History Articles

History of V-E Day: End of WWII in Europe 75 Years Ago

May 7, 2020 /
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VE_DayHISTORY OF V-E DAY

Seventy-five years ago today, World War II ended in Europe with the acceptance by the Allies of unconditional surrender from Germany on V-E Day.

Or did it?

 

May 7, 1945

Reims

SHAEF, Reims

Adolf Hitler had committed suicide in his Berlin bunker on April 30, 1945, as I describe in my article here. A week later, at 2:41 AM on May 7, the Allied General Dwight Eisenhower received the unconditional surrender of German General Alfred Jodi at Reims, France in a red brick building at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). It stipulated that hostilities were to cease at 11:01 PM the next day on May 8, 1945.

Reims Cathedral

Reims Cathedral

Reims is an old city with a history stretching back over 2 millennia and was an important eastern France city during the Roman Empire. Its Cathedral is renowned as the traditional site of the coronation of French kings going back to 496. Today, it is the gateway to the Champagne region. Along with nearby Épernay, it features many of the largest champagne houses. Years ago, I took a high-speed train ride from Paris 80 miles away to tour the Roman-built champaign caves of Reims.

Seventy-five years ago, however, the Soviets did not recognize this as the official surrender because their representative in Reims lacked the authority to sign the document. So May 7 was only recognized at the time by the British Commonwealth, the rest of the Allies recognized it as a preliminary “military” surrender.

Or did they?
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History of Cinco de Mayo

May 5, 2020 /
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History of Cinco de MayoHISTORY OF CINCO DE MAYO

Cinco de Mayo is frequently regarded as the Mexican equivalent of the United States 4th of July. This is incorrect: it is the equivalent of the “5th of May” in the Spanish language. Another misconception is that this has something to do with Mayonnaise. That too is a bum spread, as the condiment had its origin with the French, who will come into our story later. Nor does it have to do with County Mayo in Ireland, though we’ll make sure the Irish get into this story at some point. Rather, the “Battle of Cinco de Mayo,” or specifically the Battle of Puebla, occurred on May 5, 1862.

Background

JuarezPresident Benito Juarez, who had been Zapotec Indian Minister of Justice in Juan Alvarez‘ cabinet in the 1850s, entered Mexico City on January 11, 1861, and promptly expelled the Spanish minister, the papal legate, and members of the episcopate. Additionally, he took steps to enforce the decrees of 1859, dis-endowing and disestablishing the church. He could not have known then that almost a century later, “antidisestablishmentarianism” would become the longest word in the English dictionary. Although Juarez was recognized by the United States and had received both moral and military aid from the US, there were over $80,000,000 in debts at that time to Europe alone. The Mexican Congress on July 17, 1861, decreed the suspension for two years of interest payments on the external national debt, and three months later, a convention occurred between Great Britain, France, and Spain calling for joint intervention in Mexico.
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History of May the Fourth (Be With You): Star Wars Day

May 4, 2020 /
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May the fourth be with youHISTORY OF MAY THE FOURTH

May 4th or May the Fourth is a geek holiday that has gained popularity in recent years due to a popular film franchise. But where did it begin?

History

“May the Fourth” is taken from the benediction “May the Force be with you” made famous in the Star Wars film series. This pun intended holiday seems to have first been celebrated in the Toronto Underground Cinema in 2011. However, the use of this phrase predates this, going back to the day in 1979 when Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first woman prime minister was elected. The Conservative party, upon the occasion of her officially becoming Prime Minister on May 4th, took out a half-page newspaper ad in the London Evening News that said: “May the Fourth be with you, Maggie. Congratulations.”

May the fourth

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History of Hitachi: Founders Day, from 1910

May 1, 2020 /
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Hitachi InspireHISTORY OF HITACHI: FOUNDERS DAY, FROM 1910

The multinational conglomerate Hitachi, Ltd., traces its history back to Namihei Odaira, a 19th-century pioneering electrical engineer. In Japan, during the Meiji Era of the late 1800s, with the move from a feudal society to an industrialized nation-state, the country wanted to take their place among the nations of the world with modern scientific technology. Because most electrical machinery was imported into Japan from other countries, Odaira wanted to develop home-grown technology “for the advancement of Japanese industry.”

Hitachi MineIn 1906 in the Ibaraki Prefecture of the Kanto region of Japan, about 90 km from Tokyo, Odaira worked at the newly opened Hitachi Mine repairing electric machinery. He also began developing hydroelectric power plants and railways for the mine. Although the mine is now closed, during its 70-year history, it was the oldest known ore deposit and one of Japan’s richest copper mines. (more…)

History of May Day

May 1, 2020 /
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mayday 798263HISTORY OF MAY DAY

May Day is many things to many people. Etymologically, it is a homophone (same sounding word) for the international call for help. It is a corruption of the French imperative “M’aidez” meaning “Help me!” It is a holiday claimed by many.

Pagan Holiday

It is known in the pagan world as Beltane, a fertility celebration, one of the four high holidays in the pagan and neo-pagan calendar, Samhain on October 31 is another. Beltane is the day of fire commemorating Bel or Belenos, the Celtic sun god. Indeed, in the modern Irish language, Bealtaine is the name for May.

Maypole

The early Anglo-Saxons began their celebration on the eve before, feasting the end of winter and the first planting. It was a time of revelry and abandon with the selection of a “May Queen” and the ribbons of the Maypole.
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History of the Liberation of Dachau — a Personal Reflection

April 30, 2020 /
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Rainbow Division

Rainbow Division plaque, Dachau gatehouse

HISTORY OF THE LIBERATION OF DACHAU, a Personal Reflection

On April 29, 1945, 75 years ago, toward the end of World War II, the Allies captured and liberated Dachau. My father, Staff Sergeant John Petro, was one of the liberators. It was one of the few stories from The War that my father told me in full.

Three divisions were recognized as “liberators” of Dachau, who had arrived on the first day. Many came through after that. Each of the three has a plaque along the walls of the Jorhaus, the gatehouse entrance to the camp. As I concluded my modern visit to Dachau and stood there in front of the plaque for his division, the Rainbow Division, I wept.

Impact

Dachau had been the first “concentration camp,” established in March 1933 near Munich, Germany. During its 12 years of operation, over 200,000 prisoners entered its gates. At first, Dachau held only political prisoners, but over time, more groups were imprisoned there. Unlike the later camp Auschwitz, it was not a “death camp” but instead was a work camp for slave labor, initially at a munition factory.

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History of the Liberation of Dachau: Present Day. Part 3

April 29, 2020 /
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Arbeit Macht Frei HISTORY OF THE LIBERATION OF DACHAU: Present Day. Part 3

In Part 1, I discussed the Nazi Concentration Camps and Dachau. In Part 2, I talk about my father’s involvement in the liberation as part of the 42nd “Rainbow” Division and his subsequent capture of the Nazi general in charge of Munich’s anti-aircraft artillery.

Epilogue:

Almost 60 years after WWII was over, I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial in 2003. When I mentioned to the tour guides there that my father had liberated the camp, they all asked me a question. It was the same question:

“Do you have photographs?”

I sent them to the tribute website I’d created for my father, with the pictures he’d left me. I spoke to one young tour guide at Dachau, who was studying history at the local university. When I told him I had studied history at the University of California when I was his age, I asked him, “What do German people think of what happened at Dachau?” He told me:

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History of the Liberation of Dachau: April 30, 1945. Part 2

April 28, 2020 /
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Dachau Gate

Dachau Gate

HISTORY OF THE LIBERATION OF DACHAU: APRIL 30, 1945. Part 2

In Part 1, I discussed the Nazi Concentration Camps and the initial movement of US Army divisions into Dachau.

The Camp

As my father and the 42nd “Rainbow” Division moved into the Dachau Concentration Camp, of the 32,000 survivors still alive in the main camp, the largest groups included over 9,000 Polish and almost 4,000 Russians. There were 1,200 Catholic priests, the largest contingent of the 1,600 clergymen imprisoned. There were now only 2,100 Jews. Most Jews in the Dachau system were in the sub-camps. Their numbers were continually being augmented, though they were used up faster and shipped out more frequently to the extermination camps.

At Dachau, there were thousands of inmates who were dying of a typhus epidemic that had been ravaging the camp since the previous fall. Between February and April, over 13,000 prisoners died. Even in the month after liberation, 4,500 would die of typhus, malnutrition, and other diseases.

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History of the Liberation of Dachau: April 29, 1945. Part 1

April 27, 2020 /
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HISTORY OF THE LIBERATION OF DACHAU: APRIL 29, 1945. Part 1

I remember what my father had told me of his involvement in the liberation of Dachau shortly before he died 44 years ago. Some of his war buddies discovered the tribute site I’d created for him and called or emailed me to recount stories I’d not known previously, or only in part. In 2001 before HBO premiered their miniseries Band of Brothers, they were asking for historical background for their website to introduce each episode. My father’s story was featured for Episode 9 “Why We Fight” when Easy Company liberated one of the Dachau sub-camps. Over the years, scores of people have contacted me: the son of a liberated inmate had seen the pictures on the site and identified his father Stephen Ross (Rozenthal) — 14 at the time, an orphan from Poland who had survived 10 concentration camps in 5 years — as “the first striped pajama in the left foreground… your Dad saved my Dad’s life.” An 89-year old former inmate emailed me saying, “Yes for me it will be always The American Army who did it.” They’re almost all gone now but not forgotten. I’m indebted to the stories of the men of the Rainbow Division recounted in the book Dachau 29 April 1945 The Rainbow Liberation Memoirs, edited by Sam Dann.

Dachau LiberationSeventy-five years ago, on April 29, 1945, three divisions of the U.S. Army liberated Dachau Concentration Camp outside of Munich, Germany. My father, Staff Sergeant John Petro, was one of the liberators with the 42nd “Rainbow” Infantry Division of the 232nd Infantry. I have told his story elsewhere. Here is the historical background.

The 42nd Rainbow Infantry Division

The “Rainbow” Division was so named in WWI by Major Douglas MacArthur when 26 states and the District of Columbia National Guard units were combined into a single group. When he saw all the colorful state flags, he said it “resembled a rainbow across the country.”

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