April 20th is an important day in history. On this day in 1945, American soldiers of the 3rd, 42nd and 45th Infantry Divisions of the US Seventh Army were celebrating their conquest of Nürnberg, the most German of all cities, considered to be the capital of German nationalism, and Hitler’s favorite city. Where Hitler’s soldiers, a hundred thousand at a time, had once goose-stepped past the reviewing stand at the Zeppelin Field in Nürnberg, American soldiers were doing a victory march on April 20, 1945 and mocking Hitler with a stiff-armed salute from the speaker’s platform.
The city of Nürnberg is famous for its medieval walls and ancient castle. The city dates back to the year 1050 and for around 500 years, it was the unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire, sometimes referred to by historians as the First Reich or first German empire. The National Socialists made Nürnberg the unofficial capital of their empire, which became known as the Third Reich. The Second Reich was the unification of the German states in 1871.
Nürnberg is also famous for toy manufacturing, Gothic churches, Nürnberger bratwurst, gingerbread cookies, and the annual Christmas market. In January 1945, 90% of the old city of Nürnberg was destroyed when it was bombed by the Allies because of its historic importance to Hitler and the Nazis. The famous Nürnberg Castle and the city wall were damaged in the bombing raid, but have been restored.
In the Spring of 1945, the stench in the city of Nürnberg was unbearable; everything smelled of smoke from the charred remains of burned buildings. Corpses had been dragged out of the bomb shelters by the survivors of the bombing and buried in shallow graves in the gardens of destroyed homes. When the trial of the German war criminals began in November 1945, there were 20,000 bodies still buried under the rubble in Nürnberg.
April 20, 1945 was Hitler’s 56th birthday and it was the last time that he appeared in public. On this day, he awarded combat decorations to a group of young boys, not yet in their teens, who had fought bravely in battle, trying to save the Fatherland from the Communist Soviet Union.
The photo above is a still shot from a film made by the Nazis; it shows Hitler gently stroking the cheek of a child soldier.
After celebrating the capture of the bombed-out historic city of Nürnberg for four days, the next assignment of the US Seventh Army was to take Munich, the birthplace of the Nazi party.
On April 29, 1945, the 42nd and 45th divisions were racing toward Munich with the 20th Armored Division between them. Many of these young American soldiers had never heard of the concentration camps in Europe, but that day they would discover the most mind-boggling atrocity in the history of the civilized world: the “death train” outside the over-crowded concentration camp at Dachau. It was enough to make the young American soldiers go berserk and kill the Waffen-SS soldiers who had been sent to surrender the camp, but that’s another story.
On April 20th in 1945, Hitler was in his bunker in Berlin, eating his birthday cake, but he still had the presence of mind to order the complete evacuation of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, which was only a few miles from Berlin. Only 3,000 prisoners, who were too sick to march, were left in the camp. According to Holocaust historians, Hitler ordered the evacuation of the concentration camps in Germany in order to kill the prisoners by marching them to death because he did not want to leave witnesses behind.
April 20th will also be remembered as the day of the “Columbine Massacre” in 1999. At Columbine High School in Colorado, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 people, injured 21, and then committed suicide. The first news reports said that the shooting was done by neo-Nazis, a natural assumption because the massacre happened on Hitler’s birthday. As it turned out, the shooters were the opposite of neo-Nazis.