Today in History for 13th June 2018

Historical Events

1942 – Germany lands 4 saboteurs on Long Island
1944 – German counter attack on Villers-Bocage, Normandy
1974 – IMF establishes its “oil facility”, a special fund for loans to nations whose balance of payments have been severely affected by high oil prices
1978 – Film “Grease” opens, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, based on the 1971 musical
1981 – 39 Unification church couples wed in Germany
1988 – George Harrison releases “This is Love”

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Famous Birthdays

1763 – Jose B de Andrada e Silva, premier of Brazil
1854 – Charles Algernon Parsons, British inventor (steam turbine)
1869 – Ede Poldini, Hungarian composer (La poupée valsante), born in Pest (d. 1957)
1951 – Jonathan Hogan, actor (House on Carroll St), born in Chicago, Illinois
1970 – Mikael Ljungberg, Swedish wrestler (d. 2004)
1990 – Aaron Johnson, British actor

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Famous Deaths

1550 – Veronica Gambara, Italian poet, dies at 64
1810 – Johann Gottfried Seume, German writer (Spaziergang nach Syrakus), dies at 47
1865 – Cleaveland J Campbell, Union brigadier general, dies at about 29
1905 – Theodoros Delyannis, premier Greece, murdered
1944 – Christopher Heseltine, cricketer (2 Tests for England 1895-96), dies
2002 – John Hope, American meteorologist (b. 1919)

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Today in History for 12th June 2018

Historical Events

1903 – The Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity is founded at the University of Michigan School of Music
1942 – Tornado kills 35 in Oklahoma City
1952 – 2nd Berlin International Film Festival: “One Summer of Happiness” wins Golden Bear (audience vote)
1957 – Paul Anderson of US back-lifts a record 2850 kg (6,270 lbs)
1973 – Yanks trade wife swapper Mike Kekich for Lowell Palmer
1977 – Groundbreaking ceremony for John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

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Famous Birthdays

1577 – Paul Guldin, Swiss astronomer and mathematician (d. 1643)
1908 – Alphonse Ouimet, Canadian TV pioneer and president of the CBC (d. 1988)
1910 – Bill Naughton, English playwright (d. 1992)
1928 – Michael Wishart, artist
1968 – Sherry Stringield, actress (ER)
1992 – Allie DiMeco American musician and actress (The Naked Brothers Band)

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Famous Deaths

1687 – Jurriaen van Streeck, Dutch still life painter, buried
1878 – Hendrik J Jut, Dutch murderer [Head of Jut], dies at 26
1972 – Saul David Alinsky, radical writer (John L Lewis), dies at 63
1986 – Antoon Breyne, Belgian journalist, dies at 76
1986 – Tony Desimone, combo leader (Ernie in Kovacsland), dies at 66
1994 – Ron Goldman, waiter, murdered with wife of O.J. Simpson at 27

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Today in History for 11th June 2018

Historical Events

1919 – 51st Belmont: J Loftus riding Sir Barton wins in 2:17.6 and Trip Crown
1940 – Italy declares war on Allies
1964 – Manfred Mann record Do Wah Diddy Diddy Dum Diddy Do
1978 – 24th LPGA Championship won by Nancy Lopez
1988 – “Everything Your Heart Desires” by Daryl Hall and John Oates peaks at #3
1992 – Tracy Austin, 29, is youngest inductee of International Tennis Hall of Fame

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Famous Birthdays

1917 – James Bostock, painter/engraver
1927 – Marcus Fox, conservative MP/chairman (1922 Committee)
1940 – Joey Dee, singer (Hey Let’s Twist, 2 Tickets to Paris), born in Passaic, New Jersey
1962 – Michael Kenny, WLAF offensive assistant (Scottish Claymores)
1968 – Sophie Okonedo, English actress (Hotel Rwanda), born in London
1982 – Diana Taurasi, American basketball player

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Famous Deaths

1216 – Henry of Flanders, Emperor of the Latin Empire
1949 – Koci Xoxe, Albanian vice-premier, executed
1988 – Giuseppe Saragat, president of Italy (1964-71), dies at 89
1990 – Clyde McCoy, American jazz trumpeter (wah wah sound), dies at 86
2008 – Ove Andersson, Swedish rally driver (b. 1938)
2015 – Ornette Coleman, American jazz saxophonist and composer (Free Jazz), dies at 85

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The London International Surrealists Exhibition

The London International Surrealists Exhibition

Justin & Stephanie Pollard

Works by artists including Dalí, Duchamp and Picasso went on display at the Burlington Gallery on 11 June 1936.

Following a chance meeting, Roland Penrose, a young artist, and David Gascoyne, a young poet with a passion for Surrealism, decided to organise an exhibition in London, where the movement was all but unknown. They assembled a group of 392 Surrealist paintings and sculptures by 71 artists, including Breton, Dalí, Duchamp, Giacometti, Klee, Magritte, Miró, Paul Nash, Picasso, Man Ray and Sutherland, which went on display at the Burlington Gallery on 11 June 1936.As befits a Surrealist exhibition, the preparations were chaotic. Some works were seized by customs on the grounds of indecency, while the artist and collector E.L.T. Mesens personally rehung the entire show just hours before opening, as the arrangement was, in his eyes, too unimaginative.During the opening, Dylan Thomas walked among the guests offering them cups of boiled string with the question ‘Do you like it weak or strong?’. Dalí collaborated with Sheila Legge on a Surrealist ‘happening’ in Trafalgar Square in which Legge, dressed in a white dress, her face obscured by paper flowers and ladybirds, appeared as ‘The Phantom of Sex Appeal’. She then proceeded into the exhibition carrying an artificial limb in one hand and a raw pork chop in the other. Owing to the heat, the chop was quickly discarded.Dalí himself gave a lecture, dressed in a deep-sea diving costume, complete with helmet, which made the speech almost inaudible. This was hardly helped by his insistence on showing his slides upside down. He had to be rescued by Gascoyne, who realised he was suffocating and released the helmet with a hastily fetched spanner.Despite all this, the exhibition was a huge success, with over 30,000 visitors during its three-week run. Sadly, the organisers’ subsequent plan to set up a permanent Museum of Modern Art in London to rival the Guggenheim in New York failed for lack of funds.

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A Light in the Darkness

A Light in the Darkness

Alexander Lee

A children’s opera brought a brief respite from the terrors of the Holocaust.

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As they wandered around the streets, escorted by the commandant, SS Sturmbannführer Karl Rahm, they had seen the tell-tale signs of brutality. The Jewish ‘mayor’, Paul Eppstein, had a bruise under his eye and, when they asked one of the inmates a question, they had been greeted with a frightened silence. But an elaborate hoax had fooled them into believing that – despite a few ‘irregularities’ – the ghetto was a model Jewish ‘town’. Over the past few weeks, Rahm’s men had gone to great lengths to make the nightmare world of Terezín seem humane. The box factory had been closed. Slave labour had been suspended. New parks had been built. Flowers had been planted. A social club had been opened, complete with a library. There was even a synagogue. On the day of the visit, the inmates had been ordered to treat the visitors to a game of football in the square, while, from the pavilion, a jazz band had played jaunty tunes. Most beguiling of all was a performance of the children’s opera Brundibár. A light-hearted fairytale, it quickly allayed any remaining doubts the Danish delegates may have had. Still humming its cheery melodies, they went away convinced that all was well in Terezín. Little did they imagine the horror that it concealed – or that would follow.Brundibár was to prove one of the most enduring – and poignant – symbols of children’s suffering in the Holocaust. Based on a libretto by Adolf Hoffmeister, Brundibár had been composed in 1938 by the Czech-Jewish musician, Hans Krása (1899-1944), for a competition organised by the Association for Music Education. Its story was simple, but it articulated a powerful critique of Nazi antisemitism. Two children, Aninka and Pepíček, set out to find some milk for their sick mother; having no money, they are unable to buy any in the market. Just as they are about to despair, the organ-grinder Brundibár appears on the corner, playing a happy melody. When they start to sing along, however, he grows angry and chases them away. Three animals – a dog, a cat and a sparrow – offer to help the children and, together with their friends, they sing a lullaby. Enchanted, the townspeople shower them with coins; but Brundibár, racked with jealousy, steals their money. When the theft is discovered, children, animals and onlookers drive Brundibár out of the town forever and sing a final song of triumph.The German annexation of the Sudetenland later that year caused the competition to be cancelled; but the tender-hearted Krása was undeterred. Three years later – after the rest of Czechoslovakia had been occupied by the Nazis – he offered to put on a pared-down version at the Jewish Orphanage in Prague. Barely had rehearsals begun than the Holocaust came to haunt it. Along with Krása, the original director, Rafael Schächter, was deported and his replacement, Rudolph Freudenfeld, had to step into the breach at short notice. The set designer, František Zelenka – recently dismissed from his post at the National Theatre – struggled to find materials and, since there was no space for an orchestra, they had to make do with a piano, a violin and some drums. Worst of all, the whole thing had to be arranged in secret. Despite it all, the premiere was a success. For the first time in many a year, the children were filled with joy.Their happiness was not to last. By the summer of 1943, almost everyone associated with Brundibár had been deported to the Terezín ghetto, 33 miles north-west of Prague. Adjacent to a purpose-built concentration camp, it was situated in what had been the town’s fortress. It was cramped, unhygienic and oppressive – especially for children. Beatings were not uncommon and, on occasion, Rahm was known to torture inmates. Brundibár seemed almost destined to be forgotten.But among the prisoners there were many writers, poets, artists and musicians and the community strove hard to keep spirits up with a programme of cultural activities – especially for children. A magazine (Vedem) was published, plays were staged and concerts were put on. When Freudenfeld arrived in the ghetto on 7 July 1943, with the piano score of Brundibár hidden among his clothes, it did not take him long to persuade his old friends to lighten the children’s lives with a new production. Krása would rewrite the script, filling out the gaps from memory, and adapt it to the instruments available; Schächter would hold auditions in the attic of barrack L417; Freudenfeld would conduct; and Zelenka would reprise his role as set designer. A Viennese choreographer, Kamila Rosenbaum, joined the team.The two principals – Pintă Mühlstein (Pepíček) and Greta Hofmeister (Aninka) – had performed in other operatic productions in the ghetto, while the 14-year-old Honza Treichlinger was a shoe-in for Brundibár. He seemed to know instinctively how to make the villain human, twitching his false moustache so skilfully and with such impeccable timing, that he might have been on the stage all his life. The others, Elea Weissberger (cat), Stefan Herz-Sommer (sparrow) and Zdeněk Ornest (dog), were all excited to be part of it, too. In her book, The Cat with the Yellow Star (2006), Weissberger recalled how much she enjoyed lessons with Rosenbaum, skipping with a delight she had not felt since entering the ghetto.In the attic of Q319 – a barracks for blind prisoners – Zelenka began building the set with the help of the puppeteer, Brumlik, and a young carpenter named Jerry Rind. Stealing odd bits of wood and muffling the sound of their hammers in ingenious ways, they succeeded in putting together scenery that would not have been out of place in a professional theatre.Rehearsals were not easy. Illness and malnutrition took a toll and, often, one or more of the principals was absent. As Rudolf Laub, a member of the chorus, recalled, the children were ‘convinced that the more noise and fun [there were] during rehearsals, the better’.With the grudging permission of the authorities, it received its premiere in the Magdeburg Barracks on 23 September 1943. The audience adored it. For a few moments, they were caught up in the delight of the moment. They roared with laughter; they sympathised with the plight of Aninka and Pepíček; and they rejoiced at the defeat of Brundibár in the end. They forgot the hunger, the brutality, the transports, the ever-present shadow of death; and, if only for a moment, they remembered what it was to be children once again.Several performances followed and its popularity caught the Nazis’ attention. Realising that the smiling faces of cast and audience belied the true suffering of the ghetto, they cynically chose it to be performed for the Red Cross, in the belief that it would help to persuade the soon-to-be-victorious Allies that the Holocaust was not the genocide it was. They were not disappointed. So completely did Brundibár deceive the Red Cross that, three months later, the Nazis decided to make a propaganda film about Terezín (Theresienstadt: Ein Dokumentarfilm aus dem jüdischen Siedlungsgebiet). And naturally, Brundibár played a central part in their fantasy.The film marked the last of 55 performances Brundibár received in Terezín. Within weeks, the Nazis emptied the ghetto. Men, women and children were shipped off to Auschwitz and other camps. Almost all of those who took part in Brundibár – including Krása – were murdered.Brundibár’s legacy, however, lives on. For historians, Krása’s opera offers a unique opportunity to reassess not only the (often overlooked) role of music in the Holocaust, but also the way in which music helped children to grapple with – and escape from – the incomprehensible horrors to which they were subjected. As scholars such as Joža Karas, Robert Laux, Shirli Gilbert and Joe Pearce have argued, Brundibár presented them with a story they could empathise with and an allegory they could easily understand. As they watched it unfold, or acted it out themselves, its covert criticism of Nazi tyranny provided them with an outlet for their burning sense of injustice and the hope that another, better life, might be out there. Even more important was the fact that Brundibár was being performed. In sharing in a light-hearted piece of music, children found a refuge from the arbitrary brutality of their lives and recovered a sense of normality. It was, in itself, an act of defiance. Simply in watching it, the children implicitly refused to surrender to the inhumanity of the ghetto and clung on to the innocence that Nazism was so intent on stealing from themFor all of us, however, Brundibár is a reminder that the evil of antisemitism must never again be allowed to gain a foothold. Such hatred must be fought not only with firm words and just deeds, but with all that is best about humanity – by treating each other with kindness, by rewarding goodness and by sharing the joy of music.Alexander Lee is a fellow in the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance at the University of Warwick. His latest book, Humanism and Empire: The Imperial Ideal in Fourteenth-Century Italy is published by OUP. 

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May 22, 1843: Great Emigration departs for Oregon

A massive wagon train, made up of 1,000 settlers and 1,000 head of cattle, sets off down the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri. Known as the “Great Emigration,” the expedition came two years after the first modest party of settlers made the long, overland journey to Oregon.

After leaving Independence, the giant wagon train followed the Sante Fe Trail for some 40 miles and then turned northwest to the Platte River, which it followed along its northern route to Fort Laramie, Wyoming. From there, it traveled on to the Rocky Mountains, which it passed through by way of the broad, level South Pass that led to the basin of the Colorado River. The travelers then went southwest to Fort Bridger, northwest across a divide to Fort Hall on the Snake River, and on to Fort Boise, where they gained supplies for the difficult journey over the Blue Mountains and into Oregon. The Great Emigration finally arrived in October, completing the 2,000-mile journey from Independence in five months.

In the next year, four more wagon trains made the journey, and in 1845 the number of emigrants who used the Oregon Trail exceeded 3,000. Travel along the trail gradually declined with the advent of the railroads, and the route was finally abandoned in the 1870s.

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May 21, 1881: American Red Cross founded

In Washington, D.C., humanitarians Clara Barton and Adolphus Solomons found the American National Red Cross, an organization established to provide humanitarian aid to victims of wars and natural disasters in congruence with the International Red Cross.

Barton, born in Massachusetts in 1821, worked with the sick and wounded during the American Civil War and became known as the “Angel of the Battlefield” for her tireless dedication. In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln commissioned her to search for lost prisoners of war, and with the extensive records she had compiled during the war she succeeded in identifying thousands of the Union dead at the Andersonville prisoner-of-war camp.

She was in Europe in 1870 when the Franco-Prussian War broke out, and she went behind the German lines to work for the International Red Cross. In 1873, she returned to the United States, and four years later she organized an American branch of the International Red Cross. The American Red Cross received its first U.S. federal charter in 1900. Barton headed the organization into her 80s and died in 1912.

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May 20, 1873: Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis receive patent for blue jeans

On this day in 1873, San Francisco businessman Levi Strauss and Reno, Nevada, tailor Jacob Davis are given a patent to create work pants reinforced with metal rivets, marking the birth of one of the world’s most famous garments: blue jeans.

In San Francisco, Strauss established a wholesale dry goods business under his own name and worked as the West Coast representative of his family’s firm. His new business imported clothing, fabric and other dry goods to sell in the small stores opening all over California and other Western states to supply the rapidly expanding communities of gold miners and other settlers. By 1866, Strauss had moved his company to expanded headquarters and was a well-known businessman and supporter of the Jewish community in San Francisco.

Jacob Davis, a tailor in Reno, Nevada, was one of Levi Strauss’ regular customers. In 1872, he wrote a letter to Strauss about his method of making work pants with metal rivets on the stress points–at the corners of the pockets and the base of the button fly–to make them stronger. As Davis didn’t have the money for the necessary paperwork, he suggested that Strauss provide the funds and that the two men get the patent together. Strauss agreed enthusiastically, and the patent for “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings”–the innovation that would produce blue jeans as we know them–was granted to both men on May 20, 1873.

Strauss brought Davis to San Francisco to oversee the first manufacturing facility for “waist overalls,” as the original jeans were known. At first they employed seamstresses working out of their homes, but by the 1880s, Strauss had opened his own factory. The famous 501brand jean–known until 1890 as “XX”–was soon a bestseller, and the company grew quickly. By the 1920s, Levi’s denim waist overalls were the top-selling men’s work pant in the United States. As decades passed, the craze only grew, and now blue jeans are worn by men and women, young and old, around the world.

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May 19, 1935: Lawrence of Arabia dies

T.E. Lawrence, known to the world as Lawrence of Arabia, dies as a retired Royal Air Force mechanic living under an assumed name. The legendary war hero, author, and archaeological scholar succumbed to injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident six days before.

Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in Tremadoc, Wales, in 1888. In 1896, his family moved to Oxford. Lawrence studied architecture and archaeology, for which he made a trip to Ottoman (Turkish)-controlled Syria and Palestine in 1909. In 1911, he won a fellowship to join an expedition excavating an ancient Hittite settlement on the Euphrates River. He worked there for three years and in his free time traveled and learned Arabic. In 1914, he explored the Sinai, near the frontier of Ottoman-controlled Arabia and British-controlled Egypt. The maps Lawrence and his associates made had immediate strategic value upon the outbreak of war between Britain and the Ottoman Empire in October 1914.

Lawrence enlisted in the war and because of his expertise in Arab affairs was assigned to Cairo as an intelligence officer. He spent more than a year in Egypt, processing intelligence information and in 1916 accompanied a British diplomat to Arabia, where Hussein ibn Ali, the emir of Mecca, had proclaimed a revolt against Turkish rule. Lawrence convinced his superiors to aid Hussein’s rebellion, and he was sent to join the Arabian army of Hussein’s son Faisal as a liaison officer.

Under Lawrence’s guidance, the Arabians launched an effective guerrilla war against the Turkish lines. He proved a gifted military strategist and was greatly admired by the Bedouin people of Arabia. In July 1917, Arabian forces captured Aqaba near the Sinai and joined the British march on Jerusalem. Lawrence was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. In November, he was captured by the Turks while reconnoitering behind enemy lines in Arab dress and was tortured and sexually abused before escaping. He rejoined his army, which slowly worked its way north to Damascus, which fell in October 1918.

Arabia was liberated, but Lawrence’s hope that the peninsula would be united as a single nation was dashed when Arabian factionalism came to the fore after Damascus. Lawrence, exhausted and disillusioned, left for England. Feeling that Britain had exacerbated the rivalries between the Arabian groups, he appeared before King George V and politely refused the medals offered to him.

After the war, he lobbied hard for independence for Arab countries and appeared at the Paris peace conference in Arab robes. He became something of a legendary figure in his own lifetime, and in 1922 he gave up higher-paying appointments to enlist in the Royal Air Force (RAF) under an assumed name, John Hume Ross. He had just completed writing his monumental war memoir, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and he hoped to escape his fame and acquire material for a new book. Found out by the press, he was discharged, but in 1923 he managed to enlist as a private in the Royal Tanks Corps under another assumed name, T.E. Shaw, a reference to his friend, Irish writer George Bernard Shaw. In 1925, Lawrence rejoined the RAF and two years later legally changed his last name to Shaw.

In 1927, an abridged version of his memoir was published and generated tremendous publicity, but the press was unable to locate Lawrence (he was posted to a base in India). In 1929, he returned to England and spent the next six years writing and working as an RAF mechanic. In 1932, his English translation of Homer’s Odyssey was published under the name of T.E. Shaw. The Mint, a fictionalized account of Royal Air Force recruit training, was not published until 1955 because of its explicitness.

In February 1935, Lawrence was discharged from the RAF and returned to his simple cottage at Clouds Hill, Dorset. On May 13, he was critically injured while driving his motorcycle through the Dorset countryside. He had swerved to avoid two boys on bicycles. On May 19, he died at the hospital of his former RAF camp. All of Britain mourned his passing.

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May 18, 1920: Pope John Paul II born

On May 18, 1920, Karol Jozef Wojtyla is born in the Polish town of Wadowice, 35 miles southwest of Krakow.Wojtyla went on to become Pope John Paul II, history’s most well-traveled pope and the first non-Italian to hold the position since the 16th century. After high school, the future pope enrolled at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University, where he studied philosophy and literature and performed in a theater group. During World War II, Nazis occupied Krakow and closed the university, forcing Wojtyla to seek work in a quarry and, later, a chemical factory. By 1941, his mother, father, and only brother had all died, leaving him the sole surviving member of his family.

Although Wojtyla had been involved in the church his whole life, it was not until 1942 that he began seminary training. When the war ended, he returned to school at Jagiellonian to study theology, becoming an ordained priest in 1946. He went on to complete two doctorates and became a professor of moral theology and social ethics. On July 4, 1958, at the age of 38, he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Krakow by Pope Pius XII. He later became the city’s archbishop, where he spoke out for religious freedom while the church began the Second Vatican Council, which would revolutionize Catholicism. He was made a cardinal in 1967, taking on the challenges of living and working as a Catholic priest in communist Eastern Europe. Once asked if he feared retribution from communist leaders, he replied, “I’m not afraid of them. They are afraid of me.”

Wojtyla was quietly and slowly building a reputation as a powerful preacher and a man of both great intellect and charisma. Still, when Pope John Paul I died in 1978 after only a 34-day reign, few suspected Wojtyla would be chosen to replace him. But, after seven rounds of balloting, the Sacred College of Cardinals chose the 58-year-old, and he became the first-ever Slavic pope and the youngest to be chosen in 132 years.

A conservative pontiff, John Paul II’s papacy was marked by his firm and unwavering opposition to communism and war, as well as abortion, contraception, capital punishment, and homosexual sex. He later came out against euthanasia, human cloning, and stem cell research. He traveled widely as pope, using the eight languages he spoke (Polish, Italian, French, German, English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin) and his well-known personal charm, to connect with the Catholic faithful, as well as many outside the fold.

On May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot in St. Peter’s Square by a Turkish political extremist, Mehmet Ali Agca. After his release from the hospital, the pope famously visited his would-be assassin in prison, where he had begun serving a life sentence, and personally forgave him for his actions. The next year, another unsuccessful attempt was made on the pope’s life, this time by a fanatical priest who opposed the reforms of Vatican II.

Although it was not confirmed by the Vatican until 2003, many believe Pope John Paul II began suffering from Parkinson’s disease in the early 1990s. He began to develop slurred speech and had difficulty walking, though he continued to keep up a physically demanding travel schedule. In his final years, he was forced to delegate many of his official duties, but still found the strength to speak to the faithful from a window at the Vatican. In February 2005, the pope was hospitalized with complications from the flu. He died two months later.

Pope John Paul II is remembered for his successful efforts to end communism, as well as for building bridges with peoples of other faiths, and issuing the Catholic Church’s first apology for its actions during World War II. He was succeeded by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict XVI began the process to beatify John Paul II in May 2005.

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