Living in the nation’s capital can make one rather jaded. Another presidential inauguration – another day of clogged metro and closed streets! The Cherry Blossom Festival – the cherry blossoms are always beautiful – but again the traffic is horrendous. But last Friday, May 8th, I witnessed a flyover of 15 World War II aircraft formations which were organized to commemorate the 70th anniversary of end of the War in Europe. The planes flew down the Potomac River, past the Lincoln Memorial, and down Independence Avenue. Standing at the corner of C and 2nd Streets, just outside the Madison Building, I was able to witness this awe inspiring and touching sight. The drone of the airplane engines reminded me of the World War II English and American fighter pilot movies I’ve watched, but also made real for me the sounds that would have signaled destruction for so many citizens throughout Europe and the Pacific during the six years of the war.
The flyover was organized to commemorate the German surrender to the Allies. On May 8, 1945, in Reims, German General Alfred Jodl signed an instrument of unconditional surrender. The document of surrender is quite short and states in part:
We the undersigned, acting by authority of the German High Command, hereby surrender unconditionally to the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force and simultaneously to the Soviet High Command all forces on land, sea, and in the air who are at this date under German control. The German High Command will at once issue orders to all German military … to cease active operations at 2301 hours Central European time on 8 May and to remain in the positions occupied at that time.
This surrender was followed in 1946 by the Paris Peace Conference where the Allies met and negotiated a series of treaties which readjusted the map of Europe and set monetary reparations. Jodl himself was eventually tried and executed in 1946 by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.
Though there was rejoicing at the end of the War, the horrors of the Holocaust and Hitler’s extermination camps were revealed as the Allies advanced into German territories. Even as we commemorate the end of World War II each May, we are also encouraged to commemorate Jewish American Heritage Month. Although this month may provide an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of Jewish Americans, the annual presidential proclamations also remind us of the many incidents of prejudice against Jewish Americans throughout history, as well as the unparalleled suffering of those caught up during World War II.