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How to gauge an unpredictable foe?

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By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor

There’s an eerie mix of serenity and dread when you step from the dim light of the chapel at Luxembourg American Cemetery (pictured, below). Fanning out before you, sloping into the distance, stand some 5,000 grave markers for many of those who died in the 1944 Battle of the Bulge.

Beyond those headstones rises a line of trees, picturesque—but for those who know, a chilling reminder of the morning 75 Decembers ago when the first wave of nearly a half-million German soldiers emerged from the forests, taking an understaffed Allied force by surprise.

The Germans had been on the run, retreating since D-Day. As Allied troops settled in just short of the German border during the winter of 1944, victory seemed like a matter of time. Few suspected that Adolf Hitler was preparing a surprise invasion.

In the end, the Battle of the Bulge would cost 19,000 Allied lives. But Hitler’s desperate gamble failed, and his forces would fold in the coming months.

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Today in a minute

Recovery? For 919 years, worshipers had been called to prayer from the minaret of the Great Mosque of Aleppo. One day in April 2013, amid fighting in Syria’s civil war, the minaret crashed to the ground, shattering into more than 2,000 pieces of pale limestone. Now a team of Syrians is trying to restore it, Atlas Obscura reports.

Gone in a flash: Six centuries it lasted. However, the Ottoman Empire, which arose on battlefields in modern-day Turkey, saw its once-mighty realm imploded in World War I, two-thirds of its military dead or wounded after a disastrous secret alliance with loser Germany. Before Turkish nationalists ended the empire in 1922 came one of its darkest legacies: the killing of about 1.5 million of its Armenian people.

‘We Return Fighting’: That’s the name of an exhibition that opened Friday on African American soldiers in World War I. The soldiers served in segregated units at home and fought alongside the French in Europe. The war contributed to the birth of the Negro Renaissance and civil rights movements, says Spencer D. Crew, interim director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. “They went to war fighting for democracy abroad,” Crew says. “They returned fighting for democracy at home.” Through June.

Egyptomania: For centuries, Europeans had this craze, which included unwrapping parties. The star of the party was an Egyptian mummy, which was also used in medicine, Nat Geo’s History magazine reports.

Your Instagram photo of the day

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Everybody’s talking about Ukraine: Today’s photo is about something far from the impeachment drama in Washington. In the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, a longtime end-of-school-year tradition is to jump into one of the city’s numerous fountains. The "last bell" ceremony, which dates to the Soviet era, begins just after classes finish. For a few days at the beginning of each summer, Kiev turns into a playground for celebrating students.

Read: In this city, students take over on the last day of school

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What she's reading

Repose: On her popular Twitter feed, Yale historian Joanne B. Freeman admits that she is caught up in the impeachment frenzy. But what to read to give yourself perspective about the United States, to change the scenery, to recharge your batteries for the next wave of news headlines? Freeman, who has edited two books of Alexander Hamilton’s writings and written Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic, suggests one of Wallace Stegner’s later novels, 1972’s Angle of Repose. The Pulitzer-winning work is about an ailing, aging historian trying to make sense of America’s past and present though the lives of his grandparents and their journey west. Outdoor lovers have a lot to thank Stegner for: Wilderness Letter, his influential 1960 essay, stirred support for the designation of Utah’s Canyonlands as a national park.

The big takeaway

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One last glimpse

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Found: From a lovely old Nat Geo blog called Found, we discovered this 1966 image of cranes lifting a face of a statue from Egypt’s majestic Abu Simbel Temples. The massive temples were cut into more than 1,000 pieces and moved to ground 200 feet higher as a lake formed from a new dam on the Nile.

Correction: Last week, the photo of a depiction of the Greek royal Olympias was missing a credit. The image came from AKG/ALBUM.

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Eslah Attar selected the photographs. Have an idea or a link? We'd love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com. Thanks for reading, and happy trails!