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
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.
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.