FEBRUARY 2 = “Groundhog Day”, Stalingrad

Groundhog Day (Canadian French: Jour de la Marmotte; Pennsylvania German: Grundsaudaag, Murmeltiertag) is marked every February 2. According to long standing American myth, if the furry little Groundhog (Above, Marmota monax – a rodent of the family Sciuridae, from the group of large ground squirrels) emerges from his burrow and it is cloudy, then we’ll have an early Spring. If however it is sunny out, and Mr. Groundhog sees his shadow, then he will scurry back into his little hole, because that means there will be six more weeks of winter.

The Origins of This Strange Event

This originated with sixteenth Century German farmers, and it was actually the wood chuck that they were seeing,  Soon enough, these folks immigrated to America, many of then settling in the state of Pennsylvania. The first reference to Groundhog Day in America which has been documented comes in a diary entry, dated February 4, 1841, of James Morris, a storekeeper in Morgantown, Pennsylvania:

“Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.”

In 1887, a newspaper editor who was with a groundhog hunting group from Punxsutawney, Pennsylavania named “The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club” published an article which said that Phil, the Punxsutawney groundhog, was the only groundhog in America which could preform this act of rodent-meteorology. The descendant groundhogs of Phil have of course earned considerable fame. But other towns across North America have long since began their own Groundhog traditions, from Birmingham Bill to Staten Island Chuck to Balzac Billie in Balzac, Alberta and Manitoba Merv in Manitoba, both in Canada.

“So this is what the end looks like…”

“I was shocked when I saw the map.  We are entirely alone, without help from the outside. Hitler has left us in the lurch.  The men of my battery have some inkling of it too, but they don’t know it as clearly as I do. So this is what the end looks like.”

These were the reflections of an unknown German soldier in a letter to home shortly before his army surrendered.  On this date, February 2 in 1943, the last remnants of the once mighty Wehrmacht 6’th Army, which had been encircled in the ruined city of Stalingrad since November of 1942 surrendered to the Soviet army commanded by Marshall Zhukov.  The last German plane that flew out in January carried seven bags of letters to home from the soldiers.  But none of them was ever delivered, because German Army censors decided that their “negative attitude” would be damaging to morale on the home front.  They were found in Army archives in 1954 with names and addresses removed.   An excerpt from another:

 “Around me everything is collapsing, a whole army is dying, day and night are on fire….I don’t know much about war.  No human being has died by my hand.  I haven’t even fired live ammunition from my pistol.  But I know this much: the other side would never show such a lack of understanding for it’s men.”

The 6’th Army which had once been over 200,000 strong had been reduced to 90,000 frozen, starving survivors (pictured above marching into captivity).  Of these, only 5,000 would ever return to Germany from their imprisonment in Russia.

Sources:

Groundhog Day =

“Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things” by Charles Panati, Harper and Row, New York, 1987

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groundhog_Day

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-groundhog-day

Stalingrad =

“The American Heritage Picture History of World War II”  by C.L. Sulzburger, American Heritage Publ. Co. Inc., New York, 1966

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