July 4th in German History: Germany Wins the 1954 World Cup.

While July 4th may be the single most important day in American history, it also features prominently in the cultural history of Germany. On July 4th, 1954, West Germany won the FIFA world cup against Hungary, defying expectations and helping to reintegrate Germany with the rest of the world.

West Germany was admitted into FIFA in 1950 and had to quickly form a team. Sepp Herberger, who had been the coach of the German team from 1936 to 1942, was made the coach of the new team. Players were semi-professionals and often had second jobs, and only played a short qualifying tournament and a few other international games before the 1954 world cup. In contrast, the Hungarian “Golden Team” had won 31 of 31 international games in the five years before 1954 and had professional players. Hungary was overwhelmingly favored to win the tournament, and won all of the games, including one against Germany, that it played before the finals. However, Germany was able to defeat teams from Turkey, Yugoslavia, and Austria to qualify for the final match. Hungary scored the first goal, but Germany quickly pulled ahead with a skilled offense. The German defense also did a good job of saving Hungarian shots, as Hungary shot many more times than Germany did. Germany pulled ahead three points to two by the end of the game. Hungarian player Ferenc Puskas was able to

The German victory was important not only as an athletic accomplishment, but also in that it signified German reentry into international culture and entertainment. The 1954 tournament was the first international tournament that Germany participated in following the Second World War and it helped rehabilitate the German image. While currency reform and fiscal stimulus were critical in rebuilding the German economy, it would fall to soccer players to restore to Germany international respect and friendship.

July 3rd in German History: German Forces in Minsk Surrender.

Independence Day in Belarus in 2020 | Office Holidays
A painting commemorating the liberation of Minsk on July 3rd, which is Belarus’s independence day.

In the first few months following the German declaration of war on the Soviet Union, numerous cities fell to the Wehrmacht as it advanced though Soviet Satellite states and into Russia. Minsk, the capitol of the Belarusian SSR, was captured in early July and hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops were killed or captured. Three years later, the war had turned against the Germans and it was the Soviet’s turn to encircle and destroy German forces around Minsk.

Operation Bagration began on June 23rd with Soviet offensives against army group center. Multiple German formations were destroyed or crippled in the first week, and it became clear to German planners that the Soviet objective was the city of Minsk. Soviet formations from the 2nd and 3rd Belorussian Fronts pushed through German lines to the north and south of the city, making German troops from the Fourth and Ninth armies vulnerable to encirclement. Hitler had, however, ordered that the city be defended even if that meant the forces inside it being surrounded and wiped out. By June 30th, most rail lines out of the city had been severed and the few remaining ways out of the city were under threat. On July 1st the defenders began readying for a withdrawal and on July 2nd they received permission to escape the city. Soviet troops entered Minsk on the Morning of July 3rd and liberated the city later that day. However, much of the 4th and 9th armies had not escaped and were trapped outside the city by Soviet formations. Attempts to break out generally failed, and on July 8th the commander of the 4th army was captured. He issued a surrender order that was broadcast to German troops still fighting. Although fighting continued well into July, the outcome of the battle was decided.

Over 100,000 German soldiers were killed or captured in an around the cit of Minsk during and after its liberation. Soviet losses were also high, but unlike the Germans, the Soviets could afford to sustain them. The loss of Minsk and the forces holding it precipitated the collapse of Army Group Center and the end of any hope of holding back the Red Army. Russia would lose many more men before the war ended, but from this point on it would always be on the offensive, pursuing inferior forces into Germany and bringing the war to the invader.

July Second in German History: The Knox-Porter Resolution, the US Makes Peace with Germany

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The plaque commemorating the signing of the Knox-Porter resolution.

One interesting part of World War I history is the US refusal to formally end the war with Germany until 1921. Wanting to return to its isolation from world conflicts, the US refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, which would have made the US a member of the League of Nations. This meant that the US and Germany were technically still at war until July 2nd, 1921, when the Knox-Porter Resolution was signed.

Although President Woodrow Wilson was one of the strongest advocates for the creation of a LEague of NAtions, the republican senate, led by Henry Cabot Lodge and William Borah, refused to join it. This left the US and Germany in diplomatic limbo. The US Senate voted against ratifying the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and 1920, and in 1921 President Warren G Harding spoke against the treaty. It thus fell to congress to create a peace resolution. The House and the Senate each came up with their own resolution, and it took a few weeks to reconcile the two and finally pass the result on July 1st. The next day, while golfing at the Frelinghuysen estate, Harding signed the resolution, ending the war with Germany.

While the Knox-Porter resolution may not have been a critical moment in history, I think that it provides an interesting insight into the way that international diplomacy works. That a war can officially continue for more than two years after fighting stops because a nation’s legislative body refuses to ratify a treaty shows just how great an influence domestic political have on international ones. Further, the refusal of the US to join the League of Nations, which forced it to create the Knox-Porter resolution as an improvised solution, would have a destabilizing effect on the world in the following decades.

July 1st in German History: East Germany Accepts the Deutsche Mark.

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A 100 Deutsch Mark note from 1989.

German Reunification was not one event, rather, a series of steps to reconnect the economies and societies of East and West German were needed to make the creation of a united Germany possible. One of the most important of these steps was the introduction of the Deutsche Mark, West Germany’s currency, into East Germany on July 1st, 1990.

The Deutsche Mark was first introduced following the Second World War as a replacement currency to the Reischmark, which had become unstable and over-inflated. It was critical to the rebuilding of the German financial system and allowed for rapid growth and return to pre-war economic conditions. The East German economy, in contrast, lagged behind and it possessed a far weaker currency. Thus, it was decided that in order to unite the two nations’ economies the Deutsche Mark would become the official currency of East Germany as well as of West Germany. On July 1st, 1990, East German Marks were discontinued and up to 4,000 could be exchanged for a limited time at a one-to-one ratio for Deutsche Marks, any number over 4,000 were exchanged at a two-to-one ratio. East Germans were also given 100 Deutsche Marks upon arrival in West Germany.

While the unification of currencies may seem mundane compared to other events that lead up to German Reunification, it was one of, if not the, most important step. After 1989, the largest obstacle to reunification were the vast economic disparities that existed between the two Germanies. Many thought that reunification would simply be too expensive. However, the successful introduction of the Deutsche Mark helped stabilize East Germany’s economy and tie it to that of West Germany, making reunification a more economically viable prospect.

June 30th in German History: The Night of the Long Knives.

Ernst Rohm, leader of the SA.

The Night of the Long Knives was a purge that took place in Nazi Germany in 1934. It began on June 30th and lasted for four days, ending on July 2nd. The purge was carried out by the SS and parts of the police. The main target of the purge was the SA, a Nazi paramilitary organisation. The purge consolidated Hitler’s control over Germany and further broke down institutions that had limited his power.

During the 1920s, the Nazi Party had established the SA as its paramilitary organisation. The SA fought street battles against the German Communist Party and helped strengthen the Nazi arty by providing it with a core of loyal, armed, supporters. However, it had a reputation for violence and its leader, Ernst Röhm, believe strongly in the original, more socialist, message of the Nazi Party and demanded that economic revolution take place. Further, many leaders of the SA were homosexual, including Röhm, which did not endear them to Germany’s conservatives, who were generally more open to Nazi rule. The SA also engaged in a great deal of street violence; without communists to fight, drunken SA members would attack civilians and police. Following Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, the SA had begun pushing for control over the military, which made the military hostile to the SA. Further, the SS, originally part of the SA, under it leader Heinrich Himmler, wanted to become a powerful organization in its own right and so began pushing Hitler to take action against Röhm. Hitler ordered Röhm to acknowledge the supremacy of the army in military matters. Röhm did this, but in private began voicing opposition to Hitler. Hitler, under internal pressure from conservatives and international pressure from diplomats and leaders, including Mussolini, who argued that the SA was ruining Germany’s reputation, began orchestrating a purge. At 4:30 on June 30th, the operation, code named Operation Hummingbird, began. Men of the Gestapo stormed the houses of SA leaders, taking them by surprise and arresting them before they could martial their members to resist. Conservatives considered unreliable were also target for arrest and even execution, along with former Nazi Otto Strasser who espoused a more socialist form of National Socialism. Röhm was among the many killed. Officially, 85 people were killed although some estimates place the real figure at 1,000. Hitler justified the purge in a speech to the nation, and the army almost unanimously supported it. Hitler’s control was thus strengthened, and there would be little internal resistance to his rule for over a decade.

The Night of the Long Knives is not unique in history. Leaders from Lenin to Mao to Julius Cesar have violently purged their own former supporters in order to solidify their power. In order to carry out such purges, tyrants need a complicit or at least ambivalent population. Thus, it is the duty of a population to not tolerate such violent action. While the SA was a violent and immoral group, its sudden destruction would allow Hitler to inflict upon the world, and upon Germany, far worse damage than Ernst Röhm ever did.

June 29th in German History: General Ludwig Beck is Born.

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Ludwig Beck

Something often forgot when studying Nazi Germany is that many of its early supporters turned against the regime as it became more extreme. One such man was Ludwig Beck, a general who was the Chief of the German General Staff. He was born on June 29th, 1880.

Ludwig Beck was born in Biebrich in Hesse-Nassau. He was given a Prussian military education as was a staff officer during the First World War and served in staff roles after it. Initially, he supported Nazism, believing that it could strengthen Germany if Hitler was influenced by the traditional military class rather than the SS or the SA. He defended three officers charged with Nazi Party membership in 1930, at that point it was illegal to serve in the army and be a member o the Nazi Party. He served as Chief of Staff during the 1930s and supported the demilitarization of the Rhineland. However, he initially refused to support the invasion of Austria, but set about planning for it once it became clear that France and Britain would not oppose the Anschluss. However, Beck was staunchly opposed to war with Czechoslovakia, believing that it would draw in France and that Germany was not yet ready for conflict with that nation. Further, he thought that Hitler was giving too much power to the SS and that the SS was influencing the Fuhrer’s decisions. He sent Hitler several memorandums arguing against war and began campaigning for mass resignation of army officers in order to convince the government to postpone its plans. However Hitler was able to win most of the generals over and Beck resigned on the 18th of August, 1938. He soon began plotting to overthrow Hitler, and became one of the central figures in the group of officers who sought to end the Nazi regime. During the war he planned several attempts to kill Hitler and by 1944 had been chosen as the head of state if the plans to kill Hitler were successful. He was a key member of the 20 July Plot and when it failed was taken into custody by general Friederich Fromm. He shot himself to avoid torture but succeeded only in inflicting a severe head wound, necessitating that one of Fromm’s men finish him off. He was buried secretly in the night.

Ludwig Beck almost certainly helped Nazism gained acceptance within the German military during the early years of Hitler’s rule. However, he eventually saw the danger that Hitler posed to Germany and turned against him. He died attempting to overthrow Hitler, and he should be remembered for his noble, if in vain, sacrifice.

June 28th in German History: The Signing of the Treaty of Versailles

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The Treaty of Versailles

The First World War was the single most important event of the 20th Century. Every conflict or crisis that occurred after was caused either directly or indirectly by the outcomes of that conflict. The First World War led to the rise of the Soviet Union, the end of colonialism, the Great Depression, and the Nazi Party taking power in Germany. While the fighting itself was certainly consequential, perhaps more important were the impacts of the treaty that ended the war, the Treaty of Versailles, which was singed on June 28th, 1919.

The Treaty of Versailles was signed on the five year anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the event which directly precipitated the war. It followed months of negation after the armistice on November 11th, 1918, between the Allied powers. No Germans were allowed to attend. Most of the negotiations were conducted by the “Big Four”: France, Britain, Italy, and the US. Russia was excluded as it had made an earlier separate peace with Germany and had left the war early. The four nations each had their own goals. France, led by Georges Clemenceau, had suffered enormous economic devastation in its most economically productive regions and had suffered 1.7 million soldiers and civilians killed. France thus wanted to annex German territory up to the Rhine to provide a buffer against German aggression and weaken Germany economically. France also wanted reparation payments. The UK under Prime Minister Lloyd George had suffered less and wanted a less harsh peace. Britain did not want France to dominate Europe and instead wanted a viable Germany, and only sought reparation payments and the annexation of German colonies. Italy had few deigns on Germany and was more focused on taking pieces of Austrian territory. The US had suffered the least and wanted an amiable peace, opposing the annexation of colonies, preferring that they be guided towards independence via mandates, and harsh reparations. France, Britain, and Italy all wanted a war guilt clause, which would force Germany to accept full responsibility for starting WWI. Germany, for her part, did not want to pay reparations or give up territory but was in such a desperate position, the Allied blockade was still starving the German population, that it was forced to accept whatever the Allies demanded. The minor Allied Powers – Portugal, Argentina, China, the British and French colonies, Romania, Belgium, and many others – were all also largely excluded from having any influence on the treaty. In the end, Germany would lose the territory of Alsace-Lorraine, which it had taken from France nearly fifty years earlier. It would also be forced to cede parts of Eastern Prussia to the newly formed Polish nation. Germany also had to had to abide by severe military restrictions, including limiting its army to 100,000 men and being prohibited from constructing or purchasing tanks, planes, submarines, and chemical weapons. The exact amount of reparations was not determined in the 1919 treaty, but in 1921 the figure was set at 132 billion gold marks, or $33 billion. Several other provisions were included in the treaty, including one banning unification with Austria. Finally, Germany was forced to accept full responsibility for the war.

The treaty of Versailles would end up satisfying no one, with the possible exception of the Polish. France did not get as much territory as it wanted, and Britain and the US thought that France received too much. Germany nearly resumed the war after hearing of the terms, and as it was the German Minister President resigned rather than sign the treaty. In the long run, Germany humiliation would by the treaty would help crate the environment in which Nazism rose. Many minor nations were upset at the treaty, chiefly colonies which had fought in the war and had received little in return. Ho Chi Min famously spoke at one of the sessions, arguing for Vietnamese independence, a desire ignored by the French. The Treaty of Versailles did not solve and underlying issues. It merely let them fester for two decades and allowed for the world to rearm itself for another war.

June 27th in German History: The Birth of Peter Paul Mauser

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Peter Paul von Mauser.

Germany has produced numerous renowned inventors responsible for the creation of companies and myriad products and devices. One such innovator was Peter Paul Mauser, founder of the famous Mauser weapons company and inventor of Mauser Model 1871 rifle.

Paul Mauser was born on June 27th, 1838, in the city of Oberndorf am Neckar, at that time located in the State of Baden. His father and brothers were all gunsmiths, and he followed in their footsteps. At that time, Germany was undergoing rapid industrialization and the demand for more and better weapons created a climate in which gunsmiths could expand their businesses and innovate. In 1871, he designed the Mauser Model 1871 Rifle, the first of a line of successful rifles which included several advances to the bolt-action technology. He helped design later rifles including the Gewehr 98 and the Karabiner 98k along with smokeless cartridges. His brother Wilhelm Mauser conducted most of the administration of the company. The Mauser company became one of the largest German arms manufacturers, although perhaps not as important as the artillery producer Krupp arms. Paul Mauser died in 1914.

Paul Mauser was one of the many German industrialists who became notable amidst Germany industrialization in the second half of the 19th century. Just as the United States has McCormick, Gatling, Morse, and many others, Germany has its own inventors who should be remembered for the advances they made.

June 26th in German History: The Christian Democratic Union is Founded

The 1957 CDU election poster. It reads “No experiments”, emphasizing the party’s message of stability.

The Christian Democratic Union, or CDU, is a center-right party and the current leading party in Germany. It has been the ruling party in post-war Germany, first West Germany and then unified Germany, for the majority of its history. It was founded in Berlin on June 26th, 1945.

The CDU was created in part because of the recognized need for a united democratic party to stand against extremism. The Wiemar Republic had failed because the disparate democratic parties, while together larger than either the Communist or Nazi party, were divided. Thus, the CDU was created as a party that included both Catholics and Protestants and a broad spectrum of moderate, conservative, anticommunist, and even some more liberal voters. In 1950 its first chairman, Konrad Adenauer, was chosen. From 1949 to 1966 the CDU was the dominant party in Germany. Adenauer was Chancellor until 1963. He maintained a pro-western foreign policy and generally favored lower taxes and less government economic intervention. He played a critical role in rebuilding the German economy and creating a stable political system. In 1966 Free Democratic Party, the third largest party in Germany, broke its coalition with the CDU and joined a coalition with the Social Democratic Party, or SDP. The SPD under chairman Willy Brandt pursued closer relations with the east, or Ostpolitik, while attempting to maintain amiable relations with the West. The CDU was outraged at the 1970 treaties signed with Poland and the USSR which relinquished claims on Germany’s former lands in the East. These treaties caused seven MPs to leave the SPD, leading to a vote of no confidence. However, two MPs from the CDU voted with the SPD, they had been bribed by the East German Stasi, and the SPd stayed in power until 1982. From 1982 to 1998 the party was in power again, and it managed the reunification of Germany. The party declined in popularity in the 1990s because of the increased taxes necessitated by reunification. Chancellor Helmut Kohl led the party until its defeat in the 1998 elections, when its lost power and remained in the opposition until 2005. In 2005, the CDU again took power under the leadership of the first female German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Under Merkel’s leadership, the party has pursued a practice of co-opting policies of its liberal opponents in areas such as nuclear energy, minimum wages, and immigration in order to secure more popular support. however, this shift to the left has led to the formation of the AFD, a far-right party that is currently the the largest opposition party. This has forced the CDU to enter a grand coalition with the SPD. Merkel resigned as party leader in 2018 and has said that she will step down as Chancellor in 2021. Her successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has voiced support for socially conservative policies, including opposition to same-sex marriage. However, after the CDU party in the state of Thuringia collaborated with the AFD, she resigned following claims that she was unable to maintain party discipline.

The CDU has changed greatly in its seventy-year long history. Where once it was an anti-communist conservative party it has become more liberal and has ceased to emphasize its opposition to communism as that ideology has faded from existence. Its support and commitment to German democracy has helped prevent the rise of extremist parties, and its commitment to good relations with Western Europe and the US has helped to reintegrate Germany with the global community. The history of the CDU is fundamentally linked with German history.

June 25th in German History: The Battle of Fontenoy

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The Battle of Fontenoy depicted in Grandes Chroniques de France.

Strictly speaking, every event, if old enough, has affected world history. Even the smallest occurrence has an impact which propagates itself such that eventually every person is in some was impacted by it. However, certain events have had affects on world history far greater than would be suggested by the extent to which they are remembered today. One such event is the Battle of Fontenoy, which was fought on June 25th, 841.

The Battle of Fontenoy was the culmination of the Carolingian Civil War, a three-year-long conflict fought between the three sons of Louis the Pious, the son of Charlemagne and King of the Franks. Before his death, Louis had divided his kingdom into three parts in accordance with Frankish inheritance laws. Lothar I, king of the middle third of Louis’s realm and the son who had been given the imperial title, wanted to unify his father’s lands under his rule. Charles the Bald and Louis the German, kings of the Western and eastern portions of the realm respectively, opposed his efforts and so raised armies to meet him in battle. The battle initially went in Lothar’s favor. However, the arrival of reinforcements on his brothers’ side allowed Louis the German to push him back and when force s under Bernard of Septimania arrived Lothar’s army was routed. he survived and was able to return to his territory, but would be forced to abandon his capital and sue for peace in the next few years.

The Battle of Fontenoy led to the creation of the modern nation-states of Europe. The survival of west and East Francia as independent kingdoms led to the formation of modern-day France and Germany. While middle Francia would not survive, constituent territories like Northern Italy and Bavaria would develop into modern states and regions. The battle ended any real chance of a unified Europe during the Middle Ages, and led to a Europe made up of disparate and opposed nations whose interactions and conflicts drove history for a millennia.