The German “Day of Fate”

When it comes to German history, November 9 is a date like no other.

It’s a day packed with four colossal events from the twentieth century that have gotten people to refer to today as Germany’s “day of fate.”

In with the new and out with old: Saturday, November 9, 1918

Kaiser Wilhelm II

With the German Imperial Army on the brink of defeat at the end of WWI – and with political and social revolutionary forces sweeping through the country, Prussian King and German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II, was advised and urged to abdicate from his throne. In part, this was largely a symbolic gesture of compliance to show the Allied nations that Germany was fully committed to setting up a democratic system – as outlined in US President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points – in the hope that the country would receive a fair treatment at the forthcoming peace conference at Versailles.

With the German Empire shaking apart and monarchies crumbling by the day, word got out that communist leader Karl Liebknecht was going to pronounce a communist republic. To prevent this, the Social Democratic leader, Phillip Scheidemann, made his way to the west windows of the Reichstag in Berlin and announced the birth of a democratic republic by shouting, “Long live the German republic!”

The seeds of what would become known as the Weimar Republic – Germany’s first attempt at a democracy – had just been planted, and centuries of history of numerous German monarchies had come to an end.

Arguably human history’s most evil villain steps onto the world stage: Friday, November 9, 1923

With economic instability and political chaos riddling Germany’s young democracy, Adolf Hitler and his cronies from the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP or Nazis) – along with the respected WWI General Erich Ludendorff – staged a putsch in Munich on the night of November 8, 1923. Inspired by Benito Mussolini’s successful march on Rome in 1922, the idea was to seize control of the Bavarian government and make a march on Berlin to establish an authoritarian dictatorship under Hitler and the Nazis.

Hitler and Ludendorff before their trial begins

Unfortunately for Hitler, the putsch was haphazardly planned as he’d failed to guarantee the support of the police and the army before it began; and to add insult to injury, the stubborn old Ludendorff was late in turning up for the putsch, which allowed the Bavarian Minister President Gustav Ritter von Kahr to eventually make a quick phone call to Bavaria’s reserve army to confront the Nazis.

As soon as Hitler’s forces finally began marching through the streets in the early morning hours of November 9, 1923, Bavaria’s reserve army squashed the uprising in a matter of minutes. Hitler was quickly arrested two days later and charged with high treason against the German government.

At his trial a few months later, Hitler took advantage of exploiting this opportunity as a propaganda platform – and was astonishingly allowed by a group of sympathetic conservative judges – to use his inexplicably gifted oratory skills to turn his trial into a political showcase. Among his rambling, he would ultimately highlight his desire to take back what had been taken from Germany after WWI and make it clear that his ultimate (racial) goal was to protect and defend the purity of the German people.

Despite the fact that the judges found him guilty – issuing a 5 year prison sentence – they also awarded him the possibility of parole after 9 months, which he was easily granted just before Christmas of 1924.

This so-called “Beer Hall Putsch” of November 8/9 1923 did two things for Hitler. First, it taught him an important lesson: One cannot take control of government by force; rather, he needs to democratically come into power and then he can destroy through politics. Second, the political circus and eloquent ranting at his trial got his name in newspapers outside the borders of Munich which permeated from the Bavarian capital all the way up to the shores of the Baltic and North seas.

Alas, within a decade of the Beer Hall Putsch, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany.

The National Socialist ideology radicalizes: Wednesday, November 9, 1938

Ever since the Nazis came to power in 1933, Jews throughout Germany had been made to feel like second class citizens.

First it began with an increasing amount of verbal harassment and physical violence.

This culminated into a boycott of Jewish goods and businesses, as the harassment and violence continued.

Pretty soon, Jews were stripped of their German citizenship and their assets were seized.

In short, the Nazis were hoping that Germany’s Jews would just simply ‘take a hint’ and leave Germany.

Finally, the bottom fell out on November 9, 1938 when Nazi thugs torched over 4,500 synagogues throughout Germany, and destructively vandalized Jewish owned shops and businesses in what became known as “Kristallnacht” or the “Night of Broken Glass” or “November Pogrom in Germany.”

Moreover, around an estimated 30,000 Jews were viciously rounded up and sent off to concentration camps, with around a 100 alone being murdered on that infamous night.

On this tragic day – 80 years ago today – Nazi anti-Semitism transitions from ‘legal’ persecution to a continual wave of violent attacks and deportations; and it would only be a matter of time before it resulted in a murderous conclusion on a scale of unprecedented proportions.

An innocuous blunder: Thursday, November 9, 1989

The times were changing in East Germany in the fall of 1989.

The East German people themselves had been courageously putting an enormous amount of pressure on the East German government to relax its travel restrictions and the leaders of the regime knew that some sort of change was quickly needed.

At a live press conference that included the attendance of journalists from around the world, on the evening of Thursday, November 9, 1989 an East German bureaucrat and spokesman named Guenter Schabowski read the minutes of a high profile meeting that took place earlier in the day.

Towards the end of his minutes in hand, Schabowski read out loud that there had been extensive discussion in that morning’s meeting that would allow East Germans to leave East Germany on visa.

Suddenly he was asked when this would take effect.

Given the fact that he wasn’t at that morning’s meeting – thus having no idea when exactly it would – he just hastily paged through his notes and quickly said, “Ab sofort” (immediately).
Through the help of the West Berlin media playing this blunder over and over on the radio waves shortly thereafter, word spread like a wild fire and it ultimately resulted in sending thousands of East Germans towards the East Berlin and West Berlin crossing points, where baffled guards eventually let them through and thus culminating into the “Fall of the Berlin Wall.” Yet, celebrations on November 9 have long been shunned due to the troublesome events that are mentioned above.

The “day of fate” or “Schicksalstag” as it’s said here in Germany is indeed a tumultuous date in the country’s history with events that have directly or indirectly affected the lives of millions of people throughout the world.

Possibly The Most Haunted Place in Berlin

Halloween in the Hauptstadt: Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Spandau Citadel: Built from 1559-1594 on a natural island formed by the juncture of the Spree River and Havel River

Today is Halloween and in a city with a past as tumultuous as Berlin’s, people often wonder where the haunted places and spookiest corners around the German capital are.

The Citadel in Spandau is an old 16th century fortress which some sentimental Berliners might tell you is still haunted by the “Weiße Frau (white lady) of Hohenzollern” today.

Years before Berlin became a royal and eventually an imperial capital, it served as the official seat of the Margraviate of Brandenburg – a major principality of the Holy Roman Empire – after the House of Hohenzollern took over as prince-electors in Berlin from 1417 onward.

Joachim II Hector of Brandenburg served as prince-elector from 1535-1571. He was a robust leader who was concerned about the interests of his principality and was extremely generous to his servants.

Joachim II Hector – Prince Elector of the Holy Roman Empire from the Margraviate of Brandenburg (1535-1571)

Not so particularly kind to his wife, however.

In the same year that he became prince-elector, he married a lady from Poland named Hedwig. In 1549 she was involved in a tragic accident, severely injuring her abdomen and making it very difficult for her to walk. Joachim II consequently decided to have a relationship with a lady named Anna Sydow, who would eventually live in the Grunewald hunting lodge (which Joachim II had built) west of Berlin and gave birth to two of the Elector’s children there.

Ten years before Joachim II died, he made his son, Johann Georg, promise him to protect his beloved mistress, Anna Sydow, long after he was gone. But as soon as Johann Georg came to the throne in 1571, he went against his father’s wishes and had her immediately arrested and taken to the Spandau Citadel where she was imprisoned until her death in 1575.

“The Weiße Frau” Anna Sydow haunting the halls of the Citadel

Just days before Johann Georg passed away in 1598, he supposedly saw her spirit appear to him as a “Weiße Frau” who would subsequently return to haunt the halls of the Spandau Citadel in the years thereafter.

But finally in 1709, while the Berlin City Palace was being reconstructed, the skeleton assumed to be Anna Sydow’s was found. It was then given a proper burial with the hope that the Spandau Citadel would no longer be haunted.

Yet according to another legend, Anna Sydow was walled in alive at the Grunewald hunting lodge, which means that the skeleton assumed to be hers in 1709 could very well have been the remains of someone else.

Either way, if you happen to visit the Spandau Citadel in the future, be sure to keep your eyes open for the Weiße Frau who could still be haunting the fortress’ halls today.

Happy Halloween from the Berlin Guides Association!

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The Berlin Guides Association is comprised of professional, expert guides working in Berlin, throughout Germany and across Europe. Our passion is sharing our knowledge of German history and culture with visitors to Berlin and from around the world. We are Berlin’s official tour guide association.
Visit our website for more information and to check out our tour page: https://berlinguidesassociation.com/tours

Berlin Guides Association September Jazz Tour

September’s BBS Excursion: Exploring Berlin’s Jazz History

Last week one of our wonderful guides, Anja Gellenkamp, led a group of two dozen eager explorers through the streets of Berlin-Mitte to uncover several forgotten entertainment venues that once defined Berlin’s heady Jazz scene of the 1920s and 30s.

As opposed to the more raucous American styles to have been found in places like New York and Chicago, Berlin-Mitte was renowned for its more conservative – watered-down – version of ‘Jass’ – so-called ‘Berliner Melange’. Equally, the windy, blues-jazz that could’ve been found in smoke-filled bars up and down the Mississippi River was always a long way from Berlin’s Spree River!

Many Berliners, however, were fascinated by American jazz during the Weimar Republic because Jazz from America meant modern, at a time when Germany was on the front lines of a political and societal revolution following WWI. If Berlin didn’t quite have the exact same noises and rhythms as New Orleans, Kansas City, or Chicago, it didn’t really matter at the end of the day. Jazz was modern, it was exciting and Berliners enjoyed it with as much empathy as those jazz enthusiasts on the other side of the Atlantic did.

One of the ‘forgotten venues’ our group found was the Weisse Maus – pictured now as the Quartier 205 shopping mall. Once home to famous Weimar era dancer Anita Berber and an extreme version of Schadenfreude Theatre where visitors would be invited on stage to embarrass themselves with unusual acts.

V-J Day: Victory in Japan – Sunday, September 2, 1945

The highly anticipated ‘unconditional surrender’ is finally signed by the Government of Japan: Today, 73 years ago: Sunday, September 2, 1945 on the USS Missouri in the Tokyo Bay.

Aboard the deck of the ship named after President Truman’s beloved home state – the USS Missouri – Japanese officials arrived to sign the surrender documents that would finally and officially bring World War II to a close.

The scene surrounding this ceremony in Tokyo Bay was awe-striking.

With a fleet of navy ships anchored in the Bay, while American flags rippled in the wind, the colossal figure that was General Douglas MacArthur conspicuously appeared aboard the USS Missouri.

Today, it might be hard for us to understand the aura surrounding General MacArthur at that time. Called to active duty in the U.S. Army as major general, and named as the commander of U.S. Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) as early as July 1941, Americans would collectively come to see him as a kind of God – an infallible God – who had averted failure on several occasions and led successful campaigns – primarily in the Philippines – all the way up until the end of WWII in the Pacific.

The General only stood around 5 feet 9 inches tall, but many have said that – if you’d stood in his presence – it would’ve felt as if he were standing around 6 feet 6 inches tall. And he had all the props: The open collar shirt, the sun glasses, the crunched hat, and pipe. Furthermore, he took unclear directives and interpreted them in his own way. General Douglas MacArthur was the modern day ‘American Caesar.’

As the ‘American Caesar’ stood on the Missouri’s deck monitoring the proceedings, his face was so expressionless that he looked as though he was – as historian A.J. Baime would say – “(already) a bust that would sit in a museum.”

Finally, after it’d been proclaimed by President Roosevelt in 1943, reconfirmed by President Truman at Potsdam in the summer of 1945, slightly revised in the second week of August 1945, and finally ‘agreed to be accepted’ on August 14, 1945, unconditional surrender was a signature away.

The Japanese government (on behalf of the Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mamoru Shigemitsu – and on behalf of the Japanese armed forces, Yoshijiro Umezu) officially accepted the Potsdam Declaration by signing the highly anticipated unconditional surrender on this day: Sunday, September 2, 1945.

World War II was now over. Victory in Japan – or V-J Day – could officially be celebrated, and General Douglas MacArthur had now become the supreme ruler of  80 million people in Japan.

 

 

Long Live the Berlin Eckkneipe

“The most beautiful place is always in the bar (Der schönste Platz ist immer an der Theke),” as Toni Steingass, the German singer and song writer, sang in 1950.

The Eckkneipe classic: “Bump & a Beer”

There’s a certain kind of bar in Berlin that offers coziness and an undeniable sense of content.

Whereas Vienna has its coffee houses, London its pubs, Paris its Bistros, and Barcelona its Bodegas, Berlin has its Eckkneipen (corner bars) which have been synonymous with an unmistakable popular way of life that’s rooted in the city’s historical development.

Toward the end of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution transformed Berlin into an economic powerhouse and the city’s size expanded dramatically. Additional suburbs began to develop as the population continued to increase, and Berlin thus became a largely working-class city.

Photo of a Berlin Eckkneipe taken around 1900

Despite the city’s initial efforts to increase its housing, workers often lived in dark, damp, poorly heated and ventilated dwellings that soon became the breeding grounds for rampant disease, violence, and crime.

It was absolute misery for several of Berlin’s new working-class.

After putting in an exhausting and physically demanding 12-hour shift, one could rarely relax in such a horrendous place at the end of the day.

Therefore, to unwind and to avoid the misery at home, workers gathered for a bump and a beer (a glass of beer and a shot of hard liquor) at the nearest Eckkeneipe where they could relax – as if they were at home – and wash down their hopeless fate with other like-minded people.

Eventually, living conditions would improve and most people wouldn’t have to rely on their local Eckkeneipe to find solace after a long day’s work  (unless if they were deliberately trying to avoid a particular person at home!). Yet, the Berlin Eckkeneipe had given its patrons a sense of belonging to a community – a community in which everybody had an identity among each other in a very large and overcrowded city.

Today’s new wave of young faces that frequent Berlin’s Eckkneipen

By 1931, the renown German author, Erich Kästner, supposedly counted 20,100 Eckkeneipen throughout Berlin.

Today there are probably around 2,500 Eckkeneipen throughout the German capital.  Because of the city’s booming real estate market and the fact that former undesired neighborhoods have now become trendy hangouts among a new age of residents in Berlin, there’s been a dramatic change in the demographics of those who visit an Eckkeneipe today. A bunch of older folks sitting on barstools, drinking as much as they can and smoking like chimnies have now become a dying breed. There’s now a whole new demographic of people who just want cheap beer, a chance to play darts or pool, and blast Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” on the jukebox.

Bienenkorb Eckkneipe
Hermannstraße – Neukölln

Yet, “Long Live the Berlin Eckkeneipe” means that, despite our changing world, tradition and behavior together don’t change. Today when you enter the front door, it’s customary to say “Hallo” or “Guten Tag” to everyone with whom you make eye contact because most regulars who frequent an Eckkneipe simply expect a proper hello from each patron who walks in.

Times may have changed, but tradition doesn’t.

Head to an Eckknesipe while you’re in Berlin. Usually, there’s just one person running the bar, so don’t grow impatient if it takes a minute or two for him or her to get to you. It’s also worth mentioning that there’s a special art when it comes to pouring an Eckkeneipe beer, so be patient after you’ve ordered.

Feel free to strike up a conversation with the person nearest to you because remember, it’s all about feeling content and relaxed as if you were at home.

 

 

 

 

Frederick The Great Dies: On This Day – August 17, 1786

The historic Berlin and Potsdam based House of Hohenzollern produced nine kings who ruled the Kingdom of Prussia, and three emperors – who carried the post-1871 title ‘German Emperor’ – from 1701-1918.

This dynasty played a pivotal and extremely influential role when it came to shaping the politics and history of central Europe for over two centuries.

Every Prussian King or German Emperor was either named Friedrich or Wilhelm; or together, Friedrich-Wilhelm (obviously this family lacked a ‘how to name your baby’ book in those days).

But these two names would eventually resonate with the times and go on to be synonymous with the word ‘Prussia.’

Without a doubt, Prussia’s most significant ruler sat on the throne for 46 years from 1740-1786, ingeniously using Prussia’s army to bring large territorial gains to its kingdom and to mold Prussia into a European powerhouse by the time he passed away #OTD, August 17, 1786.

His name was Friedrich II (Frederick II). But history now commonly refers to him as “Frederick the Great.”

Born in 1712, he was raised under strict military discipline and was dominated by the overbearing, aggressive, and decidedly obnoxious personality of his father – the “Soldier King” – Friedrich Wilhelm I, who had no sympathy for Frederick’s sensitive character or his musical and intellectual pursuits as a young boy.

In 1730, after the young Fredrick had had enough of his dad’s physical and psychological abuse, he tried to escape the Kingdom with a dear friend of his. Unfortunately for Frederick, he was quickly caught, imprisoned, and forced to watch his friend be beheaded

To save his own life, he reconciled with his dad, the King, and obeyed his orders to marry a lady named Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Bevern (whom his dad had chosen for him), and moved 40 miles north of Berlin to the city of Neuruppin where he was able to take command of his own regiment.

Upon taking the throne in 1740, Frederick the Great claimed Silesia (current-day southwest Poland) from Austria. The cause for Frederick the Great’s claim to this area did not prevail for many years and it would subsequently cost him three exhausting wars: The First and Second Silesian Wars in 1740-1742 and 1744-1745, respectively, and then the so-called “Seven Years’ War” from 1756-1763

In the end and after all that mess, the result was that he’d brilliantly and successfully turned Prussia into one of the most powerful kingdoms in Europe, and had ultimately laid the foundations of Prussian imperialism which would be achieved less than a century later in 1871.

Frederick, the enlightened ruler, who preferred to see himself as the “first servant of the state,” built his charming Sanssouci Palace on a terrace of vineyards in Potsdam in 1747. Here, he passionately played his flute, collected art, and debated philosophy with prominent guests like the writer and philosopher Voltaire.

Yet, it was here at his beloved Sanssouci that “Old Fritz” – as he was commonly referred to as later on in life – passed away at the age of 74 – 232 years ago today.

Contrary to his will, his mortal remains were buried until 1944 in the Garrison Church in Potsdam. After a tumultuous odyssey during WWII, his coffin was laid to rest at the Hohenzollern Castle in southwest Germany for nearly forty years.

Finally, on the 205th anniversary of his death #OTD, August 17, 1991, his wish had finally been granted, and his coffin was laid to rest in the crypt on the terrace at Sanssouci that had been made for this purpose during his lifetime.

With potatoes normally decorating his grave (“Der preußische Kartoffelkönig” or “Potato King” was one of several nicknames he gained over the years for his faith in the humble vegetable that he thought his farmers should concentrate on growing), he now rests in peace alongside his beloved greyhounds at Sanssouci.

Japan Accepts the Unconditional Surrender – WWII Is Over: On this day – Tuesday, August 14, 1945

Tuesday, August 14, 1945

Three full days had passed since the United States, United Kingdom, China, and the Soviet Union had jointly submitted their formal reply to Japan’s terms of unconditional surrender that they had issued on August 10th (see our blog post from August 10, 2018).

Finally, at 6:10 PM on this day 73 years ago, Secretary of State Jimmy Byrnes received a message from the State Department of Switzerland. It was what the world had been waiting for: Japan’s acceptance of the terms of surrender.

Secretary Byrnes then rushed to the White House to deliver the document to President Truman.

Just before 7:00 PM, newsmen pushed into Truman’s office to listen in on what the President was about to say. Indeed, there was a lot of excitement in the air. World War II had killed tens of millions of soldiers and civilians; it was the worst catastrophe that had ever struck the human race. It was now over – and everyone crammed into the Oval Office knew that the right side had won.

Klieg lights nearly blinded the President as he stood up from behind his desk, holding the document in his right hand.

All the top aides, advisers, and heads of his administration sat or stood around him. Even his beloved wife, Bess, was seated just a few feet away.

Truman looked as if he had just emerged from a bandbox. His double-breasted navy blue suit was neat and pressed – his style was immaculate for such a moment.

“All in!” a Secret Service man announced.

Truman glanced at the clock.

At exactly 7:00 PM, with his shoulders squared, he began reading slowly and clearly from the document in his right hand.

“I have received this afternoon a message from the Japanese government,” the President announced. “I deem this reply a full acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration which specifies the unconditional surrender of Japan.”

He went on to announce General Douglas MacArthur’s role as supreme allied commander over Japan, and that the proclamation of VJ-day (Victory in Japan) would have to wait until the formal signing of the unconditional surrender.

In any event, World War II was now essentially over.

The hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers who were preparing to go to Japan to engage in man-to-man combat could now breathe a sigh of relief.

As was reported in the papers the next day, one jubilant soldier in Washington DC flung his arms around a civilian shouting, “We’re all civilians now!”

 

 

 

Bibliography

Baime, Albert J. (2017). The Accidental President. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-544-61734-6

McCullough, David (1992). Truman. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-86920-5

Revising Unconditional Surrender: The day after the tragic bombing of Nagasaki: 10 August 1945

Friday, August 10, 1945

Japanese Emperor Hirohito

At 7:33AM in Japan, monitors recorded the following broadcast over Radio Tokyo:

“The Japanese Government today addressed the following communication to the Swiss and Swedish governments respectively for transmission to the United States, Great Britain, China, and the Soviet Union…The Japanese Government is ready to accept the terms enumerated in the joint declaration which was issued at Potsdam, July 26, 1945, by the Heads of Government of the United States, Great Britain, and China, and later subscribed by the Soviet Government, with the understanding that said declaration does not comprise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a sovereign ruler. The Japanese Government hopes sincerely that this understanding is warranted and desires keenly that an explicit indication to that effect will be speedily forthcoming.”

What the Japanese appeared to be offering was not unconditional surrender. As so many advisers in President Truman’s inner circle had predicted, it was indeed the fate of Japan’s emperor that was the ultimate question that separated war from peace.

At 9:00AM Washington time, Truman sat down with the heads of the most important positions in his administration: Admiral Leahy (Chief of Staff), Jimmy Byrnes (Secretary of State), Henry Stimson (Secretary of War), and James Forrestal (Secretary of Defense). He went around the room and asked each man for his opinion on what to do next.

United States Secretary of State James F. Byrnes

Leahy and Stimson didn’t have a problem with Japan’s wanting to keep their emperor. If anything, they believed that he would be useful when it came to inspiring peace among the Japanese people after WWII.

Jimmy Byrnes, however, adamantly refused. He wanted nothing less than unconditional surrender. It was the policy that Roosevelt and Churchill had agreed to at the Casablanca Conference in January of 1943 and at the Cairo Conference in November 1943. Furthermore, he quickly reminded the President that unconditional surrender was once again reconfirmed at the Potsdam Conference just two weeks before.

“Why should we now go further than we were willing to go at Potsdam,” Byrnes said at that meeting. “And that was when we had no atomic bomb and Russia was not in the war (with Japan).”

Truman then asked to see the Potsdam Declaration one more time.

While the President was reviewing it, James Forrestal spoke up and probably brought forth the wisest plan of action: “Why don’t we suggest a reply in which the Allies could accept Japan’s terms, if these terms were spelled out further so that the Potsdam terms could be clearly accomplished?”

That was to say, the emperor could remain if he surrendered unconditionally.

United States Secretary of Defense James Forrestal whose revision of the words of unconditional surrender would help bring WWII to an end on paper.

This appealed to the President and he agreed. President Truman had gone against his Secretary of State. He decided, as he recorded in his diary, that if the Japanese wanted to keep their emperor, then “we’d tell ’em how to keep him.”

Jimmy Byrnes then got to work on the reply. It would eventually state that the Emperor would remain but “subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers.” In other words, the reply attempted to satisfy all those Americans who demanded unconditional surrender, while allowing the Japanese the right to retain their emperor; and thus, for peace to be achieved.

And the new “Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers” – to whom the Japanese emperor would now have to answer – would be the extremely popular general, Douglas MacArthur.

If it wasn’t unconditional surrender, it was something very close to it.

Now the President needed the official approval of the two other countries that jointly issued the Potsdam Declaration, China and Great Britain, as well as the Soviets who were now at war with Japan.

Prime Minister Attlee cabled his approval that evening (Churchill also called the American embassy in London to express his approval), but the Australians were adamantly opposed. “The Emperor should have no immunity from responsibility for Japan’s acts of aggression…Unless the system goes, the Japanese will remain unchanged and recrudescence of aggression in the Pacific will only be postponed to a later generation,” said the Australians, who had been excluded from Potsdam and who had fought long and suffered greatly in the war with Japan.

The Soviet Union’s assault on Manchuria in the initial days of its invasion in August 1945.

The Chinese cabled their agreement the next morning (Saturday, August 11), as did the Australians, but reluctantly.

The Soviets, however, were stalling. They appeared to be doing this deliberately in the hopes of having some say in the control of Japan and to drive farther into Manchuria (where Soviet troops had already arrived days before), but Washington made it crystal clear that they would not agree to any Soviet claim in Japan. Eventually, Stalin also agreed.

A formal reply, with the approval of the four nations at war with Japan, was now transmitted to Tokyo.

The wait for Japan to accept these somewhat revised terms of unconditional surrender would now begin.

Bibliography

Baime, Albert J. (2017). The Accidental President. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-544-61734-6

McCullough, David (1992). Truman. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-86920-5

On This Day: August 9, 1945. The United States drops a second atomic bomb on the Japanese seaport of Nagasaki

President Truman addressing the world after the first atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

Today we take a look back on the events surrounding the United States’ decision to release a tragic second atomic bomb on the Japanese seaport of Nagasaki on this day 73 years ago: August 9, 1945.

If you recall from our blog that chronicled the Potsdam Conference on July 26, 1945, the issuing of the Potsdam Declaration  by the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the President of China, had called upon the Government of Japan to accept the “unconditional surrender of all its armed forces.”
Japan’s alternative if it didn’t: “Prompt and utter destruction,” were the words used in the Potsdam Declaration.
By this point the United States armed forces had experienced some of the bloodiest fighting of WWII, particularly during the battle of Okinawa: Over 10,000 Americans had been killed and another 27,000 wounded. And entrenched in the caves and jungles of the island nation, more than 100,000 Japanese were killed or burned to death rather than accept the unconditional surrender.
And still the Japanese fought on.
As a result, President Truman had agreed to plans at the end of June for an invasion of the Japanese home islands to take place in early November; and if the invasion had gone through, hundreds of thousands of American soldiers returning from Europe would have soon headed off to the Pacific to face the Japanese in man to man total combat.
The Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall in utter ruins in the fall of 1945.

Then, on July 16, 1945, while President Truman and Prime Minister Churchill were touring a devastated Berlin just a little over a month after the German high command had signed the unconditional surrender that brought WWII in Europe to an official end, the first ever atomic bomb had been born just 95 miles north of Albuquerque in New Mexico.

While weighing the options of whether or not to use the weapon, President Truman recorded in his diary at Potsdam: “I asked General Marshall (George C.) what it would cost in lives to land on the Tokyo plain and other places in Japan. It was his opinion that such an invasion would cost at a minimum a quarter of a million American casualties…” Interestingly, however, when it came to what he thought about the atomic bomb, Marshall would add, “after long and careful thought, I did not like the weapon.”
On Friday, July 27, 1945, Japanese Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki said at a press conference that he’d “kill (the Potsdam Declaration) with silence,” as it was “nothing but a rehash of old proposals and as such, beneath contempt.” In other words, the Government of Japan had rejected the Potsdam Declaration.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, serves as a memorial to the upwards of 80,000 people killed instantly in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

Years later, some would argue that Japan could’ve been forced to surrender without the bomb.

Some would argue that the Allies should’ve just blockaded the Japanese island to force them to surrender.
Some argued that the Allies could’ve warned the Japanese with a demonstration bomb.
Some would argue that the United States should’ve just simply lightened up on ‘unconditional surrender’ and allowed the Japanese to fully and uncompromisingly keep their emperor.
President Truman would later say, “In order to end the War without invading Japan, the Bomb had to be used.”
On Monday, August 6, 1945, the most terrible weapon ever developed in human history was dropped on the densely populated Japanese city of Hiroshima. A blast equivalent to the power of 20,000 tons of TNT reduced 4 square miles of the city to ruins.
“Some of our scientists say that the area in Hiroshima will be uninhabitable for many years because the bomb explosion had made the ground radioactive and destructive of animal life,” recorded President Truman’s Chief of Staff, William Leahy, after the release of the bomb, which instantly killed upwards of 80,00 men, women, and children and an additional tens of thousands of people as a result of radiation sickness in the days and years to come.
Later on that day, President Truman issued a statement to the Government of Japan and to the rest of the world:
“What has been done is the greatest achievement of organized science in history. It was done under high pressure and without failure. We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war.

It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth. Behind this air attack will follow sea and land forces in such numbers and power as they have not yet seen and with the fighting skill of which they are already well aware.”

The last page of the Potsdam Declaration of July 26, 1945 issued just outside Berlin at Potsdam, Germany.
Two days later, the Russians declared war on Japan, but yet there was still no word of surrender from the Japanese.
Sadly, on this day 73 years ago at 11:00AM a second atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese seaport of Nagasaki. In 1/10 of one-millionth of a second the city was utterly annihilated, instantly killing upwards of another 40,000 men, women and children and an additional tens of thousands over the next several years.
Following the bombing of Nagasaki, President Truman took the authority to use the atomic bomb (there was still one more ready to use) away from the United States military and placed it once again in his own hands.
The following morning on August 10, 1945 in Japan, monitors recorded a broadcast over Radio Tokyo.
Check back tomorrow as we chronicle the final days of the Second World War.

Bibliography

Baime, Albert J. (2017). The Accidental President. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-544-61734-6

McCullough, David (1992). Truman. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-86920-5

Potsdam Conference: July 17 – August 2, 1945: FINAL SESSION

Wednesday night, August 1 – early Thursday morning, August 2, 1945 at Potsdam, Germany

The Big Three at the end of the Potsdam Conference: Front row (Left to Right) Prime Minister Attlee, President Truman, Generalissimo Stalin. Back row: Admiral Leahy, Foreign Minister Bevin, Secretary of State Byrnes, Foreign Minister Molotov.

“We will take up the report of the Protocol Committee,” President Truman announced as he opened the thirteenth and final plenary session of the Potsdam Conference at 10:40 PM.

All three delegations were prepared to sign off on the final wordings of the Potsdam communiqué – essentially a contract spelling out the few agreements the three governments had achieved.

In summary, what were some of these agreements?

First – and one of the least contentious issues – there was never an argument that Germany should be demilitarized and its Nazi war criminals be brought to justice, despite the fact that a detailed discussion and final agreement on it wouldn’t come until the very end of the Conference.

Second, one could argue that the Big Three’s establishment of the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) during the Potsdam Conference was an achievement at that time.

This body, consisting of the foreign ministers from Great Britain, France, China, the United States, and the Soviet Union, would have the immediate task and be authorized to draw up the peace treaties with Italy, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Finland.

(Yet at the Paris Conference in the spring and summer of 1946, the peace treaties produced there permitted Soviet troops to stay in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania, decidedly acknowledging Moscow’s dominant role in the area).

Council of Foreign Ministers meeting at Paris in 1946.

Third, in artfully vague language, the Big Three agreed that the Council of Foreign Ministers would also prepare a peace treaty for Germany – at an unspecified time in the future – “to be accepted by the Government of Germany when a government adequate for the purpose is established.”

For the time being, however, Germany would remain divided into four zones under Allied occupation – which was in effect, divided down the middle between East and West.

It’s unfortunate – yet not hard to see – that the Big Three nor the CFM were able to eventually agree on how a German government would be established, who might have the authority to establish it, or what kind of government it would be. Soon thereafter, Germany would consequently become a divided nation for forty years.

Fourth, when it came to the highly contentious topic of Poland – particularly its western boundary – arguments about the German-Polish border had dominated much of the Potsdam Conference. Earlier on, Churchill had tried tenaciously to keep the German border as far west as he could, but the Red Army had pushed all the way to the Oder River and western Neisse River, and so those rivers were agreed to as Poland’s western frontier.

Although Churchill later asserted that he wouldn’t have accepted the western Neisse border if he’d remained for the entire conference, the reality was that there was little that he or Truman could’ve done short of going to war since the area was occupied by Soviet – not British or American – troops.

The borders that the British and Americans ‘temporarily’ agreed to at the Potsdam Conference. They were meant to be revisited when the Council of Foreign Ministers began drafting the peace treaty for Germany. The German-Polish border at the Oder River and western Neisse River would not become permanent under international law until the German Reunification in 1990.

And as for free elections in Poland, it was agreed only that they should be held “as soon as possible,” which in reality meant the Polish issue remained unsolved.

Fifth, the British and American recognition of Poland’s western frontier – ‘for the time being’ – came as a compromise with the Soviets over German reparations: Stalin and Molotov ended up withdrawing their claim that Germany should pay a sum of $20 billion, which meant that reparations would have to come in other ways.

Ultimately, they decided that each occupying power could draw reparations primarily from its own zone of occupation with no overall limit. The Soviets also demanded 15 percent of German industrial equipment that was not needed in the Western zones. In exchange, they promised to ship food, minerals and other commodities from their zone. Stalin also negotiated an additional 10% of unneeded German industrial equipment from the Western zones without having to pay any compensation.

Through this rather complicated formula, we’ll never really know exactly how much Germany ended up paying in reparations when it was all said and done.

As it might seem as though the Soviets got the lion’s share at Potsdam, in some instances Stalin actually did not get everything that was discussed during the Conference. He badly had wanted Soviet trusteeship over Italy’s former colonies in Africa (whose topic was deferred to the United Nations), as well as a four-power control over Germany’s industrial area in the Ruhr region (where British and American troops occupied).

A caricature depicting Soviet expansion through eastern Europe that appeared in the Daily Mail in 1947.

Yet, at the end of the day, it was the Western leaders who made the biggest concessions at Potsdam. Primarily due to the fact that, even before the Potsdam Conference had begun, Stalin had been able to use his army to drive his belt of protection all the way up to 30 miles east of Berlin, use his army to set up governments sympathetic to Moscow, and consequently use his army to ensure Soviet domination of eastern Europe for the next half century.

In conclusion: When one really thinks about it, the Potsdam Conference should’ve been a time of celebration. It should’ve been the most harmonious and most hopeful of the Big Three conferences. In short, it should’ve marked the start of a new era of good feeling among the Allied powers now that their common foe, Nazi Germany, had been defeated.

Unfortunately, it didn’t turnout that way – and in practical terms, there was really no chance that it ever would. This can be realized at the very first meeting between the Soviet leader and American President on July 17th.

At that lunch, Stalin had told Truman that he wanted to cooperate with the United States in peace as in war. “But in peace, that would be more difficult…” the Soviet leader would admit, immediately filling the Little White House with tension.

And this underlying tension that was felt in the beginning remained in tact all the way to the very end.

Sometimes it resulted in outbursts like at the twelfth plenary session when Truman made a personal plea to Stalin to agree to internationalize certain waterways, which he believed would lubricate trade in political postwar Europe.

“Marshal Stalin,” Truman said, “I have accepted a number of compromises during this conference…I make a personal request now that you yield on this point.”

Truman was simply asking that this issue remain a subject for future discussion.

“Nyet!” Stalin yelled out. Then he spoke English for the first time all conference to make himself crystal clear, “No, I say no!”

Stalin and Truman with their respective delegations at the Stalin Villa in Potsdam-Babelsberg.

In a letter to his mother, Truman called the Russians the most pig-headed people he had ever encountered. He knew them to now be relentless bargainers – “forever pressing for every advantage for themselves,” as he later said – and in his diary he clearly showed that he understood the reality of the Stalin regime. It was “police government pure and simple,” he wrote. “A few top hands just take clubs, pistols and concentration camps and rule the people on the lower levels.”

Despite all the stress, frustration, rancor and serious exhaustion that came from dealing with Stalin and the Soviets, according to Truman’s biographer, David McCullough, “Still-still-Truman liked him.” Leading up to the end of the Conference he wrote to his wife, Bess, “I like Stalin. He is straightforward…” Even when he got back to Washington, he told former Vice President Henry Wallace that Stalin was a fine man who wanted to do the right thing.

Stalin was less sanguine. He would later tell Nikita Khrushchev that Truman was “worthless.” As it can be seen during the plenary sessions, Stalin had already made up his mind – even before arriving at Potsdam – that he would surrender nothing of any consequence when the bargaining began.

In short, at Potsdam, the struggle against Germany ended and the struggle over Germany began.

Possibly the most famous communiqué in the world signed on this day: August 2, 1945 just after midnight.

Of all those who sat at the negotiating table at Potsdam, Admiral Leahy – President Truman’s Chief of Staff – summed up the Conference the most tellingly:

“My general feeling about the Potsdam Conference was one of frustration. Both Stalin and Truman suffered defeats…The Soviet Union emerged at this time as the unquestioned all-powerful influence in Europe…One effective factor was a decline of the power of the British Empire…With France grappling for a stability that she had not achieved even before the war, and the threat of civil war hanging over China, it was inescapable that the only two major powers remaining in the world were the Soviet Union and the United States…”

The clock had just ticked past midnight. Stalin picked up his pen and signed the communiqué first, followed by  Truman, then Attlee.

“I declare the Berlin Conference adjourned – until our next meeting which, I hope, will be in Washington,” Truman announced.

“God willing,” Stalin replied. “The Conference, I believe, can be considered a success.”

The President then thanked the other Foreign Ministers and all those “who have helped us so much in our work” before he said, “I declare the Berlin Conference closed.”

After all the formal goodbyes had been said and wishes for good health and a safe journey said, all three leaders made his own way out of the Cecilienhof Palace with his own entourage. As for Truman and Stalin, they would never see each other in person ever again.

Interestingly, Truman would admit years later that he had been naive at Potsdam. He called himself “an innocent idealist” and referred to Stalin as the “unconscionable Russian Dictator.” Yet even then he added, “And I liked the little son-of-a-bitch.”

In any case, a new geopolitical age had been ushered in at Potsdam in the summer of 1945.

Leahy further noted in his summary of the Conference:

“Potsdam had brought into sharp world focus the struggle of two great ideas – the Anglo-Saxon democratic principles of government and the aggressive and expansionist police-state tactics of Stalinist Russia.

It was the beginning of the ‘cold war.'”

 


Bibliography

Baime, Albert J. (2017). The Accidental President. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-544-61734-6

Byrnes, James F. (1947). Speaking Frankly. New York: Harper & Brothers. ISBN 978-0-837-17480-8

McCullough, David (1992). Truman. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-86920-5

Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, The Conference of Berlin (The Potsdam Conference), 1945, Volume II. Truman Papers: VI. Minutes and Other Records of Conference proceedings. https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1945Berlinv02/comp2 [accessed 15 July – 2 August 2018].

Smyser, William R. (1999). From Yalta To Berlin: The Cold War Struggle Over Germany. New York: St. Martin’s Press. ISBN 0-312-06605-8

Truman, Harry S. (1956). Memoirs: Year of Decisions Volume 1. New York: Doubleday. https://ia601603.us.archive.org/14/items/in.ernet.dli.2015.462682/2015.462682.The-Memoirs.pdf [accessed 15 July – 2 August 2018].