Fact of the day: 23rd July

On this day in 1942 the Treblinka extermination camp was opened.

Treblinka was an extermination camp built by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II.

It was located near the village of Treblinka in the modern-day Masovian Voivodeship north-east of Warsaw.

The camp operated officially between 23 July 1942 and 19 October 1943 as part of Operation Reinhard, the most deadly phase of the Final Solution.

During this time, it is estimated that somewhere between 800,000 and 1,200,000 Jews died in its gas chambers, along with 2,000 Romani people.

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Managed by the German SS and the Eastern European Trawnikis, the camp consisted of two separate units: Treblinka I and the Treblinka II extermination camp (Vernichtungslager).

The first was a forced-labour camp whose prisoners worked in the gravel pit or irrigation area and in the forest, where they cut wood to fuel the crematoria.

Between 1941 and 1944, more than half of its 20,000 inmates died from summary executions, hunger, disease and mistreatment.

The second camp, Treblinka II, was designed purely for extermination. A small number of men who were not killed immediately upon arrival became its Jewish slave-labour units called Sonderkommandos, forced to bury the victims’ bodies in mass graves.


These bodies were exhumed in 1943 and then cremated on massive open-air pyres along with the bodies of new victims.

Gassing operations at Treblinka II ended in October 1943 following a revolt by the Sonderkommandos in early August.

Several ethnic German SS guards were killed and some 200 prisoners managed to cross to the other side of the fence, although fewer than a hundred survived the subsequent chase.

The camp was dismantled ahead of the Soviet advance. A farmhouse for a watchman was built on the site in an attempt to hide the evidence of genocide.


Fact of the day: 18th July

On this day in 1925 Adolf Hitler published his personal manifesto Mein Kampf.

Mein Kampf  is an autobiographical manifesto by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, in which he outlines his political ideology and future plans for Germany. Volume 1 of Mein Kampf was published in 1925 and Volume 2 in 1926.

The book was edited by the former Hieronymite friar Bernhard Stempfle, who was murdered during the Night of the Long Knives.

Hitler began dictating the book to his deputy Rudolf Hess while imprisoned for what he considered to be “political crimes” following his failed Putsch in Munich in November 1923.

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Although Hitler received many visitors initially, he soon devoted himself entirely to the book. As he continued, Hitler realized that it would have to be a two-volume work, with the first volume scheduled for release in early 1925.

The governor of Landsberg noted at the time that “he [Hitler] hopes the book will run into many editions, thus enabling him to fulfill his financial obligations and to defray the expenses incurred at the time of his trial.”

Fact of the day: 25th June

On this day in 1940 France officially surrendered to Germany at 01:35.

Germany launched an offensive against France and, for reasons of military strategy, also attacked the neutral nations of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg on 10 May 1940.

That same day the United Kingdom occupied the Danish possessions of Iceland, Greenland and the Faroes to pre-empt a possible German invasion of the islands.

The Netherlands and Belgium were overrun using blitzkrieg tactics in a few days and weeks, respectively.

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The French-fortified Maginot Line and the main body the Allied forces which had moved into Belgium were circumvented by a flanking movement through the thickly wooded Ardennes region, mistakenly perceived by Allied planners as an impenetrable natural barrier against armoured vehicles.

As a result, the bulk of the Allied armies found them trapped in encirclement and were beaten.

The majority were taken prisoner, whilst over 300,000, mostly British and French, were evacuated from the continent at Dunkirk by early June, although abandoning almost all of their equipment.

Fact of the day: 24th June

On this day in 1374 a sudden outbreak of St. John’s Dance causes people in the streets of Aachen, Germany, to experience hallucinations and begin to jump and twitch uncontrollably until they collapse from exhaustion.

Dancing mania was a social phenomenon that occurred primarily in mainland Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries.

It involved groups of people dancing erratically, sometimes thousands at a time. The mania affected men, women, and children, who danced until they collapsed from exhaustion.

One of the first major outbreaks was in Aachen, Germany, in 1374, and it quickly spread throughout Europe; one particularly notable outbreak occurred in Strasbourg in 1518.


Affecting thousands of people across several centuries, dancing mania was not an isolated event, and was well documented in contemporary reports.

It was nevertheless poorly understood, and remedies were based on guesswork. Generally, musicians accompanied dancers, to help ward off the mania, but this tactic sometimes backfired by encouraging more to join in.

There is no consensus among modern-day scholars as to the cause of dancing mania.

Fact of the day: 22nd June

On this day in 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa.

Operation Barbarossa beginning 22 June 1941 was the code name for Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II.

Over the course of the operation, about four million soldiers of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a 2,900 km the largest invasion in the history of warfare.

In addition to troops, Barbarossa used 600,000 motor vehicles and 750,000 horses. The ambitious operation was driven by Adolf Hitler’s persistent desire to conquer the Soviet territories as embodied in Generalplan Ost.


It marked the beginning of the pivotal phase in deciding the victors of the war. The German invasion of the Soviet Union caused a high rate of fatalities: 95% of all German Army casualties that occurred from 1941 to 1944, and 65% of all Allied military casualties from the entire war.

The invasion was authorized by Hitler on 18 December 1940 (Directive No. 21) for a start date of 15 May 1941, but this would not be met, and instead the invasion began on 22 June 1941.

Tactically, the Germans won resounding victories and occupied some of the most important economic areas of the Soviet Union, mainly in Ukraine.

Despite these successes, the German offensive stalled on the outskirts of Moscow and was then pushed back by a Soviet counter offensive without having taken the city.

The Germans could never again mount a simultaneous offensive along the entire strategic Soviet–German front.

The Red Army repelled the Wehrmacht’s strongest blow, and forced an unprepared Germany into a war of attrition with the largest nation on Earth.

Operation Barbarossa’s failure led to Hitler’s demands for further operations inside the USSR, all of which eventually failed, such as continuing the Siege of Leningrad, Operation Nordlicht, and Operation Blue, among other battles on occupied Soviet territory.

Fact of the day: 12th June

On this day in 1942 Anne Frank received a diary for her thirteenth birthday.

Anne Frank is one of the most discussed Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Her wartime diary “The Diary of a Young Girl” has been the basis for several plays and films.

Born in the city of Frankfurt in Weimar Germany, she lived most of her life in or near Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. Born a German national, Frank lost her citizenship in 1941. She gained international fame posthumously after her diary was published. It documents her experiences hiding during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II.

The Frank family moved from Germany to Amsterdam in 1933, the year the Nazis gained control over Germany. By May 1940, they were trapped in Amsterdam by the German occupation of the Netherlands.

As persecutions of the Jewish population increased in July 1942, the family went into hiding in some concealed rooms in the building where Anne’s father worked. After two years, the group was betrayed and transported to concentration camps.


Anne Frank and her sister, Margot Frank, were eventually transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where they died of typhus in March 1945.

Otto Frank, the only survivor of the family, returned to Amsterdam after the war to find that Anne’s diary had been saved, and his efforts led to its publication in 1947. It has since been translated into many languages.

It was translated from its original Dutch and first published in English in 1952 as The Diary of a Young Girl. The blank diary, which was given to Anne on her thirteenth birthday, chronicles her life from 12 June 1942 until 1 August 1944.

Fact of the day: 14th May

On this day in 1970 the Red Army Faction was established in West Germany.

The Red Army Faction existed from 1970 to 1998, committing numerous operations, especially in late 1977, which led to a national crisis that became known as “German Autumn.”

It was held responsible for thirty-four deaths, including many secondary targets, such as chauffeurs and bodyguards, and many injuries in its almost thirty years of activity.

Although better-known, the RAF conducted fewer attacks than the Revolutionary Cells (German: Revolutionäre Zellen, RZ), which is held responsible for 296 bomb attacks, arson and other attacks between 1973 and 1995.

Although Meinhof was not considered to be a leader of the RAF at any time, her involvement in Baader’s escape from jail in 1970 and her well-known status as a German journalist led to her name becoming attached to it.


There were three successive incarnations of the organization:

  • The “first generation” which consisted of Baader and his associates,
  • The “second generation” RAF, which operated in the mid to late 1970s after several former members of the Socialist Patients’ Collective joined, and
  • The “third generation” RAF, which existed in the 1980s and 1990s.

On 20 April 1998, an eight-page typewritten letter in German was faxed to the Reuters news agency, signed “RAF” with the submachine-gun red star, declaring that the group had dissolved.