The excitement is slowly fading. My wife and I have been celebrating that most important day – June 6. Last year we had a big celebration as we had reached a round number, this year’s celebrations were on a little smaller scale. But, after all, 51 years is something to be proud of.
Before you check your computer’s calendar to see if a little bug has crept in and moved you back 25 years, let me say that we were celebrating our 51st wedding anniversary, not 75 years from D-Day.
The non-stop coverage of the Normandy landing and the self-congratulatory extravaganza put on by the wartime allies, which seemed to include Germany, rang hollow to Jewish ears.
The United States, as we all know, won the war single-handed. Great Britain was allowed a supporting role as long as it knew its place. Of course, if not for Pearl Harbour and Japan’s foolish attack, America would have been happy to sit back and watch as Europe went up in flames. On December 7, 1941, when Japan forced America into joining a war that it did not want, it had been underway for more than two years.
Curiously enough, the talk of the day was not America’s reluctance to fight the Nazis but Melania Trump who was criticised for wearing sunglasses throughout the ceremony. Many called US President Donald Trump’s wife “disrespectful” and “tasteless” for not removing them during the important service.
Among those countries celebrating was France. Yes, France, which joined the German war effort with enthusiasm. The French supported Nazi Germany in the Battle of the Atlantic providing the Kriegsmarine with an essential workforce at naval bases.
In February 1941, the naval dockyard at Brest had 6,349 French workers and only 470 German workers. The French workers repaired the German battleship Scharnhorst, carrying out the work in the opinion of Scharnhorst’s captain, to a better standard than would have been possible in a German shipyard.
The Vichy government, headed by Marshal Philippe Pétain and Pierre Laval, willingly took part in the extermination of the European Jews. They built several concentration camps in France to hold Jews, along with Gypsies, homosexuals and other “undesirables”. The French police had no qualms about assisting in the deportation of 76,000 Jews to the extermination camps. Only in 1995, France, some 50 years too late, officially recognized its responsibility for the deportation of Jews during the war.
But France was there, celebrating D-Day.
Another celebrant was, of course, Great Britain. For us Jews, Britain has been not so Great.
Even before the war, the British had a policy of appeasing the Arabs at the expense of the Jews, which continued for the duration of their illegal Mandate. They restricted Jewish immigration while allowing Arabs to enter the country freely. Attempts to estimate the country’s capacity to absorb people did not consider the Arab population.
Britain, the occupying power, kept Palestine closed to Jews for the duration of the war. This callous act, by illegal occupiers of a country far from their own home, left hundreds of thousands of Jews stranded in Europe to become victims of Hitler’s Final Solution.
After the war, the British occupiers refused to allow holocaust survivors to enter Palestine. Two years after D-Day, on June 6, 1946, President Truman told the British government that they should allow in 100,000 Jewish immigrants, who were being held in displaced persons camps not too different from the concentration camps they had escaped, in Europe. Britain’s Foreign Minister, Ernest Bevin, is reported to have replied that the United States wanted the displaced Jews to immigrate to Palestine “because they did not want too many of them in New York.”
But Great Britain was there, celebrating D-Day.
German chancellor Angela Merkel was happy to thank the Allies for the D-Day invasion and the “liberation” of Germany. Of course, the guns that greeted the Allied forces were fired by German soldiers. But attitudes toward the war have changed in Germany, evolving from a sense of defeat to something far more complex. German leaders have generally been content to follow the general population, although in some cases they have led them. “After 1945, Germans first referred to the end of World War II as ‘collapse,'” said Johannes Tuchel, director of the German Resistance Memorial Center. “It has been a process to the point today where it is seen as Germany’s liberation from the Nazis by the Allied forces,” Tuchel said.
Ah yes, those terrible Nazis – even the Germans suffered from them.
But Germany was there, celebrating D-Day.