This Day In History, December 13th

What happened on this day in history: The Nanking Massacre begins, Saddam Hussein is captured by U.S. troops, and more important events from December 13th.

1784: Samuel Johnson Dies

Samuel Johnson

Wikimedia CommonsA portrait of Samuel Johnson created by English painter Joshua Reynolds, circa 1772.

English writer Samuel Johnson, the “most distinguished man of letters in English history” and author of the Dictionary of the English Language, dies in London. Johnson had struggled with his health for years, but he declined quickly in 1784.

Some of his final words to his physician, when asked if he was feeling better, were, “No, sir, you cannot conceive with what acceleration I advance towards death.” On December 13, 1784, he said “Iam Moriturus” (“I who am about to die”), fell into a coma, and passed away. He was buried at Westminster Abbey.

1925: Dick Van Dyke Is Born

American actor, singer, and comedian Dick Van Dyke is born in West Plains, Missouri. Growing up, he initially planned to become a minister, but he changed his mind after taking a drama class in high school. He started as a radio DJ before joining a touring comedy group, then made his Broadway debut in 1959. Van Dyke quickly rose to fame after winning a Tony award for his role in the musical Bye Bye Birdie the following year, and he is best known for his roles in films like Mary Poppins and his television sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show.

1937: The Nanking Massacre Begins

Victims Of The Nanking Massacre

Moriyasu Murase/Wikimedia CommonsDead bodies lay next to Qinhuai River during the Nanking Massacre.

The Japanese Imperial Army begins killing hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians after seizing the city of Nanking in what’s now known as the Nanking Massacre. The atrocities lasted for six weeks, leading to the deaths of as many as 300,000 Chinese citizens. Japanese soldiers also looted homes, burned surrounding towns, and brutally raped women and children. Commanding general Matsui Iwane and lieutenant general Tani Hisao were later found guilty of war crimes and executed for their role in the massacre.

1945: Irma Grese, “The Hyena of Auschwitz,” Is Executed

Irma Grese, “The Hyena of Auschwitz” is executed for her crimes against prisoners at Auschwitz. As one of the most sadistic guards at Auschwitz, Grese subjected prisoners to horrific torture, including unleashing dogs on prisoners, raping them, and whipping them. After the war concluded, British forces arrested Grese and held her trial the same year. Victim testimony proved beyond a doubt that Grese was a ruthless force at Auschwitz, and she was hanged at the age of 22.

2003: Saddam Hussein Is Captured

Saddam Hussein Capture

Wikimedia CommonsSaddam Hussein immediately after his capture.

Saddam Hussein, the former dictator of Iraq, is captured by U.S. soldiers during Operation Red Dawn after he is found hiding in a hole near his hometown of Tikrit. Hussein had controlled Iraq for more than 20 years, and the United States had invaded the country earlier in 2003 with the purpose of toppling his regime and locating his alleged weapons of mass destruction. He went on to face trial for crimes against humanity and genocide stemming from previous military campaigns, leading to his execution in December 2006.