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ON THIS DAY

ON THIS DAY

26 Jan 08. Germany’s ‘last’ WWI veteran dies. The man believed to have been Germany’s last World War I veteran has died peacefully at the age of 107. Erich Kaestner, who at 18 was sent to the Western Front but served only four months in the army, died in a Cologne nursing home, his son said. The death on Sunday of Louis de Cazenave, France’s second-last World War I veteran, made global headlines. But in a country that keeps no record of its veterans, Kaestner’s death on 1 January went largely unnoticed. “That is the way history has developed,” said Peter Kaestner, the soldier’s son. “In Germany, in this respect, things are kept quiet – they’re not a big deal.” Erich Kaestner was unrelated to the writer and poet of the same name. Reports in Die Welt daily and Der Spiegel magazine identified Kaestner as Germany’s last World War I veteran, but verification of the claim was difficult as the country keeps no record of its war veterans. In a country where the shame of the Nazi genocide and memories of two world war defeats still cast long shadows, both publications focused more on the German national psyche than the death itself. “The German public was within a hair’s breadth of never learning of the end of an era,” wrote Der Spiegel, until someone updated his death notice on the internet encyclopaedia site, Wikipedia. In its obituary for Kaestner, Die Welt noted: “The losers hide themselves in a state of self-pity and self denial that they happily try to mitigate by forgetting.” Born in 1900, Kaestner had joined the army when he left school in 1918. He rejoined the military as a Luftwaffe first lieutenant in 1939, where he served mainly as a ground support officer in France. After the war, he became a judge in Hanover, where his work earned him Lower Saxony’s Merit Cross. His 75-year marriage was recognised by Germany’s president in 2003 shortly before his wife, Maria, died aged 102. (Source: BBC)

27 January 1945: Auschwitz death camp liberated. The Red Army has liberated the Nazis’ biggest concentration camp at Auschwitz in south-western Poland. According to reports, hundreds of thousands of Polish people, as well as Jews from a number of other European countries, have been held prisoner there in appalling conditions and many have been killed in the gas chambers. Few details have emerged of the capture of Auschwitz, which has gained a reputation as the most notorious of the Nazi death camps. Some reports say the German guards were given orders several days ago to destroy the crematoria and gas chambers. Tens of thousands of prisoners – those who were able to walk – have been moved out of the prison and forced to march to other camps in Germany. Details of what went on at the camp have been released previously by the Polish Government in exile in London and from prisoners who have escaped. In July 1944 details were revealed of more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews who were sent to Poland many of whom ended up in Auschwitz. They were loaded onto trains and taken to the camp where many were put to death in the gas chambers. Before they went they were told they were being exchanged in Poland for prisoners of war and made to write cheerful letters to relatives at home telling them what was happening. According to the Polish Ministry of Information, the gas chambers are capable of killing 6,000 people a day. Another report from Poland told of mass arrests in the village of Garbatka near Radom in the early hours of one morning in August 1942. Workmen were accused of plotting to blow up a local factory. Twenty were executed on the spot, the rest were sent to Auschwitz. Since its establishment in 1940, only a handful of prisoners have escaped to tell of the full horror of the camp. In October last year, a group of Polish prisoners mounted an attack on their German guards. The Germans reportedly machine-gunned the barracks killing 200 Polish prisoners. The Poles succeeded in killing six of their executioners. When the Red Army

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