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Jewish War Vets at Normandy

June 8, 1984
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Jewish war veterans from a half dozen countries and former resistance fighters marked the 40th anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy yesterday. Hundreds strolled along Utah Beach where some of the fiercest fighting occurred and hundreds more placed wreaths at military cemeteries.

Most of the Jewish, and non-Jewish veterans come on their own. A few were members of the official delegations of the Western allied nations commemorating the opening phase of the battle to liberate Europe and destroy the Third Reich.

Attention was focussed inevitably on the heads of state and heads of government: Queen Elizabeth II of Britain; King Bauduoin of Belgium; King Olaf of Norway; President Francois Mitterrand, President Reagan and others. They attended special memorial services at a military cemetery studded with rows of white crosses interspersed with Stars of David.

The ceremonies were ecumenical and interfaith. As ships of eight of the World War II allied powers cruised close to the Normandy beaches, Christian and Jewish military chaplains chanted prayers for the fallen soldiers. Jewish chaplains were part of the official American, British and French delegations. A French spokesman said no one could estimate the percentage of Jewish war dead.

A special Jewish service was held however at Caen, the Normandy town where Allied forces first broke through the lines of the Wehrmacht. At the synagogue there last Sunday, France’s Chief Rabbi Rene Sirat dedicated a plaque to the memory of Jewish soldiers who died in battle. The military attaches of the U.S. , Canadian and British governments attended as did a representative of the Minister for Veterans Affairs. A French guard of honor stood at attention outside the synagogue.

The envoys of many countries which did not participate in the landings in Normandy but nevertheless fought the Nazis, attended yesterday’s memorial services. Among them was Israel’s Ambassador to France, Ovadia Soffer. He was joined by several Israelis who saw combat in World War II in the British army or the Jewish Brigade. They made the trip to France on their own to re-live, as one of them told a reporter, “the unforgettable day which marked the beginning of the end.”

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