way. 7,500 of the weak and sick remained, and they were liberated by the 322nd Rifle Division of the Soviet Red Army on January 27th 1945.

 

November 20th 1945: Nuremberg Trials begin

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On this day in 1945, the Nuremberg Trials against 23 Nazi war criminals started at the Palace of Justice at Nuremberg. The trials were held by the victorious Allied forces of World War Two. This set of trials lasted until October 1st 1946 and dealt with the surviving major war criminals such as Reichsmarschall and Commander of the Luftwaffe Hermann Göring, Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess and Minister of Armaments Albert Speer. 12 were sentenced to death, 7 imprisoned (3 for life), and 3 acquitted. Some, such as Göring, committed suicide before their execution, following people such as Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels who committed suicide at the end of the war.

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“Opening the first trial in history against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating that civilisation cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated

– The opening words of Chief Prosecutor, US Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson’s, indictment

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(pictures from http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Photos+Nuremberg+trials+began/9186479/story.html#ixzz2lBrm16V6)