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the work of history

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    Thank you very much :)

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    Crossing the Niemen River, June 1812.

    The Battle of Smolensk, August 1812.

    Bagration at Borodino, September 1812.

    Napoleon with Lauriston.

    Napoleon at Borodino, September 1812.

    French Retreat.

    June 24, 1812: The French invasion of Russia begins.

    Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia began when he and his Grande Armée (swelled to some 690,000 troops) crossed the Nieman River on this day 200 years ago. By this time, Napoleon’s grip over Europe was already slackening, and his own physical and mental condition was in slow decline. Like Hitler’s invasion 129 years later, Napoleon’s first advance into Russian territory was fairly successful, but lack of supplies, scorched-earth tactics, disease, and the brutal effects of the Russian Winter undid Napoleon’s initial successes.

    At the Battle of Borodino (fought in September of 1812) at least 70,000 of his troops were killed or wounded - the bloodiest single-day action during this invasion. And, though the battle ended in a Russian retreat, they eventually recovered from their losses. Napoleon, facing diminishing supplies and nothing much to show for his efforts other than the captured - but abandoned Russian capital, began his own retreat in October of 1812, with the Russians in pursuit. By the end of the campaign, his Grande Armée was a fraction of what it had been, with less than 30,000 troops still fit for battle; although Napoleon would raise new armies and achieve later military successes, French power would never fully recover

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    June 25, 1947: Anne Frank’s diary is published.

    In June of 1942, a young girl named Anne Frank received a diary for her thirteenth birthday. Two days later, she would begin a chronicle of her experiences under the Nazi regime - a chronicle that would soon be read by millions of people around the world. Anne and her family (plus four other people) went into hiding in the secret annex behind her father’s office building in Amsterdam - the Achterhuis - shortly after she received the diary. They managed to hide for two years with the help of ordinary Dutch citizens like Miep Gies and her husband before they were betrayed to the Nazis in August of 1944, and subsequently deported in September. Anne and her sister Margot both died in Bergen-Belsen in 1945, only weeks before the camp was liberated; their mother, Edith, died in Auschwitz of starvation; the family that had stayed with the Franks in the Achterhuis, the van Pels, all died in camps as well.

    The only survivor out of the original eight was Anne’s father, Otto Frank. It was he who had Anne’s diary published after the war, and, in 1952, an English-language version was published as well, under the title The Diary of a Young Girl; since then, Anne Frank’s diary has been published in over sixty different languages.

    In 1946, one Dutch historian wrote of the not-yet-published book: 

    This apparently inconsequential diary by a child, this ‘de profundis’ stammered out in a child’s voice, embodies all the hideousness of fascism, more so than all the evidence of Nuremberg put together.

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    June 26, 1948: “The Lottery” is published in The New Yorker

    Shirley Jackson’s famous short story tells the chilling tale of a small American town and the horrific ritual - the “lottery” - that its residents practice each year. The story was received negatively, to both the magazine’s and author’s surprise; throughout the summer, Jackson reportedly received a dozen letters or messages a day - some speculative, and others full of, in the author’s words, “plain old-fashioned abuse”. One reader’s reaction (probably a common one) was “my only comment is what the hell?” Other readers suggested that the magazine had put the short story in to “get people talking”. And, when asked by a reader what her story meant, Jackson simply replied: “I wish I knew.”

    Another interesting (and also rather grim) point Jackson noted about some of these letters:

    The general tone of the early letters, however, was a kind of wide-eyed, shocked innocence. People at first were not so much concerned with what the story meant; what they wanted to know was where these lotteries were held, and whether they could go there and watch.

    Other links:

    The original story in The New Yorker’s archives.

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    June 26, 1997: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is published.

    Fifteen years ago, the book series that defined a generation began. So have some quotes!

    There will be books written about Harry. Every child in the world will know his name. (How right you were, Professor McGonagall.)

    Sunshine daisies, butter mellow, turn this stupid fat rat yellow.

    Always the innocent are the first victims, so it has been for ages past, so it is now.

    ‘The truth.’ Dumbledore sighed. ‘It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.’

    Once again, you show all the sensitivity of a blunt axe.

    There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.

    It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

    It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.

    Love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves it’s own mark. To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.

    To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.

    He couldn’t know that at this very moment, people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: ‘To Harry Potter – the boy who lived!’

    - Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)

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    June 27, 1941: A pogrom is carried out in Iaşi, Romania.

    When war broke out in Europe, Romania was - officially - neutral, until anger over lost territory in 1940 set the stage for a coup that led the rise of a dictatorship under Ion Antonescu. In November of 1940, Romania joined the Axis Powers. Only weeks after consolidating power, Antonescu declared himself “haunted” by the large number of Jews living in Moldavia; following in the footsteps of Nazi Germany, he launched an antisemitic campaign that began with new laws - akin to the Nuremberg Laws - that banned mixed marriages and took away property rights.

    Several days after Operation Barbarossa began, Romanian officials in Iaşi accused the Jews living in that area of sabotage and aiding the Soviet enemy. Antonescu himself issued the order to “cleanse” the area of its remaining Jews, and many of the non-Jewish locals ofIaşi responded to the call with zeal, forming mobs and aiding Romanian soldiers and police in their efforts to round up and arrest Jews. At least 4,000 died in the initial pogrom, and thousands more were arrested and forced into trains. The exact death toll is disputed, but the Romanian government later reported their count of just over 13,000 identified victims

    In 1946, fifty-seven people were tried for war crimes in connection with the Iaşi pogrom; of these, twenty-three received life sentences.

    Other Links:

    A report on the Holocaust in Romania, presented to the Romanian President in 2004.

    Photographs via USHMM.

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    Italian soldiers.

    POA/ROA soldiers.

    Experiences on the Eastern Front (excerpts from Voices from the Third Reich: An Oral History)

    Between 1942 and 1944, millions of Axis soldiers and personnel were awarded the Eastern Front Medal (Winterschlacht Im Osten) to recognize dedicated service through the fierce Russian winter. Those awarded the medal sometimes wryly referred to it as the “Frozen Meat Medal”. The ribbon accompanying the medal was colored white, red, and black - symbolizing snow, blood, and death - or the Eastern Front in a nutshell.

    The German people were being told that only the cold winter was to blame for the disaster, and not the Russian army. Well, it was just as cold on the other side. The Russians… knew what was at stake: their homeland.

    When we marched into the Soviet Union, we were initially looked upon as liberators and greeted with bread and salt. The farmers shared the little they had with us.

    Oh God, only four days ago I saw the dead of another one of our companies. I saw the poked out eyes, the severed genitals, the horrible, tortured, distorted faces. Anything but that. The Russians don’t differentiate between SS and tank troops yet.

    We were very careful not to come too close to the Russians. We were as afraid of them as they were of us. We didn’t even want to take any Russians as prisoners. In fact, we were more relieved than anything else when they escaped.

    … when the furs did finally arrive at the front, they turned out to be ladies’ fur coats… The regulation army boots were totally inadequate for this kind of winter. When your feet swelled and the boots were frozen, your toes were gone - frozen off

    I’d hardly gotten out of the plane when I discovered strange heaps under an iced-up tarpaulin… This tarp covered an entire heap of dead soldiers who couldn’t be buried because the ground was frozen-rock solid.

    On the night of January 10, both my hands and feet froze… My fingers were so swollen that they looked like blood oranges. After two days, my fingernails and skin came off with my gloves.

    I was wounded once, in Russia…. A comrade next to me had his hand blown off. He jumped half a meter for joy because it meant that for him the war was over.

    … at the end of the war we had 800,000 Soviet volunteers in the German army. Sometimes people maintain that all these volunteers were pressed into service. That, of course, is incorrect… There was no family in the Soviet Union which had no suffered under Stalin.

    The very anti-Slavic Hitler, at first, refused to sponsor Russian forces, though he allowed the idea to circulate in propaganda as a means of discrediting the enemy. In 1944, however, he consented to the formation of the Russian Liberation Army, which was primarily made up of either white émigrés, who were generally opposed to the Soviet Union and the communist ideology, or POWs, who simply wanted out of the camps. Another earlier group, the S.S. Stumbrigade R.O.N.A., was absorbed into the Liberation Army. After the war ended, many of the soldiers were sent to prison camps; the primary organizer, Andrey Vlasov, along with other collaborators, were tried and hanged in 1946. 

    In captivity I joined the anti-Nazi League of German Officers because I believed it would be the best way to end the war quickly, while something could still be saved.

    Conversely, anti-Nazi groups (made up of Germans) also collaborated with the Soviet Union; most significantly, the National Committee for a Free Germany. Most of the members were POWs disillusioned with Nazi Germany and the failing war effort, and accordingly, the number of members rose sharply after the crushing defeat at Stalingrad. The League of German Officers, to which Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus belonged, eventually merged with the committee. Like the Russian Liberation Army, this group was used largely as a propaganda tool. 

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    Self-Portrait, 1623.

    Portrait of a Young Man, c. 1610 - 1613.

    Two Satyrs, 1618-19.

    Saint George and the Dragon, 1605 - 07.

    portrait of some guy

    The Judgment of Paris, 1639.

    Four Studies of the Head of a Negro.

    Mars and Rhea Silvia, 1616 - 17.

    June 28, 1577: Peter Paul Rubens is born.

    My passion comes from the heavens, not from earthly musings.

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    June 29, 1888: One of the earliest sound recordings - of Handel’s Israel in Egypt - is recorded.

    Though Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s phonautograph recordings (which date back to 1860) have since been discovered, George Gouraud’s recording of Handel’s oratorio is still one of the oldest in existence. Because he recorded it a long-ish distance away from the chorus performing, the quality is worse than it might have been, and old age has degraded it even further. The result is a sort of eerie track that sounds mostly like music but dissolves into static by the end. Still, an interesting bit of history. When Gouraud introduced the phonograph to London at a press conference later that year, this was one of his demonstration pieces. 

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    June 29, 1919: Slim Pickens is born.

    Most famously, this rodeo performer rode a nuclear bomb in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. He was also inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame and starred in several other films, and - did I mention that he rode a nuclear bomb? 

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    June 30, 1934: The “Night of the Long Knives” begins.

    By July of 1933, the NSDAP was, by decree, the only legal political party in Germany; however, the Reischwehr was at best, apolitical and disdainful of Hitler, while the Sturmabteilung was rapidly proving itself to be more of a threat and a nuisance than an asset. The Night of the Long Knives was a purge (actually spanning three days) during which several political figures - mostly potential rivals - were murdered. Among those killed were Gregor Strasser, a former high-ranking Nazi official; Kurt von Schleicher, Germany’s Chancellor before Hitler; several allies of Franz von Papen, Hitler’s Vice-Chancellor and critic; and most importantly, Ernst Röhm, head of the SA.

    With Röhm gone, Heinrich Himmler (pictured above, looking creepily at his rival) was now poised to take power - as head of Nazi Germany’s most powerful paramilitary organization, the Schutzstaffel, which would completely overshadow the SA within a few years. Even the Reichswehr (for the most part) their approved of the purge, because Röhm had been pushing for the SA to absorb the regular army into its ranks. President Paul von Hindenburg, who allegedly hated Hitler, congratulated him on “nipping treason in the bud”. Over eighty people in total were murdered during the purge. On July 13, Hitler admitted in a speech to the Reichstag that he had ordered the murders, and he promised that “if anyone raises his hand to strike the State, then certain death is his lot.“ 

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    June 30, 1559: Henry II of France is mortally wounded in a jousting tournament. 

    Poor Henry had been celebrating a treaty he’d recently signed with the Habsburgs and the marriage of his daughter when the fatal blow was dealt - by none other than the captain of the king’s own Scots Guard, the Count of Montgomery. Montgomery’s lance struck the king’s helmet and shattered, burying splinters in his face, including one in his eye and brain. Henry’s wifehis mistress, and his sickly son (who would soon become king) apparently all fainted at the sight. On his deathbed, Henry absolved Montgomery of any blame, but the count was so guilt-ridden that he left to Normandy and later converted to Protestantism.

    The accession of Henry’s weak and inexperienced son, Francis II, exacerbated the growing conflict that would become the French Wars of Religion. 

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    Members of the Hitler Youth look on as their Führer speaks, 1934 (from Triumph of the Will).

    My German youth…

    You standing here today represent something that is happening all over Germany. We want that you -  German boys and girls - absorb everything that we wish for Germany. We want to be one people, and through you, to become this people…

    We want this people not to become soft, but to become tough, and therefore, you must steel yourselves for this in your youth. You must learn sacrifice, and also never to collapse. Whatever we create today,whatever we do will all pass away, but in you, Germany will live on. And when we can no longer hold the flag that we tore from nothing… you must hold it firmly in your fists!

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    July 20, 1969: Apollo 11 lands on the moon.

    That’s one small step for man… one giant leap for mankind.

    photographs via

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    July 21, 1899: Ernest Hemingway is born.

    There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

    After writing a story I was always empty and both sad and happy, as though I had made love.

    Write drunk; edit sober.

    There is no friend as loyal as a book.

    All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.

    All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.

    In order to write about life first you must live it.

    Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.

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    Mission Control celebrations/Buzz Aldrin

    Buzz Aldrin, Lunar Module Pilot.

    Neil Armstrong, Commander.

    Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot.

    July 21, 1969: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon.

    Around seven hours after the Apollo 11 Lunar Module (the Eagle) landed in the Sea of Tranquility, at least 500 million people watched as Neil Armstrong descended the ladder and became the first man to step foot on the surface of the moon. He then proclaimed:

    That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.

    Armstrong was joined shortly by Edwin “Buzz” E. Aldrin, who described the view of the empty lunar surface as “magnificent desolation”. The two men collected samples and performed experiments while also engaging in more symbolic activities - they planted an American flag on the moon’s surface, a patch honoring the deceased crew of first Apollo mission, and a memorial bag. Additionally, a plaque reading “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind” was attached to the leg of the module. The astronauts also spoke briefly with President Nixon in what he called “the most historic phone call ever made from the White House”. The success of Apollo 11 marked the end of the Space Race and fulfilled President Kennedy’s eight-year-old promise to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. 

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    July 22, 1934: John Dillinger is mortally wounded outside a theater in Chicago.

    In the era of outlaws like Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Alvin Karpis, John Dillinger was once the most notorious of them all. Though accounts of the exploits of these criminals are often highly exaggerated, Dillinger is believed to have robbed at least a dozen banks and accumulated some $300,000 in two years. He escaped from prison twice, and the media exaggerated and even falsified stories about Dillinger’s gang, and so his reputation grew until he was declared “Public Enemy Number One” a month before his death.

    The FBI (under J. Edgar Hoover) soon caught up with him in Chicago. On July 22, 1934, FBI agents waited outside the Biograph Theater for Dillinger to finish watching Manhattan Melodrama; as he exited the theater, the agents gunned him down. He was hit three times. According to some accounts, bystanders dipped whatever pieces of cloth they had close at hand in the pool of blood around Dillinger’s body and kept them as souvenirs. After his death, his corpse was put on display at a Chicago morgue for public viewing (pictured above). 

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    July 24, 1911: Machu Picchu is (re)-discovered.

    In the fifteenth century, Machu Picchu was built by the flourishing Inca Empire for purposes that are still uncertain. Some scholars theorize that it was used as a sort of convent for the “Accla Cluna”, or “Virgins of the Sun”, while many believe it was used as a royal retreat for the Inca emperor Pachacuti. The orientation of the site, positioned so that the sun aligned with nearby mountains during solstices and equionxes, suggests that Machu Picchu was sacred to at least some degree. Machu Picchu may have even been an agricultural testing ground of sorts, used to experiment with terraced farming techniques. Whatever the city was, it was not used for very long - by 1600, it had been abandoned, its residents either dead from disease or forced out by the conquistadors. For centuries, Machu Picchu remained hidden and unknown, an archaeological treasure hidden by jungle and the surrounding mountains. 

    In 1911, an American named Hiram Bingham III (a possible real-life inspiration of Indiana Jones) became one of the first outsiders to visit the ruins in probably hundreds of years. Really, Bingham did not “discover” Machu Picchu; locals knew of the site, and others claimed to have visited the site before Bingham, but he was the first to excavate and publicize it. In 1983, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, described as “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization.”

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    Test Baker

    July 25, 1946: The U.S. conducts nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll as part of Operation Crossroads.

    Two separate bombs were detonated as part of the United States’ experiment to determine how nuclear weapons might affect ships and naval equipment. These two tests, called Able and Baker, were the fourth and fifth nuclear detonations ever conducted, after Trinity and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

    Prior to the tests, the residents of Bikini Atoll were evacuated off the islands; decades later in the 1970s, some of the original Bikini families were to return, but they would once again be evacuated because of lingering radioactivity. Around 100 vessels (mostly old or surplus American ships and some captured Axis ships) were assembled in the lagoon, some containing live animals and insects. On July 25, the Baker test was conducted. The device was detonated 90 feet underwater (versus Able, which had been dropped from a B-29) and sunk nine vessels, including the 26,000 ton battleship USS Arkansas and the even larger aircraft carrier USS Saratoga. Nearly all of the test animals - mostly pigs and rats - died in the blast. 

    Later that year, a French fashion designer named his new two-piece swimsuit after the atoll where the tests took place. 

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    Pizarro Seizing the Inca of Peru, 1846.

    Funeral of Atahualpa.

    July 26, 1533: Atahualpa, last emperor of the Inca Empire, is executed.

    In 1532, in town of Cajamarca, a Spanish ambush under Francisco Pizarro resulted in the successful capture of Atahualpa, the young and newly-victorious emperor of the Inca Empire. While held captive, Atahualpa offered large amounts of gold and silver to the Spaniards for his freedom - or perhaps merely his life. In the meantime, an Inca general named Rumiñahui began amassing forces to lead against the invaders, the captured emperor became a liability, and Pizarro ordered him executed.

    Atahualpa was charged with and found guilty of committing and treason and practicing idolatry among other crimes after a mock trial, and he was sentenced to death by burning. However, the friar who accompanied Pizarro’s group offered to commute Atahualpa’s sentence if he were to convert to Catholicism - which he did. By his own request, the last Sapa Inca was instead strangled to death with a garrote (according to some accounts, on August 29, the feast day of the beheading of John the Baptist). His successors, including two of his brothers, were nothing more than puppets of the Spanish conquistadors, although unrest and rebellion continued through the empire to the end of the century. 

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