December 18, 2018

DECEMBER 18 - DAILY CHRONICLES OF HISTORY

DECEMBER 18

1941

Hitler Ordered Extermination of Jews:  On December 18, 1941, Himmler asked Hitler, "What to do with the Jews of Russia?". Hitler replied "als Partisanen auszurotten" ("exterminate them as partisans").  According to Yehuda Bauer, an Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer, Hitler's remark is as close as historians will ever get to a clear, definitive order from Hitler for the murder of Jews during the Holocaust.  (Note:  From June to December 1941, Hitler embarked on an ill-conceived and unprepared invasion of the Soviet Union.  Code-named "Operation Barbarossa",  Hitler planned to conquer western Soviet Union, seize the oil reserves of the Caucasus, repopulate Soviet territories with German settlers, and use Slavs, in particular Poles, as slave labour for the Reich.)


1944

Nazi Germans destroyed Polish palace:  On December 18, 1944, the Nazi Germans deliberately and completely destroyed Bruhel Palace (also known as Sandomierski Palace)  shortly after the Warsaw Uprising.  The Palace use to be situated at Piłsudski Square. It was one of the largest palaces in Poland, and one of the most exquisite examples of rococo architecture in pre-World War II Warsaw.  The palace was built between 1639-42 by Lorenzo de Sent for Crown Grand Chancellor Jerzy Ossoliński in Mannerist style, and adorned with sculptures - an allegory of Poland above the main portal, four figures of kings of Poland in the niches and a statue of Minerva crowning the roof.  ( Warsaw’s municipal government has decided to rebuild the Brühl Palace according to its historic shape, but adapting the interiors to either office space, a hotel, or as suggested by the National Bank of Poland, its base of banking operations in Warsaw.)


1952

Polish Pilot Breaks Sound Barrier: Janusz Żurakowski was a Polish test pilot for Canada's AVRO.  On December 18, 1952, he broke the sound barrier diving the CF-100 fighter jet - the first straight-winged jet aircraft to ever achieve this feat.  During World War II, he saw combat during the invasion of Poland by Germany in September 1939, "Black September".  Żurakowski had his combat debut on September 2, 1939 flying an outdated PZL P.7 trainer against a squadron of seven German Dornier 17s over Deblin.  He was able to damage one of the Do17s but was forced to break off combat when his guns jammed. (During the interwar years, the PZL was state-of-the-art construction, and one of the first all-metal monoplane fighters in the world) He flew with several RAF squadrons during the Battle of Britain, shooting down enemy Nazi planes and often escorted USAAR bombers during daylight bombing raids. He was awarded the Virtuti Militari, the highest Polish honor, in 1943. He also received the Polish Cross of Valor and Bar (1941) and Second Bar (1943).


1998

The Institute of National Remembrance– Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation IIPN) was founded on this day. It is a Polish government-affiliated research institute with lustration prerogatives, as well as prosecution powers. It was created by legislation enacted by the Parliament of Poland. The Institute specialises in the legal and historical examination of the 20th century history of Poland in particular. IPN investigates both Nazi and Communist crimes committed in Poland between 1939 and the Revolutions of 1989, then documents its findings and disseminates the results of its investigations to the public. Since its inception, the IPN has collected over 90 kilometres (56 mi) of archives, released 1,794 publications, organized 453 exhibits, held 817 conferences, and launched 30 educational internet portals. In the same period, the Institute researchers held interviews with over 103,000 witnesses and interrogated 508 individuals charged with criminal offences, leading to 137 sentences by the courts of justice.


December 17, 2018

DECEMBER 17 - DAILY CHRONICLES OF HISTORY

DECEMBER 17

1938

Germans and Nuclear Fission:  Nuclear fission of heavy elements were discovered by Otto Hahn and his assistant Fritz Strassmann, on December 17, 1938.  Hahn was a chemist and pioneer in the fields of radioactivity and radiochemistry. He is considered the father of nuclear chemistry; he and Strassman were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1944,  for the discovery and the radiochemical proof of nuclear fission.  He was opposed to Hitlers national socialism, and of persecution of the Jews by the Nazi Party. Albert Einstein (who was born six days after Hahn) wrote that Hahn was "one of the very few who stood upright and did the best he could in these years of evil". After World War II, Hahn became a passionate campaigner against the use of nuclear energy as a weapon. Fritz Strassman resigned from the Society of German Chemists in 1933  when it became part of a Nazi-controlled public corporation. When he was blacklisted he stated that  "despite my affinity for chemistry, I value my personal freedom so highly that to preserve it I would break stones for a living." During WWII, Fritz and his wife Maria Heckter hid a Jewish friend in their apartment for months, putting themselves and their three-year-old son at risk.  In 1985 Fritz Strassmann was recognized by Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem as Righteous Among the Nations for his courageous act.


1939

German Cruiser Admiral Graff Spee was scuttled:  On December  17, 1939, Hans Langsdorff, commander of the Admiral Graff Spee gave the order to destroy all important equipment aboard the ship as well as disperse the ammunition supply throughout the ship, in preparation for the scuttling.  The next day, Langsdorff and 40 other men aboard the vessel were moved to the outer roadstead and an Argentine tug took the crew members.  At 20:55 the ship was scuttled before a crowd of 20,000 spectators. Multiple explosions occurred from the munitions set off jets of flames shooting high into the air and created a large cloud of smoke. The smoke was so dense that it obscured the ship which burned in the shallow water for the next two days. On December 20, Langsdorf shot himself in his Buenos Aires hotel room. He was in full dress uniform and lying on the ship's battle ensign.


1944

Malmedy Massacre:  Members of the Nazi Kampfgruppe Peiper massacred 84 American prisoners of war at the Baugnez crossroads, near Malmedy, Belgium. The Germans responsible were part of the 1st SS Panzer Division, a combat unit, during the Battle of the Bulge. On December 17, 1944 sometime between noon and 1 pm, German units advanced towards the Baugnez crossroads, two miles south-east of Malmedy.  At the same time an American convoy of about thirty vehicles, was turning right heading towards Ligneuville and St. Virth.  The American units of B Battery of the 285th Artillery Observation Battalion, joined forces with the 7th Armored Division. When the German group spotted the American convoy they immediately opened fire, immobilized the first and last vehicles of the column to a halt.  The Americans surrendered. About 120 American troops were assembled in the open field when the SS troops suddenly opened fire with machine guns on the prisoners. The Americans tried to flee but were shot down.  43 managed to survive. When American troops recaptured the area on January 13, 1945, they located the scene of the massacre, and recovered the bodies. The memorial at Baugnez bears the names of the murdered soldiers.





December 16, 2018

DECEMBER 16 - DAILY CHRONICLES OF HISTORY

DECEMBER 16

1922

Assassination of Polish President:   Just five days after taking office, Gabriel Narutowicz was assassinated on December 16, 1922, while attending an art exhibit in the National Gallery of Art “Zachęta”. The assassin was a painter, Eligiusz Niewiadomski, who had connections with the right wing National Democratic Party, He was arrested, tried and sentenced to death. He was executed outside the Warsaw Citadel on January 31, becoming a martyr to right-wing extremists.  During the elections in 1922, Narutowicz was supported by the center-left, in particular the Polish People's Party and by national minorities. He was subjected to harsh criticism from the National Democrats and far-right Endecja party. Strong zealots, ultra-Catholic unions and nationalists accused him of political indifference and for sympathy towards the Jews. Upon defeating the lead candidate Maurycy Zamoyski, Gabriel Narutowicz was elected the first president of the Second Polish Republic. In the first days of his presidency, Narutowicz knew that he did not have a majority government and as a gesture offered the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs to his rival Zamoyski.


1938

Zbigniew Eugeniusz Religa (dob) was a Polish cardiac surgeon and politician. Religa performed the first successful heart transplant in Poland in 1987. The patient was Tadeusz Żytkiewicz (who died in 2017) outliving the surgeon who gave him a new heart.  Dr. Religa passed away on March 8, 2009.  The surgery lasted for 23 hours. After the surgery an American photographer, James Stanfield from National Geographic, captured the famous, gripping photograph of Religa monitoring his patient's vitals on medical equipment. Religa pursued a career in politics. In 1993, he became a member of the Polish senate and was re-elected in 2001. As the centre and right wing of the Polish political landscape has been in constant flux ever since democracy was reinstated, Religa was a member of several parties and organizations. In 1993, he co-founded the Nonpartisan Bloc for Support of Reforms (BBWR) which gathered behind president Lech Wałęsa and was its leader in 1994. In 1995, Religa became the chairman of the short-lived party "The Republicans" founded by renegade BBWR members who refused to back Wałęsa in the presidential elections of 1995. However, Religa refused to run for president himself, and the Republicans eventually disintegrated when they failed to enter the Sejm in 1997.


1941

Nazi German Cabinet Meeting.  During a cabinet meeting, Hans Frank, Gauleiter of Poland, stated - "Gentlemen, I must ask you to rid yourselves of all feeling of pity. We must annihilate the Jews wherever we find them and wherever it is possible in order to maintain there the structure of the Reich as a whole..."  Hans Frank was Nazi Germany's chief jurist in the occupied Poland "General Government" territory. He was directly responsible for the mas murder of Jews during World War II.  He was captured by American troops on May 3,1945, at Tegernsee in southern Bavaria.   During the trial he converted, guided by Fr Sixtus O'Connor OFM, to the Roman Catholic faith, and claimed to have had a series of so-called religious experiences. Frank voluntarily surrendered 43 volumes of his personal diaries to the Allies, the contents of which were used against him as evidence of his crimes. At the Nuremberg trials, he was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and was executed.


The Nazi Germans created the Brześć Ghetto on December 16, 1941. By mid-October of the following year, most of the approximately 20,000 Jewish inhabitants of Brześć were murdered.  On the orders of Karl Eberhard Schongarth,  over 5,000 were executed at the Brest Fortress while the rest were sent to the secluded forest of the Bronna Góra extermination site, under the guise of 'resettlement'. (Note:  In September 1939 during the German and Soviet invasion of Poland, the town of Brześć (Brest) was invaded by the German troops who promptly handed the town over to the Russians during the German–Soviet military parade in Brest-Litovsk  (September 22, 1939). The entire province was soon annexed by the Soviet Union following mock elections by the NKVD secret police. The mass deportations of Poles and Jews to Siberia followed.  At the close of WWII, Stalin demanded that Poland's borders be redrawn and that Brześć be incorporated into the Belorussian SSR of the Soviet Union. The remaining Polish population was expelled and resettled back to a new Poland before the end of 1946. The Jewish community was never restored.


1980

The Monument to the fallen Shipyard Workers 1970  was unveiled on December 16, 1980 near the entrance to what was then the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk, Poland. It commemorates the 42 people killed during the Coastal cities events in December 1970. It was created in the aftermath of the Gdańsk Agreement and is the first monument to the victims of communist oppression to be erected in a communist country. Lech Walesa, leader and founder of Solidarnosc, referred to this enormous steel structure as “a harpoon driven through the body of a whale. No matter how hard the whale struggles, it can never get rid of it.”  The monument is marked by a poignant quote by Czeslaw Milosz, a famous Polish poet. It reads, "You who have harmed simple man, mocking him with your laughter, you kill him, someone else will be born, and your deeds and words will be written down". (Read December 14, 1970)


1981

The Pacification of Wujek:   On December 16, 1981,  three days after the imposition of martial law in Poland, the Polish police and army converged on the Wujek Coal Mine in Katowice, Poland,  to put a stop to the strike action taken by the miners. It culminated in the massacre of nine of the striking miners.  Pro-Solidarity miners were demonstrating against the declaration of the martial law ordered by General Jaruzelski, and were dispersed by the troops of the Polish army and police.  The forces consisted of eight companies of riot police (ZOMO, supported by ORMO (police reservists) and NOMO) equipped with seven water cannons, and three companies of military infantry fighting vehicles (each of 10 vehicles) and one company of tanks. The miners tried to fight them off using only their tools. During the melee, many strikers were injured but managed to injure 41 of the troops, including 11 severely.  Ultimately, a special platoon of ZOMO was called in and were ordered to open fire and "shoot to kill" the strikers.  Nine strikers died - Jan Stawisiński, Joachim Gnida, Józef Czekalski, Krzysztof Giza, Ryszard Gzik, Bogusław Kopczak, Andrzej Pełka, Zbigniew Wilk and Zenon Zając. and 21 others were wounded. One of the miners died in hospital 20 days later from severe head wounds. (nb:  In consequence, on December 23, 1981, the United States imposed economic sanctions against the People's Republic of Poland. In 1982 the United States suspended most favored nation trade status until 1987 and vetoed Poland's application for membership in the International Monetary Fund.)


2006

Polish Doctor Saved Jews:  Dr. Eugene Lazowski born Eugeniusz Sławomir Łazowski died on December 16, 2006.  He was a Polish medical doctor who saved the lives of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust by creating a fake epidemic which played on German phobias about hygiene.  He risked the death penalty, imposed by the Germans on Poles who try to help the Jews.  He used a medical discovery by Matulewicz, by which healthy people could be injected with a vaccine that would make them test positive for typhus, but without experiencing the disease. Dr. Lazowski applied this technique and created a fake outbreak of epidemic typhus in and around the town of Rozwadow (now in Stalowa Wola). The Germans quanrantined the area, thus saving about 8,000 Polish Jews from certain death in the concentration camps.