September saw the 80th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland and the start of World War II. In a matter of weeks, the Polish Army was defeated with Germany claiming most of the country. Their short-term ally, the USSR, claimed the eastern part of this defeated country. Poland was to stay on its knees for the next 50 years, six under Germany and the rest as a forced member of the Soviet Union.
Those first six years saw cruelty and inhumanity to an extent far beyond the belief of most people. With the advent of death camps such as Auschwitz, the world of many suffered an incredible end to civilization. Forced formation of ghettos was commonplace in Poland and other countries that were overrun by German forces. This was followed with concentration camps, forced labor, separation of families and often death by poison gas, firing squad, starvation or disease.
Another anniversary occurred last week. Jan. 7, 2020, was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp by Russian forces. With this came confirmation of rumors of this place of horrors. There was word of such camps, but no one had confirmed how atrocious they really were.
This year also marks the 75th anniversary of many other events, most horrific, some necessary in the ways of war. This April will be the 75th anniversary of the surrender of Germany to Allied forces and, as most believe, the death of Hitler by his own hand. It was followed by the trials of Nuremberg and Dachau, where Nazi officials were tried and executed.
February 1945 saw the invasion by U.S. troops of Iwo Jima in the bloodiest battle of the war. The seizure of that island stopped Japanese aircraft from destroying our bombers and gave us an airfield to launch fighter support aircraft for those vulnerable, but crucial, B-29 bombers on their runs over mainland Japan. One lucky recipient of the fighter support was then 18-year-old James Kasler as a part of the crew of one of those airplanes that flew bombing runs again and again over Japan.
Most of us have no memory of the shock, disbelief and anger Americans experienced Dec. 7, 1941. The intense hatred by so many of the Japanese was everywhere. In fact, Admiral William Halsey was quoted the next day, “When this war is over, the Japanese language will be spoken only in Hell.” It is understandable the malice felt toward that nation at the time.
Late summer 1945, another 75 years ago, was the actual dropping of two atomic bombs, one on Hiroshima and the other at Nagasaki. It is estimated the first bomb killed more than 150,000 civilians and the second more than 75,000. This difficult decision by newly seated President Truman (President Roosevelt had just died of a stroke) to release this new atomic power on a civilian population, brought Japan to the peace table with an unconditional surrender. This act eliminated the need for an even bloodier invasion by our troops of mainland Japan. Troops in the South Pacific, not knowing of this new bomb, had a saying, “The Golden Gate in ‘48” thinking that a land invasion would need another three years to obtain such a surrender and bring them home.
As we let history slip away, it seems more and more people forget those concentration camps and the height of anti-semitism that occurred back then. In fact, we presently are seeing a rise in hate actions against the Jewish community. The suffering of so many at the hands of the Germans in that period of time should bring more compassion for one religious group rather than more hate. Certainly we will always have racists and hate groups, but perhaps taking time to remember all that so many went through will help guide our future path.
Also, let’s get past those deniers who want to prove that Auschwitz, Dachau, and the other camps did not exist and those things did not happen. Take a trip to Auschwitz. See the ovens, the barracks, and the piles of shoes, eyeglasses, and personal items left behind by those murdered there. To choose to not believe is to deny the importance of history and silently approve of that which happened.
Today we have many people pulling in so many different directions. We have power-seekers who want to lead our country, some with rather narrow views of human rights and equality. Our forefathers wrote the Bill of Rights for the new America. Freedom of religion was one of the most important rights to the colonists, having suffered from religious persecution in the countries from which they fled.
As we take time to remember these anniversaries and dates of important events, may we also take the time to educate our children and grandchildren about such history, be it good or bad, necessary or unnecessary, be it world wars or such events as 9/11. Let them remember the great accomplishments such as man landing on the moon. As one of our Presidents said “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.” Let us teach so all will remember.