Welcome back, my fellow history buffs, for the final edition of This Week in History for the 2021-2022 school year and the final ‘This Week in History’ of my college career. While this last entry is bittersweet, I’ve made it my mission to go out with a bang and discuss several earthshattering moments from world history. In keeping with the theme of graduation, this week, we will discuss pivotal endings and new beginnings with varying degrees of influence in our current world. So, for the last time, let’s dive in!
Late April and early May saw the final hours of World War II in Europe, with the downfall of the two fascist figureheads within the span of 48 hours.
On April 28, 1945, 77 years ago, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was executed while trying to flee to Switzerland with his mistress.
Known as “Il Duce,” Mussolini brought fascism to the Italian peninsula, and in becoming allies with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, brought the Italian people into a global conflict that many did not want to be a part of. As the war dragged on, the Italian people were suffering and turned against their government. By 1945, an Allied victory seemed imminent as American and British forces were making their way up the Italian boot starting in Sicily, with many Italians even welcoming their arrival.
Mussolini escaped Rome and headed north towards Germany, hoping to escape to neutral Switzerland and live out his days with his mistress, Claretta Petacci. As I said, Italy was turning against him, so the Italian border guards would not let him pass freely. He tried to disguise himself as a German soldier and pass into Austria, however, he was spotted and shot on sight by Italian partisans.
Mussolini and Petacci’s bodies were brought to Milan where they were hung by their feet on meat hooks to be spat on, urinated on and beaten with any weapon on hand. When his body was taken down, his face was completely unrecognizable.
Two days later on April 30, 1945, also 77 years ago, Nazi dictator Adolph Hitler committed suicide in an underground bunker as Allied forces closed in on Berlin.
Similar to Italy, Germany faced invasion on all sides. With the Soviet Union knocking on Berlin’s front door from the east, several German commanders began breaking ranks, plotting to assassinate Hitler when he refused to surrender, yet all attempts failed.
The Führer’s dream of building a “1,000-year” Reich was over. He resolved to commit suicide by swallowing cyanide and shooting himself, as well as his wife (whom he married in the bunker the night before) and their dogs. His devotees, not wanting his body to face the same outcome as Mussolini, had him cremated. When Soviet soldiers found his ashes, they hid them in several undisclosed places so nobody could go and mourn his death. Today, the location of the ashes of one of the evilest leaders in human history is still unknown and will always remain as so.
Mussolini and Hitler’s deaths were among the final two of the approximately 80 million people to die during World War II, from bullet wounds on the battlefield, starvation on the home front and genocide in concentration camps. Three percent of the total world population was lost, and in the hardest-hit countries of Eastern Europe, one in every ten citizens were lost.
The end of the war was celebrated around the world over the course of the next few months, with V-E Day — Victory in Europe Day — in early May and V-J Day — Victory in Japan Day — in the following August. Perhaps no celebration was more iconic than the ticker-tape parade of Times Square in New York City, epitomized by the immortal photo of a U.S. Navy sailor kissing a total stranger in celebration.
While two infamous figures of history made their mark this week, so too did two other figures who had a far more positive impact on our cultural, political and social history of the world.
On April 28, 1916, 106 years ago, car magnate Ferruccio Lamborghini was born in Renazzo, Italy.
When thinking of luxury car brands, certain names come to mind, with Lamborghini representing some of the best that the automotive industry has to offer. Certainly the better Italian to come out of this list, Lamborghini was and continues to represent the apex of economic success in the post-WWII years.
Naturally, as a nation devastated by war, Italy faced tremendous difficulty rebuilding infrastructure and rejoining the world economy in the initial years after 1945. The late 1950s and early 1960s were something of an “economic miracle,” where the Italian economy thrive and luxury names like Ferrari, Armani and Versace gained traction across the globe.
Lamborghini, as a tractor salesman, amassed a small fortune in the countryside industrializing around him. Having a passion for automobiles, he bought a Ferrari but was unimpressed by the series of mechanical problems he faced following his purchase. As anyone would do in such a situation, Lamborghini resolved to build a rival Italian car company to counter Ferrari, and thus began the company of Automobili Lamborghini, an offshoot of his original tractor business.
On April 25, 1917, 105 years ago, jazz and musical icon Ella Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Virginia.
Raised by a single mother in Yonkers, New York, Fitzgerald faced tremendous hardship in her life, becoming a ward of the state and living in an orphanage during the Great Depression after her mother’s untimely death. Yet, with her home in close proximity to the thriving Black jazz scene of Harlem, New York, Fitzgerald made her debut at the Apollo Theater Amateur Night in 1934, setting her on the path towards stardom at just 17-years-old.
Fitzgerald’s multi-decade career earned her the title, “The First Lady of Song,” cemented by her 13 Grammy Award wins, becoming the first African American woman to receive the honor in 1958. Today, Fitzgerald is considered one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, having altered the face of American music in the mid-20th century and broken boundaries for Black artists and particularly Black women in a time of blatant discrimination and injustice.
On May 1, 2019, three years ago, The Daily Campus was in need of a new writer for the Life section’s ‘This Week in History’ column.
So this event may not exactly be earthshattering compared to the conclusion of one of human history’s greatest conflicts, or the birth of a cultural icon, but it certainly was impactful for the guy who spent the past three years of his life sitting down to research random events from world history every single week.
Three years ago, Gino Giansanti Jr., a UConn freshman with a vast, yet seemingly useless, knowledge of the past, answered an involvement email from his advisor, spoke with the editors of the Life section and the rest is history — literally!
From my first entry in 2019 on the establishment of the Supreme Court, to the words on the newspaper today, it has been my privilege to bring history to the pages of The Daily Campus. Thanks to all who followed along each week, whether by choice or familial obligation — thanks Mom and Dad — and hope this column served as little glimmer into the wonderful world of history each week.
That’s all from me at The Daily Campus. Happy graduation to all Class of 2022 graduates and to all a good week!