Friday 30 January 2009

Two related anniversaries

On this day......76 years ago, Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany. In the dying months of the First World War, Hitler had been awarded the Iron Cross (the officer who recommended him for the decoration was Captain Hugo Guttman, a Jew). After the war, his dream of becoming an artist never came true, and he went off to run the propaganda operation of the National Socialist (Nazi) party.

After an abortive Nazi coup, he spent nine months in prison, and used the time to write the first volume of Mein Kampf in which he denounced Communism and the Jews. During the 1920’s the Nazis never managed to poll more than 6.5% in Reichstag elections, but then came Hitler’s big break – the Great Depression. Terrified by the spectre of Communism, big business began bankrolling him, and the rest is disaster history. The Nazis were setting up concentration camps within weeks, and through murder, forced labour, starvation, medical experiments etc, they killed perhaps 20 million people.

On the 12th anniversary of Hitler’s coming to power, on January 30, 1945, a ship named the Wilhelm Gustloff was carrying German refugees along with soldiers and sailors across the Baltic away from the advancing Russian forces. There were up to 10,500 people on board when she was hit by a torpedo from a Soviet submarine. It is believed that not more than 1,000 survived, making this the worst shipwreck in history.

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