This coming Sunday will mark the ninth day of November. In most parts of the world November 9 is just another day, pretty much like any other. But if you’re German, the date has a lot of historical significance — some positive, some negative — and is sometimes called Germany’s “fateful date” (Schicksalstag).
In 2006 the opening ceremonies for Munich’s new Jewish Center and Ohel Jakob synagogue fell on November 9. The date was not chosen by chance. As any student of world history knows, that date marks a dark event in German history. In 1938 the so-called “Night of Broken Glass” (Kristallnacht or Reichspogromnacht in German) raged on through the night of November 9 into the early morning hours of November 10. The Nazis looted and burned hundreds of synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses all across Germany. The new Munich synagogue stands near the site of the one that was destroyed in 1938.
A happier historical event also took place on November 9 in 1989. That evening Germans and people all over the world were elated to see East Germans streaming into West Berlin through crossing points in the Berlin Wall. At first that date seemed like a good one to commemorate German reunification and become the new national day for the merged Federal Republic of Germany — until it was pointed out that the date was not only shared with the Nazi’s Kristallnacht, but also Hitler’s unsuccessful Munich Beer Hall Putsch (coup d’état) in 1923.
Of course, many other things — good and bad — happened on November 9 over the centuries and decades, in Germany and elsewhere. Here are just a few items concentrating on Germany and Austria (key years and persons in bold):
November 9 Chronology (Austria and Germany)
• 1802: German scientist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt observes the transit of Mercury from Peru.
• 1848: Robert Blum, a German revolutionary, is executed in Vienna (b. 1810).
• 1885: Birth of Hermann Weyl, noted German mathematician (d. 1955).
• 1905: Birth of Erika Mann, German writer (d. 1969), daughter of Thomas Mann.
• 1913: Birth of Hedy Lamarr, Austrian film actress and inventor (d. 2000).
• 1918: Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany abdicates after World War I, and Germany is proclaimed a republic in the “November Revolution.”
• 1921: Albert Einstein is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work with the photoelectric effect.
• 1923: In Munich, police and government troops put down the Nazi Beer Hall (Hitler-Ludendorff) Putsch.
• 1925: Adolf Hitler orders the formation of the Schutzstaffel, better known as the SS.
• 1938: Anti-Jewish Kristallnacht pogrom begins.
• 1944: Otto Hahn awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry.*
• 1967: During the installation of the new rector at Hamburg’s university, students unfurl a banner with the slogan: “Unter den Talaren – Muff von 1000 Jahren” (“Under the professors’ gowns the mold of 1,000 years”) which becomes iconic for Germany’s 1968 student rebellion.
• 1989: Fall of the Berlin Wall.
• 2006: Opening ceremonies for Munich’s new Jewish Center and synagogue.
*Hahn should have shared the Nobel Prize with his collaborator, the Austrian Jew Lise Meitner, but failed to do so.