From freedom-fighting children of World War Two, to the interwar origins of Aids, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Although the water was ice cold, when 16-year-old Hanna Czarnocka reached the River Oder en route to a POW camp in the autumn of 1944, she relished the chance to wash some of the dirt and blood from her clothes. As her plaits soaked up the water, the gravel and mortar dust caught in them turned to mush, only to harden as her hair dried. ‘It was like a piece of wood’, Hanna, now 86, remembers, recalling how her friends broke the comb they tried to drag through her hair. A few days later they arrived at the Oberlangen camp in north-west Germany. As surviving combatants from the Warsaw Uprising, they were some of the first female POWs of the war.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. On August 1st, 1944 thousands of Polish men, women and children launched a coordinated attack on the Nazi forces occupying the capital. Their aim was to assist and welcome the advancing Red Army as free citizens of Warsaw. The determination, discipline and sheer heroism of the Polish people meant that the Warsaw Uprising lasted an incredible 63 days. However it ended in capitulation, the destruction of much of the capital and the deaths of an estimated 200,000 Poles. Today Radosław Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister, emphasises that the Home Army commanders were counting on the rapid advance of the Soviets into the city when they took the decision to rise against the Nazis. ‘I am convinced’, he says, ‘that if they had known what consequences their decision would bring, they would never have taken it.’ For strategic and political reasons the Russians stayed put. [continue reading]
It is 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell and a new Germany was born. In the last quarter of a century the country has seen an unprecedented opening up of archives and a programme of national education and much public debate about the different inheritances of East and West Germany. There has also been an unprecedented building of monuments marking the horrors of the recent past. But what are the memories that German citizens bring to their new state? What, in short, does the world look like if you are German?
At the forefront of that memory is the Third Reich and the Holocaust. But there is more than that, and one of the ways that German history is not like other European histories is that Germans consciously use it as a warning to act differently in the future. [continue reading]
Nearly a century after they died in battle, the remains of unidentified Canadian soldiers who fought in the First World War are still being found in Europe. Today the Department of National Defence released the names of four who died during the Battle of Amiens in August 1918. Their resting place was discovered in 2006 by then 14-year-old Fabien Demeusere, while digging in his back garden in Hallu, France, 120 kilometres north of Paris.
Demeusere, a young First World War history buff, whose home was built on what had been a battlefield in 1918, had made an important discovery. The remains of eight soldiers were eventually found, but so far only four have been identified. They are: [continue reading]
The origin of the Aids pandemic has been traced to the 1920s in the city of Kinshasa, in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, scientists say. An international team of scientists say a “perfect storm” of population growth, sex and railways allowed HIV to spread. A feat of viral archaeology was used to find the pandemic’s origin, the team report in the journal Science. They used archived samples of HIV’s genetic code to trace its source, with evidence pointing to 1920s Kinshasa.
Their report says a roaring sex trade, rapid population growth and unsterilised needles used in health clinics probably spread the virus. Meanwhile Belgium-backed railways had one million people flowing through the city each year, taking the virus to neighbouring regions. Experts said it was a fascinating insight into the start of the pandemic. HIV came to global attention in the 1980s and has infected nearly 75 million people. It has a much longer history in Africa, but where the pandemic started has remained the source of considerable debate. [continue reading]