My father didn’t land on the beaches of Normandy with the Western Allies. In fact, on June 6, 1944, he was in Auschwitz-Birkenau where had been transported from the Munkács (Mukachevo) ghetto the previous month and was the only one of the family to survive the selection. He said that, some time after his arrival, he’d heard through some grapevine that there had been a successful invasion in France, and this lifted the inmates’ spirits tremendously.
But lifting the spirits of living skeletons, while welcome, was not enough. It was the pace of liberation that determined who should live and who should die. And Dad, though he was a powerful man both physically and emotionally, was certain that he would not have survived the war had the Allied landing failed or been postponed. Every week, every day, every minute counted after Auschwitz had been shut down and the surviving inmates were marched or transported westward, away from the advancing Soviets. (Parenthetically, my father and his fellows had seen Berlin devastated and burning as they were being shipped from camp to camp, and that too had lifted their spirits greatly.) After Auschwitz, it was Sachsenhausen, Lieberose and Mauthausen, then an escape from a transport, finally “capture” by the Americans, survival and repatriation.
This is the debt that my father and all his progeny – two children, five grandchildren, two great-grandchildren – owe to each and every man who participated in the Normandy landings. Multiply that by the number of people who were in the same position as Dad, and the lives saved and the lives made possible by Allied valor on that day rise into the millions.
How do you repay a debt like that? The only modest contribution I can make is active struggle to protect all the things that the Western Allied war effort had stood for: individual freedom, human decency, peace and the rule of law. And I must continue to fight as long as I can draw breath.
(And no, I will not include the Soviets in this particular calculus. I acknowledge their huge – possibly even decisive – contribution to the defeat of the Nazis, but they were not fighting to liberate anyone, nor were they interested in freedom. In fact, they stood for the same kind of slavery that Nazi Germany had given the world.)