Passover, Easter and the Battle of Normandy
Updated: Mar 8
This holiday season, with the holidays so close together has made me very contemplative. I’ve been thinking a lot about our freedoms and how much has been sacrificed throughout religious and secular history so that we can live fuller lives. For those who don’t know, Passover is the celebration of the Jewish exodus for slavery in Egypt during biblical times.
Why Normandy? Because I have been studying up on it. Next month, my husband and I travel to France for a wedding. Since I am a WWII history buff, we expanded the itinerary to include a visit to Normandy, the site of the D-Day invasion where the British, American and Canadian forces fought a game-changing battle against the Nazis. With Passover on my mind and the telling of the story of the Exodus, this juxta-positoning of events has gotten me thinking about a few things. And, in my completely diverse family, I am also reminded that the Christians have had their share of oppression too, particularly during the Roman era.
Now, three generations following WWII, I wonder how abstract that period of history is to my parents’ grandchildren and eventually, their grandkids. And, if that is abstract and cartoon-like, how about the Jews in Egypt working as slaves to build those pyramids in biblical times. How do we make that relevant?
In the Bible story, Moses warned Pharaoh multiple times to give the Jews their rightful freedom and with each dismissal by Pharaoh, came a disgusting plague. The plagues, at least in my home are part of the seder dinner entertainment. I mean, how dense could Pharaoh be? He had to pick up that the plagues were only going to get worse until he sacrificed something dear to him, to make him relent and let the Jews leave Egypt.
For Hitler, it was the cataclysmic attack in Normandy after years of diplomacy and Nazi lies that finally made him accept defeat and liberate France. This together with the eastern front effort, marked the beginning of the end for the Nazi forces. It was a decisive turn in the war. But, we often hear about it as a "how we won” story, not an accounting of the cost in human lives for that freedom. So, here are some facts and I will try to lend perspective.
The D-Day landing was a carefully planned effort by the Allied forces and included soldiers from the US, Canada and England. In total, approximately 160,000 soldiers landed on the 5 beaches in Normandy. In the first day, 10,000 soldiers were dead, injured or missing.* That is equal to the average number of students in a mid-size American university. So, imagine in one day, every undergraduate student at Duke, Northwestern or 2 Ivy League schools combined gone. It is a staggering amount of human lives - and most of the soldiers were about the same age as college kids.
Two months later, when Allied troops successfully reached the Seine and liberated Northern France, there were over 209,000 casualties - over 50,000 of those died. Again, if the average college has 10,000 students, we are talking about 20 colleges with every student either dead, wounded or missing over the course of a summer vacation from classes! I don’t know about you, but that sends shockwaves through me. All of those soldiers would never see adulthood and have families and lives of their own.
That sacrifice was made for us, for our children and so forth. They were all young individuals, like our kids, who gave up their futures so that forces of pure evil could not prevail. Bear in mind, those soldiers represented all religions and races. This was a fight about principles.
I think it is terribly important that we find ways to help each other and our families appreciate the gravity of sacrifice that has taken place through history to ensure that our freedoms are protected. This has been an enduring mission since biblical times and still goes on - but currently far away from our day-to-day world. That doesn’t make it less real. Think about the Syrian exodus over the past few years. They were fleeing intolerable oppression. We happen to be incredibly fortunate to be living in a country where we can live so richly and without fear.
Much to think about while munching on matzo and chocolate eggs.
Bear in mind, that these numbers vary depending on the source, but represent the approximate averages from my research. The number of German casualties is much more varied.
Jane Rubin is the author of the memoir, Almost a Princess, My Life as a Two-Time Cancer Survivor available in most online bookstores. The royalties are donated to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.