May 8. Such an innocuous day.
Seventy years ago, this was not the case. Seventy years ago, the Allied Powers declared victory over Adolf Hitler’s Reich.
I could write about the power and significance of this moment, but the historian in me knows that only those who lived it can truly understand.
In his speech to the British people, Winston Churchill said
My dear friends, this is your hour. This is not victory of a party or of any class. It’s a victory of the great British nation as a whole. We were the first, in this ancient island, to draw the sword against tyranny. After a while we were left all alone against the most tremendous military power that has been seen. We were all alone for a whole year . . . The lights went out and the bombs came down. But every man, woman and child in the country had no thought of quitting the struggle. London can take it. So we came back after long months from the jaws of death, out of the mouth of hell, while all the world wondered. When shall the reputation and faith of this generation of English men and women fail? I say that in the long years to come not only will the people of this island but of the world, wherever the bird of freedom chirps in human hearts, look back to what we’ve done and they will say “do not despair, do not yield to violence and tyranny, march straightforward and die if need be-unconquered.”
Every year I have students ask how things like the Holocaust could have happened and explain what they would have done under similar circumstances. After kindly explaining that no-one knows what they will do in any given situation until they are in it, I share this quote from Rod Sterling’s Twilight Zone episode Deaths-Head Revisited:
All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus,
the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes – all
of them. They must remain standing because they are a
monument to a moment in time when some men decided to
turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they
shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their
knowledge, but worst of all their conscience. And the
moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be
haunted by its remembrance, then we become the
Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in
the Twilight Zone but wherever men walk God's Earth.