June 30, 1971 – 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution Ratified

On this day in history, the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution lowered the voting age to 18, in response to arguments that those old enough to serve in the military should be able to vote on issues that would literally affect their lives.

As the U.S. House of Representatives history website relates:

Congress first lowered the voting age as part of the Voting Rights Act of 1970. The Supreme Court upheld the legislation in a 5 to 4 vote in applying the lowered voting age to federal elections only. A constitutional amendment was required to uniformly reduce the age to 18. Endorsed by Speaker Carl Albert of Oklahoma, the amendment passed the House by a vote of 401 to 19, on March 23, 1971. The state legislatures in Ohio and North Carolina were the last to approve the amendment before official ratification took effect on July 1, 1971. With the 1972 elections looming, the 26th Amendment was ratified in record time. The Richard M. Nixon administration certified it four days later on July 5.”

The Amendment added 10 million new eligible voters, increasing the overall voting pool nationally by 8 percent. In some college communities student voters had the potential to make up over one-third of the actual voting block. However, as the U.S. Census reports:

In every presidential election since 1964, young voters between the ages of 18 through 24 have consistently voted at lower rates than all other age groups, although young-adult voting rates have fluctuated from one election to another.”

Data from U.S. Census Bureau

In 2020, according to the Brookings Institution, there was a surge in young adult voter turnout: “younger age groups showed the greatest turnout increase in that election, rising by 8 points for those aged 18 to 29. In total, over half of these young adults turned out to vote.”

via Brookings Intitution

Review of “The American Plate: Culinary History in 100 Bites” by Libby H. O’Connell

This is a marvelous gem of a book by Libby O’Connell (chief historian for the History Channel, inter alia), who tells the stories behind the food and drink of America in 100 “bites.” But this is not just a culinary history; it is an excellent account of American history reflected through the lens of what we have been eating all this time, and why.

9781492603023-300

The history in this book is excellent, as is the coverage, though the book isn’t that long and is filled with recipes and anecdotes about food. You couldn’t ask for a more interesting way to learn history, although it’s all conveyed as if you are learning about it incidentally.

And what interesting things you will learn at this “feast” for the mind. It’s full of tidbits you won’t be able to resist sharing, such as the reason “American as apple pie” is a misnomer, why bourbon became so popular, the origin of the phrase “high on the hog,” the inspiration for Baked Alaska and Oysters Rockefeller, whence the name of the Tenderloin district in San Francisco, and the role the Woodstock Festival played in the popularization of granola.

Baked Alaska

Baked Alaska

In the process, you also get the basics of the history in America of Native Americans (as well as the ironically named anti-immigration “Nativists”), the Chinese who helped build the railroads, the Harlem Renaissance, women’s rights, the Great Depression, the effects of war on food supplies, the effects of inventions on food choices (refrigeration, freezing, canning, etc.) and occasional broader perspectives when applicable (such as the tendency of the Romans to serve stuffed dormice as appetizers in the section on canapés).

Not all the recipes are necessarily ones you will want to try, such as an old recipe for cooking beaver tail, but there are plenty of recipes you will be eager to test, such as Strawberry Rhubarb Pie or Southern Buttermilk Fried Chicken.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

As the author writes, a significant part of any people’s history is revealed by what is on their plates.

An excellent collection of sources and references is included in the End Notes, and has the potential to occupy your time as much as the book itself.

Evaluation: This book is fun, fascinating, and extremely informative. Highly recommended!

Rating: 5/5

Published by Sourcebooks, 2014

Review of “Gettysburg: The Last Invasion” by Allen C. Guelzo

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought during the first three days of July in 1863. In spite of its importance, it might have been just another battle site competing in memory with all the rest but for its reframing in just 272 words by Lincoln at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg that November. Subsequently, an outpouring of words on Gettysburg has described every aspect of the battle, with Allen Guelzo, Director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College, adding yet another comprehensive blow-by-blow account to the mix.

Gettysburg-The-Last-Invasion

I know many potential readers have a knee-jerk reaction to books about battles, a reaction that presumes the story will be of little or no interest to them. But really, there is so much fascinating that you find out and that is relevant to your lives! For example, for those of you who can barely manage to come up with meals to feed 2 or 4 or 6 people everyday, what if you had to feel thousands every day? Where would the food come from and what receptacles would you use for cooking? How would all of this be transported between battlefields?

Or did you ever wonder about the perils of not being able to keep hygienic for so long? There are not just the problems about which you might be aware, like disease and discomfort, but how about the fact that you couldn’t really sneak up on another army because they could smell you coming?!!!

I think I first fell in love with finding out details of military life when I read about the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar. How fun to learn that rum was added to water to disinfect it [note to self: try that at home]; that sawdust was kept on board ships to spread out on decks before battles so no one would slip on blood; and that combatants determined how old their bread was by the stages in the life cycles of the weevils and maggots it contained.

Cavalry orderly painting from 1864 by Edwin Forbes

Cavalry orderly painting from 1864 by Edwin Forbes

In a similar way, Guelzo fleshes out his story of the Battle of Gettysburg with many interesting explanations such as why there wasn’t more cavalry in use at the time, and why the new sharp-shooting rifles didn’t confer as many advantages as had been hoped. It continues to amaze me too, how difficult it was for the generals to get the under-commanders and troops to do what they were supposed to do (and for that matter, for the Presidents of the North and South to get their generals to do what they were supposed to do). I like that Guelzo adds political context to the problems faced by the armies. I also found very interesting the reactions to the commanders and soldiers to the “diversity” of the troops (by which I mean, for example, Virginians versus Georgians).

“Negroes Driven South By The Rebel Officers,” Harper’s Weekly, November 8, 1862.

“Negroes Driven South By The Rebel Officers,” Harper’s Weekly, November 8, 1862.

With respect to the diversity of Gettysburg’s population, i.e., the presence of blacks, both free and slave, Guelzo makes a point of telling their story as well, something often omitted by chroniclers of the battle. Blacks in southern Pennsylvania (most of whom were free) made a mass exodus from the area, because as the Confederates entered the state, they rounded up as many blacks as they could, including the elderly, the women, and the children, making no distinction between freeborn blacks and runaways. They didn’t care what their status was; they intended to sell them as slaves back in the markets in Richmond.

[While some 200,000 African Americans served in the Union Army and Navy during the war, there is no evidence any black soldiers fought at Gettysburg. According to John Heiser, Gettysburg National Military Park historian, “There were no black ‘combatants’ on either side at Gettysburg, only ‘noncombatants’ in support roles: ambulance and supply-wagon drivers, hospital attendants, teamsters.”]

The invasion and battle make for a compelling story. Still, unless you are very devoted (and readers of Civil War histories do tend to be a very devoted bunch), you probably don’t need to hear a passage from every surviving letter or memoir recounting the very same emotion or observation over and over. Nor might you want to know every single aspect of just one battle of the Civil War. Nevertheless, there is a need for Guelzo’s book, just as there has been a need for the many other books on the very same subject.

George Gordon Meade was appointed to command the Army of the Potomac just three days before the Battle of Gettysburg

George Gordon Meade was appointed to command the Army of the Potomac just three days before the Battle of Gettysburg

Let me explain by way of example.

On the 150th anniversary of the battle, many glossy “commemorative” magazines came out about Gettysburg. One of them, the summer 2013 issue of “The Civil War Monitor” featured “Expert Takes on Gettysburg,” posing identical questions about the battle to Allen Guelzo and to Stephen W. Sears, who came out with his book Gettysburg ten years ago, on the 140th anniversary of the fight. Each author was asked the following:

  • What was Robert E. Lee’s biggest mistake at Gettysburg?
  • Was was Lee’s best decision?
  • What was George Meade’s biggest mistake at Gettysburg?
  • Meade’s best decision?
  • Whose Gettysburg performance is most overrated?
  • Who was the battle’s unsung hero?
  • What’s the biggest myth surrounding Gettysburg?
  • Did the Battle of Gettysburg mark a turning point in the war?

If you read each author’s answers, you will get an idea about why there can never be enough historical accounts of the same thing. Wait: these two did study the same battle, didn’t they? Only on the subject of Meade do they say anything even resembling agreement. Usually, their answers differ along these lines:

What’s the biggest myth surrounding Gettysburg?

Guelzo: “That Meade won the Battle of Gettysburg. Lee lost it and lost it big!”

Sears: “That Lee lost the Battle of Gettysburg. Au contraire, Meade won Gettysburg.”

Robert E. Lee claimed full responsibility for the defeat, offering his resignation to Jefferson Davis, which Davis refused to accept.

Robert E. Lee claimed full responsibility for the defeat, offering his resignation to Jefferson Davis, which Davis refused to accept.

And don’t even ask how many casualties there were at Gettysburg; I have never, ever seen two sources come up with the same number (unless one was citing the other!) [But fyi, there were approximately 50,000 on both sides in all, which includes of course wounded, captured and missing as well as dead.]

Evaluation: This is a book probably best suited to aficionados, as the hardcover version is over 650 pages and the unabridged book on CD lasts approximately 22 and one-half hours. For those who like knowing the minutiae of Civil War battles, this book, whether in hard copy or audio, will prove entertaining. In addition to information specific to the Civil War, Guelzo adds insights from other military campaigns and on tactics in general. I’ve read that there are a few minor factual errors in this book, but nothing affecting the integrity of the book overall. Guelzo is also not innocent of preferences for some generals and not others, but really, can you find anyone who knows anything at all about the Civil War who doesn’t have an opinion on say, McClellan? [Why, yes, that was me who refused to eat at a restaurant on a Civil War Battleground because it was called McClellan’s Cafe!]

I have a couple of complaints specifically about the audio version. Each of the discs ends quite unexpectedly – one of them even stops mid-sentence, or at least, mid-clause. Also, this is a story that really requires maps, and indeed, the hardcover version by Guelzo has plenty of them. Troop positioning was pivotal before, during, and after the battle. It is a bit frustrating not to have the maps on hand while listening. On the positive side, the narrator Robertson Dean performs admirably with respect to most of the very tricky pronunciations of names of officers and places, but he does say “Gett-is-burg” instead of “Gett-ees-burg” which is how the natives pronounce it.

Evaluation: Rating: 3/5

Published unabridged on 18 compact discs by BOT: Books on Tape, an imprint of the Random House Audio Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., 2013

April 19, 1943 – Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Under the cover of World War II, Nazi Germany began a genocidal program to deal with “the Jewish problem.” As a first step, the Nazis herded Jews into small ghettos where starvation and disease could take their toll, thus lessening the workload for the extermination camps. On Yom Kippur, October 12, 1940, the Nazis announced the building of Jewish residential quarters in Warsaw. Close to 400,000 Jews (30% of the Warsaw population) were forced to occupy an area consisting of some ten streets (2.4% of the city’s area). (Warsaw’s pre-war Jewish population in 1939 was 393,950 Jews.) Jews were also deported into the ghetto from other places, and the population of the ghetto reached more than half a million people.

Beginning in the summer of 1942, the first mass deportations of Jews from the ghetto to the extermination camps began. The number of deportees averaged about 5,000-7,000 people daily, and reached a high of 13,000. At first, ghetto factory workers, Jewish police, Judenrat members, hospital workers and their families were spared, but they were also periodically subject to deportation. Only 35,000 were allowed to remain in the ghetto at one time.

Children in the Warsaw Ghetto

[Regarding the Judenrat, as the Jewish Virtual Library explains:

“As far back as 1933, Nazi policy makers had discussed establishing Jewish-led institutions to carry out anti-Jewish policies. . . . These councils of Jewish elders, (Judenrat; plural: Judenräte), were responsible for organizing the orderly deportation to the death camps, for detailing the number and occupations of the Jews in the ghettos, for distributing food and medical supplies, and for communicating the orders of the ghetto Nazi masters. . . . As ghetto life settled into a ‘routine,’ the Judenrat took on the functions of local government, providing police and fire protection, postal services, sanitation, transportation, food and fuel distribution, and housing, for example.”]

Jewish residents of the ghetto shopping in a vegetable street market.

A second wave of deportations to the Treblinka extermination camp began on January 18, 1943, during which many factory workers and hospital personnel were taken. Unexpected Jewish armed resistance, however, forced the Nazis to retreat from the ghetto after four days of deportations.

Jews who were concentrated in the Warsaw Ghetto knew that their last remnants were slated for evacuation and death on Hitler’s birthday, April 20, 1943. Thus, on April 19, 1943, some 750 Jews – ragged, starving and barely armed – began firing at Hitler’s soldiers with smuggled guns, Molotov cocktails, and hand grenades. On the fifth day of battle, they issued a proclamation to the Polish population outside the ghetto walls:

“Let it be known that every threshold in the ghetto has been and will continue to be a fortress, that we may all perish in this struggle, but we will not surrender.”

They did not inflict more than a few hundred German casualties, but diverted over 2,000 German troops for some six weeks, and inspired many other Jews to acts of resistance.

On May 8, 1943, the Germans discovered their main command post, located at Miła 18 Street. (From thence comes the name of Leon Uris’s novel about the uprising, Mila 18.) Most of the leadership and dozens of remaining fighters were killed, while others committed mass suicide by ingesting cyanide. The suppression of the uprising officially ended on May 16, 1943. Approximately 13,000 Jews were killed in the ghetto during the uprising. Of the remaining 50,000 residents, most were captured and shipped to concentration and extermination camps, in particular to Treblinka.

Hirsh Glick (1920-1944), a poet and partisan in the Vilna Ghetto, wrote the Partisan Hymn when he heard about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It became the battle hymn of the underground Jewish resistance movement. It was written in Yiddish, and is widely known by its Yiddish title, “Zog Nit Keyn Mol!” An English translation is shown below.

Never say that you are going your last way,
Though lead-filled skies above blot out the blue of day.
The hour for which we long will certainly appear.
The earth shall thunder ‘neath our tread that we are here!

From lands of green palm trees to lands all white with snow,
We are coming with our pain and with our woe,
And where’er a spurt of our blood did drop,
Our courage will again sprout from that spot.

For us the morning sun will radiate the day,
And the enemy and past will fade away,
But should the dawn delay or sunrise wait too long.
Then let all future generations sing this song.

This song was written with our blood and not with lead,
This is no song of free birds flying overhead,
But a people amid crumbling walls did stand,
They stood and sang this song with rifles held in hand.

(Translated by Elliot Palevsky)

You can see additional rare photos of Warsaw Ghetto life here.

April 14, 1865 – Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

On Tuesday, April 11, 1865, Lincoln related a recent dream to Mary and a few friends. In his dream, he heard a number of people weeping, and he wandered through the White House to find out what was going on. He got to the East Room and there met with a sobering surprise. Before him was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. He asked nearby soldiers who had died in the White House. “The president” was the answer. The soldier said “He was killed by an assassin!” At that point Lincoln awoke, and could not get back to sleep.

Three days later, Mary Lincoln arranged a theater outing. Fourteen persons turned down the Lincolns’ invitation to join them on the fateful night of April 14, 1865. Excuses ranged from prior engagements to sudden illness. General Grant and his wife Julia had been invited, but Julia reportedly said she refused to sit in a theater box with “that crazy woman,” meaning Mary Lincoln. Even the president’s son Robert declined; he had just returned from Appomattox Court House, where he was present when Lee surrendered to Grant, and he wanted to sleep. The only two persons who accepted the Lincolns’ offer were Maj. Henry R. Rathbone and his fiancee, Clara Harris, the daughter of New York Sen. Ira Harris.

Ford's Theater

Ford's Theater

Shortly after 10:00 p.m. on April 14, 1865, actor John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., and fatally shot President Abraham Lincoln. After Booth shot Lincoln, Rathbone struggled with Booth and sustained serious wounds in his neck and head. (He recovered, but eventually went insane.) As Lincoln slumped forward in his seat, Booth leapt onto the stage and escaped out the back door. The paralyzed president was immediately examined by a doctor in the audience and then carried across the street to Petersen’s Boarding House where he died early the next morning.

Lincoln’s assassination was the first presidential assassination in U.S. history.

March 4, 1786 – Abigail and Her Son John Quincy Adams on Race and Othello

Although the Adamses – John, Abigail, and John Quincy – are usually seen as enlightened for their time on the position of slavery, this does not mean they did not hold racist attitudes. In fact, racism was a common accompaniment of abolitionist sentiment, because while the idea of treating a creation of God as “property” was anathema, that didn’t mean those who opposed slavery wanted anything to do with blacks.

In 1786 Abigail went to a performance of “Othello” in London. As Wernor Sollors notes in his book Interracialism: Black-white Intermarriage in American History, Literature, and Law (Oxford University Press, 2000):

Mrs. Adams’s perceptions were too close to the era’s racial views to be dismissed as exemplifying only her unique view. She wrote to a friend that she was disturbed by “the sooty appearance of the Moor . . . . I could not separate the African color from the man, nor prevent that disgust and horror which filled my mind every time I saw him touch the gentle Desdemona; nor did I wonder that Brabantio thought some love potion or some witchcraft had been practiced to make his daughter fall in love with what she scarcely dared to look upon.”

She further admitted that, as Sollors phrases it, “[i]nability to see beyond Othello’s blackness obstructed comprehension of any deeper meaning” in the play. She later wrote however that she deeply regretted her feelings because she needed to remember that there was “something estimable” in every human being. The “liberal mind,” she reminded herself, “regards not what nation or climate it springs up in, not what color or complexion the man is.”

Abigail Adams

Her son John Quincy, who became a great champion not of blacks but against slavery, saw the play thirty years after his mother and had a similar reaction. He felt so strongly about it that he published an article on it in 1835 in the “New England Magazine,” writing:

Who can sympathize with the love of Desdemona? The great moral lesson of the tragedy of Othello is, that the black and white blood cannot be intermingled in marriage without a gross outrage upon the law of Nature; and that, in such violations, Nature will vindicate her laws…. The character takes from us so much of the sympathetic interest in her sufferings, that when Othello smothers her in bed, the terror and the pity subside immediately into the sentiment that she has her just deserts.”

In 1839 the renowned actress Fanny Kemble met John Quincy at a dinner party and she later recalled that Adams began talking to her about Desdemona and “assured me, with a most serious expression of sincere disgust, that he considered all her misfortunes as a very just judgment upon her for having married a ‘nigger.’”

He apparently was quite proud of his evaluation of Othello, observing in his diary that the fame of his article on Othello “is more tickling to my vanity than it was to be elected President of the United States.”

John Quincy Adams

February 12, 1968: Black Sanitation Workers Strike in Memphis

How did the Black Sanitation Worker Strike begin? And why did Martin Luther, King, Jr. take up this cause? This action was the last movement Martin Luther King, Jr. would lead before his untimely and tragic assassination on April 4, 1968.

The strike began over the mistreatment of sewer and sanitation workers in Memphis. At that time, Memphis sanitation workers were mostly black. Their pay was low and they could be fired (usually by white supervisors) without warning. In 1968, the average wage of these workers was about $1.70 per hour. In addition to their sanitation work, often including unpaid overtime, many worked other jobs or had to apply for welfare and public housing to keep afloat. The working conditions were appalling.

An article from The American Prospect in January, 2007, by Peter Dreier (Distinguished Professor of Politics at Occidental College), explains:

“Forty percent of the workers qualified for welfare to supplement their poverty-level salaries. They had almost no health care benefits, pensions, or vacations. They worked in filthy conditions, and lacked basic amenities like a place to eat and shower. They were required to haul leaky garbage tubs that spilled maggots and debris on them. White supervisors called them ‘boy’ and arbitrarily sent them home without pay for minor infractions that they overlooked when white workers did the same thing. The workers asked Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb and the city council to improve their working conditions, but they refused to do so.”

On February 12 of 1968, 1,300 black sanitation workers walked off their jobs, demanding that the city recognize their union, a pay increase to $2.35 an hour, overtime pay, and merit promotions without regard to race.

king_-_i_am_a_man_irisphotocollective

For the next several months, city officials refused to negotiate with the union. In private, Mayor Loeb reportedly told associates, ‘I’ll never be known as the mayor who signed a contract with a Negro union.'”

Dreier tells us:

The city used non-union workers and supervisors to pick up garbage downtown, from hospitals, and in residential areas. Even so, thousands of tons of garbage piled up. Community support for the strikers grew steadily. The NAACP endorsed the strike and sponsored all-night vigils and pickets at City Hall. On February 23, 1,500 people — strikers and their supporters — packed City Hall chambers, but the all-white city council voted to back the mayor’s refusal to recognize the union.

On several occasions, the police attacked the strikes with clubs and mace. They harassed protestors and even arrested strike leaders for jaywalking. On March 5, 117 strikers and supporters were arrested for sitting in at city hall. Six days later, hundreds of students skipped high school to participate in a march led by black ministers. Two students were arrested.”

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Local ministers invited Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Memphis to add support and he agreed. Dr. King inspired the protestors and drafted a plan to march in Memphis with the strikers on March 22. Then it snowed, and the march was re-scheduled for March 28.

Six thousand people gathered in downtown Memphis. The police moved into crowds with nightsticks, mace, tear gas, and gunfire. The police arrested 280 people. Sixty were injured. A 16-year-old boy, Larry Payne, was shot to death. The state legislature authorized a 7 p.m. curfew and 4,000 National Guardsmen moved in. The next day, 300 sanitation workers and supporters marched peacefully and silently to City Hall — escorted by five armored personnel carriers, five jeeps, three large military trucks, and dozens of Guardsmen with bayonets fixed.

29 Mar 1968, Memphis, Tennessee, USA --- National Guard bayonets block Beale Street as African-American protesters march through downtown Memphis wearing placards reading "I  A MAN.&quot. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

29 Mar 1968, Memphis, Tennessee, USA — National Guard bayonets block Beale Street as African-American protesters march through downtown Memphis wearing placards reading “I A MAN.” Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Dr. King came back to Memphis on Wednesday, April 3 to address a rally to pressure city officials to negotiate a compromise solution to the strike. That night, at the Mason Temple — packed with over 10,000 black workers and residents, ministers, white union members, white liberals, and students — King delivered what would turn out to be his last speech.

Every bit of that speech is worthy of quoting. Dr. King emphasized the linkage between labor movements and civil rights, and he told the crowd:

“Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.”

He even talked about the threats against his life:

“And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

The next afternoon, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood out on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Hotel, joking with a group of friends and fellow organizers who were down in the parking lot, when James Earl Ray, an escaped convict, shot and killed him.

Martin Luther King Jr. stands with fellow civil rights leaders on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., on April 3, 1968 — one day before he was assassinated. From left are Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson, King and Ralph Abernathy. Charles Kelly/AP

As Peter Dreier observed:

“As Time magazine noted at the time: ‘Ironically, it was the violence of Martin Luther King’s death rather than the nonviolence of his methods that ultimately broke the city’s resistance’ and led to the strike settlement. President Johnson ordered federal troops to Memphis and instructed Undersecretary of Labor James Reynolds to mediate the conflict and settle the strike. . . . On April 16, union leaders and city officials reached an agreement. The city council passed a resolution recognizing the union. The 14-month contract included union dues check-off, a grievance procedure, and wage increases of 10 cents per hour May 1 and another five cents in September. Members of AFSCME Local 1733 approved the agreement unanimously and ended their strike.”

January 19, 1945 – Soviet Army Liberated Lodz Ghetto in German-Occupied Polish Territory

On November 7, 1939, Lodz was incorporated into the Third Reich and the Nazi’s changed its name to Litzmannstadt (“Litzmann’s city”) – named after a German general who died while attempting to conquer Lodz in World War I.

The Nazis wanted Jews concentrated in one area to facilitate their transfer and/or elimination. A couple of ghettos had already been established in other parts of Polish territory, but with much smaller Jewish populations. Lodz had a Jewish population estimated at 230,000, living throughout the city.

On February 8, 1940, the order to establish the Lodz ghetto was announced. An area of only 4.3 square kilometers was designated and Jews from throughout the city were ordered to move into the sectioned off area. The Jews were packed tightly within the confines of the ghetto with an average of 3.5 people per room. In April a fence went up surrounding the ghetto and on May 1, 1940, only eight months after the German invasion, the Lodz ghetto was officially sealed.

A German postcard showing the entrance to the Lodz ghetto. The sign reads "Jewish residential area—entry forbidden." Lodz, Poland, 1940-1941. — US Holocaust Memorial Museum

A German postcard showing the entrance to the Lodz ghetto. The sign reads “Jewish residential area—entry forbidden.” Lodz, Poland, 1940-1941.
— US Holocaust Memorial Museum

The Nazis decided to have the Jews to pay for their own food, security, sewage removal, and all other expenses incurred by their continuing incarceration. They also appointed one Jew responsible for the ghetto administration. The Nazis chose 62-year-old Mordekchai Chaim Rumkowski.

Chaim Rumkowski in Lodz Ghetto

Chaim Rumkowski in Lodz Ghetto

With 230,000 people confined to a very small area that had no farmland, food quickly became a problem. Rumkowski believed that if the ghetto became an extremely useful workforce, then the Jews would be needed by the Nazis and thus, the Nazis would make sure that the ghetto received food.

On April 5, 1940, Rumkowski petitioned the Nazi authorities requesting permission for his work plan. The Nazis eventually agreed that they would deliver raw materials, Jews would make the final products, and the Nazis would pay in food, but in an amount and on a schedule they determined.

Rumkowski immediately began setting up factories and all those able and willing to work were found jobs. The food entered the ghetto in bulk and distributed by Rumkowski’s officials. This consolidated Rumkowski’s power in the ghetto, since everyone’s survival was now dependent on his dispersal of food, of which there was very little.

Jewish children working in the Lodz Ghetto

Jewish children working in the Lodz Ghetto

As ghetto residents continued to starve, they became increasingly suspicious of Rumkowski and his officials, who appeared well nourished and healthy in spite of the rampant disease and hunger throughout the ghetto. When dissenters of the Rumkowski rule voiced their opinions, Rumkowski made speeches labeling them traitors to the cause. Rumkowski believed that these people were a direct threat to his work ethic and punished them further. When the Nazis later gave Rumkowski the job of naming residents for deportations, dissidents were the first to go.

Children in the Lodz Ghetto 1941

Children in the Lodz Ghetto 1941

Adding to the tensions were the daily arrivals of additional people. In the fall of 1941, 20,000 Jews from other areas of the Reich and 5,000 Roma were transferred to the Lodz ghetto.

Deportations to death camps began in January, 1942. Rumkowksi and his officials had been ordered in December to compile lists of those slated to go, beginning with 10,000 names. Approximately one thousand people per day left on the trains. These people were taken to the Chelmno death camp and gassed by carbon monoxide in trucks. By January 19, 1942, 10,003 people had been deported. By April 2, another 34,073 had been sent to Chelmno. In September 1942, everyone unable to work was to be deported, including the sick, the elderly, and children.

A destitute girl sits on the curb of a street of the Lodz ghetto sm

On June 10, 1944, Heinrich Himmler ordered the final liquidation of the ghetto. Since the Nazis had decided to close the Chelmno death camp because Soviet troops were getting close, the remaining transports went to Auschwitz.

On August 4, 1944, a last transport of 74,000 Jews from Lodz was sent out from the ghetto on its way to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. A few remaining workers were retained by the Nazis to finish confiscating materials and valuables out of the ghetto, but everyone else had to go, including Rumkowski and his family.

On January 19, 1945, the Soviet Army liberated the ghetto. Only 877 Jews remained from the more than 245,000 who were interned in the ghetto since its opening in 1939.

Food pails and dishes left behind by ghetto residents who had been deported to death camps. 1944. Henryk Ross/Art Gallery of Ontario

Review of “The Somme” by Peter Hart

The combined British and French offensive in the Somme River Valley of 1916 was one of the deadliest battles in the history of warfare. It lasted from July 1 until the middle of November when winter weather compelled a relaxation of hostilities. The British suffered 419,654 casualties, with 131,000 dead; the French had 204,000 casualties; the Germans 450,000 – 600,000.

The original goal of the British was to break through the German trenches on the western front, their first objective being the village of Bapaume, which lay about 5 miles behind the first German trenches. When the breakthrough proved impossible, the offensive continued in order to relieve pressure on the French, who were engaged in a battle of similar magnitude at Verdun. In the end, the British had moved the front line forward a few hundred yards, and the German trenches remained substantially intact. The village of Bapaume remained in German hands.

Bapaume, France, during World War I, May 1917

Hart’s narrative takes us from the first day of the battle, when the British incurred 57,470 casualties and 19,240 dead, to its sanguinary climax. He covers in significant detail virtually every significant attack, and there were many. His technique is to give a general overview, and then fill in the details with extensive quotes from letters written by the participants. Looking back nearly 100 years, one has to marvel at the literacy of the British army.

The book is a treasure trove for the serious student of World War I. However, it, like the battle itself, takes its toll on the reader. There were a great many individual attacks, all with agonizingly similar results: a heavy artillery barrage was followed by a “charge” of infantry men weighed down by their battle impedimenta, and a virtual slaughter in no man’s land. Sometimes the attackers actually made it to the German trenches, but even when they succeeded in taking the trench, they were seldom able to hold it because a prompt counterattack drove them back to the original starting line.

Cheshire Regiment, British Army, in a typical trench in the Somme, 1916

During the course of several months, the British adapted their tactics slightly, but only slightly. They learned that the intensity of the artillery barrage was crucial to any success. They became more adept at the “creeping” barrage that landed just ahead of the advancing infantry. The men learned to use shell holes for cover, but usually found them already occupied, often by corpses. The first tanks were introduced by the British in this battle, but though they at first terrified the Germans, they were very slow and prone to frequent mechanical breakdown.

Hart’s criticism of the British generals, Douglas Haig in particular, is less harsh than that of most other analysts I have read. Haig believed that the Germans might have prevailed in 1914 if they had only persevered in their attacks a little longer, and he did not want to make the same mistake. Thus, the British Army dug in for the long haul, and suffered heavy casualties that it could ill afford, for insignificant tactical gain.

Field Marshal Douglas Haig

Moreover, to win the war, Haig reasoned that it would not be sufficient merely to take back the French territory lost. The German army had to be defeated. To Haig, it was a waste of manpower to engage in battles in other theaters, as the “Easterners” like David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill advocated. Hart opines that Haig and (his second in command) Robertson “may have been unimaginative, they were definitely ruthless when required, but above all they were hard, practical men and they were entirely right” in assessing how to beat the Germans in the situation they faced.

There were political as well as strategic considerations in play as well:

“Even if Haig had fully realized the depth and breadth of the losses suffered by his assaulting divisions on 1 July he could not have aborted the offensive without seriously jeopardizing the Entente Cordiale with France and Russia … They were unlikely to look on with any great sympathy if Britain tried to evade her share of the ‘butcher’s bill.’”

Evaluation: Hart’s favorable analysis of Haig is pointed and controversial. (Some of the epithets that have been applied to Haig include “The Butcher of the Somme” and “The Worst General of World War I.”) It is also very terse, taking up no more than 15 pages of a 550 page book. The remaining 530 pages support Hart’s characterization of the military leadership as “unimaginative.” I would not recommend this book to anyone who did not want to read a blow-by-blow account of a five and one-half month battle.

Rating: 2.5/5

Published by Pegasus, 2009

December 28, 1945 – Congress Officially Recognizes the Pledge of Allegiance

The Pledge of Allegiance, thought to have been written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, was officially recognized by Congress only in 1945. “The Pledge” was published anonymously by a magazine for young people, The Youth’s Companion, on September 8, 1892, and was written in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America. The published Pledge read:

“I Pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All.”

The Pledge was accompanied by instructions for a salute to be performed as part of the Columbus Day celebrations: “At the words, ‘To the Flag,’ the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.”

Francis Bellamy

The first flag salute statute [requiring children in public schools to recite the Pledge of Allegiance] was passed in New York in 1898, the day after the United States declared war on Spain. New York’s state superintendent, in his Manual of Patriotism, included five possible ‘patriotic pledges’ that teachers might use in their classes. One of these was Bellamy’s, but it was placed fifth.

In 1940, the US Supreme Court ruled in Minersville School District v. Gobitis (310 U.S. 586) that a local school board could expel students who refuse to recite the Pledge. Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote:

So far as the Federal Constitution is concerned, it is within the province of the legislatures and school authorities of the several States to adopt appropriate means to evoke and foster a sentiment of national unity among the children in the public schools.”

In 1942, legislation was adopted by Congress “to codify and emphasize existing customs pertaining to the display and use of the flag of the United States of America.” The text of the pledge, as originally written and modified a bit by the National Flag Conference in 1923 and 1924, was inserted into this legislation (Public Law 829, Chapter 806, 77th Congress, 2nd session), but without designating it as the official pledge.

The small changes made to the text resulted in this version:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Congress also amended the Flag Code this year, substituting the original straight arm salute, associated with Nazi Germany, with the current salute of the right hand over the heart.

Schoolchildren in Southington, Conn., recite the Pledge of Allegiance in 1942, around the time the custom of placing a hand over the heart replaced the original hand position.

In 1943 the Supreme Court overturned the Gobitis decision in the case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (319 U.S. 624). Justice Robert Jackson wrote that the compulsory state action violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and that “Under the Federal Constitution, compulsion as here employed is not a permissible means of achieving ‘national unity.'” He famously added:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Then in 1945, additional legislation was introduced into Congress by Representative Herman P. Eberharter of Pennsylvania, which amended the 1942 act to give official congressional sanction to the pledge.

The words “under God” were added by Congress on June 14, 1954, in response to the anti-Communist (and thus anti-atheist) opinion sweeping the country during the Cold War. This addition to the law, sanctioned by President Eisenhower, is still controversial. President Eisenhower said in signing the law:

From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate this rededication of our youth, on each school morning, to our country’s true meaning.”

Eisenhower was reportedly influenced by a sermon given by the Reverend George Docherty, who gave a sermon Eisenhower attended at his church in honor of Lincoln’s birthday.

The Washington Post reported:

To omit the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance is to omit the definitive factor in the American way of life,” Docherty said from the pulpit. He felt that ‘under God’was broad enough to include Jews and Muslims, although he discounted atheists: ‘An atheistic American is a contradiction in terms,’ Docherty said in his sermon. ‘If you deny the Christian ethic, you fall short of the American ideal of life.’”

George Docherty (left) and President Eisenhower (second from left) on the morning of February 7, 1954, at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church; the morning that Eisenhower was persuaded by Docherty that the Pledge of Allegiance must be amended to include the words, “under God.”

The legislation for the pledge is found in Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 4 of the U.S. Code.

The Federal legislation does not refer to schools; it is state and local law that mandates recitation of The Pledge in schoolrooms. Students may decline to participate, although as even the Supreme Court has recognized, the consequences could be deleterious. Schoolchildren of minority faiths, by so declining, would isolate themselves from classmates and open themselves up to ridicule and rejection.

The use of the phrase “under God” is still being contested and litigated. You can read more about it in this Smithsonian article.