The Allied Nations of World War II are commemorating a series of 70th anniversaries associated with the end of World War ll.  The western allies (the United States, Great Britain, Canada and France) will celebrate VE and VJ Days in May and August, respectively.  Russia will celebrate its “Victory Day” on May 9.  Uniting the commemorations will be an underlying realization of the monumental effort and sacrifice required to defeat Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Japanese militarism.  Similarly, honoring the transformation of formerly enemy dictatorships into democratic allies of the United States should resonate as an important theme.  These seven decades have remade the world.

The global Jewish communities will join these commemorations and celebrations as both participants in the great struggle against the Axis and as an expression of gratefulness of the Allied effort.

During World War II an estimated 550,000 American Jews served in the various branches of the United States armed services. Roughly 26,000 of these received U.S. military citations for valor and merit with other awards totaling 49,000.  “American Jews in World War II” (New York: Bureau of War records of the National Jewish Welfare Board, 1947.)  Another one million Jews served in other Allied forces including 500,000 in the Soviet Armed forces according to the Jewish Virtual Library.

The Jews of mandatory Palestine fought in both units of the British armed forces and the Jewish Brigade. Tens of thousands of Jews were partisan fighters in the Resistance movements.  (See Suhl, Yuri. [1967]. They Fought Back. Crown Publishers; and Sutin, Jack and Rochelle. [1995] Jack and Rochelle: a Holocaust Story of Love and Resistance. Greywolf Press.)  We honor the living and the memory of these fighting men and women.

The global Jewish community is also profoundly grateful for the war effort and sacrifice of the Allied nations which is almost beyond comprehension and description.  Here is the simple truth: but for the efforts of the Allied armed forces, the Holocaust would have continued inexorably until all the Jews of Europe – and perhaps beyond – were murdered.  But for the effort of the Allied armed forces, the occupation and enslavement of European and Asian nations may never have ended.

As insufficient as it to measure sacrifice and war effort in a few sentences, citations or statistics, these references provide a rough order of magnitude.

For the United States, 291,557 military personnel died in World War II.  Economically, the United States – in the words of Franklin Roosevelt – was the “Arsenal of Democracy.”  Programs such as “Lend-Lease” provided critical military material necessary for Great Britain and the Soviet Union to prosecute their war efforts.  The cost of the American war effort was an estimated $296 billion (roughly 4,104 billion dollars today).  Closer to home, Dave Kenney’s “Minnesota Goes to War” (2009), details the Minnesota war effort including the contributions of women and African Americans.  7,800 Minnesotans died in World War II as did 662 North Dakotans and 1,426 South Dakotans of the “Greatest Generation.”

For Great Britain – and the commonwealth nations – as close to Minnesota as Canada – the greatest achievement is the designation of standing alone against Nazi Germany and saving Western civilization from the fall of France in May 1940 to the German invasion of the USSR on June 22, 1941, to Germany’s declaration of war against the United States on December 9, 1941. These were the days of the “Hinge of Fate” in the words of Winston Churchill when the resolution of the island nation inspired lovers of freedom throughout the world.

For the Soviet Union, the murder of its people and the deaths of men and women in her armed forces was a staggering 20 million in World War II.  By way of perspective, the gigantic land battles of the eastern front raged for three years as the remarkable scale of preparation for D-Day significantly consumed the Western allies war effort in that period.  (For a description of one battle and its vast scope and consequences, see Nagorski, Andrew. (2008) The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow that Changed the Course of World War II. New York: Simon and Schuster.)  In many ways, the Allied victory over Nazi Germany was saturated in Russian blood and the casualties the Red Army inflicted upon the Wehrmacht, SS and Luftwaffe.

Moreover, the important contributions of the French via the Free French and the French armed forces after Liberation and China (attacked by Japan in 1937 and suffered terribly in the next eight years – see Chang, Iris. (1997) The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. Penguin Books.) and the partisan movements must never be forgotten.  As the eminent World War II historian Gerhard Weinberg noted “The fires have been extinguished, but it is up to each and every one of us to see they are never lit again.”

Two important Twin Cities’ 70th anniversary commemorations are approaching on consecutive days:

January 26, 2015: From 5:00-8:00 PM: The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (“CHGS”) at the University of Minnesota is hosting at the Weisman Art Museum: “Bearing Witness 70 Years after the Liberation of Auschwitz.”  The JCRC, the Children of Holocaust Survivors Association in Minnesota (CHAIM) and many campus academic groups including the Center for Jewish Studies are partners.  CHGS will unveil the eight Minnesota portraits of the forty overall paintings done for the “Portraits & Conversations with Survivors of the Shoah” that CHGS coordinated with Spanish artist Felix de la Concha.  Holocaust survivor Dora Zaidenweber will discuss her experiences in the Shoah.  Support for the project was provided by Rimon: The Jewish Arts Council, an initiative of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.

(Please see this link to the JCRC's “Transfer of Memory” exhibit [www.transferofmemory.org] which – in many ways – parallels the paintings of Mr. de la Concha.  “Transfer of Memory” is an exhibit of Minneapolis photographer David Sherman’s portraits of Minnesota Holocaust survivors which has toured the upper Midwest for two years.)  The JCRC welcomes Mr. de la Concha to the Twin Cities.

January 27, 2015: The Apollo Male Chorus will perform “The Liberation of Auschwitz: A Chorale Concert to Commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz.”  Performance time is 7:00 pm at the Ted Mann Concert Hall at the University of Minnesota.  Commissioned by The Apollo Club, “Five Prayers” is a five-movement symphonic song cycle for male chorus, solo baritone, orchestra, and dancer.  This concert is artistically conceived to begin and end liberatingly with the darkest moment in the center of the program, to symbolically represent the U-shaped Jewish menorah.

The JCRC is deeply grateful for the presentation of both of these beautiful artistic and historic renderings of the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz – which is recognized by the United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The theme of liberation of the camps and gratitude towards the liberating Allied soldiers is an important JCRC programming goal to express to the greater community including our military veterans. Two years ago, in conjunction with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the JCRC partnered with the Minnesota National Guard to hear from keynote speaker Col. Ed Shames – and to honor Battle of the Bulge veteran Herb Suerth, Jr. – his memories of the liberation of Landsberg and Dachau camps.  On that day – the civic heart of Minnesota, the rotunda of the State Capitol – was filled to capacity as it was also for the 75th anniversary commemoration of the Kristallnacht on November 7, 2013.

In honor of the American forces that liberated concentration camps in Germany and Austria, here is a compilation of the Liberating Divisions as compiled by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

  • 1st Infantry Division, Camp Falkenau an der Eger (Flossenburg subcamp);
  • 2nd Infantry Division, Camp Leipzig-Schooefeld (Buchenwald subcamp) and Spergau (labor education camp);
  • 4th Infantry Division, Dachau subcamps;
  • 8th Infantry Division, Wobbelin (Neuengamme subcamp);
  • 26th Infantry Division, Camp Gusen (Mauthausen subcamp);
  • 29th Infantry Division; Camp Dinslaken (civilian labor camp);
  • 36th Infantry Division, Kaufering camps (Dachau subcamps);
  • 42nd Infantry Division, Dachau camp;
  • 45th Infantry Division, Dachau camp;
  • 63rd Infantry Division; Kaufering camps (Dachau subcamps);
  • 65th Infantry Division, Flossenburg subcamp;
  • 69th Infantry Division, Leipzig-Thekla (Buchenwald subcamp);
  • 71st Infantry Division; Gunskirchen (Mauthausen subcamp);
  • 80th Infantry Division, Buchenwald and Ebensee (Mauthausen subcamp);
  • 83rd Infantry Division, Langenstein (Buchenwald subcamp);
  • 84th Infantry Division, Ahlem and Salzwedel (Neuengamme subcamps);
  • 86th Infantry Division, Attendorn (civilian labor camp);
  • 89th Infantry Division, Ohrdruf (Buchenwald subcamp);
  • 90th Infantry Division, Flossenburg;
  • 95th Infantry Division, Weri (prison and civilian labor camp);
  • 99th Infantry Division, Dachau subcamps;
  • 103rd Infantry Division, Landsberg (Dachau subcamp);
  • 104th Infantry Division, Dora-Mittelbau;
  • 3rd Armored Division, Dora-Mittelbau;
  • 4th Armored Division, Ohrdruf (Buchenwald subcamp);
  • 6th Armored Division, Buchenwald;
  • 8th Armored Division, Halberstadt-Zwieberge (Buchenwald subcamp);
  • 9th Armored Division, Falkenau an der Eger (Flossenburg subcamp);
  • 10th Armored Division, Landsberg (Dachau subcamp);
  • 11th Armored Gusen (Mauthausen subcamp) and Mauthausen;
  • 12th Armored Division, Landsberg (Dachau subcamp);
  • 14th Armored Division, Dachau subcamps;
  • 20th Armored Division, Dachau;
  • 82nd Airborne Division, Wobbelin (Neuengamme subcamp); and
  • 101st Airborne Division, Landsberg (Dachau subcamp).

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Jewish refugees in Shanghai (1933-1941)