December 17, 2018




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.


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.


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.

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