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Rotten History - December 17

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1944 – (72 years ago) – on the second day of the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, members of a Nazi German combat unit intercepted a US truck convoy near Malmedy, Belgium, took some 120 American troops prisoner, confiscated their weapons, herded them into a field, and mowed them down with machine guns and pistols. Eighty-one soldiers were killed in what became known as the single worst atrocity against US troops in Europe. News of the Malmedy massacre had a major impact in the States, and led to war crimes trials in 1946, in which forty-three German soldiers were sentenced to death and another twenty-two to life in prison. But legal and political disputes over details of the defendants’ arrest and trial eventually led to none of the death sentences being carried out —and by 1956 all the convicted war criminals had been released. One of the German commanders went to live in France, where he received constant death threats. He finally died on Bastille Day 1976, when his house was set on fire by arsonists who were never apprehended, and firefighters arrived to find that their equipment had been sabotaged.

In 1961 – (55 years ago) – In Niterói, Brazil, near Rio de Janeiro, a circus attended by three thousand people went down in a massive fire. The Gran Circus Norte-Americano featured some 60 humans and 150 animals performing inside an enormous tent pitched in the city’s central square. The circus tent was advertised as being made of nylon, but it was actually made of cotton treated with paraffin wax. When fire broke out during a trapeze performance, the flames spread so fast that the whole tent was consumed in five minutes. Some 500 people were killed, including about 350 children.

In 1967 – (49 years ago) – Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt, who had cooperated with US President Lyndon Johnson by sending Australian troops to the war in Vietnam, went for a swim at a beach south of Melbourne that was noted for its often dangerous riptides. Holt, then fifty-nine years of age, was known to be an athletic type and a good swimmer, but he was also suffering from health problems, having collapsed in a parliament session some months earlier. Soon after swimming into the surf, he disappeared under a wave — and before long, Australian police, navy, and air force personnel were out over the ocean in what quickly became one of the largest search operations in that nation’s history. But no trace of Holt could be found — and two days later he was declared dead, triggering a leadership crisis in Australia’s coalition government.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi

Rotten History


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