History & Observances on January 27: Holocaust Remembrance Day

Observances: International Holocaust Remembrance Day
Major Events: Henry Knox and the Noble Train of Artillery, Siege of Leningrad
Notable Events: Trajan becomes Emperor, Pope Clement VI & indulgences, Univ. of Ga, Indian Territory, Boshin War, Thomas Edison, USAF attacks Germany, Nuclear Testing, Apollo 1, Outer Space Treaty, Paris Peace Accords, Arab Spring
Born: Hendrick Avercamp, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, John Collier, Samuel Gompers, Hyman G. Rickover
Died: Francis Drake, Abraham Bloemaert, Giuseppe Verdi, Nellie Bly, André the Giant, J. D. Salinger, Howard Zinn

Observances on January 27

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Hitler never hid the evil he intended to commit:

Today I will once more be a prophet: If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe! — Adolf Hitler, 1939

The world, however, found it impossible to believe that the leader of what was once considered the most advanced, scientific culture in the modern world, would use the blessings of modernity to try to exterminate an entire race of people. It was only after the war that a concentration camp survivor said, “If someone says they’re going to kill you, believe them.”

The first film below is from the Holocaust Museum and it gives an overview of the “Final Solution” that the Nazis put into operation to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Eventually, it came to embrace the targeting of other undesirables as well, the “untermenschen.” By the time it ended, the Nazis had murdered two out of every three Jews in Europe, a total of about six million men, women, and children, and eleven million other people (Gypsies, gays, the handicapped, etc.).

This video was a documentary Alfred Hitchcock made at the direction of the British Army to memorialize the horror they found at Bergen Belsen concentration camp.

This documentary, including original footage from the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet Army on this day in 1945.

On a final note, mass graves at the concentration camps are shockingly tiny things. For the Nazis who murdered men, women, and children on an industrial scale, the goal of mass graves was efficiency, to dispose of as many dead with the least amount of effort. The Nazis were nothing if not efficient.

I say all of that for a reason.

Many years ago, the U.S. Army sent me to Germany. During some free time, I found myself near the site of the Bergen-Belsen camp and, curious, went inside. In truth, I had not even heard of it before coming upon it. I was not Jewish and, while I had studied WWII and the Holocaust, I was only familiar with the worst of the camps, such as Dachau and Aushwitz. Bergen Belsen was one of the less notable of the Nazi concentration camps. The camp did not have a Doctor Mengele to conduct sadistic experiments upon the inmates. Nor was the camp the scene of mass execution in gas chambers like at Auschwitz. Murder on an industrial scale at Bergen-Belsen was much slower, though by no means less cruel, horrific, or evil than at the other camps. At Bergen-Belsen, murder was brought about by forced labor with systematic starvation and disease allowed to run rampant.

There was nothing left of the original buildings at Bergen-Belsen when I visited. The British had burned and otherwise leveled all of the camp’s buildings in 1945. There were several buildings built on the site since to house memorials to the 70,000 Jews, Soviet prisoners of war, and other people who were murdered there. There were mementos in glass cases and thousands of horrible pictures lined the walls. It was indeed heartbreaking to see. And there were some exhibits given over to the most famous of the Bergen-Belsen’s victims, Czech painter and writer Josef Čapek and the sisters, Margot and Anne Frank.

At some point, I stepped outside the memorial buildings and began to wander about. I came upon a series of about twenty rectangular grass plots raised up about a foot off the ground, each neatly lined by brick. They varied in size, but the largest I recall was about 9 or 10 yards wide by 20 yards long. They looked quite serene, almost like a stylized park setting. Each plot had its own plaque standing next to it.

These were very small plots of land indeed for what they held.

I wandered over to one plot and read the plaque. I don’t remember the exact numbers on that first plaque, but I remembered it said something like “7,000 people buried here.” I wandered to the next plot and read its plaque, and so on and so on. The smallest of the mass graves held the remains of about 1,500 people; the most was over 10,500.

That is when, for me at least, and I suspect many others who have visited the concentration camps, the evil that was committed there, felt real on a visceral level. There were no more numbers written on pages of books or pictures on a wall. The numbers are too large.  The pictures are surreal.  We become inured to those two-dimensional sights.

What was real was that, just a few feet below me, were the remains of tens of thousands of people, murdered and tossed one on top of another into the smallest possible holes imaginable. Most were not soldiers, but simple men, women and children whose only crime was existing. I could easily imagine each as a vibrant person with a life that could have enriched the world. That moment of realization was, and is to this day, haunting.

What is evil? Moral relativists will say that there is no such thing as evil, but that is palpably false. No one who visits Bergen-Belsen can come away believing that.

Many of the WWII generation who are now dying off understood this evil. Some managed to live through it; many others witnessed it. Together, they ended the genocidal evil that was Nazi Germany. And famously, they said, “Never again.” We should all thank God that they did.

Major Events on January 27

1776 – American Revolutionary War: Henry Knox’s “noble train of artillery”

The “Noble Train of Artillery” was one of the great logistical efforts of history.

After the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired at Lexington and Concord, the British retreated to their base in the city of Boston. Thousands of militia soldiers formed in the colonies from Virginia to Massachusetts and converged outside of Boston, placing the British soldiers under siege. The British, after receiving reinforcements, tried to break out of Boston, but they were mauled during the Battle of Bunker Hill. After that, the British sat tight in defensive positions, awaiting more reinforcements while, back in Britain, the nation geared for war.

Outside of Boston, centered on Cambridge, the militia, reorganized in June, 1775 as the Continental Army, could do nothing but sit and wait. The army lacked the size and firepower to assault the British positions in Boston. Moreover, the Continental Army lacked cannon, the key to siege warfare. Or, to be more accurate, the Continental Army in Cambridge lacked cannon.

There were a few cannon in the possession of militia units, but they were far from Cambridge. There was, however, one significant group of cannon. They were located in Fort Ticonderoga, three hundred miles away near Lake Champlain, in northern New York. Fort Ticonderoga had been garrisoned by the British Army until it was captured in May, 1775, by a force under the command of Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold.

As Commander-in-chief George Washington fretted over how to drive the British out of Boston, 25-year-old Henry Knox suggested that Washington authorize an expedition to retrieve the cannon from Fort Ticonderoga. Washington concurred, putting Knox in charge of the operation.

Knox faced significant obstacles. The rivers were frozen and the ground covered in snow. There were few good roads, but plenty of heavy forests, hilly terrain, and the Berkshire Mountain Range. The cannon weighed in excess of 60 tons. There were no engines, let alone vehicles. To be moved, Knox had to hire men to build sleds for the cannon and then teams of oxen to haul them across 300 miles of rough terrain.

Knox departed the Continental camp on 17 November, 1775, heading to New York to hire supplies, men and oxen. He arrived with his team at Ft. Ticonderoga on December 5.

He selected 59 pieces of equipment, including cannons ranging in size from 4- to 24-pounders, mortars, and howitzers. He estimated the total weight to be transported at 119,000 pounds (about 60 tons). The largest pieces were the 24-pounders which were 11 feet long and estimated to weigh over 5,000 pounds.

To move these cannon, Knox “had built 42 exceeding strong sleds, and have provided 80 yoke of oxen.” Ten weeks after he left the Continental camp, Knox arrived back in Cambridge on this date in 1776 at the head of what he called his “noble train of artillery.” It provided Washington with the cannon he would need to drive the British out of Boston.

Now all Washington needed was powder and cannon balls, but that is a story to be told later . . .

1944 – World War II: The 900-day Siege of Leningrad is lifted.

The costliest siege in history was that undertaken by the Nazi Army of the Soviet city of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). It began on 8 Sept. 1941 and ended on this day in 1944, 872 days later, when the Soviet Leningrad–Novgorod Offensive broke through into the city.

The two-and-a-half-year siege caused the greatest destruction and the largest loss of life ever known in a modern city. On Hitler’s direct orders the Wehrmacht looted and then destroyed most of the imperial palaces, such as the Catherine Palace, Peterhof Palace, Ropsha, Strelna, Gatchina, and other historic landmarks located outside the city’s defensive perimeter, with many art collections transported to Germany. A number of factories, schools, hospitals and other civil infrastructure were destroyed by air raids and long range artillery bombardment.

The 872 days of the siege caused extreme famine in the Leningrad region through disruption of utilities, water, energy and food supplies. This resulted in the deaths of up to 1,500,000 soldiers and civilians and the evacuation of 1,400,000 more (mainly women and children), many of whom died during evacuation due to starvation and bombardment. Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery alone in Leningrad holds half a million civilian victims of the siege. Economic destruction and human losses in Leningrad on both sides exceeded those of the Battle of Stalingrad, the Battle of Moscow, or the bombing of Tokyo. The siege of Leningrad ranks as the most lethal siege in world history . . .

Notable Events on January 27

AD 98 – Trajan, whose rise to power was engineered by the Praetorian Guard, succeeded his adoptive father Nerva as Roman emperor. During Trajan’s nineteen year reign, the Roman Empire would reach its maximum extent.

1343 – Pope Clement VI led a worldly and expensive lifestyle, turning to extraordinary means to fund papal coffers. One way was to issue the papal bull Unigenitus to justify the power of the pope and the use of indulgences. Nearly 200 years later, Martin Luther would protest this.

1785 – Georgia founds the first public university in the U.S., the University of Georgia.

1825 – The U.S. Congress approves Indian Territory (in what is present-day Oklahoma), clearing the way for forced relocation of the Eastern Indians on the “Trail of Tears”.

1868 – The Battle of Toba–Fushimi, part of the Boshin War, begins, between forces of the Tokugawa shogunate and pro-Imperial factions; it will end in defeat for the shogunate, and is a pivotal point in the Meiji Restoration.

1880 – Thomas Edison receives a patent for his incandescent lamp. It’s revolutionary design lay in the use of a carbon filament, making it the first economical light bulb.

1943 – The Eighth Air Force sorties ninety-one B-17s and B-24s to attack the U-boat construction yards at Wilhelmshaven, Germany. This was the first American bombing attack on Germany during WW II.

1945 – The Soviet 322nd Rifle Division liberates the remaining inmates of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

1951 – Nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site begins with Operation Ranger.

1967 – Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee are killed in a fire during a test of their Apollo 1 spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

1967 – The Soviet Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom sign the Outer Space Treaty in Washington, D.C., banning deployment of nuclear weapons in space, and limiting use of the Moon and other celestial bodies to peaceful purposes.

1973 – The Paris Peace Accords officially end the Vietnam War. The treaty got the U.S. out of the war, but otherwise wasn’t worth the paper it was printed upon. Neither the communists nor the Democrats lived up to their commitments, with all of South Vietnam falling to communist aggression within two years.

2011 – Arab Spring: The Yemeni Revolution begins as over 16,000 protestors demonstrate in Sana’a. The Spring quickly descended into a hellish winter as Sunni Islamic radicals and the mad mullahs of Iran began involving themselves in the movement.

Born on January 27

1585 – Hendrick Avercamp, Dutch painter who was both deaf and mute. He specialized in painting the Netherlands in winter.

1756 – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the world’s most famous composers. He composed over 600 works before his early death at age 35.

1836 – Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Austrian journalist and author whose name became associated with those who take pleasure in their own degradation and pain – masochism.

1850 – John Collier, a prolific English artist who painted in the Pre-Raphaelite style, One of his more famous works is Lady Godiva (1898) and Lilith (1897).


1850 – Samuel Gompers, a Jewish immigrant labor union leader and a key figure in the American labor history. Gompers founded and was the long-time President of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Interestingly, he was a staunch opponent of socialism.

1900 – Hyman G. Rickover, long-serving admiral who, after WWII, became the father of the U.S. Navy’s nuclear submarine fleet.

Died on January 27

1596 – Sir Francis Drake, the foremost British sea captain and privateer of the 16th century. He circumnavigated the globe, defeated the Spanish navy, and pirated great hordes of Spanish wealth in the name of Queen Elizabeth I.

1651 – Abraham Bloemaert, Dutch painter and illustrator. He mostly painted historical and religious topics and was counted one of the “Haarlem Mannerists.”

1901 – Giuseppe Verdi, an extremely popular composer who came to dominate 19th century Italian opera. His most popular works still today are Rigoletto, Il trovatore and La traviata,

1922 – Nellie Bly, the woman who invented modern investigative journalism with Ten Days in a Madhouse. She also famously traveled around the world in 72 days and, after her husband died, took over daily management of an iron manufacturing business.

1993 – André the Giant. He turned his affliction with gigantism into a wrestling career and became famous as well for playing the role of Fezzik in The Princess Bride. He was a man of gargantuan appetites and died of heart failure at 46.

2010 – J. D. Salinger, author of numerous short stories, he is most famous for his book, The Catcher in the Rye, a novel that still sells a million copies annually.

2010 – Howard Zinn, a communist who pretended to be an academic:

According to Mary Grabar’s Debunking Howard Zinn, to call Howard Zinn a historian is a misnomer if not a travesty. Yet this is how Zinn, the late author of the best-selling A People’s History of the United States is publicly identified. For over a quarter of a century, his book has been highly influential in shaping Americans’ understanding of the past and made him somewhat of a celebrity. By recent counts, it sold over two million copies and is used in high schools and survey American history courses in colleges throughout the country. Undoubtedly, any historian—no matter how excellent and popular his or her work is—would be jealous of that record. However, as Mary Grabar points out, Zinn had a different project in mind than most historians. As he once wrote, history is “not about understanding the past,” but about “changing the future.” . . .