My middle name is Rae. I am named after a WWII veteran who was captain in the Air Force. He flew B29 bombers over the Hump in Asia.
He earned his position in the Air Force after he stepped up to protect his crew. They were flying through enemy fire when their plane got hit. The plane was going down, and the crew had to jump. The captain was too busy panicking to command his men. Instead, my Grandpa Ray stood up and took control. He told his fellow soldiers to jump at the right moment, and in the end the captain was the only life lost.
My grandpa died from cancer before I was born, but I have always wanted to ask him how it was to live during this unpredictable time.
Hitler came to power in the 1930s. No one thought this man would threaten most of Europe and bring the world to its knees. Germany looked to him for change, and a brighter future. But Hitler had other ideas. This intelligent man told Germans to follow him and led the German nation to power. Every other country was to blame for Germany’s economic depressions and declines, according to him and his followers.
Other countries refused to see a problem arising, especially after experiencing devastating WWI.
But it came.
January 30, 1933, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Within the next year, Hitler started his fast moving rise to power. He became a dictator; Nazis started book burnings and boycotting Jewish shops; and the first few concentration camps opened within the country’s borders.
It doesn’t shock me that the German citizens were so quick to latch on to such a power hungry man, because they were in such a dire situation economically and politically. But once books were being burned and certain citizens were labeled as pests to society, I wonder how people didn’t see the tyranny of Hitler’s command. It is easy to assume today’s society would see past his promises.
Throughout the next few years, Hitler and Nazi Germany took power throughout Europe. The Gestapo was the top law enforcer in Germany, and Czechoslovakia was taken. Hitler confronted his allies, the Soviet Union and Italy, and thus the threat against Britain and the allied forces were heightened.
September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and three days later, Great Britain, France, Australia, and New Zealand declared war.
WWII had begun.
The Nazis were able to invade Denmark, Norway, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, and Holland all in the year of 1940.
By the middle of that year, Germany was able to enter Paris and control France from the inside. Hitler was able to ride through the historic streets of Paris, claiming it as his own.
Imagine being in Washington D.C. and watching Hitler and rows and rows of Nazi soldiers marching down the same road our past inspirational presidents walked down to our capital. The Nazi swastika flags replaced the red, white, and blue flag of our America. French citizens saw their homeland turned over to a dictator. We should be grateful the Atlantic Ocean separated this man from us.
During this time, Germany had conducted many air raids through out Britain, even bombing the city of London.
Now imagine the whizzing sound of a bomb falling closer and closer to the ground before exploding on our beloved Empire State building. The bombs continue to fall down like giant snowballs. But instead of white chunks there are hundreds of hot metal parts flying through the air like spears. The deafening siren howls like a ghost in a deserted Times Square. All you can do is pray a bomb doesn’t hit where you stand.
Many innocent lives were lost during these missions. But WWII seemed to make any man fear for his life.
In 1941, countries, like Greece and Yugoslavia continued to fall to the Nazis. It didn’t seem like the Nazis were going to slow down. The United States froze German, Italian, and Japanese assets in America, and by the end of the year Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, igniting the war between the United States and Japan, pushing Germany to declare war on the United States.
In school we heard about WWII in a monotone fashion. Dates, names, and events flooded through our textbooks and lectures. But what needs to be remembered the most isn’t the actual dates and events that happened during this time, it is the people we lost and the reasons for the insane amount of lives destroyed during this brief period.
The first gas chamber experiment was in 1941 in Auschwitz. By the end of the war around 6 million Jews were lost in Hitler’s extermination plot. The number is known worldwide, but the people who died will never be known. Their personalities, their fears, their likes, dislikes, and their dreams are gone in piles of rubble and dust.
This is what needs to be remembered.
When I read Anne Frank in high school, I cried from the very beginning. I knew what was to become of the people I read about. I knew they would all suffer tremendously. All the people were so different. The people in the hideout weren’t just numbers in my textbook, they were people who had personalities that reminded me of myself.
The individual people need to be remembered.
I have recently seen a movie called Rome: Open City. It is all in Italian, based in Italy, and about the effects of WWII on the country. Every main character dies, and the citizens of Rome are poor and sick.
The Nazis use torture to get the information they need from the citizens who are a part of the liberation movements. They believe that Italians are too dramatic and therefore stupid. Italians may say they want “liberation” and “freedom,” but they will crack when it comes to torture because they are not equal to the great Germans. However, Manfredi, the group leader, died rather than spill the secrets of the organization. This went against the Nazis’ idea.
The concepts of the movie were true to history. Torture was used to get information from some unfortunate people. The Nazis believed in this idea of a superior race and actually thought these things during this time.
The war wasn’t simple, and the problems weren’t easily fixed. Hitler was capable of brainwashing many people into believing that they needed to purify the world. But there were also those Germans who believed what he was doing was wrong. They fought against him and the Nazis with their lives.
The ideas throughout the war need to be remembered so they can be prevented in the future.
How can these types of events have gone so far? My childhood was a peaceful time. Before September 11 there was no horrible threat to my life or the people around me. But as I got older, I realized WWII wasn’t that long ago. My grandpa fought in this war and came out with his life. But he had to kill people in order to be safe. It was a time where killing became normal.
In my lifetime, killing is not a normal thing. I can’t imagine seeing bombs being dropped on my city, or my fellow classmates being taken to concentration camps.
How could these things have happened?
They did happen and no more than 70 years ago. That may seem like a long time, but it’s not. How can we have allowed six million people to be exterminated? How can we have allowed one man to get as far as he did in his tyranny? All I know is we cannot let this happen again.
Yes, that’s an obvious realization. But as time goes on we will tend to forget all those moments that had made us freeze in time.
My grandpa fought against so many people. He fought against the Japanese, he fought against the Nazis, he fought against people who wanted to hurt others, and he fought Adolf Hitler. He did this as honorably and courageously as he could.
But when Vietnam came along, and my dad was threatened with the draft card, my grandpa allegedly said, “I’ll send you to Canada. I do not want my son to experience the horrendous events war creates.”