The Seventieth Anniversary of the Start of World War II
by Rabbi John Crites-Borak
September 1, 2009. The seventieth anniversary of the start of World War Two. The invasion of Poland. I mark this day with a profound sadness that may seem odd for one who was born seven years after the war ended, and especially since Viet Nam is seen as the war of my generation. I have shed my tears at the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, DC, of course – who among us hasn't? – but WWII is my cradle.
My father was a paratrooper, a Pathfinder in the 505th of the 82nd who landed behind the lines near the small town of Ste. Mere Eglise just after midnight on June 6, 1944. He survived Operation Overlord. On September 17 of that year he dropped into Holland, near Nijmegen, as part of Operation Market Garden. Within a few days – the record is unclear – shards of Krupp steel from a German mortar destroyed the hearing in his right ear and left a sucking gash above his heart. "Jack, you lucky son of a bitch," his buddy said to him as the stretcher-bearers carried him away, "you're going home." It was considered a million-dollar wound even though it landed him for more than a year in a series of Veterans' Hospitals.
People who knew him before the war say he returned a different man. Maybe it was the battlefield. Maybe it was the long convalescence. He used to say about being in the hospital, "I felt so guilty being there. Sure, I'd been banged up a bit, but what right did I have to a bed and medical care when there were guys who'd lost their legs?" Whatever it was, his war-time experience permanently changed and redefined him. The man who would have become my father was no less a victim.
I often wonder how my life might have been different if my father had not lost the joie d'vivre that apparently characterized him before he experienced the terrors and pain imposed by that noble cause. I also wonder if so many millions would have suffered and died if the world had just been able to see (and act effectively against!) the Nazi threat for what it was early on instead of striving for an illusory "peace in our time." I am not a war monger, but I can't help wondering how many fewer millions of victims there would have been if Kristallnacht had been seen as the opening battle of WWII. Perhaps the person my father could have become would have survived.
We read so often about the children of Holocaust Survivors and the unique problems they encounter in life as a result of their legacy. I do not minimize them. I want only to suggest WWII affected (and affects) almost all of us in the modern day – Jew and non-Jew alike – in ways we might never suspect.
Posted on 09/02/2009 10:06 AM by Richard L. Rubenstein