In the next few days, there will be much remembrance of the events of 100 years ago—the end of World War I. Not as much in the U.S., where World War I is like the Korean War, a largely forgotten conflict, even though 115,516 Americans died between 1917-1918, along with over 320,000 sickened, most in the influenza epidemic of 1918.
But for Europe and the world including the U.S. in spite of our isolationism, the end of World War One is momentous, remembered, and memorialized.
From the German perspective, several 9 Novembers during the 20th century were extremely fateful; in fact, today is known in Germany as the Schicksalstag, or Day of Fate.
100 years ago today, after German sailors began to revolt against orders by the Imperial High Command to sail out for a final, climatic battle with the British Royal Navy (which the sailors considered suicidal), Chancellor Prince Max von Baden somewhat prematurely published news that Kaiser Wilhelm II had abdicated. Also prematurely, State Secretary Phlipp Scheidemann, part of the leadership of SPD, announced the formation of a new German republic: “The old and rotten, the monarchy has collapsed. The new may live. Long live the German Republic!” Events afterwards gathered speed; revolution toppled all the monarchical regimes of the German Reich, and the Germans sued for peace on the western front.
These events gave rise to a rightwing article of faith in future years: the Dolchstoßlegende, or the Stab in the Back legend, which the National Socialists would use as a foundational belief. According to the German right, the German army was still in its positions on the Western Front, undefeated, until (mainly Jewish and Socialist) politicians back in Berlin, such as Scheidemann, overthrew the Kaiser and declared the Republic, thus “stabbing in the back” the German army and navy. In spite of the fact that the Navy had mutinied and was no longer a fighting force and the German army was actually disintegrating in France and Belgium, the Dolchstoßlegende helped the German right delegitimize the Republic and prepare the way for its destruction.
An attempt at that destruction was made 95 years ago today when National Socialists and members of other nationalist parties attempted a coup in Munich. In what is now known as the Beer Hall Putsch, NSDAP leader Adolf Hitler declared himself leader in Bavaria, but the march through Munich originating in several beer halls was stopped by Bavarian police. Sixteen nationalists and four policemen were killed, the NSDAP was disbanded and Hitler was jailed. After the party’s ascent to power in 1933, 9 November was celebrated as a national holiday to remember the fallen of the putsch; any mention of the 9 November of 1918 was forbidden, unless it was a repetition of the Dolchstoßlegende.
The Dolchstoßlegende and years of similar lies and antisemitism were part of what ignited Reichskristallnacht on this day 80 years ago in 1938. Jewish synagogues and property were burned and destroyed throughout the Reich; more than 400 Jews were killed or committed suicide. About 30,000 Jews and other “undesirables” were arrested. Many later died in concentration camps. “Crystal Night” was named for the large amount of shattered glass that littered streets around the country. A final humiliation came when Jews were made responsible for the damage and those who collected on insured damages were forced to sign over insurance payments to the Reich.
And finally, on this day in 1989 29 years ago, after decades of war, destruction, the Holocaust, the Cold War and much lost territory, the Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall) was breached and East and West Germany were reunited. Because the actual reunification occurred on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the more formal date of 3 October 1990 is now celebrated as the official holiday.
Given that 100-150 million lives were lost around the world between roughly 1912 and 1989, 9 November is an appropriate day for a worldwide mourning.