The Antecedents of Frederick the Great by Levi Bookin: Brandenburg, a minor state in Germany, became Prussia. What was different about Prussia that, in turn, it became the German Empire, and, for example Bavaria did not? The answer lies with their branch of the Hohenzollern family, and eventually, their chancellor, Bismarck.

To put the history of the Hohenzollerns in perspective, however, it is necessary to understand who they were, and that they did not simply sprout in the sandy soil of Prussia. Prussia was for centuries an obscure state, often divided between Poland and Lithuania, and at one time ruled by the Teutonic Knights. The Hohenzollerns, however, are first noted as counts of Zollern, near Nuremberg, in Southern Germany. By a judicious marriage, they became Burgraves of Nuremberg, and for the services of Frederick 6th of Nuremberg to the Holy Roman Emperor, he was awarded the Margraviate of Brandenburg and its Electorate, up in the North. Berlin is the principal city of Brandenburg.

During the Reformation, the Master of the Teutonic Knights, the Duke of Prussia, cast aside his habit and adopted the reformed religion. By another judicious marriage, Prussia fell into the hands of the Hohenzollerns of Brandenburg, and the combination became Brandenburg-Prussia, later known simply as Prussia.

Frederick-William, the Great Elector, inherited a territory devastated by the Thirty Years War. During his reign, he had to contend with the most powerful ruler of his time, Louis XIV of France. In the words of Frederick the Great, "They both ended as great men, as they had lived."

Frederick the Great does not hold his grandfather, Frederick 1st however, in high regard. It seems that he was impelled to imitate the glory of Louis XIV, without the power to back it. His important achievement was to persuade the Emperor to allow him to use the title "King in Prussia." The second king of the Hohenzollern line, Frederick William 1st was known as the "Soldier King." He improved the army he had inherited, and which he passed on to Frederick the Great. In spite of his father's misgivings about him, Frederick put his army to use, in particular against the Holy Roman Empire.

Further Reading: Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg by Frederick the Great, A New Translation by Levi Bookin.


January 24, 1712: Frederick II, the Hohenzollern King of Prussia, is born. He will be known as Frederick the Great (Friedrich der Grosse). Nickname: Old Fritz (der alte Fritz). (MacDonogh II)

August 5, 1730: 18-year old Frederick is discovered about to flee to England with Hans Hermann von Katte, his tutor and confidant, and other junior army officers. (MacDonogh II, Crompton)

From Of Arms and Men, by Robert O'Connell: For Frederick William was a sick man, tortured by a metabolic derangement which manifested itself in a variety of bodily ills and a terrifying temper. And more and more it was vented at his son and heir, the lad who came to be known as Frederick the Great. Young Frederick had been a frail, polite little boy whose first toys were lead soldiers and whose first lessons were the evolutions of Prussian drill. Yet as he moved into adolescence, Frederick developed a passion for France, music, literature, and a clique of effete carousers—all to the disapproval of his thoroughly Germanic father, who took to throwing fits at the very sight of his son. Finally, after Frederick attempted to flee the country, Frederick William decided to break the boy. He accused him of treason, imprisoned him, and then, before his very eyes, had his presumed lover, Katte, beheaded. Yet nothing seemed to hurt Frederick as much as kicking him out of the army and removing him from command of his boy regiment. The Prince repented, masking his aesthetic tendencies and subjecting himself to his father's Spartan regimen aimed at making him a capable ruler, Prussian style. Frederick was an apt student.

September 2, 1730: Frederick and Katte are arrested and imprisoned in Kuestrin. (Reiners)

November 6, 1730: King Frederick William forces young Frederick to watch the decapitation of Hans Hermann von Katte for treason. The teenage crown prince faints. He will suffer severe hallucinations for the next two days. (Crompton, Mitford)

Levi Bookin: Frederick himself was also court-martialed, but the court declared that it was not competent to try the case. It is not clear whether, as claimed by Voltaire, Frederick William intended to have his son executed. However, fortunately for Frederick, the Emperor Charles 6th claimed that a prince had to be tried by the Imperial Diet. Frederick was then imprisoned in a fortress during 1731 and banned from court until early 1732.

November 19, 1730: Frederick is granted a royal pardon and released. (Crompton, Mitford)

From The Outline of History, by H. G. Wells: Among the chief practitioners of Grand Monarchy outside France we may note first the Prussian kings, Frederick William I (1713-40) and his son and successor, Frederick II, Frederick the Great (1740-86). The story of the slow rise of the Hohenzollern family, which ruled the kingdom of Prussia, from inconspicuous beginnings...is a story of luck and violence, of bold claims and sudden betrayals. ....

By the eighteenth century the Prussian kingdom was important enough to threaten the Empire; it had a strong, well-drilled army, and its king was an attentive and worthy student of Machiavelli. Frederick the Great perfected his Versailles at Potsdam. There the park of Sans Souci, with its fountains, avenues, statuary, aped its model; there, also, was the New Palace, a vast brick building erected at enormous expense, the Orangery in the Italian style, with a collection of pictures, a Marble Palace, and so on. Frederick carried culture to the pitch of authorship, and corresponded with and entertained Voltaire, to their mutual exasperation.

June 12, 1733: After seriously considering suicide, Frederick is pressured into marrying Elisabeth Christine, the daughter of Ferdinand Albert II of Brunswick, an Austrian-Protestant Habsburg relative. Frederick had written to his sister that, "There can be neither love nor friendship between us." He greatly resents the political marriage as an example of Austrian interference. Once Frederick secures the throne in 1740, he will prevent Elisabeth from visiting his court in Potsdam. They will have no children. (Reiners, Crompton)

1738: Frederick becomes a Freemason. (MacDonogh II) From History of Frederick II of Prussia by Thomas Carlyle:

The Crown Prince prosecuted his Masonry at Reinsberg or elsewhere, occasionally for a year or two, but was never ardent in it, and very soon after his accession left off altogether...

1739: Frederick completes an idealistic refutation of Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince, called Anti-Machiavel. It will be published anonymously in 1740. D'Alembert to Frederick: "The philosophers and the men of letters in every land have long looked upon you, Sire, as their leader and model." However, Frederick's years dedicated to the arts will soon end. (MacDonogh II)

May 31, 1740: Frederick William I dies. Frederick the Great ascends the throne as Frederick II, King of Prussia. (MacDonogh II)

June 22, 1740: Frederick ends torture and guarantees religion and freedom of the press. Said Frederick: "All religions are equal and good and as long as those practicing are an honest people and wish to populate our land, may they be Turks or Pagans, we will build them mosques and churches."

1740: Frederick awards the first Pour le Merite for combat bravery. It will soon be nicknamed the Blue Max. Note: The Pour le Mérite is correctly called an Order, to which one is awarded membership, and should not be referred to as a medal.

1740's: Frederick begins building Sans-souci (a French phrase which translates loosely as "without worries" or "carefree"), his summer palace in Potsdam, near Berlin. It is the most important example of Northern German rococo.

December 16, 1740: In the War of the Austrian Succession (or the First Silesian War), Frederick violates the Pragmatic Sanction and, without declaration of war, invades Silesia. (Browning)

From The Columbia History of the World, edited by J. A. Garraty and Peter Gay: Frederick I and Frederick the Great dominated the Prussian nobility, built large, well-trained armies, the best in Europe, and reduced the proud aristocrats to the status of bureaucrats in the service of their war machine. Prussia in 1750 resembled France in 1675, the heyday of the great Sun King. Territorial expansion, governmental efficiency, and a mercantilist economy were common to both. Frederick the Great, however, was a different man from Louis XIV. He stifled initiative among his ministers and generals and developed among the Prussian hierarchy a blind, total obedience that persisted long after his death. In seventeenth-century France, courtiers were obsequious but independent-minded; in eighteenth-century Germany they were equally obsequious, and if they incurred the royal disfavor they could be dismissed or even imprisoned by royal fiat. The almost military discipline of the Prussian bureaucracy made for efficiency; thus monarchal absolutism weighed more heavily by far on Prussian society than Louis XIV's absolutism had ever weighed on French society.

Hundreds of inspectors checked up on royal officials and submitted confidential reports to Berlin; junior bureaucrats were encouraged to report on the failings of their superiors to the king himself. Overlapping jurisdictions and wasteful rivalries, so common to the French bureaucracy, were virtually nonexistent. The price of such efficiency, of course, was the stifling of initiative and the imposition upon society of a militaristic, almost Spartan type of government. Frenchmen had surmounted absolutism by finding ways around it, especially where taxes and the judicial process were concerned. Prussians merely submitted. The rapidity of unification and the emasculation of the nobility left Prussian society without any group strong enough to resist the Crown. Frederick was his own foreign minister, treasurer, tax expert, chief justice, minister of the interior, and commander in chief. No earlier sovereign anywhere in Europe so thoroughly dominated the machinery of government. He was Europe's closest approximation to an Oriental despot.

April 10, 1741: The new Prussian King defeats Austria in the Battle of Mollwitz, the first pitched battle fought by Frederick and his army. (Showalter, Browning)

June 11, 1741: In the Peace of Breslau and Berlin, much of Silesia is ceded to Prussia. (MacDonogh II)

July 1741: Frederick II commissions the Staatsoper Unter den Linden (the Berlin State Opera).


June 4, 1745: Frederick defeats the Austrians and the Saxons, under Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine, at the Battle of Hohenfriedberg. The Austrians and Saxons suffer almost 9,000 killed and wounded, with the loss of 5,000 prisoners, four generals and 66 guns. The Prussians casualties are around 5,000 men. This is a great victory for Frederick, and he will soon begin to be known as "Frederick the Great." Note: The encirclement and annihilation of the Austrian infantry—and the quick and decisive manner in which this battle is won—is often referenced as a prototype for the Blitzkrieg tactics of WW2. (Chandler, Browning, Showalter)

September 29, 1745: Frederick emerges victorious in the battle of Soor against a 39,000 man Austrian army led by Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine. (Browning)

December 14, 1745: The Battle of Kesselsdorf is fought between Prussia and the combined forces of Austria and Saxony. The Prussians, led by Leopold I, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau, are victorious. (Chandler)

December 25, 1745: Maria Theresa recognizes Frederick the Great’s "sovereignty over Silesia in return for Prussian recognition of Francis as Holy Roman Emperor" as Prussia and Austria sign the Treaty of Dresden. (Showalter)

1747: Frederick meets with Johann Sebastian Bach in Potsdam. Bach will write "The Musical Offering" as a result.

September 5, 1750: Paderborn, Prussia issues a decree that allows for an annual search of all Jewish homes for stolen property. (MacDonogh II)

1750: From Frederick's Testament politique:

We have too many Jews in the towns. They are needed on the Polish border because in these areas Hebrews alone perform trade. As soon as you get away from the frontier, the Jews become a disadvantage, they form cliques, they deal in contraband and get up to all manner of rascally tricks which are detrimental to Christian burghers and merchants. I have never persecuted anyone from this or any other sect; I think, however, it would be prudent to pay attention, so that their numbers do not increase. (MacDonogh II)

March 25, 1753: Voltaire falls out with Frederick, a long-time friend and correspondent. Voltaire, who had always hated Frederick's militarism, anonymously publishes The Private Life of the King of Prussia, exposing Frederick as a promiscuous homosexual. Frederick will neither admit nor deny the charges. The two friends will soon resume their correspondence as though nothing of consequence had transpired.

August 29, 1756: The Seven Years' War begins when Frederick—with only Great Britain (Britain is backing Prussia mainly to block France in Europe) and Hanover as his allies—preemptively invades Saxony against the combined might of Saxony, Russia, Spain, Austria, France, and Sweden. (MacDonogh II, Riasanovsky)

November 5, 1757: Frederick the Great defeats the French and the Holy Roman/Austrian Empire at Rosbach. This battle is considered a classic example of the exploitation of rapid movement to achieve the element of complete surprise while suffering negligible casualties. (Citino)

August 25, 1758: The Prussian army engages the invading Russians at the Battle of Zorndorf, during the Seven Years' War. the Prussians loses are 12,800 men, the Russians over 18,000 men. Although the Russians keep control of the battlefield, subsequent retreats will allow Frederick to claim the battle as a victory. (Koch II)

November 3, 1760: Following the Russian capture of Berlin, Frederick II of Prussia defeats the Austrians at the Battle of Torgau in one of the bloodiest battles of the Seven Years' War.

January 5, 1762: Frederick's enemy, Elizaveta (Elizabeth) Petrovna, the Empress of Russia, dies. (Riasanovsky)

January 6, 1762: His battle fortunes at a low point—and still unaware of the death of Elizabeth—Frederick writes to Count Karl-Wilhelm Finck von Finckenstein: "We ought now to think of preserving for my nephew, by way of negotiation, whatever fragments of my territory we can save from the avidity of my enemies." Note: Dubbed "The Miracle of the House of Brandenburg," the unexpected death of Empress Elizabeth of Russia will prove to be the turning point that will lead directly to the complete collapse of Frederick's enemies. (MacDonogh II, Showalter)

February 10, 1763: The French and Indian War and the Seven Years' War end when Prussia, Austria, and Saxony sign the Treaty of Hubertusburg. Silesia remains Prussian. Together with the Treaty of Paris, the long conflict ends with no other significant territorial modifications, but with Prussia now standing undisputedly as one of the great powers. (Showalter, MacDonogh II)

April 11, 1764: Russian Empress Catherine II and Frederick sign a defensive alliance which guarantees Prussian control of Silesia in return for Prussian support for Russia against Austria and the Ottoman Empire. (MacDonogh II)

September 22, 1772: Frederick participates in the First Partition of Poland. (MacDonogh II)

September 13, 1779: Frederick II of Prussia issues a manifesto condemning the use of coffee and calling for more consumption of beer.

August 17, 1786: Frederick the Great dies. Frederick, in his will, had wished to be buried next to his beloved pet Italian greyhounds on the terrace of the vineyard of Sanssouci. Instead, his nephew and successor, Frederick William II, has his body entombed next to his father in the church of the Potsdam garrison.

From History of Frederick II of Prussia, by Thomas Carlyle: Frederick was not buried at Sans-Souci, in the Tomb which he had built for himself; why not, nobody clearly says. By his own express will, there was no embalming. Two Regiment-surgeons washed the Corpse, decently prepared it for interment: At 8 that same evening, Frederick’s Body, dressed in the uniform of the First Battalion of Guards, and laid in its coffin, was borne to Potsdam, in a hearse of eight horses, twelve Non-commissioned Officers of the Guard escorting. All Potsdam was in the streets; the Soldiers, of their own accord, formed rank, and followed the hearse; many a rugged face unable to restrain tears: for the rest, universal silence as of midnight, nothing audible among the people but here and there a sob, and the murmur, 'ACH, DER GUTE KOENIG!' All next day, the Body lay in state in the Palace; thousands crowding, from Berlin and the other environs, to see that face for the last time. Wasted, worn; but beautiful in death, with the thin gray hair parted into locks, and slightly powdered. And at 8 in the evening [Friday, 18th], he was borne to the Garnison-Kirche of Potsdam; and laid beside his father, in the vault behind the Pulpit there.

December 2, 1804: Napoleon crowns himself Emperor of the French Empire in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris.

October 14, 1806: Napoleon, after having taken command of the Grande Armee in Germany, defeats Prussia at the Battles of Jena-Auerstadt. Wrote Charles Summerville: By the time of his death, Frederick's army was the envy of Europe, and his concepts ... much copied. [By 1806 ] however, it remained rooted in the past: a fossil preserved in Baltic amber.

From Napoleon and Hitler: A Comparative Biography, by Desmond Seward: Admittedly Hitler's hero, in so far as he ever had one, was Frederick the Great, as creator of the Preussensgeist—that terrifyingly dynamic compound of militarism and State service, of discipline and precision. In the Fuehrer’s eyes, Napoleon never achieved anything like such distinction. Yet while he sometimes looked to the old King for inspiration he must have been keenly aware how many of his problems had been those of the man whom he described to Himmler as 'that unique military genius, the Corsican Napoleon.' ...

(After occupying Berlin) Napoleon took the opportunity to visit the tomb of a soldier whom he genuinely admired—Frederick the Great. Indeed, to some extent he had modeled himself on the grim old King, whose example inspired his plain gray uniform and small unbraided hat. He sent back to Paris not only 340 Prussian standards to hang up in the Invalides but Frederick's sword which he took from the tomb at Potsdam.

(Der Alte Fritz was even more a hero of the Fuehrer. "Despite all Napoleon's genius, Frederick the Great was the most outstanding man of the eighteenth century," he declared. "When seeking to find a solution for essential problems concerning the conduct of affairs of State, he refrained from all illogicality"—presumably a reference to the King's notorious lack of scruple. In particular, Hitler considered him the Emperor's superior because of the latter's nepotism: "When Napoleon set the interests of his family clique above all, Frederick the Great looked around him for men, and, at need, trained them himself.")

October 27, 1806: Napoleon enters Berlin.

From Prussian Reserve Infantry: 1813-15, by Robert Mantle: The whole campaign was epitomised by the surrender of Hohenlohe's army at Prenzla, where Murat was able to bluff a vastly superior force into laying down its arms. Twenty-nine thousand men under L'Estocq managed to link up with the Russian army in East Prussia, but by the end of November 1806, the majority of the Prussian Army had surrendered and Frederick the Great's sword and sash were on their way to Les Invalides as trophies. The basic material of the old army, the private soldier, was sound, but internal weaknesses had meant that the Prussian army was out-thought as well as outfought...

March 11, 1812: Citizenship is granted to Prussian Jews.

September 14, 1812: Napoleon's Grand Armee enters Moscow to find the city abandoned and set aflame by the inhabitants; retreating in the midst of a frigid winter, the army suffers devastating losses.

October 19, 1812: The French begin their disastrous retreat from Moscow.

March 4, 1813: The Russians fighting against Napoleon reach Berlin. The French garrison evacuates the city without a fight.

August 26-27, 1813: The Battle of Dresden, Napoleon’s last major victory against the allied forces of Austria, Russia and Prussia, takes place.

October 16-19, 1813: In the Battle at Leipzig (aka Battle of the Nations) Napoleon faces Prussia, Austria and Russia and suffers one of his worst defeats.

1813: Prussia takes possession of Danzig.

1813: Frederick William III of Prussia introduces the Iron Cross, the most significant military decoration of the Kingdom of Prussia and later of Germany.

June 16, 1815: Napoleon defeats the Prussians at the Battle of Ligny, Belgium.

June 18, 1815: British and Prussian troops under the Duke of Wellington defeat Napoleon Bonaparte and his forces at the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium. Gunther Rothenberg will write:

In 1806 the typical Prussian soldier had been a mercenary or a reluctant conscript; now he was animated both by patriotism and by a deep and even savage hatred of the French. The first expressed itself, as it had in the days of Frederick, by religion. As the Prussian infantry saw the French retreating the evening of Waterloo, the fusiliers began to sign the old Lutheran hymn, 'A mighty fortress is our God' ... Hatred of the French expressed itself in bitter fighting and in the ability to rally after initial defeat.

April 1, 1815: Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg, Count of Bismarck-Schönhausen, Prussian German statesman and aristocrat, is born.

September 26, 1815: Russia, Prussia and Austria sign a Holy Alliance.

November 20, 1815: The treaties known collectively as the 2nd Peace of Paris are concluded. Austria’s chancellor Klemens von Metternich assists in the creation of a "Concert of Europe," a system by which 4-5 big powers keep ambitions in check and manage the affairs of the smaller states for over a decade.

April 6, 1848: The Jews of Prussia are granted equality.

July 2, 1850: Prussia agrees to abandon Schleswig and Holstein.

September 23, 1862: Otto von Bismarck becomes German Minister-President and Foreign Minister.

September 30, 1862: Bismarck speaks before the Budget Committee of the Prussian Chamber of Deputies:

Our blood is too hot; we prefer armor too heavy for our slight body, but we should put it to use nevertheless. The eyes of Germany are not fixed on Prussian liberalism, but upon her power. Bavaria, Wuerttemberg, and Baden may choose the liberal path. No one for that reason will allot Prussia's role to them. Prussia must concentrate and maintain its power for the favorable moment which has already slipped by several times. Prussia's boundaries according to the Vienna treaties are not favorable to a healthy state life. The great questions of the time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions—that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849—but by iron and blood.

September, 1862: From Transformation of a Liberal, the diary of Heinrich von Treitschke:

You know how passionately I love Prussia, but when I hear a shallow Junker, like this Bismarck, brag about the "iron and blood" with which he is going to subjugate Germany, then the vileness of it all is only surpassed by its ridiculousness. I have no doubt that the astonishing determination of the Prussian people will and must be victorious in a few years. But, unfortunately, a few years of delay can have fateful consequences in this rapid-moving time...

February, 1865: From the diary of Heinrich von Treitschke:

At least half of all thinking Germans are in favor of the annexation (of Schleswig-Holstein), but a contrary order has been given (by the particularists) and if one dares express his feelings, everyone shouts "murder"...Will Prussia possess the courage to break with Austria? I doubt it. And in addition there is this incapable legislature which wants in such a situation to cut the funds for the army and navy! And then a government with which one can not deal because it deserves no confidence...But let us not despair: in spite of everything Prussia is an aspiring state and now finally fortune seems again to be smiling on her. Meanwhile, we should do our duty, even at the danger of being considered hirelings of Bismarck—to show these phrase-thrashing Kyffhaeuser Germans (medieval romanticists) that we must place unity above all else if anything is to amount of the fatherland.

August 20, 1865: Bismarck successfully manipulates Austria into signing the Gastein Convention, under which Prussia receives Schleswig and Austria Holstein. (Friedjung)

October, 1865: From the diary of Heinrich von Treitschke:

We have lived terribly fast in these two years. All the parties have been cut adrift...I live in the belief that we are those who have most truly preserved the healthy core of the ideas of the old liberalism and of the party for German unity. I have not been an admirer of Bismarck, the demoralizing effect of his policies is obvious. But when I size up the opposition, I have no doubt of my choice.

March 16, 1866: The Austrian Government announces that it should refer the affairs of Schleswig-Holstein to the Federal Diet. Bismarck considers this a violation of the Gastein Convention. (Friedjung)

June 12, 1866: Diplomatic relations between Austria and Prussia are terminated. (Friedjung)

June 15, 1866: Bismarck demands that the sovereigns of Hanover, Saxony, and Hesse-Cassel accept the Prussian scheme of federal reform. When replies not to Bismarck's liking are received, Prussian troops march into these territories, beginning the Austro-Prussian War (called also the Seven Weeks' War). Weimar, Mecklenburg, and other petty States in the north side with Prussia. All the rest of Germany joins Austria. The war will pave the way for the establishment in 1871 of the German Empire. (Friedjung)

August 23, 1866: The Peace of Prague results in the dissolution of the German Confederation, Prussian annexation of many of Austria’s former allies, and the permanent exclusion of Austria from German affairs. The Austro-Prussian War leaves Prussia the dominant power in Germany. (Friedjung)

July 19, 1870: The Franco-Prussian War begins as Emperor Napoleon III of France declares war on Otto von Bismarck's Germany. (Taylor IV)

July, 1870: From the diary of Heinrich von Treitschke:

What can a German desire more beautiful than participation in this (Franco-Prussian War) contest?...A higher hand is managing our affairs and forces us to become a united people. .... With what chances would Germany begin this fearful war if the old Confederation and the thirty-four little armies were still in existence? Praise God, who sent us the rigorous year of '66 and spreads a strong and powerful will over our united fatherland.

September 2, 1870 Franco-Prussian War: Napoleon III and 83,000 encircled French troops, capitulates to the Prussians at Sedan, France. (Taylor IV)

September 4, 1870: France proclaims the deposition of the emperor and the establishment of the Third Republic. (Taylor IV)

September 19, 1870 Franco-Prussian War: Two Prussian armies begin a 135-day siege of Paris. Jules Favre, foreign minister in the new French provisional government, departs to negotiate with Bismarck, but the negotiations will be broken off when Favre discovers that Germany now demands Alsace and Lorraine. (Taylor IV)

October 27, 1870 Franco-Prussian War: Bazaine surrenders the French fortress of Metz to the Prussian Army with his 140,000 troops intact.

January 8, 1871 Franco-Prussian War: Prussian troops begIn to bombard Paris. (Taylor IV)

January 18, 1871: Princes of the German states gather at the Versailles Palace's Hall of Mirrors to proclaim Wilhelm of Prussia as Emperor Wilhelm I of the German Empire. The formal Unification of Germany into a more politically and administratively integrated nation state is the result.

January 28, 1871 Franco-Prussian War: Surrounded by Prussian troops and suffering from famine, the French army in Paris surrenders. (Taylor IV)

February 26, 1871 Franco-Prussian War: France and Prussia sign a preliminary peace treaty at Versailles. (Taylor IV)

March 1, 1871 Franco-Prussian War: Germans march in a victory parade down the Champs-Elyses in Paris. Bismarck honors the armistice by sending trainloads of food into Paris and withdrawing Prussian forces to the east of the city. He promises that the troops will be withdrawn as soon as France agrees to pay five-billion francs in war indemnity. At the same time, Prussian forces are withdrawn from France and concentrated in the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. (Taylor IV)

May 10, 1871: The Treaty of Frankfurt, ending the Franco-Prussian War, is signed. (Taylor IV)

April 13, 1882: An anti-Semitic League forms in Prussia.

January 28, 1886: From a speech by Bismarck to the Lower House of the Prussian Parliament:

I cannot say that I was misunderstood at the time. I spoke clearly about these matters, perhaps more clearly than was good, in the now-famous but imperfectly understood "blood and iron" speech. It dealt with military questions, and I said then: Put the strongest possible military forces, in other words, as much "blood and iron" as possible, in the hands of the king of Prussia. Then he will be able to make the policy you want. Policy is not made with speeches and shooting-matches and songs. It is made solely with "blood and iron." I would perhaps have been understood if I had not had too many rivals in this area—the creation of Germany.

In this situation I harbored a conscious intention that I could not yet speak aloud. Had I done so, I would have received support from neither Russia nor France, neither Austria nor England; the latter would have [supported my goal] with no more than words; the former, not even with words. The seed that I cultivated carefully would have been nipped in the bud by the combined pressure of all Europe, and our ambition would have been put to rest. None would have acted on behalf of the German cause out of love for us, and none even out of self-interest...

June 18, 1887: As the capstone of a delicately balanced series of treaties and alliances, Bismarck makes a secret alliance with Russia known as the Reinsurance Treaty. Bismarck's main purpose is to isolate France. Under the Reinsurance Treaty, Germany and Russia both agree to observe neutrality should the other be involved in a war with a third country. However, neutrality would not apply should Germany attack France or Russia attack Austria-Hungary.

The treaty will remain secret until 1896, when it will be revealed to the world by the Hamburger Nachrichten. Wilhelm will refuse to extend the Reinsurance Treaty when it expires in 1890, despite former Chancellor Bismarck's warning that failure to do so will inevitably lead to war within 20 years. Bismarck's prediction will prove to be off by only a few months. (Taylor IV)

June 15, 1888: Kaiser Wilhelm II (Prince Frederick William Victor Albert of Prussia) becomes the last German Emperor and King of Prussia (Deutscher Kaiser und König von Preussen).

From The Kaiser: Warlord of the Second Reich, by Alan Palmer: But in Berlin...the Prussian capital could not shake off the legacy of Frederick the Great. William I himself always behaved as though soldiering was the true vocation of the House of Hohenzollern and, though Frederick had died in 1786 disillusioned and far from popular, dynastic sentiment perpetrated his achievements and he was remembered as the victor of Rossbach and Leuthen. When Treitschke began his history of nineteenth-century Germany, he declared, "The twelve campaigns of the Frederician Era have left their mark forever on the martial spirit of the Prussian people and the Prussian army"; and William I insisted that the first presentation of colors after his ascension should take place at a ceremony beside Frederick's tomb in Potsdam. Nor was this romanticized past so very remote. "Those who knew him are still alive," the Crown Princess reminded her mother early in 1863; and added that she herself was acquainted with two of them.

March 20, 1890: Bismarck resigns at Wilhelm II's insistence at age 75. He is succeeded as Chancellor of Germany and Minister-President of Prussia by Leo von Caprivi. (Taylor IV)

From The Kaiser and His Times, by Michael Balfour: All Bismarck’s resources were deployed (in retaining office); he even asked Empress Frederick to use her influence with her son on his behalf. But the wizard had lost his magic; his spells were powerless because they were exerted on people who did not respect them, and he who had so signally disregarded Kant’s command to use people as ends in themselves had too small a stock of loyalty to draw on. As Lord Salisbury told Queen Victoria: 'The very qualities which Bismarck fostered in the Emperor in order to strengthen himself when the Emperor Frederick should come to the throne have been the qualities by which he has been overthrown.' The Empress, with what must have been a mixture of pity and triumph, told him that her influence with her son could not save him for he himself had destroyed it.

July 27, 1900: After the murder of the German ambassador in China, a regiment of German troops is sent off to China with a rousing speech by the Kaiser:

Should you encounter the enemy, he will be defeated! No quarter will be given! Prisoners will not be taken! Whoever falls into your hands is forfeited. Just as a thousand years ago the Huns under their King Attila made a name for themselves, one that even today makes them seem mighty in history and legend, may the name Germany be affirmed by you in such a way in China that no Chinese will ever again dare to look cross-eyed at a German...

January 29, 1912: Kaiser Wilhelm conducts celebrations of Frederick the Great's bicentennial at his tomb in Potsdam. By design, the celebration takes place five days after Frederick’s two-hundredth day, on this, Williams 53rd birthday. (Palmer)

From The Arms of Krupp, by William Manchester: The Krupp Centenary opened in the early summer of 1912 with the distribution of 14 million marks among the firms workmen, and then it started to become lavish. It was the Reich's equivalent of Victoria's Diamond Jubilee of 1897—an orgy of spending, chauvinism, self-congratulation, and misty nostalgia. The anniversary, wrote the Nation, was being celebrated in Germany "much as if (Krupp) were a branch of the government, as in a sense it is." Newspapers devoted thousands of columns to the parallels between the family and the Volk. Magazines explained how the rise of Krupp's industrial empire was inextricably bound up with that of the Reich. Editorial writers reminded their readers that a hundred years earlier, when Alfred Krupp wriggled free of his mother's womb, Germany was just beginning to throw off the Napoleonic yoke and feel the stirrings which were to flower at Versailles in 1871, and in every little town square the local Buergermeister took his stance beneath the Franco-Prussian victory statue to salute the enterprise which, in the words of one of them, "is today, as it has been for decades past, the greatest maker of war materials the world over." In Essen, the celebrations were scheduled to cover three days. Wilhelm arrived from Berlin wearing the uniform of the All-Highest Warlord—des allerhoechsten Kreigsherrn, as he liked to style himself these days.

September 9, 1912: Kaiser Wilhelm speaks at the Krupp Centenary celebration in Essen:

Krupp cannon have thundered over the battlefields where German unity was fought for and won, and Krupp cannon are the energy of the German army and navy today. The ships constructed in the Krupp yards carry the German flag into every sea. Krupp steel protects our vessels and our forts.

From Europe: 1914-1939, by F. Lee. Burns and Mary Elisabeth Seldon: These ententes, alliances, and counter-alliances, though defensive in their original character, eventually created an atmosphere favorable to war. Naturally, the number of "danger spots" which might embroil all Europe in a serious international conflict was increased as states became more and more entangled in the plans and aspirations of their allies. At the same time, believing that if attacked they would have the active assistance of their allies, states became less willing to make concessions in times of diplomatic clashes. Finally, as the international situation became more tense, members of each alliance became reluctant to concede anything to members of the other lest their action be interpreted as weakness and their group suffer a loss of prestige.

Accompanying the rise of entangling alliances, and undoubtedly accelerated by the fear engendered by these alliances, was the growth of huge national armaments. After the Austro-Prussian and Franco-German wars, the system of conscription which seemed to have enabled Prussia to gain an easy victory in each case was rapidly adopted by the other states on the Continent. One after another the national armies were reorganized on the Prussian model. Year by year the number of young men called to serve in the various national armies was increased until Europe came to be a veritable armed camp. All this was done in the name of peace, for it was argued that the best insurance against war was national preparedness. Many taxpayers complained, however, of the ever-increasing tax burden laid upon them for armaments which some pacifists maintained would not assure peace but might rather provoke war.

July 28, 1914: Kaiser Wilhelm, upon reading the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum delivered to Serbia, writes on it:

A brilliant solution—and in barely 48 hours! This is more than could have been expected. A great moral victory for Vienna; but with it every pretext for war falls to the ground, and [the Ambassador] Giesl had better have stayed quietly at Belgrade. On this document, I should never have given orders for mobilization. (Balfour)

August 1, 1914: France orders French mobilization as Germany declares war on Russia.

August 2, 1914: Russian troops invade Eastern Prussia.

May 1918: German fighter pilot Hermann Goering, despite still being 3 short of the required 25 enemy planes destroyed, is awarded the coveted Pour le Mérite.

November 9, 1918: Friedrich Ebert becomes the first Minister-President of the Free State of Prussia, the largest independent German state.

November 11, 1918: The Armistice comes into force, ending hostilities on reasonable terms for Germany.

November 28, 1918: Kaiser Wilhelm abdicates and goes into exile. (Palmer)

April 12, 1922: Adolf Hitler delivers a political speech in Munich:

Certainly a government needs power, it needs strength. It must, I might almost say, with brutal ruthlessness press through the ideas which it has recognized to be right, trusting to the actual authority of its strength in the State. But even with the most ruthless brutality it can ultimately prevail only if what it seeks to restore does truly correspond to the welfare of a whole people. That the so-called enlightened absolutism of a Frederick the Great was possible depended solely on the fact that, though this man could undoubtedly have decided 'arbitrarily' the destiny—for good or ill—of his so-called 'subjects,' he did not do so, but made his decisions influenced and supported by one thought alone, the welfare of his Prussian people. It was this fact only that led the people to tolerate willingly, nay joyfully, the dictatorship of the great king.

1924: The Nazi Party receives 1.8% of the vote in the Free State of Prussia, giving Hitler's party 6 seats in the Landtag. This is the Party's first success in Prussia.

December 20, 1924: Hitler is pardoned for his participation in the Hitler Putsch (or Munich Putsch or Beer Hall Putsch)and released from jail, though he is banned from speaking in Northern Germany, including Prussia. Note: Public speaking bans against Hitler will be lifted and reinstated dozens of times over the next nine years; too many times to keep track of them all here.

From Mein Kampf, Volume 1, Chapter 10: It is clear that the worth and significance of the monarchical principle cannot rest in the person of the monarch alone, unless Heaven decrees that the crown should be set on the head of a brilliant hero like Frederick the Great, or a sagacious person like William I. This may happen once in several centuries, but hardly oftener than that. The ideal of the monarchy takes precedence of the person of the monarch, inasmuch as the meaning of the institution must lie in the institution itself. Thus the monarchy may be reckoned in the category of those whose duty it is to serve. He, too, is but a wheel in this machine and as such he is obliged to do his duty towards it. He has to adapt himself for the fulfillment of high aims. If, therefore, there were no significance attached to the idea itself and everything merely centered around the ‘sacred’ person, then it would never be possible to depose a ruler who has shown himself to be an imbecile.

March 10, 1927: Prussia lifts its public speaking ban on Hitler.

From Zweites Buch, (1928) by Adolf Hitler: No, the German Folk is today attacked by a pack of booty hungry enemies from within and without. The continuation of this state of affairs is our death. We must seize every possibility of breaking it, even if its result may a thousand times likewise have its weaknesses or objectionable sides as such. And every such possibility must therefore be fought out with the utmost energy. The success of the battle of Leuthen was uncertain, but it was necessary to fight it. Frederick the Great did not win because he went toward the enemy with only half his strength, but because he compensated for the uncertainty of success by the abundance of his genius, the boldness and determination of his troop dispositions, and the derring do of his regiments in battle. I'm afraid, indeed, that I will never be understood by my bourgeois critics, at least as long as success does not prove to them the soundness of our action. Here the man of the Folk has a better counselor. He sets the assurance of his instinct and the faith of his heart in place of the sophistry of our intellectuals. ....

After the victorious war of 1870-1871, the German Folk achieved a position of infinite esteem in Europe. Thanks to the success of Bismarckian statesmanship and Prussian German military accomplishments, a great number of German States, which heretofore had been only loosely linked, and which, indeed, had not seldom in history faced each other as enemies, were brought together in one Reich. A province of the old German Reich, lost 170 years before, permanently annexed at that time by France after a brief predatory war, came back to the mother country. Numerically thereby the greatest part of the German nation, at least in Europe, was amalgamated in a unitary State structure. It was cause for concern that ultimately this State structure included ...million(s of) Poles and... Alsatians and Lorrainers become Frenchmen. This did not correspond either with the idea of a National or of a Volkish State. ....

In Europe, Germany should have had to counter the two power standard on land to the two power standard on the seas. And just as England with an iron determination saw a reason for going to war at every violation of this standard, so did Germany have to prevent every attempt in Europe to outflank her army through France and Russia by a military decision, even one which had to be precipitated, and for which more than one favorable opportunity had presented itself. Even here this bourgeoisie misused one of Bismarck's utterances in a most senseless way. Bismarck's assertion that he did not intend to wage preventive war was joyfully seized upon by all weak, lazy and also irresponsible armchair politicians as a cover for the disastrous consequences of their anything goes policy. Only thereby they completely forgot that all three wars which Bismarck had conducted were wars which, at least according to the conceptions of these anti preventive war peace philosophers, could have been avoided.

Consider, for example, what insults by Napoleon III in 1870 would have to be heaped on the German Republic of today for it to decide to request M. Benedetti to moderate his tone somewhat. Neither Napoleon nor the whole French Folk would ever have been able to incite the German Republic of today to a Sedan: or does one believe that if Bismarck had not wanted a decision, the war of 1866 could not have been prevented? Now here it can be objected that this was a question of wars with clearly set aims, and not of a kind whose only ground lies in the fear of an attack by the enemy. But in reality this is only word splitting. Because Bismarck was convinced that the struggle with Austria was inevitable, he prepared himself for it and carried it through when the occasion suited Prussia.

The reform of the French army by Marshal Niel made clearly perceptible the intention to give French policy and French chauvinism a forceful weapon for an attack against Germany. As a matter of fact, it would doubtless have been possible for Bismarck to bring the conflict to some kind of a peaceful solution in 1870. But it was more expedient for him to fight it out to the finish at a time when the French army organization had not yet arrived at its full efficiency. Moreover, all these interpretations of Bismarckian utterances suffer from one thing, namely, they confuse Bismarck the diplomat with a republican parliamentarian. How Bismarck himself judged such utterances is best shown in his reply to a questioner before the outbreak of the Prussian Austrian War, who would have very much liked to know whether Bismarck really intended to attack Austria, whereupon the latter, with an impervious expression, replied: No, I have no intention of attacking Austria, but neither would I have the intention of telling them, in case I wanted to attack her.

Moreover, the hardest war that had ever been fought by Prussia was a preventive war. When Frederick the Great had received final knowledge of the intention of his old enemies, through a scribbler soul, he did not wait until the others attacked, on the grounds of a fundamental rejection of a preventive war, but went immediately over to the attack himself.

April 24, 1932: The Nazi Party increases its share of the vote in the Free State of Prussia to 36.6%, giving Hitler's party 162 seats in the Landtag. The Nazi Party receives more votes in Prussia than any other single party.

From The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer: In the delirious days of the annual rallies of the Nazi Party at Nuremberg at the beginning of September, I used to be accosted by a swarm of hawkers selling a picture postcard on which were shown the portraits of Frederick the Great, Bismarck, Hindenberg and Hitler. The inscription read: 'What the King conquered, the Prince formed, the Field Marshal defended, the Soldier saved and unified.' Thus Hitler, the soldier, was portrayed not only as the savior and unifier of Germany but as the successor of these celebrated figures who had made the country great. The implication of the continuity of German history, culminating in Hitler's rule, was not lost upon the multitude. The very expression 'the Third Reich' also served to strengthen this concept. The First Reich had been the medieval Holy Roman Empire; the Second Reich had been that which was formed by Bismarck in 1871 after Prussia's defeat of France. Both had added glory to the German name. The Weimar Republic, as Nazi propaganda had it, had dragged that fair name in the mud. The Third Reich restored it, just as Hitler had promised. Hitler's Germany, then, was depicted as a logical development from all that had gone before - or at least all that had been glorious.

July 20, 1932: Reich Chancellor Franz von Papen issues an emergency decree which dismisses the cabinet of the Free State of Prussia under Otto Braun. Papen appoints himself Reich Commissioner for Prussia and takes control of the government. (IMT)

January 30, 1933: Upon Hitler's ascension to power, von Papen becomes premier of Prussia as part of the deal. Almost unnoticed, Hitler's top lieutenant, Hermann Goering, becomes Prussian Minister of the Interior and Commander-in-Chief of the Prussian Police. (IMT)


1933: From the Methodist church newspaper, the Friedensglocke, detailing Hitler's meeting with a group of deaconesses from the Bethel Institutions at his home at Obersalzberg:

The deaconesses entered the chamber and were astonished to see the pictures of Frederick the Great, Luther, and Bismarck on the wall. Then Hitler said: Those are the three greatest men that God has given the German people. From Fredrick the Great I have learned bravery, and from Bismarck statecraft. The greatest of the three is Dr. Martin Luther, for he made it possible to bring unity among the German tribes by giving them a common language through his translation of the Bible into German....One sister could not refrain from saying: Herr Reichkanzler, from where do you get the courage to undertake the great changes in the whole Reich? Thereupon Hitler took out of his pocket the New Testament of Dr. Martin Luther, which one could see had been used very much, and said earnestly: "From God's word."

February 27, 1933: The German Reichstag is set on fire. At Hitler's urging, President Paul von Hindenburg issues the Reichstag Fire Decree, which suspends civil liberties in Germany. (IMT)

March, 1933: The Nazi Party again increases their share of the vote in the Free State of Prussia to 43.3%, giving Hitler's party 211 seats in the Landtag. The Nazi Party again receives more votes than any other party, but not a majority, in this, the last free election ever held in Prussia.


March 21, 1933: Reich Chancellor Hitler and Reich President Hindenberg attend elaborate ceremonies opening the new Reichstag in Potsdam .



From The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer: But Hitler wished, at this stage, to make a grandiose gesture to the aged Field Marshall and to the Army and the nationalist conservatives as well, and in doing so link his rowdy, revolutionary regime with Hindenberg's venerable name and with all the past military glories of Prussia. To accomplish this he and Goebbels, who on March 13 became Minister of Propaganda, conceived a master stroke. Hitler would open the new Reichstag, which he was about to destroy, in the Garrison Church at Potsdam, the great shrine of Prussianism, which aroused in so many Germans memories of imperial glories and grandeur, for here lay buried the bones of Frederick the Great, here the Hohenzollern kings had worshiped, here Hindenberg had first come in 1866 on a pilgrimage when he returned as a young Guards officer from the Austro-Prussian War, a war which had given Germany its first unification.

The date chosen for the ceremonial opening of the first Reichstag of the Third Reich, March 21, was significant too, for it fell on the anniversary of the day on which Bismarck had opened the first Reichstag of the Second Reich in 1871. As the old field marshals, generals and admirals from imperial times gathered in their resplendent uniforms in the Garrison Church, led by the former Crown Prince and Field Marshal von Mackensen in the imposing dress and headgear of the Death's Head Hussars, the shades of Frederick the Great and the Iron Chancellor hovered over the assembly.

April 11, 1933: Hermann Goering takes over the government in Prussia while Papen is visiting the Vatican. With this subterfuge, Hitler decisively takes power in Germany, including complete control of the police. (IMT)

From Germany Reborn, by Hermann Goering: I became commissioner of the Interior in Prussia and at the same time Minister of the Reich. I had taken on a heavy responsibility and a vast field of work lay before me. It was clear that I should be able to make a little use of the administrative system as it then was. I should have to make great changes. To begin with, it seemed to me of the first importance to get the weapon of the criminal and political police firmly into my own hands. Here it was that I made the first sweeping changes of personnel. Out of 32 police chiefs I removed 22. New men were brought in, and in every case these men came from the great reservoir of the Storm Troops.

I gave strict orders and demanded that the police should devote all their energies to the ruthless extermination of subversive elements. In one of my first big meetings in Dortmund I declared that for the future there would be only one man who would bear the responsibility in Prussia, and that one man was myself. Every bullet fired from the barrel of a police pistol was my bullet. If you call that murder, then I am the murderer.

Finally I alone created, on my own initiative, the State Secret Police Department. This is the instrument which is so much feared by the enemies of the State, and which is chiefly responsible for the fact that in Germany and Prussia today there is no question of a Marxist or Communist danger.

May 10, 1933: A book burning ceremony (20,000 books) is held by members of Nazi youth groups at Frederick the Great’s Royal Library at Berlin, founded in 1661 by Frederick William of Brandenburg, and renamed the Prussian State Library. Now known as the Berlin State Library.

From Hitler, by Ian Kershaw: He (Hitler) was incapable of systematic work and took no interest in it. He was as chaotic and dilettante as ever. He had found the role where he could fully indulge the unordered, undisciplined, and indolent lifestyle that had never altered since his pampered youth in Linz and dropout years in Vienna. He had a 'work-room' (Arbeitszimmer) in the new 'Brown House'—a building of tasteless grandiosity that he was singularly proud of. Pictures of Frederick the Great and a heroic scene of the List Regiment's first battle in Flanders in 1914 adorned the walls. A monumental bust of Mussolini stood beside the outsized furniture. Smoking was forbidden. To call it Hitler's 'work-room' was a nice euphemism. Hitler rarely did any work there. Hanfstaengl, who had his own room in the building, had few memories of Hitler's room since he had seen the party leader there so seldom. Even the big painting of Frederick the Great, noted the former press chief, could not motivate Hitler to follow the example of the Prussian king in diligent attention to duty.

January 28, 1934: A new map of Germany, drafted by Dr. Hellmuth Nicolai and the cartographers of the Reich Ministry of the Interior, working under the direction of Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels, is released. The 180,985 square miles of Reich territory is redistributed among thirteen provinces bearing the names of the original Teutonic tribes. There is no Prussia on this map.

From Inside the Third Reich, by Albert Speer: Detailing his activities as City Planner of Berlin, Speer writes: The land beyond the ring formed by the Autobahn was to be set aside for recreational purposes. The typical Brandenburg pine forest of the area had been given into the charge of a high official in the Forestry Bureau who took his orders from me. Instead of pines, a woodland of deciduous trees was to be established here. After the model of the Bois de Boulogne, Grunewald was to be provided with hiking paths, rest areas, restaurants, and athletic fields for the capital's millions. The work had already begun. I had tens of thousands of deciduous trees planted, in order to restore the mixed forest which Frederick the Great had cut for lumber to finance the Silesian War. Of the whole vast project for the reshaping of Berlin, these deciduous trees are all that have remained.

January 30, 1935: The Law on Reich Governors (Reichsstatthaltergesetz) dissolves the individual German States governments. Hitler appoints himself formally Governor of Prussia.

From Panzer Leader, by Heinz Guderian: At Himmler's headquarters, the lack of organization soon began to make itself felt in that its signal service failed to function. I told Hitler of this unsatisfactory state of affairs. But he took no interest in what I had to say since he had just been informed by the chief of the Army Personnel Office of the measures taken by Kings Frederick William I and Frederick the Great when faced with insubordination. General Burgdorf had consulted historical sources and now produced some crude examples of legal sentences delivered two hundred years ago. When Hitler heard of them he replied with deep satisfaction: "And people are always imagining that I am brutal! It would be desirable if all the prominent men in Germany were to be informed of these sentences." This at least showed that he was aware of his own brutality by now and was trying to justify it by means of historical parallels. The appalling state in which we all found ourselves was, to him, unimportant in comparison.

May 19, 1940: The Nazis invade France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands; Winston Churchill becomes British Prime Minister.

June 22, 1940: France signs an armistice with Germany. Under its terms, the French army is to be disbanded and two thirds of France is to be occupied by the Germans.

August 24, 1940: From a Speech by Ship's Commander Captain Ernst Lindemann—at the Blohm and Voss Shipyard in Hamburg—on the occasion of the commissioning of the Battleship Bismarck:

The great questions of our time are not only decided by speeches and votes of the majority, but also by iron and blood." Bismarck, the creator of the Second German Reich, the iron chancellor, offered these words 80 years ago to a fatuous congress. For him, who gave this whole epoch his own name, this man is the namesake of our proud ship. Here in Hamburg, we view the lofty monument of this great man, which gazes upon us from across the Elbe River, only a few miles distant from this christening place where the "Old Man" from the forests of Saxony was laid to rest. We sense his spirit and his legacy especially closely now. We have now reported here as the defenders of the nascent Third Reich, to defend it with the sword, with iron and with blood, and to fight for what he, Prince Bismarck, had begun and created and what our Fuehrer Adolf Hitler has rescued and salvaged from the deep abyss: the German Reich's and the Nation's unity and power...

June 22, 1941: Operation (Unternehmen) Barbarossa (Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union), begins as 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invade the USSR along an 1,800 mile front.

August 31, 1944: Hitler lectures his generals:

If necessary we'll fight on the Rhine. It doesn't make any difference. Under all circumstances we will continue this battle until, as Frederick the Great said, one of our damned enemies gets too tired to fight any more. We'll fight until we get a peace which secures the life of the German nation for the next fifty or a hundred years and which, above all, does not besmirch our honor a second time, as happened in 1918 ... I live only for the purpose of leading this fight because I know that if there is not an iron will behind it, this battle cannot be won. (Shirer)

January 27, 1945: Goebbels is pleased that his Fuehrer is back in Berlin, and since his return he has been spending much of his time boosting the dictator's morale. Goebbels plays on Hitler's hero-worship of Frederick the Great, whose portrait (by Anton Graff) the former Austrian lance corporal keeps by his bed next to his mother Klara's one known photograph. A book on Frederick by English writer Thomas Carlyle, a 'singularly effuse and boring account of his battles,' is utilized by the master of propaganda to make the case that even in the darkest hour, some unforeseen event can still turn the tide. His efforts seem to bear some fruit this day, as Goebbels confides to his diary that Hitler said to him that he wanted 'to show himself worthy of the great examples of history. He would never be found to waver in the face of danger.' Note: Goebbels, just as Goering had done earlier, urges Hitler to fire Ribbentrop, but Hitler again refuses to do so. (Read)

From Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, by Alan Bullock: The level to which the hopes of the German leaders were now reduced is well illustrated by their reception of the news of Roosevelt’s death on 12 April (1945). The story is recounted by Schwerin von Krosigk, Hitler's egregious Finance Minister, and confirmed by other eye-witnesses. A few days before the 12th (Goebbels told Schwerin von Krosigk), in order to comfort the Fuehrer, he had read him the passage in Carlyle's History of Frederick the Great in which the author describes the difficulties confronting the Prussian King in the winter of 1761-2:

How the great king himself did not see any way out and did not know what to do; how all his generals and ministers were convinced that he was finished; how the enemy already looked upon Prussia as vanquished; how the future appeared entirely dark, and how in his last letter to the Minister Graf Finckenstein (Note: Neither the quote nor the facts are correct; the minister to whom Frederick wrote was Count d' Argenson, not Finckenstein.) he set himself a time limit: if there was no change by 15 February he would give up and take poison.

"'Brave King!' Carlyle writes, 'wait but a little while, and the days of your suffering will be over. Behind the clouds the sun of your good fortune is already rising and soon will show itself to you.' On 12 February the Czarina died; the Miracle of the House of Brandenburg had come to pass." The Fuehrer, Goebbels said, had tears in his eyes.' ...

Goebbels was so taken with this historical parallel that on 12 April, while paying a visit to the headquarters of the Ninth Army at Kuestrin, he tried to convince General Busse and his Staff that 'for reasons of Historical Necessity and Justice a change of fortune must occur now just as it did in the Seven Years War with the Miracle of the House of Brandenburg. One of the officers present asked somewhat skeptically which Czarina was to die this time. To this Goebbels replied that he did not know either, but that Fate held all sorts of possibilities in her hands. He then went back home and received the news of Roosevelt's death. Immediately he telephoned to Busse and said: 'The Czarina is dead.' Busse told him this made a great impression on his soldiers; now they saw another chance.' In his excitement Goebbels called for champagne and rang up Hitler: 'My Fuehrer, I congratulate you! Roosevelt is dead...It is the turning point.' Goebbels mood was fully shared by Hitler, but the sense of relief did not last long. When reports from the front showed that Roosevelt's death had not affected the enemy's operations, Goebbels remarked disconsolately: 'Perhaps Fate has again been cruel and made fools of us.'


April 25, 1945: Hitler summons Heinz Linge—who serves as his valet, as well as the chief of his personal bodyguard—to give him a set of precise instructions. He gives him the task of carrying his body from the Bunker, after he has taken his own life, and cremating it. "No one must see or recognize me after death," he emphasizes. "After seeing to the burning, go back to my room and collect everything I could be remembered by after death. Take everything—uniforms, papers, everything I've used—anything that people could say belonged to the Fuehrer. Take it outside and burn it." He allows for only one of his personal possessions to survive him; his portrait of Frederick the Great by Anton Graff (above). Frederick is to be spirited out of Berlin by Hitler's personal pilot, Hans Baur. (Payne)

April 30, 1945: At 3:30 PM, Adolf Hitler and his new wife, Eva Braun, commit suicide in their private quarters under the Chancellery in Berlin.

May 7-8, 1945 VE Day: The Allies formally accept the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany.

From Meeting at Potsdam, by C. L. Mee Jr: Potsdam was a convenient spot, and that was doubtless Stalin's reason for choosing it. But the place had a meaning for him, too, that escaped the notice of Churchill and Truman. Potsdam is famous not for the Cecilienhof Palace, where the conference meetings took place, but for the place of Sans Souci, built by Frederick the Great of Prussia in 1745. It was in the small and elegantly proportioned rooms of Sans Souci, in the company of Voltaire, the latest second-rate French paintings, and a pack of sleek whippets, that Frederick doubled the size of the Prussian Army and instilled it with demanding ideals of discipline and sacrifice.

One of the officers in Frederick's army was the father of Karl von Clausewitz. Karl (below) joined the Prussian Army in 1792 at the age of twelve, rose to the rank of general, and, in 1813, fought with the Russian Army. He is best known, however, not as a general but as the author of On War, an unfinished three-volume study of the art and politics of warfare. He is most frequently sited for his dictum that war is a continuation of politics by other means. The essence of Clausewitz, in fact, is the belief that political and military weapons are interchangeable and that, just as war is a continuation of the struggles of peacetime, so too can peace be understood as a continuation of war. War, he said, 'is an act of social life.' And social life, he might have said, is an act of war.

It was an insight destined to find favor with any who admired Marx, and Lenin filled his notebooks with long excerpts from Clausewitz alongside passages from Marx and Engels. In 1933, Stalin had the Soviet government publish Lenin's notebook on Clausewitz. For Stalin, then, Potsdam was a memorial to the beginnings of Prussian militarism, the end of German military might, and the continuous struggle in peace and war for power. Potsdam was an appropriate setting for the aims of all three leaders who met to confer, though only Stalin knew it." Note: It is difficult to believe that Churchill, if not Truman also, was not aware of the symbolism.

From Stalin: A Political Biography, by Isaac Deutscher: At Yalta Churchill had dropped the remark that perhaps not they, the Allied war-time leaders, but their successors might confront one another in enmity. At Potsdam this was already coming true, at least in part. In the first half of the conference only two of the war-time triumvirate, Stalin and Churchill, participated. In the second Churchill and Eden were replaced by Attlee and Bevin as a consequence of the return of a Labour Government at the British General Election.

This not to say that the further course of the drama would have been very different if the cast had remained unchanged. It was Churchill, after all, who was soon to become Stalin's most outspoken antagonist; and if Roosevelt had been alive, he might not have been at all that patron saint of Russo-American friendship that some people saw in him. Nevertheless, the change of cast was probably not without immediate adverse effect upon the Potsdam performance. And although the causes of the appearance of new actors lay outside the sphere of inter-allied policy, there was a symbolic significance in the fact that in the residence of Frederick the Great, amid the ruins of Hitler's capital, Stalin alone of the war-time leaders remained to make the peace.

February 25, 1947: The Prussian state ceases to exist as Law #46 of the Allied Control Council formally proclaims its dissolution.

August 17, 1991: On the 205th anniversary of his death—after having been ruthlessly exploited as a symbol by Kaiser Wilhelm's Reich, Hitler's Nazi Empire, and the workers paradise of the German Democratic Republic—Frederick the Great’s casket, covered by a Prussian flag and escorted by a Bundeswehr guard of honor, is lain in state. After nightfall, and without fanfare, Frederick's remains are finally laid to rest according to his last will, on the terrace of his vineyard at Sanssouci. (MacDonogh II)

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Hogan's Jews: 5 Cast Members Were Jews; Their Stories

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