Friday, May 8, 2009

Today and Tomorrow Are V-E Day

Today and tomorrow are anniversaries of Germany's surrender at the end of World War Two. Mon May 8, 1945, the Germans surrendered to the United States. The following day, they surrendered to the USSR. As an American, I recognise how formative the war was in our direction as a nation. major political differences were set aside for a common cause. The news media recognised its role in keeping up the morale of the nation. We held an election in the heat of war. Whatever issues were debated in the campaign, total military victory was an objective that united the nation. Those who entered the military did not know when the war or their service to the nation would end. Over 400,000 Americans died in World War II. America paid a heavy price in material cost and loss of lives. It is not for nothing that Tom Brokaw called the generation of the Second World War "The Greatest Generation."

The great human cost of World War Two fell far more heavily on the people of Europe. It is for this reason that I celebrate May 9, 1945 as a holiday in my family along with May 8. One in every nine Russians died in World War Two. The war was fought in many civilian areas. Many, many civilians died. The war was on their block and in their front yards.

In my recounting of World War Two, Josef Stalin is mentioned as a villain. In addition to the infamous Treaty of Friendship with Nazi Germany, Stalin murdered his best generals in the various fits of paranoia that struck fear in the hearts of the people of the USSR. So fresh was the memory of the Ukrainian genocide by famine (known in Ukrainian as the Holodomor) that many Ukrainians originally welcomed the Germans as liberators, finding out too late that the cure was worse than the disease. That the Soviet peoples survived Nazism is one miracle. That they survived the stupidity, brutality and paranoia of their leadership is perhaps a greater one.

An enduring image I have of the war was through a man under whom I worked in a fruit store. I found an onion that had started to rot. It had a penetrating stench, both sharp and putrid. I tossed it in the waste basket. He fished it out with an alacrity that seemed mismatched to his years. He cut away the rotten piece and put the good part in a styrofoam tray with other vegetables he had trimmed. There was a tension between us for the next forty minutes . He told me that he had watched his parents starve to death when he was a child. This plague of wartime famine was a time of equality with his Christian neighbours. As bad as it was, he was aware that things were far worse under German occupation for those who like him were Jewish.

The generation that experienced World War Two is aging. The world is led by those who were born after the war. It is vital that we keep the memories alive of the sacrifices of that generation. Those who are fortunate enough to have soldiers and survivors of World War Two in their families or among their friends should treat them with respect and listen to their recollections while it is still possible. When an old person dies, it as though a library has burned. Whatever they did not pass on in memories and writing is gone forever. This truth can be applied to everyone, not just World War Two veterans. Cuban refugees, Haitian immigrants and those who lived through the Great Depression have all experienced first hand things that we only know from the history books. To me, every person I meet is like a book, and every book I read is like a friend.

Every year, May 8 and May 9 bring back memories of my youth when those who lived through the war were still young. Although it is not a national holiday, I wish my readers a happy and meaningful V-E Day. Sphere: Related Content

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