They Did it… Didn’t they?
History is often filled with interesting yet obscure tidbits. Here are just 10 of them.
Witold Pilecki was famous for doing something very courageous and arguably reckless. He deliberately got himself sent to Auschwitz in order to gather information on the camp. He smuggled information out to allies detailing the inhumane conditions and mass murders at the camp. He escaped and later proceeded to fight in the Warsaw uprising.
During the WWII, the Italian Football Federation President and FIFA Vice-President Ottorino Barassi hid the trophy in a shoebox under his bed to prevent Adolf Hitler and the Nazis from taking it. The irony with this is that West Germany won the cup on their first postwar attempt in 1954 by beating the heavily favoured Golden Team of Hungary 3-2.
The prisoners at Colditz- High Security prison in Nazi Germany built a ‘Two Person Glider’, but never got to use. The glider was built in an attic from scrap material and hidden from guard’s view. When the prisoners were about to use it in 1945, the allies were liberating the camp. The prison itself was a castle adapted to house high risk prisoners of war.
During a televised press conference, Gunter Schabowski, a government speaker reads a brief announcement regarding change of border procedures. When asked at what time this would go in effect, he (erroneously) replies that he believed takes effect immediately. The press conference in this question initiated the fall of the Berlin wall. As soon as the new procedures were announced, tens of thousands assembled at the unformed and the overcrowded border posts to make use of the new rules for a visit to West Berlin. Within minutes, the commanders, receiving no guidance from their government, had no choice but to simply open the border and let the people pass.
Felix Dadaev was one of the four body doubles recruited to mislead enemies and potential assassins away from Joseph Stalin. Felix had been recruited by the KGB and was trained to copy the voice, gait and behavioral manners of the Soviet leader. The former dancer and juggler was used at motorcades, parades and seen on newsreel footage. His secret was kept for 50 years until the archives were declassified in 1996 and he was able to tell his story.
Nancy Wake was commonly known as the ‘White Mouse’ by the Gestapo, as she continuously managed to evade capture. Born in New Zealand, she became a freelance journalist in France during the 1930s. It was during a trip to Vienna that she witnessed Nazis beating up Jewish men and women, and such was her disgust that she joined the French Resistance when the war started. She helped thousands of downed allied servicemen and refugees escape France. It is alleged that she killed a German Sentry guard with a neck-chop during one of her missions. For her services to the war effort, America awarded her the ‘Medal of Freedom’, Britain awarded the ‘George Cross’ and France awarded her ‘Legion d’ Honneur’.
One of the greatest generals of all time, Julius Caesar, formed his own cryptic method that has become known as ‘Caesar’s Cipher’. It consists of replacing each letter with a different one the same number of places down the alphabet eg: A with D, B with E, C with F etc. Simple isn’t it? .
The 1904 Tour De France is considered the most unusual of all races in its history. The winner actually finished fifth, but won by default after the top 4 were disqualified for cheating. The top four were disqualified for hitching rides on cars and trains. Much easier to do before the invention of TV.
The first vending machine was used for dispensing holy water. Developed by Heron or Hero of Alexandria in ancient Greece. He used the weight of the coin to activate a lever that would lift a valve open and allow the holy water into a person’s cup. When the coin fell off the lever, it would close the valve.
Thomas Farryner was a baker, blamed for ‘The Great Fire of London’. He went to bed night before and forgot to put of the fire in his ovens. The embers ignited the a nearby stack of firewood. His blunder set the stage for rebuilding much of London- 87 churches were destroyed and 13,200 homes burned to the ground. Ironically only six people were recorded as dead from the fire.
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