Fact of the day: 31st May

On this day in 1962 Adolf Eichmann was hanged in Israel.

Otto Adolf Eichmann (19 March 1906 – 31 May 1962) was a German Nazi SS-Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel) and one of the major organisers of the Holocaust.

Eichmann was charged by SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich with facilitating and managing the logistics of mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps in German-occupied Eastern Europe during World War II.

In 1960, he was captured in Argentina by the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service. Following a widely publicised trial in Israel, he was found guilty of war crimes and hanged in 1962.

After Germany’s defeat in 1945, Eichmann fled to Austria. He lived there until 1950, when he moved to Argentina using false papers. Information collected by the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, confirmed Eichmann’s location in 1960.

A team of Mossad and Shin Bet agents captured Eichmann and brought him to Israel to stand trial on 15 criminal charges, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes against the Jewish people.

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Found guilty on many of these charges, he was sentenced to death by hanging and executed on 31 May 1962. The trial was widely followed in the media and was later the subject of several books, including Hannah Arendt’s work, Eichmann in Jerusalem.

Arendt calls him the embodiment of the “banality of evil”, asserting that he appeared to be ordinary and sane, yet displayed neither guilt nor hatred. Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal said: “The world now understands the concept of ‘desk murderer’.

We know that one doesn’t need to be fanatical, sadistic, or mentally ill to murder millions; that it is enough to be a loyal follower eager to do one’s duty.”

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Fact of the day: 30th May

On this day in 1431 in Rouen, France, the 19-year-old Joan of Arc is burned at the stake by an English-dominated tribunal. The Roman Catholic Church remembers this day as the celebration of Saint Joan of Arc.

Joan was born the daughter of Jacques d’Arc and Isabelle Romée[23] in Domrémy, a village which was then in the French part of the duchy of Bar.

Joan’s parents owned about 50 acres of land and her father supplemented his farming work with a minor position as a village official, collecting taxes and heading the local watch.

They lived in an isolated patch of eastern France that remained loyal to the French crown despite being surrounded by pro-Burgundian lands.

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Several local raids occurred during her childhood and on one occasion her village was burned.

At her trial, Joan stated that she was about 19, which implies that she thought she was born around 1412.

She later testified that she experienced her first vision around 1424 at the age of 12 years, when she was in her “father’s garden” and saw visions of figures she identified as Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret, who told her to drive out the English and bring the Dauphin to Reims for his coronation. She said she cried when they left, as they were so beautiful.

Fact of the day: 29th May

On this day in 1727 Peter II became Czar of Russia.

Peter II was quick-witted, but an apparently stubborn and a wayward boy, much like his grandfather.

Despite these similarities, the emperor had no desire to learn to rule, unlike Peter the Great.

His young age meant that he could not adequately manage public affairs, and he almost never appeared at the Supreme Privy Council.

This led to frustration among his subjects and the royal administration – officials did not dare to assume responsibility for important decisions.

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The Russian fleet was abandoned, but Peter II showed no interest in the matter.

“Peter II has not reached the age when a person’s personality has already shaped,” Russian historian Nikolay Kostomarov wrote. “While contemporaries praised his natural intelligence and good heart, they only hoped for that good to happen in the future.

However, his behavior did not give chances to hope that he would be a good ruler. He hated learning and thinking about national affairs. He was totally engrossed in amusements, and was kept under someone else’s influence.”

Fact of the day: 28th May

On this day in 1849 Anne Bronte died.

Anne Brontë was a British novelist and poet, the youngest member of the Brontë literary family.

The daughter of a poor Irish clergyman in the Church of England, Anne Brontë lived most of her life with her family at the parish of Haworth on the Yorkshire moors.

For a couple of years she went to a boarding school. At the age of 19 she left Haworth and worked as a governess between 1839 and 1845.

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After leaving her teaching position, she fulfilled her literary ambitions. She wrote a volume of poetry with her sisters (Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, 1846) and two novels. Agnes Grey, based upon her experiences as a governess, was published in 1847.

Her second and last novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which is considered to be one of the first sustained feminist novels, appeared in 1848. Anne’s life was cut short when she died of pulmonary tuberculosis at the age of 29.

Mainly because the re-publication of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was prevented by Charlotte Brontë after Anne’s death, she is less known than her sisters Charlotte, author of four novels including Jane Eyre, and Emily, author of Wuthering Heights.

However her novels, like those of her sisters, have become classics of English literature.

Fact of the day: 27th May

On this day in 1199 John became King of England.

John was King of England from 6 April 1199 until his death in 1216.

Following the battle of Bouvines, John lost the duchy of Normandy to King Philip II of France, which resulted in the collapse of most of the Angevin Empire and contributed to the subsequent growth in power of the Capetian dynasty during the 13th century.

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The baronial revolt at the end of John’s reign led to the sealing of the Magna Carta, a document sometimes considered being an early step in the evolution of the constitution of the United Kingdom.

Contemporary chroniclers were mostly critical of John’s performance as king, and his reign has since been the subject of significant debate and periodic revision by historians from the 16th century onwards.

Historian Jim Bradbury has summarised the contemporary historical opinion of John’s positive qualities, observing that John is today usually considered a “hard-working administrator, an able man, an able general”.

Nonetheless, modern historians agree that he also had many faults as king, including what historian Ralph Turner describes as “distasteful, even dangerous personality traits”, such as pettiness, spitefulness and cruelty.

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These negative qualities provided extensive material for fiction writers in the Victorian era, and John remains a recurring character within Western popular culture, primarily as a villain in films and stories depicting the Robin Hood legends.

Fact of the day: 26th May

On this day in 1897 Dracula, a novel by the Irish author Bram Stoker was published.

Stoker visited the English town of Whitby in 1890 and that visit is said to be part of the inspiration of his great novel Dracula.

While manager for Henry Irving and secretary and director of London’s Lyceum Theatre, he began writing novels, beginning with The Snake’s Pass in 1890 and Dracula in 1897.

During this period, Stoker was part of the literary staff of the The Daily Telegraph in London, and wrote other fiction, including the horror novels The Lady of the Shroud (1909) and The Lair of the White Worm (1911).

In 1906, after Irving’s death, he published his life of Irving, which proved successful, and managed productions at the Prince of Wales Theatre.

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The original 541-page manuscript of Dracula, believed to have been lost, was found in a barn in northwestern Pennsylvania in the early 1980s.

It included the typed manuscript with many corrections, and handwritten on the title page was “THE UN-DEAD.” The author’s name was shown at the bottom as Bram Stoker.

Author Robert Latham notes, “the most famous horror novel ever published, its title changed at the last minute.”

Fact of the day: 25th May

On this day in 1846 Princess Helena of the United Kingdom was born.

Helena was the most active member of the royal family, carrying out an extensive programme of royal engagements at a time when royalty was not expected to appear often in public.

She was also an active patron of charities, and was one of the founding members of the Red Cross. She was founding president of the Royal School of Needlework, and president of the Royal British Nurses’ Association.

As president of the latter, she was a strong supporter of nurse registration against the advice of Florence Nightingale.

She became the first member of her family to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary in 1916, but her husband died a year later.

Helena outlived him by six years, and died aged 77 at Schomberg House on 9 June 1923.

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