Seventy-five years ago, on Aug. 15, 1945, World War II came to an end with the announcement by the Japanese emperor that the country had surrendered. Thus ended the deadliest and most destructive war in modern history. For Americans, the effort included 16.1 million men and 342,000 women. Of those Americans who served, 406,000 men and 217 women were killed in the war; another 671,000 were wounded. Throughout the world, the casualty rates were staggering. According to the National WW II Museum in New Orleans, 15 million soldiers were killed on the battlefield, 25 million were wounded, and 45 million civilians were killed during the war.
The war also ushered in an unprecedented evil that led to the extermination of 6 million Jews. Starting in 1933, the Nazis began to build concentration camps and by 1945, had established more than 1,000 death centers. But the implementation of Germany’s Final Solution, which called for the murder of world Jewry, did not happen all at once. Long before the war, democracy began to erode in Germany. With Hitler’s rise, he introduced state-enforced racism. This led to deportation, and the calculated murder of much of European Jewry.
Looking back, the world would be a much different place today if America had not intervened and entered the war. The men and women who served in our military, and with the Allied forces, saved our democracy and prevented a world governed by fascism. According to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, more than 10,000 American Jewish soldiers were killed in the war, and 36,000 received citations.
Today, 75 years after the war, we can learn much from Germany’s actions and America’s response. As fascism grips major countries throughout the world today, Americans would be well-suited if they looked back at what the brave men and women fought for in World War II. They wanted a better life for their families, and did not want their civil liberties eliminated. They fought for a free world, and for democracy. They did not stand by and let someone else take care of it. They took action. They did not stand by when fascism threatened to swallow up the world.
We honor them on this anniversary – for their bravery and commitment to a better world. Their actions saved a way of life, and what was left of world Jewry. We offer thanks to the veterans who are still alive, and for those who have passed, may their memory be a blessing.