November 9th is known as the “Day of Fate” (Schicksalstag) in Germany because five different but defining events in German history occurred on that day.
After the Berlin Wall was pulled down on November 9th 1989, it seemed to many a logical day to celebrate the reunification of Germany.
However, there is good reason why October 3rd was ultimately chosen as der Tag der deutschen Einheit (German Unity Day).
In 1923, November 9th witnessed the Munich Beer Hall Putsch, the first, unsuccessful attempt by the National Socialist Party to seize power in Munich.
Exactly 15 years later, after five years of Nazi rule, another of the darkest events of Germany’s 20th century occurred: Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass.
A nationwide pogrom against the Jews, Kristallnacht was carried out by both SA paramilitary forces and German citizens.
It was therefore decided that November 9th was too emotive a day, and that reunification celebrations would overshadow the remembrance of other poignant events.
1848: Execution of Robert Blum
A painting by Carl Steffeck of Robert Blum being executed. Photo: Deutsches Historisches Museum / Wikimedia Commons
German democratic politician and activist Robert Blum was executed on this day in Vienna. He had joined revolutionary fighters in the capital of the then Austro-Hungarian Empire, and was arrested on the November 4th before being condemned to death by a military tribunal.
Blum, who was born in Cologne and rose from being an apprentice gardener to sitting in the preliminary democratic parliament in Frankfurt, was a popular advocate of democracy and greater gender equality, condemning Prussian militarism and anti-Semitism.
His last words were allegedly “Ich sterbe für die Freiheit” (I die for freedom), but his death also marked the end of the democratic stirrings in Germany in the 1840s.
1918: November Revolution and creation of Weimar Republic
A photograph of Philipp Scheidemann leaning out of a window of the Reichstag (staged). Photo: DPA
During the final days of the First World War, on November 9th, the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany from the throne was announced, and he boarded a train to the Netherlands the following day.
In the revolutionary spirit that followed, Social Democrat politician Philipp Scheidemann rushed to a window of the Reichstag in Berlin to declare the new republic before his communist competitor Karl Liebknecht was able to.
Scheidemann’s speech closed with the words: “Das alte und morsche, die Monarchie ist zusammengebrochen. Es lebe das Neue. Es lebe die deutsche Republik.” – “The old and rotten, the monarchy has collapsed. Long live the new. Long live the German Republic!”
1923: Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch
SA paramilitary troops prepare for the Putsch in Munich on November 9th 1923. Photo: DPA
During the early years following the war, there was much instability in Germany, and challenges took place from both the far left and far right against the new democratic Weimar government.
The leader of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Worker’s Party), Adolf Hitler, marched with First World War General Erich Ludendorff and other party members into the centre of Munich to take control of the southern city.
The attempt was quashed by the police: 16 demonstrators and four policemen died, and Hitler was arrested and then imprisoned for five years. The NSDAP was then banned.
1938: Kristallnacht Pogrom
A Jewish shop in Magdeburg on the morning after the progrom. Photo: Bundesarchiv / Wikimedia Commons
On the night of November 9th, SA troops as well as German citizens carried out violent attacks on Jewish populations across Germany.
267 synagogues were destroyed in Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland, and it is estimated that 7,500 German Jewish shops were laid waste to. At least 91 Jews were killed between November 9th and 10th.
On the following day, over 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps such as Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen. The day marked the true beginning of state persecution of the Jewish race.
1989: The fall of the Berlin Wall
Berliners celebrate on top of the wall on November 9th. Photo: DPA
Exactly a month after huge demonstrations against the East German government in Leipzig, November 9th became the defining landmark of the end of communism.
Following a mistake by East German government spokesman Günter Schabowski in a press conference, announcing that new, more relaxed border regulations were to come into effect “ab sofort” (instantly), thousands of East Berliners rushed to the wall.
Hours later they had forced their way through the checkpoints, and the concrete barrier that had divided the city for over 28 years was no more.
The darker side of the “Schicksalstag”
It may well seem a strange coincidence that so many defining events could take place on the same day across the years.
However, there is also a more ominous side to the day itself: it is not a twist of fate that the Beer Hall Putsch and Kristallnacht took place on this day.
Instead, the original idea of November 9th as the “Schicksalstag” could be seen a Nazi initiative, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Hitler’s chief ideologue, Alfred Rosenberg, referred to it as the “Schicksalstag” in the 1920s. The Putsch and the pogrom took place on November 9th because the Nazis were aware of the symbolism of that day, historians Heidi Tworek and Thomas Weber argue in the article.
Hitler's chief ideologue, Alfred Rosenberg. Photo: Bundesarchiv / Wikimedia Commons
Rosenberg felt that staging the Putsch exactly five years after the democratic November revolution, he could mobilise the German people to undo the events of 1918, and to support a new era of authoritarianism in Germany.
The Nazi propaganda machine therefore consciously created this chronological narrative, leading from the – in their eyes – disastrous 1918 November Revolution, to the beginning of a new political force with the Putsch in 1923, and then the implementation of new radical and racial Nazi policy in 1938, the historians argue.
By Alexander Johnstone