WASHINGTON (Jun. 6)
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum commemorated the 50th anniversary of D-day on Monday by dedicating its plaza on Raoul Wallenberg Place to Dwight Eisenhower and the Allied forces who stormed the beaches of Normandy in 1944.
In a ceremony held just a few hours before the national commemoration of D-day at Arlington National Cemetery, the museum honored Eisenhower, the former president and general who commanded the Allied forces during the legendary invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe and who later led the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.
Under the blue-gray sky of a pleasant spring day, more than 650 veterans of D-day and of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps joined Holocaust survivors, guests, and passers-by to remember Eisenhower.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that the fate of the world and the future of freedom were at stake on D-day,” Miles Lerman, chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, told the somber crowd.
The success of the Normandy invasion, considered to be the beginning of the end of World War II, was due largely to Eisenhower, Lerman said.
The audience included more than a dozen members of the Jewish War Veterans who had fought in World War II. One such veteran, Rabbi Judah Nadich, praised Eisenhower for his concern for Europe’s Jewish population.
‘MAY HIS MEMORY REMAIN FOR A BLESSING’
Nadich, the 82-year-old rabbi emeritus of Park Avenue Synagogue in New York, said that as an adviser on Jewish affairs to Eisenhower, he received tremendous support from the general on his proposals to care for Jews just liberated from Nazi concentration camps.
“May his memory remain for a blessing,” Nadich said in a tribute in Hebrew to Eisenhower.
Speakers addressed the crowd in front of a mural on the plaza which bears a quote by the general on what he found upon entering the Ohrdruf labor camp in central Germany in April 1945: “The things I saw beggar description,” reads the inscription.
“The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering. . . I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations to propaganda.”
Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Anne Eisenhower Flottl, told onlookers that his participation in World War II was Eisenhower’s greatest accomplishment.
“He said should history remember him at all, it should remember him for his achievements in World War II,” Flottl said.
Eisenhower, elected president in 1952, served for two terms.
Ambassador Paul Nitze, former secretary of the navy, summarized the purpose of the dedication in his keynote address.
“Let all who visit here remember those who fell in battle against injustice, whether they died on the beaches of Normandy or in the ghettos and camps of occupied Europe,” Nitze said.
HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS. VETS SHARE MEMORIES
Following the ceremony, veterans and Holocaust survivors talked about their experiences and about the war that brought them together.
Morris Baker, a Polish Jew liberated from Dachau in May 1945 by American trocps, said that even though prisoners in the camp knew the Allied forces were close, there was little feeling of safety until the troops arrived.
“It didn’t matter how close the Americans were — the Nazis could have killed us at any time,” he said. “Not until the American forces arrived did we feel safe.”
Baker said he and other prisoners could see the shock registered on the soldiers’ faces as the troops discovered the conditions at the camp.
Standing just a few feet from Baker were Wallace Whelan and William Gay, two veterans who helped liberate Baker and others from Dachau.
Gay, of College Park, Maryland, said the first thing he remembers about entering the Dachau camp was the smell.
Whelan, of Silver Spring, Maryland, said he first remembers seeing a whipping post with barbed wire wrapped around it. “We couldn’t believe it. There was no way to believe it.”
Later in the morning at the national commemoration of D-day at Arlington National Cemetery, many from the audience at the museum joined several hundred observers gathered to celebrate the Allied forces’ success at Normandy.
Vice President AI Gore highlighted the ceremony, which featured speeches by Deputy Secretary of Defense John Deutch and Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), a veteran who participated in the Normandy invasion.
“We gather here to remember the sacrifices made and the work done by the people who remained here at home,” Gore said.
“To stand here is to be reminded of how many sacrifices there were by people whose names we will never know, whom we cannot thank, yet who by their deaths preserved freedom for all of us,” the vice president said.
“The story of D-day makes clear that we are all capable of sacrificing for others, capable of doing our part to make this our great country greater still, and to spread peace and democracy throughout this world,” Gore said.
The ceremony concluded with a live broadcast of President Clinton’s speech to officials and veterans at the American Normandy Cemetery in Colleville-Sur-Mer, France.
“Let us never forget, when they were young, these men saved the world,” Clinton said in his speech.