Jan. 20, 1999

Once in the Forties

by William Stafford


Poem: "Once in the Forties," by William Stafford, from New & Selected Poems (Graywolf Press, 1998).

Today in 1942 was the day that 15 Nazi leaders met in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee to plan what they called "the final solution to the Jewish question"—or how they planned to rid Europe of its Jews. The WANNSEE CONFERENCE decided on the policy of rounding up Jews and sending them eastward to work in forced labor camps—with the intention that most would die of the harsh conditions; those that didn't would be exterminated. Within a few months of the Wannsee meeting the first poison gas chambers were set up in Poland.

It was on this day in 1937 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first president to be inaugurated according to the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution, passed in 1933, which moved INAUGURATION DAY from March 4 to January 20. The move was made to shorten the time between the election and the start of a new term.

Today's the birthday of the Nicaraguan poet and Roman Catholic priest ERNESTO CARDENAL, born in 1925 in Granada, Nicaragua.

It's the birthday of the World War II poet KEITH CASTELLAIN DOUGLAS, born in 1920 Tunbridge Wells in England. He took part in the D-Day invasion force and was killed on the third day of fighting in Normandy. He only gained fame after the poet Ted Hughes edited a volume of his poems in 1964.

It's the birthday in 1910 of conservationist JOY ADAMSON, born Joy-Friederike Gessner in Silesia, at the time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, author of the trilogy about the experiences of raising a lion cub named Elsa that were best-sellers in the 1960s—Born Free: A Lioness of Two Worlds (1960), Living Free: The Story of Elsa and Her Cubs (1961), and Forever Free: Elsa's Pride (1962).

It's the birthday of Danish novelist and poet JOHANNES VILHELM JENSEN, born in Farso in 1873, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1944. He wrote a six-volume series of novels written in the period 1900-1920 collectively known as The Long Journey, which tells the history of mankind from the cave-dwellers to Columbus' voyage to America.

It's the birthday in 1856 of HARRIOT STANTON BLATCH, one of the leaders of the woman suffrage movement in the United States, born in Seneca Falls, New York. She was the daughter of suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton and organized the first large suffrage parade in New York in 1910.

It's the birthday of the English education campaigner ANNE JEMIMA CLOUGH, born in Liverpool in 1820, one of the leaders in a nation-wide campaign to open the universities of Oxford and Cambridge to women in the late 1800s. She was the first principal of one of the first women's colleges at Cambridge, Newnham College.

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