BRITISH FORCES during the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944: Troops of the 3rd Infantry Division on Queen Red Beach..
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
June 6 marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. Operation Overlord, which began the liberation of Nazi-occupied France, eventually led to the liberation of Nazi concentration camps across the Western Front.
The Jewish lives saved as a result of these operations make D-Day particularly significant to Jews around the world. Thousands of the Allied soldiers who stormed the beaches were Jewish themselves.
“Over 4,000 of the soldiers who landed on the Normandy beaches to fight in D-Day were Jewish,” said Walter Bingham, a Karlsruhe, Germany-born veteran who fought with the British Army in the Normandy landings.
The statistics, which Bingham collected for his own radio show called “Walter’s World” on Israel National News, found that Jews made up 4.2 per cent of American soldiers, one per cent of the British fighters, and 1.5 per cent of the Canadian forces.
“52 Jewish men died in the Normandy landings,” he added. “I took part in some of those battles, and by the grace of God survived them unscathed.”
Yet Bingham notes that covert antisemitism was present within the British forces.
“Many Jewish fighters did not identify themselves as Jewish, often because of fear of being captured and sent to a concentration camp,” he explained.
For that reason, some Jewish soldiers changed their name upon entering the army, including Bingham, who was born Wolfgang Billig.
Bingham survived the Holocaust because he was brought to Britain through the Kindertransport, a rescue effort that took place during the nine months prior to the outbreak of the Second World War which placed Jewish children in British foster homes.
Since he was a Jewish refugee who had been separated from his family, Bingham fought more purposefully than other British soldiers, he explained.
“Jewish refugees had a particular reason to fight...The motivation of an ordinary British soldier is to fight for his country, but we refugees had a far stronger motive to fight the Nazis,” he said.
“We did not fight for our country. I did not have a country to fight for. Certainly Germany was not my country, and neither was Britain... But I had another motive, a strong motive to fight for my people,” he continued.
Bingham noted that throughout his time in battle he was always conscious that he was a Jew, and he never forgot his motive.
“I knew as a Jew that my father had already been deported to Poland, and I knew that my mother and other Jews were still in Germany, so I fought to get into Germany and find my family... I didn’t do it because I had to do it, I had a reason,” he explained.
Although he was always conscious of his Judaism, Bingham noted that he never made special connections with the few Jews he met in the British Army.
“I knew they were Jewish, and probably refugees like me, but we didn’t talk about it,” he said. “I was always alone.”
Bingham served as an ambulance driver for part of his time in the British forces. He added that he often drove German soldiers in the ambulance as well.
“In my ambulances, I always had chocolate and cigarettes to give to the wounded, and I gave to the Germans as well,” he said.
He recounted his one great pleasure in those moments.
“I would say to them: Do you know that the driver who is taking you to be treated is a Jew? And the doctor you’re going to see he’s a Jew also!” continued Bingham.
“And now these Nazis knew they were in Jewish hands... That frightened them more than the battles,” he added.
Laughing, Bingham noted that he did not know if the doctor would really be Jewish.
“Of course I did not know. But that’s what I said because I could not physically hurt them, so that was my justice at the time.”
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