On the 20th January 1942, a number of senior Nazis met at the Wannsee Conference where they discussed what was referred to as the Final Solution to the Jewish Question. SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich called the meeting, in which he outlined the deportation of European Jews to extermination camps in Poland where they would be systematically murdered.
Six months earlier, on the 31st July 1941, Hermann Goering had ordered Heydrich as his second-in-command to submit plans “for the implementation of the projected final solution of the Jewish question”. Heydrich was a trusted member of the Nazi elite, and had been referred to by Hitler as “the man with the iron heart”. He had already helped to organise Kristallnacht, established Jewish ghettos in Nazi-controlled territories, and command the Einsatzgruppen that were responsible for millions of Jewish deaths prior to his planning of the Final Solution.
Heydrich originally planned for the Wannsee Conference to take place on 9th December 1941, but it was postponed due to the USSR’s counter-offensive in the Battle of Moscow and the entry of the USA into the war. Fifteen representatives from a variety of government ministries attended the delayed meeting on the 20th January instead.
By this time hundreds of thousands of Jews had already been killed in the east, and the planning and construction of extermination camps had already begun. The meeting was, therefore, more to ensure coordination between the various government agencies in implementing the deportations.
Minutes from the meeting survive as what is known as the Wannsee Protocol, although the language was edited so that mass extermination was never explicitly recorded.
On the 18th January 1871, Wilhelm I of Prussia was proclaimed the first German Emperor. The creation of the federal Empire made Wilhelm the head of state and president of the federated monarchies that made up the 27 constituent territories.
Wilhelm had been made the President of the North German Confederation on its formation in 1867, and during the Franco-Prussian War took a leading role in the command of the German forces. With patriotic fervour as a result of the enormously successful German advance, in November 1870 the remaining states south of the river Main joined the North German Confederation.
The next month, on the 10th December, the Reichstag of the Confederation renamed itself the German Empire. Wilhelm was formally declared the German Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles on the 18th January. The title was accepted grudgingly by Wilhelm who would have preferred “Emperor of Germany” rather than “German Emperor”, but Bismarck warned that this would be dangerous as it suggested he had a claim to other Germanic lands such as Austria, Luxembourg and Switzerland. He also refused to be titled “Emperor of the Germans”, since this would have suggested he ruled with permission from the German people rather than by “the grace of God”. As a believer in divine right, this suggestion was unacceptable to him.
Three months later, on the 14th April, the Reichstag adopted the German Constitution. This stated that the King of Prussia would be the permanent President of the confederation of states that formed the Empire. Therefore, the role of Emperor was directly tied to the Prussian crown.
The Battle of Monte Cassino began when Allied forces launched the first of four attacks against the Gustav Line in Italy.
The Gustav Line, which together with the Bernhardt and Hitler lines formed a series of defences known as the Winter Line, had been established by the Germans and Italians to defend Rome from a northern advance by the Allies. The Allied forces had secured a foothold in Italy in Operation Avalanche the previous September, having first captured Sicily.
By early January 1944 the Allies had advanced a long way north, but their progress had been stopped by poor weather that forced them to approach Rome along Highway 6 that ran from Naples through the Liri valley. The southern entrance to the valley was dominated by the town of Cassino and overlooked by the Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino.
Although the German army did not position defensive units in the abbey itself, the natural topography gave them a notable advantage over the Allies. Combined with minefields that had been laid in advance, the strong German position withstood the first assault that lasted for two and a half weeks and involved troops under British, American and French command attacking the position from three sides.
German forces finally withdrew on 17 May, and the following morning soldiers from the Polish 12th Podolian Cavalry Regiment raised a Polish flag over the ruins. The four assaults that made up the Battle of Monte Cassino had led to 55,000 Allied casualities and destroyed the ancient abbey. The treasures it contained had been evacuated to Rome in November 1943.
On the 8th January 1918, United States President Woodrow Wilson made a speech to Congress in which he outlined his principles for world peace, known as the Fourteen Points. Keen to distance the United States from nationalistic disputes that fuelled European rivalries, he sought a lasting peace by securing terms that avoided selfish ambitions of the victors.
Three days earlier, on the 5th January, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George had outlined British war aims at the Caxton Hall conference of the Trades Union Congress. It was the first time any of the Allies had shared their post-war intentions and, as a result Woodrow Wilson considered abandoning his own speech since many of the points were similar. However, he was persuaded to deliver the speech anyway.
The Fourteen Points were greeted with some reluctance from France in particular. Georges Clemenceau, the French Prime Minister, is said to have remarked that, “The good Lord only had ten!” as a comparison to the Ten Commandments. However, the Fourteen Points speech became an instrument of propaganda that was widely circulated within Germany. Consequently it later served as a basis for the German armistice that was signed later that year.
However, France’s vastly different intentions meant that, when the time the Paris Peace Conference began on the 18th January 1919, there was significant tension between the negotiators. The fact that Wilson himself was physically ill meant that he was less able to argue for peace terms that reflected the Fourteen Points against Clemenceau – the Tiger – and his demands to cripple Germany. Consequently many Germans felt incredible anger over the final terms of the Treaty.
Röntgen was experimenting with vacuum tubes at the University of Würzburg when he discovered the new ‘invisible light’ on 8 November 1895. Although his lab notes were burned after his death in 1923, Röntgen’s biographers describe him noticing a faint glow from a screen covered in fluorescent material about a metre away from his apparatus. This was despite the vacuum tube itself being covered with black cardboard that stopped all visible light.
Having reasoned that the tube itself must be giving off these invisible rays, Röntgen conducted a series of experiments over the next few weeks in which he found that they could pass through certain objects but not others. Due to his uncertainty over the exact nature of the new rays, he adopted the mathematical designation ‘X’ to reflect their mysterious nature.
As his experiments continued, Röntgen began to notice that the rays were able to penetrate the soft tissues in his body but were stopped by bone. After subsequently replacing the fluorescent screen with a photographic plate he made the first ever X-ray image clearly showing the bones of his wife Bertha’s hand and her wedding ring. On seeing the image she is said to have remarked, ‘I have seen my death.’
Röntgen published the paper “On a New Kind Of Rays” on 28 December 1895, and news of his discovery spread quickly. Within a year X-rays were being used as far away as the United States as both a diagnostic tool and for treating cancers. Röntgen refused to take out a patent on X-rays in order to allow the entire world to benefit from them but was awarded the first ever Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901.
In November 1923 Hitler had led an attempted coup against the Weimar Government by trying to seize power in the Bavarian city of Munich. The putsch failed and Hitler was found guilty of treason in the subsequent trial. Sentenced to five years imprisonment, he was sent to the Festungshaft prison in the Bavarian town of Landsberg am Lech.
Hitler’s ‘fortress confinement’ provided him with a reasonably comfortable cell in comparison to conventional facilities, and meant that he was able to receive mail and have regular visitors. The discovery in 2010 of more than 500 documents relating the Hitler’s imprisonment show that more than 30 people were able to visit him on his birthday on 20 April 1924, just 19 days into his sentence.
Imprisonment provided Hitler with the opportunity to dictate his autobiography, Mein Kampf, to his deputy Rudolf Hess. It was in this book that Hitler laid out his blueprint for the future of Germany. Although it gained only modest success when it was first published, Winston Churchill later claimed that if world leaders had read it they could have better anticipated the scale of Nazi domestic and foreign policy.
In a memorandum dated 18 September 1924, the Landsberg warden Otto Leybold described Hitler as “sensible, modest, humble and polite to everyone – especially the officers of the facility”. He was released on 20 December 1924 after serving on nine months of his five-year sentence and soon set about rebuilding the Nazi Party which had been banned in Bavaria as a result of the Beer Hall Putsch. The ban was lifted less than two months after Hitler’s release.
On the 25th November 1936, Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact. Although directed against the Communist International, the international organisation that sought to create a worldwide communist republic, the treaty was in reality specifically against the Soviet Union.
The idea for an anti-Communist alliance had first been suggested in late 1935, as Hitler and Mussolini sought to present themselves as upholding traditional values in the face of Soviet Communism. However, the plan stagnated while the German foreign ministry weighed up the pros and cons of an alliance with the arch-enemy of their traditional Chinese ally.
By summer 1936 the military were an increasingly dominant force in Japan’s government. Meanwhile Europe was beginning to fear the implications of the Franco-Soviet Alliance that went into effect at the end of March. As a result Hitler pushed ahead with the Pact in the hope of securing an Anglo-German alliance as a result.
The Pact didn’t result in Hitler’s desired alliance with Britain, but did later expand to include Italy. Mussolini’s decision to join with Germany and Japan on the 6th November 1937, two years after the collapse of the Stresa Front with France and Britain, led to the formation of what was to become known as the Axis Alliance.
The Anti-Comintern Pact specifically stated that the signatories would not make any political treaties with the Soviet Union. However, on the 23rd August 1939, Germany signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact, also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. This caused a rift with Japan, but the relationship began to heal following the later Tripartite Pact in September 1940.
German pop duo Milli Vanilli were stripped of the Grammy Award for Best New Artist after it emerged that they did not sing any of the vocals on their debut album.
Milli Vanilli was founded by German record producer and songwriter Frank Farian in 1988. He had previously created the disco-pop group Boney M., for whom he provided all the male recorded vocals. This was despite another man, Bobby Farrell, being the male ‘face’ of the band during live performances.
In the late 1980s Farian began to record a number of songs for a new album, using session musicians and vocalists. Having decided that the vocalists did not have a marketable image, Farian recruited two good-looking male dancers to lip-sync to the tracks. Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan later claimed that they were “trapped” by the contract they had signed with Farian.
The group’s debut album, All or Nothing, was released in Europe in November 1988 and was followed by an American release, Girl You Know It’s True, four months later. Unlike the European release the American packaging explicitly stated that Morven and Pilatus were the vocalists. During a live performance for MTV that summer, however, the public witnessed a key sign of lip-syncing when the backing track began to skip and repeat part of a vocal line over and over again.
In December one of the vocalists on the recordings, Charles Shaw, revealed his involvement to a reporter. Despite a rumoured $150,000 payment by Farian to retract the claim, rumours about lip-syncing only continued. On 12 November 1990 Farian finally admitted that Morvan and Pilatus did not sing Milli Vanilli’s songs. Just four days later the group’s Grammy Award was withdrawn.
On the 11th November 1918, fighting on the First World War’s Western Front ended when representatives from the Allies and Germany signed the Armistice of Compiègne. Named after the location in which it was signed, the armistice was agreed at around 5:00 a.m. in a railway carriage that was part of Allied supreme commander Ferdinand Foch’s private train. Designed to come into effect at 11:00 a.m. Paris time, the armistice was extended three times before the Treaty of Versailles finally came into force on the 10th January 1920.
President Woodrow Wilson of the USA had outlined his war aims in the Fourteen Points that he announced in a speech in January 1918. These provided a framework for peace, and were a key factor in encouraging Germany to enter negotiations.
By the end of September, the German High Command had realised that the German cause on the Western Front was doomed. The Kaiser was informed of the situation on the 29th September, and by the 5th October the German government had contacted President Wilson of the United States to begin preparations for negotiating an armistice. However, the two sides didn’t come together until the 8th November because Britain, France and Italy were unwilling to enter discussing based on the 14 Points. By this point the German Revolution was about to result in the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
The negotiation wasn’t really a negotiation: the German delegation was presented with the terms and had no option but to sign. The railway carriage in which they did so was later used by Hitler for France’s surrender to Nazi Germany in 1940.
In the evening of the 9th November 1989, the East German government opened the Berlin Wall after central committee spokesman Guenter Schabowski mistakenly announced that GDR citizens could cross into West Berlin with immediate effect. Surprised border guards, who had been given no information about the new rules, were overwhelmed by the appearance of thousands of East Germans who wanted to cross. Although the border remained closed for around three hours, by 11pm the checkpoint at Bornholmer Strasse had been opened. Others followed soon after.
Communist Hungary had opened its Austrian border in September, which had encouraged East Germans to push for reform in their own country. Eventually, the weekly ‘Monday protests’ that attracted hundreds of thousands of people forced the government to prepare the new travel policy.
Although the new policy had been agreed by the Politburo on the afternoon of the 9th November, their intention was to implement the policy the next day so that border guards could be briefed and crossings managed in a controlled manner. However, Schabowski had not been at the Politburo meeting and so was only able to base his announcement on notes from a piece of paper handed to him shortly before the press conference. This explains his mistake over the timing of its introduction.
The announcement led huge crowds to begin gathering at the checkpoints, with thousands pouring through the border after the guards finally relented. Ironically, West Berliners still had to have a visa in order to cross to the East. Therefore, for a few weeks after the Wall was opened, East Berliners actually had greater freedom of movement than Westerners.