The saturation reporting about COVID-19, with the occasional tornado thrown in, is wearing thin, isn’t it? Now, I get it, to a point – we’re shut down.
But while you’re shut down, and even if you aren’t, perhaps you’ll join me in toasting some important historic happenings 75 years ago. The United States and Soviet armies finally met at Torgau, on the Elbe River south-southwest of Berlin on April 25, 1945. On April 30, Adolf Hitler killed himself in the Fuhrerbunker, leaving Admiral Karl Doenitz to sign instruments of Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8.
I’m sorry that proper commemorations won’t be held. Those 18-year-olds in 1945 are no less than 93 today, missing their last chance to enjoy the remembrance they still deserve – and we’re missing our last chance to properly, personally give that remembrance.
Defeating Nazi Germany was a stupendous victory, in a war that was, in the end, a just cause. What cause? Well, if you’re bored, there’s Frank Capra’s seven “Why We Fight” documentaries, produced from 1942 to 1945, available on YouTube at your pleasure. Capra’s films are, honestly, wartime propaganda. The very-real shortcomings of certain “allies” get glossed over – for good reason. The Russians were doing most of the killing and dying, so the Allies had to make nice with Uncle Joe Stalin. Further, not every “Why” made Capra’s final cuts.
In the closing weeks of the war, one “Why” that Capra never explained became known to the world. Although an official report, “The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland,” had been prepared for the Polish government-in-exile by Polish Army second-lieutenant-turned-Soviet-POW-escaped-resistance-agent Jan Karski (a real operator, look him up, too), and presented to the highest levels of the Allied governments by December 1942, it wasn’t until January of 1945 and the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz that the public and lower ranks learned some of the realities of “mass extermination.”
Even then, reality didn’t fully hit until April of 1945 – Buchenwald was liberated April 11 by the American 6th Armored Division (Third Army, Patton).
Bergen-Belsen was liberated April 15 by the British 11th Armored Division, which found 60,000 survivors, 13,000 corpses, with 10,000 more dying despite Allied efforts to save them.
Dachau, the first concentration camp set up by the Nazis in March 1933, was liberated on April 29 by Americans, with the Russians reaching Ravensbruck that same day. Mathausen (in Austria) and Theresienstadt (Czechoslovakia) were not freed until May 8, the day the Germans formally surrendered. So what, right?
Well, the Nazi Konzentrationslager murder machine, based at thousands of camps and satellite camps, didn’t just slaughter six million Jews, but tortured and killed ANOTHER 11 million through 12 evil years. Some were POWs, more were civilian slaves, but all added up to a “score” of 17 million dead, a shamefully impressive chunk of the war’s 50-some-million civilian deaths – never mind the 25 million “military” deaths.
Most of these 17 million were starved, or worked, or starved AND worked to death over a period of months if not years – in short, premeditated mass murder with extreme malice reflective of pure evil, utter depravity.
Versus what? Here’s another set of statistics: Of all deaths in World War II, 58 percent were Allied civilians, mostly Russian and Chinese. By contrast, Axis civilians counted for only 4 percent of total deaths.
On the combatant side, Axis troops comprised 13 percent of the war dead, Allied troops (again, mostly Russian and Chinese) 25 percent.
Let that settle in your head: Even on their way to total defeat, the Axis, led by Adolf Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich, killed millions more than the Allies. Can you imagine the millions upon millions more enslaved and slaughtered had Hitler’s Germany won? Worse, might that enslavement and slaughter still be happening today?
So, on May 8, 1945, the Nazi death machine killing finally stopped in Europe. We should not just be aware of that, but fully cognizant of how lucky all of us really are, today, right now, and how damned grateful we should be for, and to, those who won humanity’s greatest fight.