WWII memorials

There seems to be a sudden inauguration of WWII memorials many years after the end of WWII. Why did it take so long? The new memorials have been opened in Washington DC, Moscow, London and Netanya. That in Washington was delayed for years because of the difficulty in agreeing on a design and finding the funds to pay for it. The Moscow “Memorial of fame:” was inaugurated to replace the original one that was destroyed in Kutaisi, Georgia. The one in London is dedicated to Bomber Command, and it was delayed because many opposed the presence of a memorial to those who bombed and killed thousands of innocent German civilians. And the one in Israel was decided upon only quite recently due to the influence of so many Russian Jewish immigrants who fought in the Red Army, and when it was approved PM Netanyahu agreed to locate it in Netanya where there are many FSU immigrants.

The US National WWII Memorial was dedicated by Pres. George W. Bush in 2004 on a site located between the Lincoln and Washington monuments. It took from 1987 to 1993 for Rep. Marcy Kaptur to have the Congress pass joint resolutions to establish a WWII memorial in Washington DC. It consists of an ellipse of 56 stone pillars, each inscribed with the name of a State or territory (including Washington DC) detailing the soldiers lost from each during WWII. It also has two arches, one labelled “Atlantic” and one “Pacific” to denote the two major theaters of operations. Only about 10% of the cost was funded by the US Government, the rest from private resources. The question remains, why did it take 59 years from the end of WWII for such a memorial to be raised?

The memorial in Moscow was inaugurated in 2010 by Pres. Putin and was designed as a replacement in the same style as the original that was destroyed in Georgia in 2009 during the war between Russia and Georgia. Of course, there are other monuments to WWII in Russia, notably including the 56 m tall monumental statue of “mother Russia” near Volgograd, what was then Stalingrad, where one of the wars fiercest and most murderous battles took place. However, even 65 years after WWII it was thought necessary to dedicate a memorial in Moscow to the then Soviet fighters who fought the Nazis in the “great patriotic war.”

The memorial to Bomber Command was dedicated last week by the Queen in London near Buckingham Palace and consists of a rectangular stone building open to the sky with a group of larger than life heroic figures standing under the opening. They are dressed as a bomber crew just returned from a bombing mission over Germany. It is dedicated to the 55,573 members of Bomber Command who lost their lives mainly flying over Germany and to its Head, then known popularly as “Bomber Harris.” Their actions and sacrifices undoubtedly made a huge contribution to the allies winning the war. Still, it took 67 years before this sacrifice was memorialized.

The “Victory” monument for the soldiers of the Red Army who lost their lives fighting Germany in WWII was dedicated by Pres. Putin in Netanya last week. It consists of an impressive large pair of white marble dove wings rearing up close to the sea. It is estimated that 13 million Russian combatants lost their lives in WWII, including ca. 120,000 Jews. Without their sacrifices Nazi Germany could not have been defeated. Pres. Putin in his speech acknowledged that Israel and Russia share a common culture in relation to the war and this has fostered warm relations between the two countries and peoples. The Mayor of Netanya Miriam Fierberg was very happy that PM Netanyahu agreed on Netanya as the site for the memorial. This memorial also took 67 years to be erected from the time of their sacrifices.

The question remains, why did it take so long after the terrible events they memorialize for these monuments to be erected? Is there a common reluctance to grapple with the difficulty of remembering the terrible destruction that occured then?

About the Author
Jack Cohen was born in London and has a PhD in Chemistry from Cambridge University. He moved to the US and worked at the National Cancer Inst. and then Georgetown Medical School. In 1996, he Moved to Israel and became Chief Scientist of the Sheba Medical Center. He retired in 2001 and worked as a Visiting Professor at Hebrew University Medical School for 5 years.