V-E Day marked the end of a horrific era
On May 8, 1945, the War in Europe ended, setting off celebrations in the United States and around the world.
The final defeat of Germany - for all intent and purposes - came about weeks earlier when Russia’s Red Army entered Berlin. Bombing and intense door-to-door-combat ensued.
The German army, not wanting to concede defeat to their hated enemies from the east, marched west so that they could surrender to the Western Allies rather than the Soviets.
On April 30, 1945, realizing the defeat of Germany was at hand, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin.
It can be argued that V-E Day is arguably one of the most important days in the history of the world. It ended a war in Europe that had claimed the lives of 60 million people. That total includes 15 million battle deaths and 45 million civilian deaths. There were also 25 million battle wounded.
Those totals are staggering and far too high for us to fully comprehend. Hitler and his Nazi regime exterminated between 5 and 6 million Jews in gas chambers, concentration camps, by firing squads, or slow deaths in ghettos.
The Nazis killed another 3 million Soviet prisoners of war, 2 million Soviet civilians, 1 million Polish civilians, 1 million Yugoslav civilians, and 70,000 men, women and children with mental and physical handicaps.
The Nazis also killed more than 200,000 gypsies, and unknown of political prisoners, resistance fighters, homosexuals and deportees.
Shockingly, Russian leader Josef Stalin topped Hitler in terms of murders. He had his men kill between 20 and 40 million of his own people. And Stalin was on our side. I guess this is the classic case of keeping your enemies close to your vest.
Not only did Stalin have his people executed, he made sure there was no record of them having ever existed. He blotted them out of photos, destroyed their birth records and wouldn’t allow the mention of their names.
Like many of you, I had a grandfather who served in World War II. He saw fighting in Germany. He never talked about it. It was always a point of sadness. He died in 1985.
Now back to Hitler.
I am a bit of a World War II historian. When I traveled to Europe with my son in June 2012 I took time to visit the Dachau concentration camp. It was jaw-dropping and sobering.
Dachau was the model Nazi concentration camp. On March 22, 1933, a few weeks after Hitler had been appointed Reich Chancellor, a concentration camp for political prisoners was set up in Dachau. It was known as the “school of violence” for the SS men under whose command it stood.
In the 12 years of its existence over 200.000 persons from all over Europe were imprisoned at Dachau, and in the numerous subsidiary camps. More than 40,000 were murdered or died of disease. On April 29 1945, American troops liberated the survivors.
Days later German citizens were paraded into the camp to view the horror. Dead bodies were everywhere. The smell was horrendous. Those prisoners who had survived were like walking corpses.
The Dachau Memorial Site is very much like it was in 1945. All but a couple of building are gone, but the march though the camp is very revealing.
I recently learned that Camp/Fort Carson was a POW camp during the second World War.
Located just inside Gate 3 between the service and supply area and Highway 115, it originally housed 3,000 prisoners. In 1945, an additional 5,000 prisoners were housed in barracks located east of Pershing Field in the area now occupied by Division Artillery. A total of nearly 9,000 German, Italian, and some Japanese prisoners of war were interned at the camp.
During 1944, POWs alleviated the manpower shortage in Colorado by doing general farm work, canning tomatoes, cutting corn, and aiding in logging operations on Colorado’s Western slope. They earned 80 cents a day. About 3,650 POWs worked at 17 branch camps located throughout the state.
A cemetery was set aside for POWs who died here. After the war, their bodies were shipped to their homelands. In January, 1946, there were still a large number of German prisoners at Carson. By July 21, 1946, all had been returned to Europe or released.
The official end of World War II came on Aug. 14, 1945, when it was announced the Japan had surrendered.