May 10th 1941: Hess parachutes into Scotland
On this day in 1941 during the Second World War, Adolf Hitler’s deputy in the Nazi Party Rudolf Hess fled Germany and parachuted into Scotland in an attempt to negotiate peace with the United Kingdom. On 10th May he took off in a plane from Augsburg and in the evening he arrived over the UK and parachuted down near the Scottish village of Eaglesham. He told authorities he had an important message and was handed to the army who took him as a prisoner of war. Winston Churchill sent Hess to the Tower of London, making him its last inmate. After the war he was tried at the Nuremberg Trials and sentenced to life imprisonment, which he served at Spandau Prison in Berlin. Despite calls for his release Hess died in prison in 1987, supposedly due to suicide by hanging, but many claim others helped in his death.
May 6th 1937: Hindenburg disaster
On this day in 1937, a German passenger airship called the Hindenburg caught fire near Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 36. The ship was attempting to dock at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station but caught fire and was quickly destroyed. The cause of the fire is still unknown. Miraculously, 62 survived the blaze. The disaster was widely broadcast and the commentary of reporter Herbert Morrison highlighted the magnitude of the catastrophe and signalled the end of the era of the passenger airship. (watch footage here)
“Oh, the humanity!”
- Morrison reporting the disaster
April 28th 1908: Oskar Schindler born
On this day in 1908 the famous German industrialist Oskar Schindler was born. Schindler was a member of the Nazi Party but saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories. Schindler was the subject of the 1982 novel ‘Schindler’s Ark’ and the 1993 film ‘Schindler’s List’.
March 14th 1879: Einstein born
On this day in 1879, the German physicist Albert Einstein was born in Ulm. Einstein is best known for his general theory of relativity and his mass-energy equivalence formula (E = mc2). He recieved the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics. Einstein became a US citizen in 1940 after staying there upon Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933. He died in 1955 aged 76 in Princeton, New Jersey.
February 22nd 1943: White Rose group executed
On this day in 1943 three members of the peaceful resistance movement in Nazi Germany, the White Rose, were executed. The White Rose comprised of students from the University of Munich and their philosophy professor. They distributed leaflets protesting against the regime of Adolf Hitler. On the 22nd, Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst (the founding members of the group) were tried, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. That same day the three were executed by guillotine at Stadelheim Prison. After their executions the remaining members were arrested and killed, thus ending their resistance movement.
“We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!”
January 16th 1945: Hitler moves into the Führerbunker
On this day in 1945, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler moved into his underground bunker near the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. Hitler directed Nazi Germany in the last weeks of World War Two from his bunker. Others lived in the bunker with Hitler, including Joseph Goebbels and his family. It was here that Hitler married Eva Braun and they both committed suicide.
October 31st 1517: Luther posts his 95 theses
On this day in 1517, the Augustinian monk Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of a Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This event is generally considered the start of the Protestant Reformation. The theses expressed Luther’s dissatisfaction with the corruption and materialism of the Catholic Church, especially the sale of indulgences (essentially selling a ticket to heaven). He instead believed that eternal salvation can only be guaranteed by God. On the same day as supposedly posting the 95 theses on the church door, he sent his writings to bishops. The writings were gradually translated and spread throughout Europe, accelerated by the use of the printing press, and his ideas transformed Europe. The Reformation led to the establishment of Protestantism.
September 5th 1972: Munich Massacre
On this day in 1972, the Palestinian terrorist group ‘Black September’ broke into the Olympic Village of the Munich Games and took 11 Israeli athletes hostage. 2 died in the initial attack and 9 died the following day in the rescue attempt. The group demanded the release of 234 prisoners in Israeli prisons. 5 of the 8 attackers were killed in the failed rescue attempt. The attempt by the Israeli authorities to track down the remaining kidnappers led to the deaths of several innocents.
May 7th 1974: Willy Brandt resigns
On this day in 1974 Willy Brandt resigned as Chancellor of Germany. Brandt was a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and became chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1969. As chancellor Brandt pursued a ‘new policy towards the east’ (Ostpolitik) and aimed for reconciliation between West Germany and the Soviet bloc, especially East Germany. He resigned after it was revealed that one of his closest aides, Günter Guillaume, was an agent of the East German secret police (the Stasi).
May 5th 1818: Marx born
On this day in 1818 the Prussian philosopher Karl Marx was born. He is often considered the father of communism for his 1848 work with Friedrich Engels ‘The Communist Manifesto’. His beliefs were that human society is based around class struggle, and capitalism allows the bourgeoisie to exploit the workers (proletariat). He predicted that capitalism would eventually crumble and be replaced with socialism then communism. Marx died in London in 1883 aged 64.
March 21st 1871: Bismarck becomes the first Chancellor
On this day in 1871, Otto von Bismarck became the first Chancellor the newly united German Empire. He had previously served as Minister President of Prussia, and oversaw the Austro-Prussian War (1866) and Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) which together made up the German Unification Wars. The wars made Prussia dominant over Austria and France and allowed Bismarck to create the German Empire in 1871 out of the old Germanic states, thus essentially making him the father of Germany. Bismarck served as Chancellor until he was dismissed by the Kaiser in 1890. Bismarck has been called the greatest politician in history and has become known as the ‘Iron Chancellor’ due to his focus on military power.
“The great questions of the time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions…but by iron and blood”
February 27th 1933: Reichstag fire
On this day in 1933 the Reichstag building in Berlin, which housed the German Parliament, was set on fire. The Nazi government, led by Adolf Hitler, ordered a thorough hunt for the arsonist. The police identified the perpetrator as Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch communist; he and four other Communist leaders were arrested. The Nazis used the event as evidence of a Communist plot, and Hitler urged President Hindenburg to pass an emergency decree to counter the Communist threat which gave Hitler considerable powers. Van der Lubbe was found guilty and executed by guillotine on January 10th 1934. However, his role has been questioned by historians with some even suggesting he was not responsible and that the fire was ordered by the Nazis themselves.
February 18th 1546: Luther dies
On this day in 1546 the German monk and leader of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, died aged 62 in Eisleben. Luther broke with the Catholic Church after he became disillusioned with Church corruption like the sale of indulgences and concubinage. Luther believed that the only way to salvation was through God’s grace and faith. His writings against the Church led to his excommunication by Pope Leo X in 1520.
January 12th 1893: Göring born
On this day in 1893 the Nazi leader Hermann Göring was born in Bavaria. Göring was the commander of the Luftwaffe from 1935, and led the German air force throughout World War Two. He was also in charge of the Four Year Plan. Adolf Hitler made Göring Reichsmarschall and made him his successor in 1941. After the war, Göring was convicted of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg Trials but committed suicide before his death sentence could be carried out.
October 3rd 1990: German reunification
On this day in 1990, Germany was officially reunited when the German Democratic Republic was abolished and became part of the Federal Republic of Germany. The country had been split into East and West Germany following its defeat in World War Two and was occupied by the victorious Allied powers. The USA, Britain and France controlled the West and the Soviet Union the East. The reunification saw Berlin become one city again, following the fall of the Berlin Wall dividing the city in 1989. Today is celebrated in Germany as German Unity Day.