Today is the day three great tragedies ended and one was endured. Today marks
- the end of the Siege of Leningrad after 872 and the death of over 1.5 million;
- the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camps where 1.1 million were exterminated;
- the escape of 6 Americans who had fled the besieged embassy in Tehran in 1980 as dramatized in the movie Argo; and
- the tragedy of Apollo 1 where 3 astronauts were killed when their capsule caught fire during a launch rehearsal.
1943: END OF SIEGE OF LENINGRAD
The Siege of Leningrad, also known as the Leningrad Blockade (Russian: блокада Ленинграда, transliteration: blokada Leningrada) was a prolonged military operation undertaken by the German Army Group North against Leningrad—historically and currently known as Saint Petersburg—in the Eastern Front theatre of World War II. The siege started on 8 September 1941, when the last road to the city was severed. Although the Soviets managed to open a narrow land corridor to the city on 18 January 1943, the siege was finally lifted on 27 January 1944, 872 days after it began. It was one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history and overwhelmingly the most costly in terms of casualties.
The two-and-a-half year siege caused the greatest destruction and the largest loss of life ever known in a modern city
The 872 days of the siege caused unparalleled 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. Economic destruction and human losses in Leningrad on both sides exceeded those of the Battle of Stalingrad, the Battle of Moscow, or the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The siege of Leningrad is the most lethal siege in world history, and some historians speak of the siege operations in terms of genocide, as a “racially motivated starvation policy” that became an integral part of the unprecedented German war of extermination against populations of the Soviet Union generally.
1945: AUSCHWITZ LIBERATED
FROM WIKIPEDIA: Auschwitz concentration camp was a network of German Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II. It consisted of Auschwitz I (the original camp), Auschwitz II–Birkenau (a combination concentration/extermination camp), Auschwitz III–Monowitz (a labor camp to staff an IG Farben factory), and 45 satellite camps.
Auschwitz I was first constructed to hold Polish political prisoners, who began to arrive in May 1940. The first extermination of prisoners took place in September 1941, and Auschwitz II–Birkenau went on to become a major site of the Nazi “Final Solution to the Jewish question“. From early 1942 until late 1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the camp’s gas chambers from all over German-occupied Europe, where they were killed with the pesticide Zyklon B. At least 1.1 million prisoners died at Auschwitz, around 90 percent of them Jewish; approximately 1 in 6 Jews killed in the Holocaust died at the camp. Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Romani and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and tens of thousands of people of diverse nationalities. Many of those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments.
In the course of the war, the camp was staffed by 6,500 to 7,000 members of the German Schutzstaffel (SS), approximately 15 percent of whom were later convicted of war crimes. Some, including camp commandant Rudolf Höss, were executed. The Allied Powers refused to believe early reports of the atrocities at the camp, and their failure to bomb the camp or its railways remains controversial. One hundred and forty-four prisoners are known to have escaped from Auschwitz successfully, and on October 7, 1944, two Sonderkommando units—prisoners assigned to staff the gas chambers—launched a brief, unsuccessful uprising.
As Soviet troops approached Auschwitz in January 1945, most of its population was evacuated and sent on a death march. The prisoners remaining at the camp were liberated on January 27, 1945, a day now commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the following decades, survivors such as Primo Levi, Viktor Frankl, and Elie Wiesel wrote memoirs of their experiences in Auschwitz, and the camp became a dominant symbol of the Holocaust. In 1947, Poland founded a museum on the site of Auschwitz I and II, and in 1979, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
1967: APOLLO 1 FIRE KILLS THREE ASTRONAUTS
FROM WIKIPEDIA: Apollo 1 (initially designated AS-204) was the first manned mission of the U.S. Apollo manned lunar landing program.The planned low Earth orbital test of the Apollo Command/Service Module never made its target launch date of February 21, 1967, because a cabin fire during a launch rehearsal test on January 27 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 34 killed all three crew members—Command Pilot Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Senior Pilot Edward H. White II, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee—and destroyed the Command Module (CM).The name Apollo 1, chosen by the crew, was officially retired by NASA in commemoration of them on April 24, 1967.
1980: CANADIAN CAPER RESCUES HOSTAGES
FROM WIKIPEDIA: The “Canadian Caper” was the popular name given to the joint covert rescue by the Canadian government and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of six American diplomats who had evaded capture during the seizure of the United States embassy in Tehran, Iran, and taking of embassy personnel as hostages by Islamist students and militants on November 4, 1979.
The “caper” involved CIA agents (Tony Mendez and a man known as “Julio”) joining the six diplomats to form a fake film crew made up of six Canadians, one Irishman and one Latin American who were finishing scouting for an appropriate location to shoot a scene for the nominal science-fiction film Argo. The ruse was carried off on the morning of Sunday, January 27, 1980, at the Mehrabad Airport in Tehran. The eight Americans successfully boarded a Swissair flight to Zurichand escaped Iran. The 2012 film Argo, which won three Academy Awards, and three BAFTA awards including Best Picture, is a fictionalized cinematic representation of the operation, which includes elements of both fact and fiction.