The last living witnesses to historical events are fascinating in so many ways. Not only are they time capsules of memories, experiences, and stories from a bygone era, they also hold in them the last remaining memory of that great event. When they die, that event passes from living memory into history. What is it like to be able to look back on 60, 70, or 80 years of life since that event and think “I am the last”? These 10 people know.

10 Mae Keene
The Last Living Radium Girl

Things were looking up for young women in America in the early 1920s. They had finally received the right to vote and they were entering the US workforce in larger numbers than ever. In particular, American companies wanted to employ young women in manufacturing operations that required precise yet repetitive work, such as hand painting radioactive radium paint onto clock faces. Radium was discovered in 1898 by Marie Currie, and four years later, William Hammer mixed radium with zinc sulfide to make radioluminescent paint. Before long, anyone and everyone had to have a radium-painted watch on their hand or a radioactive, glowing clock by their bed. Many companies rushed into the business of processing the radium, making the radium paint, or manufacturing the clocks and watches with the painted parts.

In 1924, 18-year-old Mae Keene went to work at one of these manufacturing plants, the Waterbury Clock Company of Vermont. Like the other young women who painted the clocks, she was taught how to obtain a fine point on her brush by moistening the tip with her lips. This meant ingesting radioactive radium each time they touched the painted brush to their mouth. The women were told the radium paint was safe, and to be fair, it wasn’t until the 1920s that the companies knew they were lying. The women would even sneak the paint out of work and use it to paint their nails.

Mae quit the job after only a few months, and that probably saved her life. Unlike so many of her coworkers, she did not develop the deadly diseases caused by radium such as “radium jaw,” a debilitating and usually fatal disease where radium attacks the bones and rots away the jaw. In fact, Mae lived to be a very old woman. Today, at the age of 108, she may be the very last living radium girl.

9 Werner Franz
The Last Living Crew Member Of The Hindenburg

Everyone has heard of the Hindenburg. The gigantic German passenger aircraft exploded, burned, and crashed at Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6, 1937. It seems incredible anyone could walk away from that fiery crash, but of the 97 crew and passengers on board, 62 would survive. Today, 77 years later, that number is down to one. Werner Franz was a 14-year-old cabin boy on the Hindenburg and is the only living crew member from that historic event.

As a cabin boy, he worked from 6:30 AM until 9:30 PM serving the ship’s officers and crew. His job was to prepare the messroom for all meals and serve the crew coffee at night. By the time he was on his first voyage to the United States, Franz had been to South America aboard the Hindenburg several times. He had his job down to a routine. The evening the Hindenburg approached the tower in Lakehurst, Franz was still busy washing and putting away dishes in the mess.

He was lucky to be where he was, toward the front of the ship. Just as he was putting away a coffee cup, he heard a noise. The entire ship shuddered and sank at the stern, lifting the bow upwards. He ran out of the mess to the gangway, where he saw a ball of flame rushing towards him as the hydrogen cells exploded and burned. Just then, he was doused with water as the forward water ballast tank shifted and poured water toward the rear of the ship.

The water helped prevent Franz from being burned, but how to escape this burning ship? He remembered the provision hatch used to transfer stores onto the ship. He ran to it, sat down on a beam—with the glow of the burning ship all around him—and he kicked open the hatch. Franz looked down and saw the ground rushing up toward him. He waited until the Hindenburg was close to the ground and jumped. Just then, Franz caught his last lucky break As he hit the ground, the ship lurched back up into the air. This gave him just enough time to run out from underneath the falling immensity of the burning ship.

Franz would survive wet, uninjured, and alive. Later, Franz asked for permission to return to the Hindenburg to look for a watch his grandfather had given him. Amazingly, he found his watch in the burned and twisted wreckage.

8 John Cruickshank
Last Living Victoria Cross Winner For Action During World War II

The highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces is the Victoria Cross. Today, John Cruickshank is the only living World War II combatant to have won this prestigious military award, and boy did he earn it.

John Cruickshank was the pilot of a PBY Catalina airplane whose mission it was to seek out and destroy German U-boats during World War II. It carried six 113-kilogram (250-lb) depth charges to get the work done. On his 48th mission and cruising at 610 meters (2,000 ft) above the Arctic Ocean, he and his crew spotted U-347 on the surface and moved in for the kill. They came in low over the U-boat, but the depth charges failed to drop.

The PBY circled around to come in again, but the element of surprise was lost and the Germans were ready for them with their deck guns. As they brought the PBY in low for a second attack, the Germans opened fire. Bullets and shells from the U-boat shredded the PBY, killing one man and wounding several more. Cruickshank took the worst of it, having been hit an incredible 72 times. Riddled with bullets in his limbs and lungs, he held the PBY steady and dropped all six depth charges, sinking the sub.

The injured crew now had to fly the badly damaged PBY five hours back to their base in Scotland. Bleeding and lapsing in and out of consciousness, Cruickshank refused morphine so he could fly the plane if needed. It was a smart choice, because when the PBY reached its base, the copilot could not land it. Cruickshank took the controls and landed the PBY on the water, keeping the front of the plane above the waterline long enough for the flying boat to reach shallow water.

7 Reinhard Hardegen
The Last Living German U-Boat Captain

Fortunately for Captain Reinhard Hardegen, he was not on U-347 when John Cruickshank and his PBY crew sank it. If he had been, today he would not be the last living German U-boat commander. In many ways, Hardegen was the peer of Cruickshank. He wasn’t just the pilot of his war machine, but the winner of a prestigious war decoration from his country, the coveted Knights Cross.

Hardegen was the captain of U-123 and was one of the most successful killers of Allied vessels and crews in the entire war. Like all German submariners, he was exceptionally proud of the German U-boats, believing them to be far superior to those of the Americans. Hardegen recalled visiting an American submarine before the war and coming away with the impression that the American submarines had great creature comforts and spacious room compared to the German subs, but were not as well-designed as ultimate fighting machines. He also felt the discipline and devotion to duty of the German submariners far exceeded that of their American counterparts.

The Germans demonstrated their dedication to killing during Operation Drumbeat in the first six months of 1942, when German U-boats sank Allied ships in what another German U-boat commander called a “duck shoot.” The Germans called this period of their submarine war “the Happy Time” as they sank Allied vessels along the North American coast almost at will.

Hardegen would sink more Allied ships than any other U-boat commander during Operation Drumbeat. He contributed to the loss of 500 Allied ships and 5,000 merchant mariners. The Happy Time would soon give way, however, to what the German submariners called “the Sour Pickle Time,” the period in 1943–1945 when Allied sub detection and killing technology made almost every U-boat mission a death sentence. Hardegen survived the Sour Pickle Time and the war itself. At the age of 101, he is the last of the World War II German U-boat commanders and one of the last living German submariners.

6 David Stolier
The Last Living Survivor Of The Struma Disaster

In 1936, with his home country of Romania increasing their persecution of Jews, the father of David Stolier decided it would be best to evacuate his son from the country. He booked David passage on the Struma, an old cattle boat that was barely seaworthy, bound for the assumed safety of British Palestine. Badly overcrowded, with almost 800 passengers and crew, the Struma barely made it to the port of Istanbul, Turkey. The ship sat there for two months while the Turks refused to allow the passengers to disembark and the British refused to grant them visas to reach Palestine.

Years later, Stolier would recall the awful conditions on board the Struma. Hundreds of passengers baked in the sun with no room to move and little water or food. In February 1942, the Turks finally forced the Struma back out into the Black Sea with nowhere to go. Within hours, a Soviet submarine patrolling for Axis ships mistakenly torpedoed the Struma only a mile off the coast. Out of 769 Jewish passengers, including 75 children, David was the sole survivor. Seventy-two years later, Stolier is still the last living witness to this historic tragedy.

5 Harry Ettlinger
The Last Monuments Man

Not every old man gets the opportunity to meet George Clooney, let alone see his World War II story told by the A-list actor and director in a major motion picture. But 88-year-old Harry Ettlinger has accomplished that and much more in his long life. He also holds the distinction of being the last of the Army unit dispatched to Germany to save the looted art masterpieces the Nazis had hidden away in caves and . . . other places.

For those who don’t want to wait to watch Clooney’s The Monuments Men, the trailer is above. At the very end of World War II, the Allies were afraid the Germans would destroy unknown numbers of priceless and historic artwork they knew the Nazis had seized when they came to power at the start of the war. The question was, where was the art hidden and could they rescue it in time? To that end, the Allies dispatched a small unit of art historians, professors, and other Indiana Jones characters called the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives corps. They were tasked with finding and recovering the stolen art the Nazis had stashed in castles, salt mines, and other locations. Almost 70 years later, only Harry Ettlinger survives to attend the Hollywood premiere of the movie made to tell the tale of this remarkable World War II mission.

Ettlinger, a German Jew who had the good sense to flee Germany in the 1930s, would return to Europe at the very end of the war to help recover the artwork, much of it stolen from German Jews. Ettlinger and his comrades would recover a total of over 900 works of art. After the war, he went home to Newark, New Jersey and helped his country fight the Cold War by working for a company that designed nuclear weapons.

4 Sarah Collins Rudolph
The Last Living 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing Survivor

On September 15, 1963 at 10:22 AM, a bomb detonated in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The bomb was a case of dynamite planted by four Klansmen who had tunneled underneath the front steps of the church. Their cowardly act of domestic terrorism against the African-American church managed to kill four people, all of whom were little girls attending a Sunday sermon. Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley—all 14 years old—along with 11-year-old Denise McNair died in a failed attempt to stop the growing Civil Rights movement in the Deep South.

It would take over a decade for authorities to begin to track down the KKK members who planted the bomb. Afterward, these four girls were posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, but a fifth victim of the bombing that day has never been recognized. Sarah Collins Rudolph, younger sister of Addie Mae Collins, is the last injured survivor of that attack. She lost an eye to some flying glass and was in the hospital for months. She never really recovered, as she is still traumatized by the events of that day, but she is the only victim still alive 51 years later.

3 Donald “Nick” Clifford
The Last Living Sculptor Of Mount Rushmore

Drilling rock hundreds of feet up on the side of a cliff face is exciting work, especially when it’s a historic monument like the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone, South Dakota. It is also exceedingly dangerous work. Amazingly, no workers were killed during the years of drilling and blasting needed to create the monument. That fact is not lost on the last living man to drill and chisel the faces of four great American presidents into a mountain. Donald “Nick” Clifford has the distinction of being the last surviving person who actually worked on the sculpture. The story of how he got the job is almost as fascinating as the work he and the others did to create such a magnificent work of art.

Clifford had been hassling the sculptor of the monument, Gutzon Borglum, for a job since he was 15 years old. He finally got his chance at the age of 17 because of baseball. In 1938, Borglum’s son decided he wanted to form a baseball team for his workers. Knowing that Clifford was an excellent pitcher and infielder, he got added as a ringer to the team, which was called the Mount Rushmore Memorial Drillers. He then badgered his teammates until they finally got him a job.

At first, Clifford worked cutting logs and cranking winches to raise and lower cables at the rate of $0.50 per hour. He was eventually promoted to driller and given a raise of $1 per day. He worked three years on the project. Now, he autographs his own book, Mount Rushmore Q&A, at the Mount Rushmore gift shop and answers any and all questions about the making of the memorial. After all, he is the last one who can.

2 Alcides Ghiggia
The Last Living Winner Of The 1950 World Cup

In the world of professional football, Pele is probably the most well-known South American football player of all time. But there is one lesser known football legend from South America who is also the sole living member of his team—a team that pulled off one of the greatest upsets in football history.

It was the 1950 World Cup, played in host country Brazil. In the final game the home team faced an opponent from next door, the small country of Uruguay. There were 200,000 fans inside the world’s largest football stadium that was built just for the World Cup, rooting for Brazil. It seemed impossible for Uruguay to upset the home team.

Brazil only needed a tie against Uruguay to win the Cup and only an upset win could give it to Uruguay. Everyone was so sure of a Brazilian victory that local newspapers had already printed an announcement of the win the morning before the match. Uruguay’s coach bought every copy in their hotel’s newsstand and brought it back to the room for his team to pee on.

Brazil led much of the game 1–0 until Uruguay’s Juan Schiaffino scored to tie it at 1–1. Still, a tie was all Brazil needed—they just had to hang on. With only 11 minutes remaining, Uruguayan Alcides Ghiggia scored, winning the game at 2–1.

The massive crowd was stunned into silenced. Uruguay won the game and the Cup. The loss became not only part of Brazilian history, but also of the Brazilian psyche. It was and still remains known to this day as the Maracanaco, meaning “shock.” A noted Brazilian commented that every country has its own national catastrophe, and for Brazil, it was the loss to Uruguay in 1950.

The hero of that game, a legend in world soccer and especially in his home country of Uruguay, is the only survivor of that historic team. In 2013, still very much part of world soccer, Ghiggia was honored to be one of those at the final selection process of the 2014 World Cup match, which will also be played in Brazil. Ghiggia plans on being there—to root for Uruguay, of course. In 2014, Ghiggia will be one of only two people (the other being the president of Uruguay) who will be allowed to touch the coveted World Cup trophy as it travels through Uruguay to Brazil.

1 David Greenglass
The Last Living Rosenberg Co-Conspirator

On June 19, 1953, an American couple named Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg were executed for spying and handing atomic bomb secrets to the Soviets in a trial that was a defining moment in Cold War espionage history. Over 60 years later, only one of their major co-conspirators is left—Ethel Rosenberg’s brother, David Greenglass.

The spy ring began with a brilliant nuclear physicist who worked at the secret Los Alamos nuclear facility designing and building the first atomic bomb, Klaus Fuchs. In 1949, the Soviet Union exploded their first atomic bomb, years before they were expected to be able to. Fuchs was the scientist who fed US and Canadian atomic secrets to the Soviets that allowed them to shave years off their development of an atomic bomb. He confessed to spying and implicated a chemist named Harry Gold. Gold, who would be convicted of espionage and sentenced to 30 years in prison, implicated David Greenglass, a US soldier stationed in Los Alamos. Greenglass had been recruited by Julius Rosenberg through Greenglass’s wife, Ruth Greenglass. David Greenglass became a Soviet spy, passing on secrets through Gold and Julius Rosenberg to the Soviets.

Ruth Greenglass and Julius Rosenberg were both passionate communists, but Ethel Rosenberg did not seem to share her husband’s passion and did not appear to be involved in the espionage. Her only guilt seemed to be she was the sister-in-law of Ruth Greenglass. During the Rosenbergs’ trial, David Greenglass testified that Ethel Rosenberg had typed some of the secret documents he had passed along to the Soviets, thus implicating Ethel Rosenberg directly as a spy. Greenglass probably said this to save the life of his wife, who was not prosecuted, even though it appears certain Ruth recruited her husband to spy for the Soviets.

In exchange for his testimony, David Greenglass received a 15-year sentence instead of death. Greenglass would later recant his testimony, stating that Ethel Rosenberg did not type the atomic secrets, but it was too late. Ethel and her husband were put to death at Sing Sing prison for espionage. Many historians feel Greenglass’s testimony sealed her fate. In 2006, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled to keep the secret grand jury testimony of David Greenglass sealed until after his death.

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Though most Western depictions of World War II focus on soldiers rescuing helpless victims from German oppression, the truth is very different. The human species doesn’t take kindly to genocide or oppression, and the Jews are no exception.

10 The Treblinka Rebellion


About 800,000 to one million people were murdered at Treblinka Death Camp from July 23, 1942 to October 19, 1943 in Eastern Poland; 90 percent of all prisoners were murdered within two hours of arrival. The bodies were then taken by Sonderkommandos to the open cremation pit on a hilltop. The pit had iron rails laced in layers within it like grillwork, on which the bodies were incinerated. Jews were periodically forced to enter the pit and sift through the ashes for any bones that needed to be ground. The SS had been of the opinion that the Jews would be too underfed and overworked to cause a serious problem. They were wrong.

On August 2, 1943, the prisoners fought back. About half of the 1,500 inmates allowed to live in the camp invaded the camp armory after three Jews walked up to the two guards at the rear door and stabbed them with their own knives before they could sound an alarm, whereupon the Jews stole small arms from the armory and opened fire on the SS guards throughout Camp II. The prisoners seized kerosene stores and set fire to every building while the guards and watchtowers began shooting back. The Jews broke into Camp I and armed some of its inmates, and then about 600 men and women broke through the outer perimeter and ran for their lives into the woods. All but about 40 of these were recaptured within a week and executed. Those 40 survived the war.

9 The Lenin Ghetto Assault


During the Holocaust, the average population density inside the ghettos across Europe was about seven people to a single room, and up to 30 percent of a city’s residents crammed into three percent of its area. The rest of a city was given over to Nazi party members, German troops, and the few gentile civilians deemed non-threatening. These were the living conditions of the Lenin Ghetto, near Pinsk, in Brest Province in southern Belarus. There were a few thousand Jews in the ghetto until August 14, 1942, when the SS entered and murdered almost every single human being, including infants. Thirty people were spared to work in the ghetto as tailors and woodwrights, and they were guarded by an SS garrison of 100, plus 30 Aryan Belarusian policemen who also hated the Jews.

On 12 September 1942, the town was assaulted from the northeast by about 150 partisan soldiers, including the famous Bielski brothers, who killed thirty SS officers, soldiers, and police. They then broke through the wall, evacuated the 30 Jews remaining, and burned the ghetto to the ground before retreating into the surrounding woodland.

8 Zdzieciol Ghetto Partisans


Today, Zdzieciol is called Dzyatlava, just over the Polish border in Belarus. It was a small town of about 6,000 during WWII. The Nazis occupied it on June 30, 1941, and established the ghetto on February 22 of the next year. On July 23, 1941, all of the most respected, well-educated citizens of the town were assembled in the main square and were arrested without being charged with any crimes. The SS Einsatzkommandos took them away in trucks and told the citizens watching that they would be put to work in labor camps. Instead, they were all shot in a forest a few miles outside of town.

Once the ghetto was set up, eight people were forced to share living space in a single room without furniture except for collapsible cots. Anyone found smuggling food in from the city was immediately shot. Alter Dvoretsky, a local lawyer, organized a resistance group of about 60 people, who acquired guns and ammunition, and prepared to arm the ghetto residents in the event that it would be liquidated. These Partisan rebels cooperated with the Soviet Red Army in ambushing German patrols and stealing all weapon and food supplies from two dozen supply depots.

The SS decided that this activity was a result of ghetto residents escaping: They liquidated the ghetto on April 30, 1942, and again on August 6. In the first incident, 1,200 of the most able-bodied Jews were marched out of the city and shot, then thrown into mass graves. The second incident resulted in 2,000 to 3,000 being shot, but the Partisans were able to fight on and remain hidden in the forests for the rest of the war.

7 Czestochowa Ghetto Uprising

Czestochowa is a fairly large city in southern Poland and was one of the first cities to fall to the Germans after the Polish Army was defeated. Germany annexed it on September 3, 1939, two days after beginning WWII. The next day, the Wehrmacht, not the Waffen SS, committed one of their very few war crimes when they fired on unarmed civilians in two separate areas of the city, killing almost 600 men, women, and children. Soldiers who were involved have stated that this was not done because the victims were Jewish, but because the 42nd and 97th Wehrmacht Regiments were nervous and inexperienced. Many of the victims were non-Jewish.

On April 9, 1941, the ghetto was completed and 95 percent of the city’s Jews were forced in—about 45,000 total. The SS had taken over control of the city. On June 26, 1943, in the face of weekly deportations to Treblinka death camp and a supposed imminent liquidation, the 5,000 or so Jews inside the ghetto staged an urban firefight primarily along Nadrzeczna Street, where they took cover in makeshift bunkers and street-level basements. They were very poorly armed, with only one gun for every four people, and a few hundred Molotov cocktails, but those who weren’t armed at the outset hoped that they could strip weapons from dead Germans. They did so, and lasted an amazing five days, but the SS had no real difficulty in quelling them. Their leader, Mordechai Zylberberg, shot himself just before the SS stormed into his bunker. Around 1,500 Jews died fighting, 500 were executed immediately afterward (many of them by flamethrowers), and some 3,800 to 4,000 who had been unable to arm themselves were captured and shipped to various labor camps.

6 The Sobibor Uprising


Sobibor was one of the first death camps set up with the determined and large-scale purpose of murdering almost every Jew who was sent to it. The Nazis made the mistake of transporting hundreds of Soviet POWs to the camp for labor. Those who were Jewish were executed, but few precautions were taken because according to Nazi ideology the Soviets were subhuman and incapable of fighting back. However, these POWs were experienced, battle-hardened soldiers—and one of them, Alexander Pechersky, could not bring himself to tolerate this wholesale slaughter. He was Jewish but fortunate not to look so, and after one month of incarceration in the camp he joined a covert resistance effort led by Leon Feldhendler with the goal of a successful escape.

Two months later, the Sobibor prisoners sprang their plan. Pechersky and Feldhendler were among the very few prisoners involved in the uprising who had any experience killing other people. They lured guards and SS officers around the rear of one of the barracks or into a machine shop and stabbed, garrotted, or bludgeoned them to death. Each dead guard offered a uniform and weapons to another prisoner. They intended to kill every single guard and officer in the camp and then simply walk out through the main gate, but an errant guard spotted them and sounded the alarm. Half the prisoners made it out of the camp and into the woods, where more died by stepping on landmines. Some 50 managed to evade recapture by hiding in barns, haystacks, drain pipes, and farmhouses. The local non-Jewish Poles risked their own lives by stowing them away in crawlspaces.

5 The Bielski Partisans

Jewish Resistance

Now famous via the 2009 film Defiance, the Bielski Partisans were led by four Jewish brothers: Alexander, Tuvia, Asael, and Aron Bielski. They organized a resistance group of 17 total after the liquidation of the Stankiewicz Ghetto in modern-day Belarus. In August 1941, the Bielskis’ parents, sisters, and the rest of their entire family were murdered. The brothers escaped into the thick forests nearby. The SS continued separating people from their families, causing survivors to flee into the woods, where they found the Bielskis, who welcomed all Jewish refugees. They even began making night-time forays into towns and farms for food and ambushing German patrols for arms.

Their membership swelled to 1,236 by the war’s end. Their mission of upsetting the Nazi war effort as much as they could succeeded well enough that by 1943, the SS placed a 100,000 Reichsmark bounty of Tuvia Bielski’s head. By late 1943, the Soviets had reached the area and the partisans joined them. They claimed to have killed 381 Nazis or Wehrmacht soldiers by 1944.

4 The Syrets Concentration Camp Revolt


The Nazis installed a camp in Syrets, the western suburb of Kiev, in June 1942. It was one of the first built so far east of Germany or Poland, and its purpose was to force its Jewish prisoners to clean up all evidence of the Babi Yar massacre. There were about 3,000 Jewish prisoners in the camp at any time, and they were forced to bury or burn the naked bodies of their own family members in large pits. Fifteen people starved to death per day—25,000 died in the camp by the time the Nazis dismantled it over a year later. The ashes of the massacre victims were scattered on fallow fields across the area, and the prisoners were forced to live in shallow dugouts without beds. Anyone who refused to carry out the grave detail was immediately murdered by gunshot or mobile gas truck. Commandant Otto Radomski even had some prisoners skinned in front of the other Jews to terrify them.

This continued until September 29, 1943, when the 326 prisoners managed to pick the locks of their chains with keys they had scavenged from the dead. The prisoners were so ill-treated that they were suffering from scabies and aggressive necrosis all over their bodies, but still found the strength to wrestle their SS guards to the ground and stab them to death, gouge their eyes out, and strangle them with their bare-hands. Fifteen Jews escaped into the woods and survived to testify against Paul Blobel, the perpetrator of the Babi Yar massacre. The rest were executed.

3 The Auschwitz Sonderkommando Revolt


Auschwitz was the largest and most infamous of the Nazis’ concentration camps. It became operational on May 20, 1940 and remained so until January 27, 1945, when the Soviets liberated it. Over one million people were murdered in the three camps, about 90 percent of them Jewish.

“Sonderkommando” was a special unite comprised of Jewish prisoners selected at random upon arrival at the camp. They were tasked with policing the corpses, clothing, and valuables to and from the gas chambers and crematoria, and though their job was horrible, they were rewarded with more food and better working conditions. On the morning of October 7, the Sonderkommandos suddenly attacked every single SS guard in and around the gas chambers and crematoria. There were two gas chambers and four crematoria, about 275 meters (300 yds) apart at the north end of Camp II. The Sonderkommandos totaled 451, vastly outnumbering the SS—but the SS were much better armed.

However, these well-fed rebels proved very formidable adversaries and quickly killed several dozen guards with axes and knives, shoved two of them alive into the ovens, then stripped them of their weapons and opened fire on all SS personnel responding to the commotion. Over 70 Nazis were killed. Then the Jews flung the gunpowder satchel into an oven and blew up Crematorium IV. About one dozen men escaped the camp but were recaptured. All remaining Sonderkommandos, whether they had a part to play in the revolt or not, were executed.

2 The Bialystok Ghetto Uprising


Bialystok is the largest city in northeastern Poland, not far from the Belarusian border, and the ghetto contained about 50,000 Jews from late July 1941 until the final liquidation and their deportations to concentration and death camps. When taking over the city one month earlier, the Nazis locked close to 1,000 Jews in the Great Synagogue and burned it down. Himmler visited two days later and gave his approval of the SS actions. The 50,000 ghetto Jews lived in cramped squalor, as was the case in all the ghettos.

Every few weeks, a detachment of several thousand Nazis entered the ghetto to round up thousands of Jews to be sent to their deaths. Rumors could not help but be spread, and by the time rail cars reached their destinations, the passengers were screaming in terror and banging on the walls to try to escape. By August 1943, the Jews of the Anti-Fascist Military Organization had worked up the courage to fight back, though they were only equipped with a single MG 34 machine gun and a single belt of 500 rounds of ammunition, 100 pistols, most of them Walther police pistols, and 25 Mauser rifles. They supplemented this meager arsenal with Molotov cocktails of gasoline, diesel, and kerosene, and about 100 glass bottles of hydrochloric, sulfuric, and nitric acids. They had set up command bunkers in the sewers and Moskowicz and Tenenbaum emptied their pistols at the surrounding SS until they turned their final bullets on themselves.

The remaining 10,000 Jews in the ghetto were immediately shipped to Majdanek, Treblinka, and Auschwitz. Some 1,200 children eventually arrived at Auschwitz for the gas chambers or Josef Mengele’s experiments.

1 The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Warsaw Upriding

This should not be confused with the Warsaw Uprising, which was a city-wide battle between the Nazis and the Polish Home Army. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising took place from April 19 to May 16, 1943, over a year before the Warsaw Uprising. The ghetto was established between October and November 1940, and from then until May 16, 1943, around 300,000 Jews were killed in various deportations, liquidations, and the final destruction.

Life in the ghetto was deplorable. The Nazis allowed the Jews only 184 calories of food each per day, and they had to supplement this by stealing from outside the walls whenever possible. The Nazis entered the ghetto in January of 1943 for a deportation and shot 600 Jews dead more or less at random. Some of the women were dragged into the trucks and raped before being taken to trains that would ship them to their deaths.

The Nazis withdrew with 5,000 fresh prisoners for the death camps and waited under order from Heinrich Himmler until the Passover Week in April before they reentered for another deportation. Himmler appears to have chosen this date purely for the sake of offending their religion. About 4,000 Nazis began house-to-house searches only to walk face-first into multiple ambushes. Firefights erupted all over the city and the Nazis found themselves surrounded on many streets and without initial tank support. They quickly retreated and regrouped with tanks, heavy machine guns, demolition, and flamethrowers, with which they initiated building-by-building assaults, murders, and arson.

The Nazis claimed 17 of their own were killed, while they executed 13,000 Jewish civilians. The fighting only lasted for about 10 days, after which the Nazis, ordered by Hitler himself, utterly obliterated the entire ghetto. Almost every single building was razed to the ground, and 56,000 Jews were shipped to death camps. The few who survived the war claimed that they knew they had no hope of defeating the Nazis, and were simply hoping to die on their own terms.

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According to the great tragedian, Euripides, “The first requisite to happiness is that a man be born in a famous city.” Although his statement may not be far from the truth, the pursuit of happiness is not relevant for this list. The focus of this list is to collect ten small places which had or still have a great impact in the world. From Athens, Beijing and Rome to New York, Paris and London, big cities have always been the magnet for culture, arts, wealth, political influence and human population. But what about the small cities and towns with legacies and influences that far exceed the size of their city walls? The criteria for the selection were simple: ten places with a great impact and influence around the world, with a population of less than 125,000 citizens. The aim of this list is twofold; to stimulate the curiosity of readers on one hand and to promote thought as to what other small places with a great impact could or should have been included.

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The Town of Bethel was brought to the world’s attention in 1969 when nearly 500,000 people (almost 100 times more than the population of the town) gathered at Max Yasgur’s Farm for “Three Days of Peace and Music.” The Woodstock Festival was a four-day (not three as originally planned) rock music festival, which started on the 15th and ended on the 18th of August 1969 and made Bethel one of the most famous places in the world that summer. The turnout of spectators was expected to be sixty thousand. However, the area was attended by approximately half a million people, most of who belonged to the hippie movement. The end of the festival created the largest traffic jam in United States’ history and paralyzed many main streets of NY state. The Woodstock Festival remains today, almost 45 years later, the most powerful and influential music festival ever, even though its anti-war and peaceful messages were never really delivered to the “recipients”.


Maastricht is a municipality and the capital of the province of Limburg. The city’s name is derived from the Latin name “Trajectum Ad Mosam”, which refers to the bridge that was built by the Romans under the reign of Caesar Augustus. The city would not gain global attention until the signing of “The Treaty of Maastricht” in the early 1990s, which is officially known as “The Treaty of the European Union,” and it is considered to be the most important treaty in the European continent’s modern history. Historically, there is no similar treaty with such an extensive economic, political, social and cultural content, which involves so many countries and participating states. The Treaty of Maastricht was signed on 7 February 1992, and placed the city in the world map of fame.


Probably the vast majority of the readers has never heard of this city and might wonder why it is in the list in the first place. This is a very rare case that the actual city doesn’t get the recognition it deserves because it hides in the bigger picture. Now if you had read about Transylvania or The Carpathian Mountains, what would be the first thing coming to mind? Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia maybe? Not likely. Vlad the Impaler? Maybe so. Dracula? Sure thing.

What most people ignore though is that the man who inspired Bram Stoker to write one of the best selling books in the history of horror fiction and influenced the film industry to make hundreds of movies related to his name and legacy (with billions of dollars profit), is that he was born and raised in the small city of Sighișoara in Romania. Transylvania, which many people often mistake as the city of Dracula’s birthplace, is the region in which the city of Sighișoara belongs. Today, Dracula’s building of birthplace is used as a museum-themed restaurant and the specialty of the menu is, of course, rare blue steak which swims in blood.


During the first century B.C., Julius Caesar gave the land which took from The Massalian Greeks and the local tribes, to the victorious Roman Legions. It eventually became a kind of second capital of the Roman Empire, known as “The Little Rome of Gaul.” As befitting a major Roman center, it had a number of impressive public buildings. Most of these remain part of the city’s life even today and many monuments have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Many centuries later and more specifically during the 19th century, one of the greatest painters ever, Van Gogh, would connect his name and legacy with the city’s, since he lived and worked in and around Arles. When, in 1888, Van Gogh cut off his ear, he was taken to the Hotel-Dieu, a 16th-century hospital with a galleried garden which he painted. Also some of the great painter’s paintings such as “Starry Night over the Rhone” portray various locations of Arles and are known as “Paintings of Arles”.

Yorktown Battlefield Monument By Ladybug1985-D3G5H19

Yorktown is a small and peaceful census-designated place in York County, Virginia, which is not known for its large tourism or intense lifestyle. On its lands however, took place the most decisive and tough battle (also known as Siege of Yorktown) of the American War of Independence, which actually ended the war and lead to the recognition of the United States as an independent nation from the United Kingdom. The consequences of this battle were the collapse of the British Government, even though turf wars followed before the new British Government would finally accept defeat and officially acknowledge the independence of the United States. Unfortunately, the only attraction that Yorktown has to offer to its few visitors nowadays, is the impressive “Victory Monument,” which was installed back in 1884.

Prisoners Liberation Dachau

The city of Dachau became famous around the world and connected its name with one of the darkest and most ghastly war crimes in modern history. Dachau’s concentration camp was the first of the Nazi concentration camps established in Germany. It was located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory near the medieval town of Dachau, from which it took its name. In this camp, the Nazis initially tortured and brutalized its own German people who were against the Nazi regime, while later it was used for captives of all ages and nationalities, mainly Jews and various other ethnic groups and minorities, from the countries Nazis conquered during WWII. The Dachau concentration camp functioned until the collapse of Nazi Germany in 1945 and unfortunately thousands of brutal crimes against humanity were committed there during the war.


This small area in Greece has incredible history and a global influence that exists even now. The tradition of lighting an Olympic Flame comes from the Ancient Olympics which took place in this small city exclusively. During the Ancient Olympic Games, a sacred flame was lit from the sun’s rays at Olympia, and stayed lit until the Games were completed. It was first introduced into our Modern Olympics at the 1928 Amsterdam Games. Since then, the flame has come to symbolize the light of spirit, knowledge, and life. The torch is traditionally lit in this small but historic city named Olympia, which every two years (including Winter Olympics) becomes the center of the world, since it is estimated that over a half billion of people around the globe watch the specific event and the torch relay that follows.


Pisa is a small, but very historical and important city of Italy. The University of Pisa is one of the oldest in all Europe and opened in 1343. The biggest attraction of the city, however, and the basic reason this city is so famous around the world (and attracts millions of tourists every year) is the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which was built entirely of marble during the period from 1172 to 1350. It consists of 6 floors and because it was built on loose ground, inclined towards the south (an incline that is gradually increasing each year). It is 56 meters tall and many scientists and top architects from all over the planet, visit Pisa just to study and admire the specific architectural “miracle.” The Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo) is also another top touristic and historical building of the city, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site as well.

Braine-L'alleud - Butte Du Lion Dite De Waterloo

Waterloo is a very small city which does not attract many tourists, yet it’s one of the most famous cities in history, and its military impact is unquestionable. The Battle of Waterloo is one of the most famous battles in military history, and it took place in modern day Belgium on June 18, 1815. It marked the final defeat of one of the greatest generals of all time, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who conquered a big part of Europe in the early years of the 19th century. The Battle of Waterloo, in which Napoleon’s forces were defeated by the British and Prussians, signaled the end of his reign and the end of France’s domination in Europe. Today, nearly two centuries later, Waterloo is still used as a term around the western world to define or characterize disastrous or decisive defeat, especially in fields such as politics, sports and of course, military. Waterloo was also the title of the second studio album by the legendary Swedish pop group ABBA. The song was victorious in the Eurovision Song Contest of 1974 and was recently voted as the greatest song in the history of the contest.

Greece Corinth Temple Of Apollo

If the boxing term “pound for pound” existed to measure the historical influence and impact of a city, it’s quite possible that the city of Corinth would earn that title. Corinth is located in one of the most powerful ports of the Ancient world and was the first Greek city-state that colonized Italy (Syracuse) and gave birth to another city (Corfu). By 730 B.C. Corinth had emerged as a highly advanced Greek city-state (probably the most powerful at the time), way before traditional and well-known ancient Greek cities developed, such as Athens, Sparta and Ancient Macedonia.

Corinth was the homeland to one of the Seven Sages of Greece, Periander, while the greatest cynical philosopher of all time, Diogenes of Sinope, spent most of his life there, where he met Alexander the Great and the two had one of the most historic dialogues in history.

The two most important athletic events of the Ancient times (after the Olympic Games), the Isthmian and Nemean Games, took place in Corinth. But the Corinthian legacy doesn’t stop here. The contributions of the city in architecture were immense as well. The Corinthian order was the latest of the three principal classical orders of ancient Greek architecture. It took its name from the city-state that it originated, but it was followed and adored mostly from the Ancient Romans originally and most European architects and artists during the Renaissance.

Nonetheless, Corinth is probably more known through religion. Over a billion and a half Christians around the world are aware of The First and Second Epistle (also known as Corinthians,) which Paul the Apostle, who lived and preached in Corinth, wrote to “the church of God which is at Corinth” as the bible mentions.

During the modern years, Corinth became famous once again worldwide, for another unique achievement, in construction this time. The Corinth Canal, which was first attempted by the Ancient Greeks and Romans, was finally constructed. On July 25, 1893, the Canal of Isthmus was first used and was, at the time, one of the most impressive artificial constructions in the world. It attracts to this day thousands of tourists from all over the world.

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Swords of renown are the seeds of legend. Fueled by tales of bloodshed and conquest, there have been swords throughout history that have grown to mythical proportions, blending fact and fiction until the two are all but inseparable. We’ve found swords that might in fact be legends brought to life; others have tales so bizarre we have to question their truth. There will never be another weapon that has left a greater impact on history as the sword––some more than others.

10 The Sword In The Stone

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While the Arthurian legend is mostly a product of folklore and myth, there is evidence that its sword in the stone tale might be very real. In a chapel in Monte Siepi, Italy lies an ancient sword embedded in stone that could be the key to deciphering the origin of the legend.

It’s believed that Saint Galgano was a 12th-century Tuscan knight whom Archangel Michael commanded to give up his sinful ways. Arguing that the task would be as difficult as cleaving stone, Galgano attempted to prove his point by breaking his sword on a nearby rock. Legend says his blade cut into the stone as if it were butter. The sword in the stone still rests where Galgano left it behind, along with his worldly ways.

After Saint Galgano was canonized, word of his holy sword spread quickly. The legend of Excalibur predates Galgano, but the addition of the sword in the stone arose shortly after Galgano’s time. It’s theorized that his sword was the true-life inspiration for Author’s sword in the stone.

Of course, that all depends on the sword’s legitimacy. Whether or not the sword in Italy belonged to Galgano has been called into question numerous times. Luigi Garlaschelli of the University of Pavia, however, recently carbon dated the sword to the 12th century––appropriate for Saint Galgano’s lifetime, if not necessarily absolute proof of the story’s legitimacy.

9 The Kusanagi

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According to legend, the “sword in the snake,” Kusanagi, was found in the body of an eight-headed serpent killed by the god of storms and seas. It’s part of the Imperial Regalia of Japan, icons of the ancient imperial family’s descent from the sun goddess––the symbols of their divine right to rule.

The Kusanagi is said to be housed in the Atsuta shrine in Nagano Prefecture, though it isn’t on public display and hasn’t been seen in centuries. The sword is occasionally brought out for imperial coronation ceremonies, but it’s always kept shrouded in wrappings. Even though it has never been seen, and is only recorded in collections of oral history and pseudohistorical documents, authorities have nevertheless succeeded in keeping the world guessing about the Kusanagi by never officially confirming nor denying its existence.

The only official mention of the sword came after World War II—even though the late Emperor Hirohito disavowed any claim to his divinity, he was also recorded as having ordered the divine regalia’s keepers to “defend them at all costs.”

8 Durandal

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For hundreds of years, a mysterious sword had been embedded in the cliffs above the Notre Dame chapel in Rocamadour, France. The monks say it is Durandal, sword of the paladin Roland. According to legend, Roland hurled the holy blade into the side of the cliff to keep it from being captured by his enemies. Since the 12th century, the chapel has been a destination for sacred pilgrimages. In 2011, the sword was removed by the local municipality and given to the Cluny Museum in Paris for an exhibit.

But is the sword actually Durandal? While the battle where Roland lost his life is a well-documented event, the first mention of Durandal was in “The Song of Roland,” composed hundreds of years later––about the same time the Notre Dame monks began claiming the sword was Roland’s. They likely linked their sword to Durandal since Rocamadour was the starting point for his journey, even though his final battle happened hundreds of miles away in the valley of Roncesvaux. So unfortunately, unless Roland pitched a really good fastball, the sword in the cliff is likely nothing more than a story conjured up by the monks of the chapel. Still, where the sword really came from remains a complete mystery.

7 The Cursed Muramasas

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Muramasa was an ancient Japanese swordsmith who, according to legend, prayed that his swords would be “great destroyers.” Because of the exceptional quality of his blades, the gods granted his request and imbued them with a bloodthirsty spirit that—if not sated with battle—would drive the wielder to murder or suicide. There are countless stories of the Muramasas’ wielders going mad or being murdered. The swords were believed to be cursed, and were banned by imperial edict.

The edict was made by Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, who condemned the swords after they killed nearly all of his family. His grandfather had fallen to a Muramasa, and both Ieyasu and his father had been wounded by the swordsmith’s blades. Finally, both his wife and his adopted son were later executed by the supposedly cursed swords.

But were Muramasa’s blades really cursed? Likely, Ieyasu’s trouble with the swords began simply because they were extremely popular. Muramasa was not the name of one man, but the entire school of swordsmiths he founded. Quality Muramasa blades had been produced for close to a century and Japan’s warrior class used them often. The fact that Muramasa’s swords were used in so many killings related to the Shogun, while certainly a coincidence, was not exactly remarkable.

6 The Honjo Masamune

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In contrast to Muramasa’s cursed swords are the blades of legendary priest and swordsmith Masamune. Legend has it that Masamune and Muramasa held a competition to decide the superior smith by placing their blades in a stream. While Muramasa’s cut everything it touched, Masamune’s refused to cut anything undeserving, even the air.

While Masamune’s works are valued as Japanese national treasures, one of the swords has never been found. Following Japan’s surrender in WWII, the “Honjo Masamune” was given to an American soldier, Sgt. Coldy Bimore, who most likely took it home with him as a war souvenir. As the mysterious G.I. has never been found, the sword’s whereabouts have likewise been lost. Despite the sword’s doubtless worth (it is potentially worth millions), sword collectors are no closer to finding the legendary lost Masamune than they were the day it disappeared.

5 Joyeuse

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Joyeuse, King Charlemagne’s legendary sword, was said to change colors 30 times every day, and was so bright it outshone the sun. Since as early as 1271, two swords called Joyeuse have been part of French coronation ceremonies. But since both swords can’t be the famed Joyeuse, the mystery of which one is the true sword of the Holy Roman Emperor has lingered for centuries.

The Joyeuse residing in the Louvre has suffered heavy modification over its considerable lifetime. The oldest section is the pommel, which recent tests place sometime between the 10th and 11th centuries. Since Charlemagne died in 813, this puts it just outside the Holy Roman Emperor’s lifetime.

The other contender is the “saber of Charlemagne” housed in the Imperial Treasury in Vienna. It is unknown how the sword became part of the French Imperial Regalia, but the saber is dated to the early 10th century—closer than the Joyeuse, but still just after the time of Charlemagne’s legendary sword. The saber was probably fashioned by Hungarian swordsmiths, which opened the door for additional legends of it being the famed “sword of Attila,” which was said to have been given to Attila the Hun by Mars, the god of war. Sadly, this isn’t really historically plausible either.

4 St. Peter’s Sword

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There are several legends about the sword used by Saint Peter when he cut off the ear of the servant to the high priest in the garden of Gethsemane. English lore has it brought to England by Joseph of Arimathea along with the Holy Grail. In 968, however, a sword was brought to Poland by Bishop Jordan—a sword which he claimed was the actual sword of St. Peter. The Bishop’s sword, considered the true relic, remained in Poland and was eventually moved to the Archdiocese Museum in Poznan.

Did the mysterious sword belong to Saint Peter? There are claims that the sword could have been made in the Eastern borderlands of the Roman Empire in the first century, but there is little evidence to substantiate them except the (perhaps misplaced) faith of those who want to believe the sword is a genuine relic. The sword in Poland is a falchion—a type of sword likely not in use during Saint Peter’s time. Metallurgy tests have also dated it to long after the saint’s death.

3 The Wallace Sword

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Legend has it that William Wallace––the titular character of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart––used human skin for his sword’s scabbard, hilt, and belt. The flesh’s donor was said to have been Hugh de Cressingham, treasurer of Scotland, whom Wallace had flayed after defeating him in the battle of Stirling Bridge.

One version of the legend speaks of Wallace using one strip of Cressingham for his sword belt. Other accounts say Wallace and his men used Cressingham’s skin for saddle girths. The legend spread even further when King James IV sent the Wallace sword to have its scabbard, belt, and pommel replaced with something more befitting a sword of such stature. The sword as it is now, in the National Wallace Monument, bears the replacement parts.

Did Wallace have a Frankensword? While Cressingham was most definitely flayed, accounts have Wallace using the unfortunate tax collector’s skin only for his sword belt, not the actual sword. The story also came from the English side, and was likely embellished to make the Scottish hero look like a barbarian. Still, we can certainly understand Wallace’s grudge against tax collectors. It might not be a stretch to say he used the skin from one to decorate his sword. As with many legends, the truth has been lost to time.

2 The Sword Of Goujian

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In 1965, a remarkable sword was found in a damp tomb in China—despite being over 2,000 years old, there wasn’t a spot of rust on it. The blade was so untouched by time it even drew blood when one archeologist tested its edge on his finger. Besides its unearthly resilience, the craftsmanship of the etchings was also unbelievably detailed for a sword forged so long ago. It was, for the time, a complete mystery.

Further study of the etchings concluded that it was a sword belonging to the Yue king, Goujian, and is believed to be the legendary blade mentioned in The Lost History of Yue. According to the text, when King Goujian had his sword collection appraised, there was only a single sword of merit. This sword was so magnificent it was said to have been made with the combined efforts of Heaven and Earth.

How did the sword stay in such excellent condition for over 2,000 years? Tests show the swordsmiths of Yue had reached such a high level of metallurgy they were able to incorporate rust-proof alloys into their blades. Their swords were also treated with rust-resistant chemicals, helping them survive the ages relatively unblemished. In addition, and in a stroke of brilliant luck, the scabbard of this particular blade was nearly airtight, which prevented oxidation and allowed the legendary sword to be found in such pristine condition—even two millennia after it was enclosed in the tomb.

1 The Seven-Branched Sword

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In 1945, a mysterious sword was found in Japan’s Isonokami shrine. The sword was of exceedingly unusual make, with six protrusions branching out from its sides (the tip is considered its seventh). The sword was in poor condition, but a faded inscription could be made out along the blade. The exact translation has been questioned numerous times, but what is clear is that the sword was a gift from a Korean king to a Japanese monarch.

This matched a sword found in the Nihon Shoki, a folklore-infused historical document cataloging the early history of Japan. If this was the same seven-branched sword given to a semi-mythical shaman empress, Jingu, it would serve as an important keystone marking where legend became fact.

The dating on the blade matched reliable sources in China, Korea, and Japan. The Isonokami shrine itself was also mentioned in other documents dating from the time of the Nihon Shoki, so the sword could well have been left there since ancient times. Scholars now believe the seven-branched sword is the actual sword from the legend, giving the shaman empress Jingu an authentic place in history.

+ La Tizona

Detalle del Cid
La Tizona was the sword of legendary hero El Cid, who fought for both Christian and Muslim armies in Spain. In a museum in Burgos, Spain, there is a controversial sword which the museum claims is none other than El Cid’s own blade.

The sword was said to have been given to the Marquis of Falces by King Ferdinand in 1516. It was then passed down through his family until it was given to the Madrid Military Museum in 1944. There it remained, its legitimacy unchallenged, for sixty years until the current Marquis sold it to the Castile and Leon region for display in the Museum of Burgos.

Upon its sale, the Culture Ministry––which is connected to the Military Museum––launched a scholarly attack against the sword, saying it was forged centuries after El Cid’s lifetime. Castile and Leon launched a counterattack, upholding the sword’s authenticity in a different study and saying the Ministry was only jealous because it lost the sword.

In the epic poem, the “Lay of El Cid,” La Tizona was said to have terrified unworthy enemies into a swoon at mere sight. The sword in Burgos may not have made any museum visitors swoon, but it certainly seems to have the power to spark controversy. The sword’s authenticity remains a fierce debate.

+ The Ulfberht

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Though mostly forgotten in modern times, there was a type of sword prized by Vikings that far exceeded any European weapon of its day. The Ulfberht swords were a thousand years ahead of their time, and wielded only by the elite of Viking warriors.

What made the Ulfberht blades so advanced? While most Viking blades were found to have been composed of slag-ridden, low-carbon steel, these blades’ metal was comparable to the strength of modern steel. They were inscribed with the signature “+ULFBERH+T,” and their like would not be seen again in Europe until the industrial revolution. The mystery was how the Vikings created these blades while the rest of Europe was still making steel that could shatter like glass.

Scholars now believe the secret to the Ulfberht blades was crucible steel, which the Vikings imported from Iran and Afghanistan. We can’t be certain who Ulfberht was––or even if he was just one man––but he was the only European smith of his time to work crucible steel. And that made his swords arguably the most advanced weapons of their time and place, ever.

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