This week sees us, and other countries around Europe marking VE Day and the conclusion of the Second World War in Europe. We in the UK will celebrate this day marking the end of European hostilities and the victory over Nazi Germany, and also know that we stood undefeated. In other countries, like France, the Netherlands or Poland, VE Day marks the confirmation of their liberation after Nazi conquest.
What this day means in Germany itself is a question we seldom ask. My research suggests that different eras have seen different responses. In 1945, Germany was defeated and this was then compounded by its partitioning and the Cold War. A second generation could and would not upset their parents and this feeling of humbling defeat was pervasive. As third and now fourth generations became more influential, “VE Day is both a day to remember victims of fascism and a moment to celebrate freedom from fascism.” (Chase Winter, DW.com 08.05.2016)
I hope you, like me, will join in the two minutes’ silence at 11:00 on Friday. Just because we “won” does not mean we can ignore the cost in lives lost and the agonies of the many millions affected. We can and should celebrate the ending of war and the coming of peace; we must re-double our efforts to not only prevent the need for future wars, but also to ensure that our society is free and responsible. We will do well to remember that whatever the travails of this Covid-19 crisis, the generations of the Second World War endured much worse and emerged strongly. We can emerge stronger too.
This Shabbat, we at ELELS will read of how Jacob, a hero of Jewish history stole the blessing of his father from his brother Esau. If we ever cease to have empathy with Esau, we are on the slippery slope towards prejudice, conflict and war. If we cease to have empathy with other people’s experience of the same event as us, we will not be living up to our responsibilities as Liberal Jews to be good human beings.
May we commemorate VE Day in joyful and meaningful ways at home and in our virtual community.