Hitler or Lincoln: Who Will Top the Historical Hit Parade in 2013?

Historical memory fits right in with the media's tendency today to rank nearly everything.

Tom Segev
Tom Segev
Tom Segev
Tom Segev

Commemoration of anniversaries of historical events on "round" dates does not do much to help expand the mind with regard to historical processes. They do catapult certain historical figures to lofty places in terms of publicity and prestige. Indeed, historical memory fits right in with the media's tendency today to rank nearly everything. The pop music "hit parade" charts that once topped all the other popular rankings have been forced to compete for the attention of countless other parades, in practically every area of life. That includes those of notable historical figures and events.

Hitler, Churchill and Stalin have maintained their place at the top of the history hit parade for many years. In America, Abraham Lincoln leads the parade. And in his new biopic, Steven Spielberg is doing for the 16th president of the United States what he previously did for dinosaurs and the Holocaust. It is safe to presume that the publicists promoting his new movie won't miss the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, on January 1.

During the year that begins next week, there will also be the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's address following the Battle of Gettysburg - possibly the most famous speech of all time. It is worth reading, and asking: What actually makes it such a "great" speech? The answer is that this, too, is largely a matter of public relations. The 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address (November 19 ) will be commemorated three days before the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination (November 22 ). A glance at the online database of The World Bank shows that seven out of 10 of Earth's inhabitants cannot participate in the well-known game of "Where were you when Kennedy was assassinated," because they weren't yet born.

In January it will be 80 years since Hitler's rise to power; less than two months after that occurred, the first concentration camp was set up, near the city of Dachau. November will mark the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, and also 60 years since Stalin's death.

The year 1953 was the fifth anniversary of Israel's independence, and a dramatic year in the history of the state. Israel awaited its first prime minister who wasn't David Ben-Gurion - Moshe Sharett (he took up his post in early 1954 ).

Sharett contributed something quite important to history. He wrote a highly personal and revelatory diary that was first published in 1978, in eight volumes. The editor was Yaakov Sharett, the prime minister's son. To this day, one cannot properly appreciate the story of the country without the help of this diary. It is currently being granted a new lease on life: The Moshe Sharett Heritage Society has uploaded it, in its entirety, to the Internet. Even when reread, it remains an incomparably riveting document.

There are historical events that receive mention only upon their 50th, 100th or 150th anniversaries. This coming year, for example, the British will be marking the 150th anniversary of the first London Underground line, and the 50th anniversary of the Profumo Affair, which might not have been deemed quite so juicy had it not taken place in England: John Profumo, the British war secretary, had an affair with a girl named Christine Keeler.

Now here's a possible subject for an investigative report by the Israeli media: Where is Mandy Rice-Davies-Shauli today? Alternatively, it could be called "Mandy Rice-Davies talks." She was one of the heroines of the Profumo Affair and lived in Israel for several years as a businesswoman and celebrity.

Another unavoidable association: March will be the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' first album, "Please Please Me," which was a big success.

Events marking less-round anniversaries will have to work harder to get into the historical hit parade. Prince Charles will celebrate his 65th birthday in 2013 - well, that's his problem. Israel will celebrate its 65th Independence Day, too. But that is not considered a "round" anniversary. Did anybody hear about India's 65th Independence Day, which was celebrated this year?

February will mark a decade since the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, in which Israel's Ilan Ramon was killed.

History hit parades tend to recognize a 25th anniversary, sometimes a 30th. The 40th is acknowledged only on rare occasions. But Israel will undoubtedly mark the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War in the new year. It seems that this annual cult of torment is not actually connected to round dates.

In America there will be some who will mark the 40th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson's death. The president rose in the history hit parade rankings this year, thanks to a best-selling biography by Robert Caro. It is a fascinating book, 712 pages long and not an easy read. It is the book of the year in historical research.

Johnson comes across as a man who was born to be in politics. Even as an adolescent, he dreamed of being elected president of the United States; en route, he wound up in the Senate. Everyone urged him to submit his candidacy for president but he hesitated, because his fear of failure was greater than his ambition to be elected.

As expected, the book also contains a story related to Israel: In March 1960, Johnson found a way out of a meeting with David Ben-Gurion, who was visiting Washington, for fear that such an encounter would be interpreted as a political gimmick.

The year 2013 does not boast more anniversaries than other years, nor does it offer a date to spark the imagination like 12/12/12. On the other hand, it will be the first year since 1987 that contains four different digits - but that is, of course, the sort of thing that Wikipedia surfers are capable of discovering.

Lincoln. Next year is the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg address.



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.

Subscribe today and save 40%

Already signed up? LOG IN


Election ad featuring Yair Lapid in Rahat, the largest Arab city in Israel's Negev region.

This Bedouin City Could Decide Who Is Israel's Next Prime Minister

Dr. Claris Harbon in the neighborhood where she grew up in Ashdod.

A Women's Rights Lawyer Felt She Didn't Belong in Israel. So She Moved to Morocco

Mohammed 'Moha' Alshawamreh.

'It Was Real Shock to Move From a Little Muslim Village, to a Big Open World'

From the cover of 'Shmutz.'

'There Are Similarities Between the Hasidic Community and Pornography’

A scene from Netflix's "RRR."

‘RRR’: If Cocaine Were a Movie, It Would Look Like This

Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

Yair Lapid's Journey: From Late-night Host to Israel's Prime Minister