Monthly Archives: September 2019

Hitler appeased at Munich

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/hitler-appeased-at-munich

On this day in 1938, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, French Premier Edouard Daladier, and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain sign the Munich Pact, which seals the fate of Czechoslovakia, virtually handing it over to Germany in the name of peace. Upon return to Britain, Chamberlain would declare that the meeting had achieved “peace in our time.”

Although the agreement was to give into Hitler’s hands only the Sudentenland, that part of Czechoslovakia where 3 million ethnic Germans lived, it also handed over to the Nazi war machine 66 percent of Czechoslovakia’s coal, 70 percent of its iron and steel, and 70 percent of its electrical power. It also left the Czech nation open to complete domination by Germany. In short, the Munich Pact sacrificed the autonomy of Czechoslovakia on the altar of short-term peace-very short term. The terrorized Czech government was eventually forced to surrender the western provinces of Bohemia and Moravia (which became a protectorate of Germany) and finally Slovakia and the Carpathian Ukraine. In each of these partitioned regions, Germany set up puppet, pro-Nazi regimes that served the military and political ends of Adolf Hitler. By the time of the invasion of Poland in September 1939, the nation called “Czechoslovakia” no longer existed.

It was Neville Chamberlain who would be best remembered as the champion of the Munich Pact, having met privately with Hitler at Berchtesgaden, the dictator’s mountaintop retreat, before the Munich conference. Chamberlain, convinced that Hitler’s territorial demands were not unreasonable (and that Hitler was a “gentleman”), persuaded the French to join him in pressuring Czechoslovakia to submit to the Fuhrer’s demands. Upon Hitler’s invasion of Poland a year later, Chamberlain was put in the embarrassing situation of announcing that a “state of war” existed between Germany and Britain. By the time Hitler occupied Norway and Denmark, Chamberlain was finished as a credible leader. “Depart, I say, and let us have done with you!” one member of Parliament said to him, quoting Oliver Cromwell. Winston Churchill would succeed him as prime minister soon afterwards.

Riots over desegregation of Ole Miss

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/riots-over-desegregation-of-ole-miss

In Oxford, Mississippi, James H. Meredith, an African American, is escorted onto the University of Mississippi campus by U.S. Marshals, setting off a deadly riot. Two men were killed before the racial violence was quelled by more than 3,000 federal soldiers. The next day, Meredith successfully enrolled and began to attend classes amid continuing disruption.

A former serviceman in the U.S. Air Force, Meredith applied and was accepted to the University of Mississippi in 1962, but his admission was revoked when the registrar learned of his race. A federal court ordered “Ole Miss” to admit him, but when he tried to register on September 20, 1962, he found the entrance to the office blocked by Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett. On September 28, the governor was found guilty of civil contempt and was ordered to cease his interference with desegregation at the university or face arrest and a fine of $10,000 a day. Two days later, Meredith was escorted onto the Ole Miss campus by U.S. Marshals. Turned back by violence, he returned the next day and began classes. Meredith, who was a transfer student from all-black Jackson State College, graduated with a degree in political science in 1963.

In 1966, Meredith returned to the public eye when he began a lone civil rights march in an attempt to encourage voter registration by African Americans in the South. During this March Against Fear, Meredith intended to walk from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi. However, on June 6, just two days into the march, he was sent to a hospital by a sniper’s bullet.

Other civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr., and Stokely Carmichael, arrived to continue the march on his behalf. It was during the March Against Fear that Carmichael, who was leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, first spoke publicly of “Black Power”–his concept of militant African American nationalism. James Meredith later recovered and rejoined the march he had originated, and on June 26 the marchers successfully reached Jackson, Mississippi.

USS Nautilus—world’s first nuclear submarine—is commissioned

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/uss-nautilus-commissioned

The USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear submarine, is commissioned by the U.S. Navy.

The Nautilus was constructed under the direction of U.S. Navy Captain Hyman G. Rickover, a brilliant Russian-born engineer who joined the U.S. atomic program in 1946. In 1947, he was put in charge of the navy’s nuclear-propulsion program and began work on an atomic submarine. Regarded as a fanatic by his detractors, Rickover succeeded in developing and delivering the world’s first nuclear submarine years ahead of schedule. In 1952, the Nautilus‘ keel was laid by President Harry S. Truman, and on January 21, 1954, first lady Mamie Eisenhower broke a bottle of champagne across its bow as it was launched into the Thames River at Groton, Connecticut. Commissioned on September 30, 1954, it first ran under nuclear power on the morning of January 17, 1955.

Much larger than the diesel-electric submarines that preceded it, the Nautilus stretched 319 feet and displaced 3,180 tons. It could remain submerged for almost unlimited periods because its atomic engine needed no air and only a very small quantity of nuclear fuel. The uranium-powered nuclear reactor produced steam that drove propulsion turbines, allowing the Nautilus to travel underwater at speeds in excess of 20 knots.

In its early years of service, the USS Nautilus broke numerous submarine travel records and in August 1958 accomplished the first voyage under the geographic North Pole. After a career spanning 25 years and almost 500,000 miles steamed, the Nautilus was decommissioned on March 3, 1980. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1982, the world’s first nuclear submarine went on exhibit in 1986 as the Historic Ship Nautilus at the Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Connecticut.

Munich Pact signed

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/munich-pact-signed

British and French prime ministers Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier sign the Munich Pact with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. The agreement averted the outbreak of war but gave Czechoslovakia away to German conquest.

In the spring of 1938, Hitler began openly to support the demands of German-speakers living in the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia for closer ties with Germany. Hitler had recently annexed Austria into Germany, and the conquest of Czechoslovakia was the next step in his plan of creating a “greater Germany.” The Czechoslovak government hoped that Britain and France would come to its assistance in the event of German invasion, but British Prime Minister Chamberlain was intent on averting war. He made two trips to Germany in September and offered Hitler favorable agreements, but the Fuhrer kept upping his demands.

On September 22, Hitler demanded the immediate cession of the Sudetenland to Germany and the evacuation of the Czechoslovak population by the end of the month. The next day, Czechoslovakia ordered troop mobilization. War seemed imminent, and France began a partial mobilization on September 24. Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Daladier, unprepared for the outbreak of hostilities, traveled to Munich, where they gave in to Hitler’s demands on September 30.

Daladier abhorred the Munich Pact’s appeasement of the Nazis, but Chamberlain was elated and even stayed behind in Munich to sign a single-page document with Hitler that he believed assured the future of Anglo-German peace. Later that day, Chamberlain flew home to Britain, where he addressed a jubilant crowd in London and praised the Munich Pact for bringing “peace with honor” and “peace in our time.” The next day, Germany annexed the Sudetenland, and the Czechoslovak government chose submission over destruction by the German Wehrmacht. In March 1939, Hitler annexed the rest of Czechoslovakia, and the country ceased to exist.

On September 1, 1939, 53 German army divisions invaded Poland despite British and French threats to intervene on the nation’s behalf. Two days later, Chamberlain solemnly called for a British declaration of war against Germany, and World War II began. After eight months of ineffectual wartime leadership, Chamberlain was replaced as prime minister by Winston Churchill.

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and best-selling author, is born

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/elie-wiesel-holocaust-survivor-and-best-selling-author-is-born

On September 29, 1928, Eliezer “Elie” Wiesel, the human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize-winning author of more than 50 books, including “Night,” an internationally acclaimed memoir based on his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, is born in Sighet, Transylvania (present-day Romania).

In May 1944, the Nazis deported 15-year-old Wiesel and his family to Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Poland. Wiesel’s mother and the youngest of his three sisters died at Auschwitz, while he and his father later were moved to another camp, Buchenwald, located in Germany. Wiesel’s father perished at Buchenwald just months before it was liberated by Allied troops in April 1945.

Following the war, Wiesel spent time in a French orphanage, studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and went on to work as a journalist in France. In the early 1950s, he broke a self-imposed vow not to speak about the atrocities he witnessed at the concentration camps and penned the first version of “Night” in Yiddish, under the title “Un di Velt Hot Geshvign” (“And the World Remained Silent”). At the encouragement of Nobel laureate and prominent French writer Francois Mauriac, Wiesel reworked the manuscript in French. However, even with Mauriac’s help in trying to land a book deal, the manuscript was rejected by multiple publishers, who believed few people at the time were interested in reading about the Holocaust. The book was eventually released in 1958 as “La Nuit”; an English translation, “Night,” followed in 1960. Although initial sales were sluggish, “Night” was generally well reviewed and over the decades gained an audience, eventually becoming a classic of Holocaust literature that has sold millions of copies and has been translated into more than 30 languages. In 2006, TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey selected “Night” for her famed on-air book club, and traveled with Wiesel to Auschwitz for an episode of her show.

Since the publication of “Night,” Wiesel has written dozens of works of fiction and non-fiction, lectured widely and crusaded against injustice and intolerance around the world. A professor at Boston University since the 1970s, he was instrumental in the founding of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and has received numerous awards, including the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize. Wiesel died on July 2, 2016. He was 87 years old. 

Joseph Marion Hernández becomes the first Hispanic elected to Congress

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/joseph-marion-hern%C3%A1ndez-first-hispanic-elected-to-congress

On September 30, 1822, Joseph Marion Hernández becomes the first Hispanic to be elected to the United States Congress. Born a Spanish citizen, Hernández would die in Cuba, but in between he became the first non-white person to serve at the highest levels of any of three branches of the American federal government.

Hernández belonged to a St. Augustine family that came to Florida as indentured servants. Despite these humble beginnings, records show that his family eventually became wealthy enough to own property and several slaves, and that Hernández was educated both in both Georgia and in Cuba. Throughout the 1810s, the United States made a variety of efforts to take Florida from the Spanish, finally succeeding after Andrew Jackson led an army through the territory in the First Seminole War. What Hernández did during this time is unclear, but he was either very savvy or very lucky—he fought the Americans during the war and received substantial amounts of land from the Spanish government, but then pledged loyalty to the United States and was allowed to keep his three plantations when the territory changed hands in 1819. It was then that Hernández changed his name from José Mariano to Joseph Marion.

The newly-acquired Florida Territory was allowed to elect a delegate to congress, but that delegate did not have voting privileges. Florida’s legislative council elected Hernández to represent the territory. During his brief tenure—he served for less than a year before losing his re-election bid—Hernández was instrumental in facilitating the transition from Spanish to American government in Florida. In addition to securing the property rights of many Floridians who remained after the annexation, he also advocated for roads and infrastructure to bind the new territory together and make it an attractive candidate for statehood.

He went on to fight in the Second Seminole War, helping his adopted nation drive the natives from its new territory. The war saw the loss of two of his plantations, however, as well the destruction of his political ambitions after he was involved in an incident in which an American contingent captured a number of Seminoles despite approaching them under a flag of truce. Hernández later served as Mayor of St. Augustine before retiring to Cuba, where he died in 1857. 

Babi Yar massacre begins

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/babi-yar-massacre-begins

The Babi Yar massacre of nearly 34,000 Jewish men, women, and children begins on the outskirts of Kiev in the Nazi-occupied Ukraine.

The German army took Kiev on September 19, and special SS squads prepared to carry out Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s orders to exterminate all Jews and Soviet officials found there. Beginning on September 29, more than 30,000 Jews were marched in small groups to the Babi Yar ravine to the north of the city, ordered to strip naked, and then machine-gunned into the ravine. The massacre ended on September 30, and the dead and wounded alike were covered over with dirt and rock.

Between 1941 and 1943, thousands more Jews, Soviet officials, and Russian prisoners of war were executed at the Babi Yar ravine in a similar manner. As the German armies retreated from the USSR, the Nazis attempted to hide evidence of the massacres by exhuming the bodies and burning them in large pyres. Numerous eyewitnesses and other evidence, however, attest to the atrocities at Babi Yar, which became a symbol of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust.

Dow suffers largest single-day drop

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/dow-suffers-largest-single-day-drop-great-recession

After Congress failed to pass a $700 billion bank bailout plan, the Dow Jones Industrial Average falls 777.68 points—at the time, the largest single-day point loss in its history.

Down 7 percent, a greater loss than the 684.81 skid on September 17, 2001 (the first trading day post-9/11), the S&P 500 also suffered its biggest one-day loss since the 1987 crash, dropping 8.8 percent, and the Nasdaq fell 9.1 percent, its biggest single-day point loss in eight years.

The huge decline followed the bankruptcies of Wall Street brokerage firm Lehman Brothers, Savings and Loan bank Washington Mutual, as well as the Fed’s announcement that it would provide an $85 billion bailout for insurance provider American International Group (better known as AIG) to keep it from going under.

Also playing into things was a housing slowdown that triggered homeowners to suffer subprime mortgage defaults, widespread job losses and the Fed’s intervention to bail out investment bank Bear Stearns, as well as government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Congress’s inability to pass the Bush administration’s bill led to fears that the nearly frozen credit markets wouldn’t be able to rebound quickly, causing sellers to shed their stocks. The Dow drop equaled a whopping $1.2 trillion loss in market value, contributing to the 18-month-long Great Recession.

Congress eventually did pass a bailout bill, with Bush signing the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. The Dow drop remained the largest single-day point loss until 2018. 

Hispanic-American voting rights advocate Willie Velasquez awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/hispanic-american-activist-willie-velasquez-presidential-medal-freedom

On September 29, 1995, voting rights advocate Willie Velasquez is posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Velasquez and the organizations he founded are credited with dramatically increasing political awareness and participation among the Hispanic communities of the Southwestern United States.

The son of a union organizer, Velasquez was one of five founders of the Mexican-American Youth Organization, or MAYO. Beginning with voter registration drives and walkouts on college campuses around San Antonio, MAYO expanded to organizing high school students and even succeeded in electing several candidates to local school boards. Inspired by groups like the Black Panthers and leaders like Malcolm X, some of MAYO’s members went on to form the Raza Unida Party, a party that aimed to elect Hispanic candidates without relying on either the Republican or Democratic establishments.

Velasquez worked as a boycott coordinator for the United Farm Workers, a union that organized farm workers across the Southwest and drew national attention to their working conditions in the late 1960s. He then went to work for Raza before embarking upon the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project in 1972. SVREP, whose motto was “Su vota, su voz” (Your vote is your voice), sought to address the poor voter turnout, voter apathy, and institutional disenfranchisement that affected the Hispanic-American community – Velasquez believed that the Hispanic community had much to learn from the Civil Rights Movement and sought to address many of the same systemic issues as prominent leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr.

READ MORE: When Millions of Americans Stopped Eating Grapes in Support of Farm Workers

Though he would not live to see the full effects of his work—he died suddenly of cancer at the age of 44—Willie Velazquez certainly achieved his goal of activating the Hispanic electorate. Today, SVREP claims to have registered over 2.7 million voters, trained over 150,000 political activists, and won over 100 civil rights lawsuits. Though Hispanic voter turnout is often significantly lower than turnout among whites, it has risen sharply in recent decades, increasing tenfold from 1.3 million in the 1994 general election to 13.5 million in 2016. In his White House speech honoring Velasquez, then-President Bill Clinton called Willie “a name synonymous with democracy in America.”

Passenger ferry, Estonia, sinks, killing 852

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/estonia-sinks

On September 28, 1994, 852 people die in one of the worst maritime disasters of the century when the Estonia, a large car-and-passenger ferry, sinks in the Baltic Sea.

The German-built ship was traveling on an overnight cruise from Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, to Stockholm, Sweden, when it sank off the coast of Finland. Estonia, a former Soviet republic that gained its independence in 1991 (the last Russian troops left in 1994), was a popular and affordable travel destination for Swedes. The Estonia was a type of ferry known as a “ro-ro,” which featured a smorgasbord, live music, dancing and drinking and allowed people to drive vehicles onto one end of the ship and drive off on the other end.

After hitting stormy weather, with waves reaching an estimated 15 to 20 feet, the Estonia went down in the middle of the night. Many passengers were trapped inside the ship, while others, even some who managed to make it into lifeboats, later drowned in the frigid water or died from hypothermia. Helicopters were used to rescue most of the 137 survivors.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, a joint Swedish-Finnish-Estonian government committee ruled it an accident and blamed it on stormy weather that caused water to pour through an open bow door and into the Estonia’s car deck, destabilizing the ship and capsizing it in less than an hour. However, there were others, including some family and friends of the Estonia victims, who believed the sinking was the result of a pre-existing hole caused by a collision or explosion.

Two years after the sinking of the Estonia, the Bukoba, a passenger steamship, went down in Lake Victoria near Tanzania in May 1996, leaving an estimated 1,000 people dead. In September 2002, a Senegalese passenger ferry, the Joola, sank off the coast of Gambia, resulting in at least 1,800 casualties. By comparison, when the ocean liner Titanic sank after hitting an iceberg off of Newfoundland on its maiden voyage in April 1912, approximately 1,500 lives were lost.