IN PLAIN LANGUAGE: D-Day: Then and now

The lessons of Normandy.

A VISITOR to the American military cemetery in Normandy places a stone on the grave of one of the 300 Jewish soldiers interred there. (photo credit: STEWART WEISS)
A VISITOR to the American military cemetery in Normandy places a stone on the grave of one of the 300 Jewish soldiers interred there.
(photo credit: STEWART WEISS)
Last week I stood on the beach in Normandy, France.
The gentle crashing of the waves against the shore created a placid and peaceful scene, an idyllic, pastoral moment that belied the momentous landing known as D-Day that had been fought there 73 years ago.
It was a fearsome fight that would change the course of history for all of humanity, not least for the Jewish people.
In 1944, virtually the whole of Europe had been occupied by Nazi Germany, something unprecedented in history. Hitler’s forces held the continent hostage, perpetrating an unremitting reign of terror that had murdered millions of innocents.
Only England remained independent, and it, too, had suffered tremendously at the hands of the Germans in the Battle of Britain and the Blitz.
In January 1942 at the Casablanca Conference, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt met and decided that the liberation of Europe must take place. The date ultimately selected for the invasion was June 5, 1944, under the command of American general Dwight Eisenhower.
Frantic preparations ensued for two and a half years as a massive naval, aerial and ground force was assembled in England.
After much debate, a site was selected for the landing: Normandy in northwestern France.
Much effort was made to conceal the details of Operation Overlord, as it was named. False information was leaked to German intelligence, as well as to neutral journalists and diplomats in England, indicating that Calais or northern France was the selected objective. A double of British general Bernard Montgomery was even publicly welcomed in Gibraltar, leading to speculation that the landing was planned for Spain.
There were only three days in June suitable for the assault, when the combination of a full moon and proper tides would afford the best chance to create a beachhead. Saturation bombing softened the German defense fortifications, while Resistance units throughout Europe increased their sabotage operations.
When the weather turned stormy on June 5, the invasion was postponed until the next day. On June 6, some 7,000 vessels carrying nearly 130,000 soldiers, supported by some 15,000 aircraft – stormed the Normandy coast.
There were five landing sites: Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches. While fighting was fierce in every spot, the American forces at Omaha suffered the most casualties by far, as the German gun batteries mowed down wave after wave of troops.
A majority of the landing craft never made it to shore, and in that one day alone, more than 4,000 US servicemen were killed or wounded at Omaha. The bridgehead would eventually be secured, but at a very high price.
The battle would continue for weeks, and the incursion into France would be hard-fought and bloody. On August 25, Paris would be liberated and the “thousand-year Reich” would be ended forever, just 12 horrible years after it had begun.
As I later stood in the nearby American cemetery at Colleville- sur-Mer, where almost 10,000 American soldiers are buried, I tried to comprehend the magnitude of this event.
Thousands of US soldiers risked – and many gave – their lives to save a country and a continent far from home. They did this willingly, determinedly, knowing full well the danger they faced.
They rushed into battle, reminding me of my own father, a WWII combat soldier who fought more than three years in the Pacific theater, who told me he hurried to the enlistment office to sign up on the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed.
They did this because they recognized that evil is a cancer that does not stop on its own. The Nazis, had they defeated England, would certainly not have stopped there; their goal was nothing less than world domination. Eventually they would have threatened the US, Canada, Australia – no one would have been spared.
And so my thoughts turn to the current world crisis confronting us: terrorism. It, too, is an evil cancer that will not automatically burn itself out. It rages on, crossing borders and nationalities as it seeks to corrupt and destroy free and enlightened societies.
It must be fought with no less vigor than we fought the Nazis. America must continue to push hard against these villains, showing them no mercy or escape. There are no “good” or “moderate” terrorists – even if they have squirmed their way into the United Nations. They must be confronted and conquered.
Israel, too, must step up its own efforts against terrorism.
We are far too lax, far too tentative in this fight. We deliver supplies daily to Hamas, we release murderers’ bodies for burial, we do not encourage and assist victims of terrorism in suing anyone and everyone – especially the Palestinians – who commit atrocities.
As one of 600 plaintiffs in the landmark suit against the Arab Bank, I am proud of our brilliant American lawyers who have taken on the enablers of terrorism. But where is our own government in the legal battle? There is a mystery as to what the “D” in D-Day stands for. Is it “Deliverance”? “Destiny”? Perhaps simply an alliteration? I like to think that it stands for “Decision.” The day has come when we – all the good people of this planet – must decide, decisively, to eradicate this scourge of terrorism before, God forbid, it eradicates us.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana.