Year
1942
Month Day
May 21

Thousands of Jews die in Nazi gas chambers; IG Farben sets up factory

On May 21, 1942, 4,300 Jews are deported from the Polish town of Chelm to the Nazi extermination camp at Sobibor, where all are gassed to death. On the same day, the German firm IG Farben sets up a factory just outside Auschwitz, in order to take advantage of Jewish slave laborers from the Auschwitz concentration camps.

Sobibor had five gas chambers, where about 250,000 Jews were killed between 1942 and 1943. A camp revolt occurred in October 1943; 300 Jewish slave laborers rose up and killed several members of the SS as well as Ukrainian guards. The rebels were killed as they battled their captors or tried to escape. The remaining prisoners were executed the very next day.

READ MORE: Holocaust Photos Reveal Horrors of Nazi Concentration Camps

IG Farben, as well as exploiting Jewish slave labor for its oil and rubber production, also performed drug experiments on inmates. Tens of thousands of prisoners would ultimately die because of brutal work conditions and the savagery of the guards. Several of the firm’s officials would be convicted of “plunder,” “spoliation of property,” “imposing slave labor,” and “inhumane treatment” of civilians and POWs after the war. The company itself came under Allied control. The original goal was to dismantle its industries, which also included the manufacture of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, so as to prevent it from ever posing a threat “to Germany’s neighbors or to world peace.” But as time passed, the resolve weakened, and the Western powers broke the company up into three separate divisions: Hoechst, Bayer and BASF.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Charles Lindbergh completes the first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight

American pilot Charles A. Lindbergh lands at Le Bourget Field in Paris, successfully completing the first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight and the first ever nonstop flight between New York to Paris. His single-engine monoplane, The Spirit of St. Louis, had lifted off from ...read more

Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to make solo, nonstop transatlantic flight

Five years to the day that American aviator Charles Lindbergh became the first pilot to accomplish a solo, nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, female aviator Amelia Earhart becomes the first pilot to repeat the feat, landing her plane in Ireland after flying across the ...read more

Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto dies in American wilderness

On the banks of the Mississippi River in present-day Louisiana, Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto dies, ending a three-year journey for gold that took him halfway across what is now the United States. In order that local peoples would not learn of his death, and thus disprove ...read more

American Red Cross founded

In Washington, D.C., humanitarians Clara Barton and Adolphus Solomons found the American National Red Cross, an organization established to provide humanitarian aid to victims of wars and natural disasters in congruence with the International Red Cross. Barton, born in ...read more

Nazis kill “unfit” people in East Prussia

On May 21, 1940, a “special unit” carries out its mission-and murders more than 1,500 hospital patients in East Prussia. Mentally ill patients from throughout East Prussia had been transferred to the district of Soldau, also in East Prussia. A special military unit, basically a ...read more

French troops occupy Fez, sparking second Moroccan Crisis

Six years after the First Moroccan Crisis, during which Kaiser Wilhelm’s sensational appearance in Morocco provoked international outrage and led to a strengthening of the bonds between Britain and France against Germany, French troops occupy the Moroccan city of Fez on May 21, ...read more

Former president James Garfield’s spine put on display

On May 21, 2000, the bones of President James Garfield’s spine are on display for a final day at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C. The exhibit featured medical oddities from the museum’s archives. The British medical journal The Lancet published a ...read more

Black Spanish explorer Estevan is reported killed

Word reaches Fray Marcos that Native Americans have killed his guide Estevan, a Black enslaved man who was the first non-Indian to visit the pueblo lands of the American Southwest. Thought to have been born sometime around 1500 on the west coast of Morocco, Estevan was sold to ...read more

Soap star Susan Lucci wins first Emmy after 19 nominations

“The streak is over…Susan Lucci!” announces Shemar Moore of The Young and the Restless on this night in 1999, right before presenting the Daytime Emmy Award for Best Actress to the tearful star of ABC’s All My Children. The award was Lucci’s first win in 19 straight years of ...read more

Huge earthquake hits Chile

On May 21, 1960, the first tremor of a series hits Valdivia, Chile. By the time they end, the quakes and their aftereffects kill 5,000 people and leave another 2 million homeless. Registering a magnitude of 7.6, the first earthquake was powerful and killed several people. It ...read more

Long Island Lolita is arrested

Amy Fisher, the so-called “Long Island Lolita,” is arrested for shooting Mary Jo Buttafuoco on the front porch of her Massapequa, New York, home. Fisher, only 17 at the time of the shooting, was having an affair with 38-year-old Joey Buttafuoco, Mary Jo’s husband. The tawdry ...read more

Murderers Leopold and Loeb gain national attention

Fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks is abducted from a Chicago, Illinois, street and killed in what later proves to be one of the most unusual murders in American history. The killers, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, were wealthy and intelligent teenagers whose sole motive for ...read more

United States drops hydrogen bomb over Bikini Atoll

The United States conducts the first airborne test of an improved hydrogen bomb, dropping it from a plane over the tiny island of Namu in the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean on May 21, 1956. The successful test indicated that hydrogen bombs were viable airborne weapons and that ...read more

Connecticut enacts first speed-limit law

On May 21, 1901, Connecticut becomes the first state to pass a law regulating motor vehicles, limiting their speed to 12 mph in cities and 15 mph on country roads. Speed limits had been set earlier in the United States for non-motorized vehicles: In 1652, the colony of New ...read more

Lenape Indians abduct Mary Campbell from western Pennsylvania

On May 21, 1758, 10-year-old Mary Campbell is abducted from her home in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, by Lenape Indians; she becomes an icon of the French and Indian War. After her abduction, Campbell lived among the family of Chief Netawatwees in the Ohio Valley. In October ...read more