D-Day: 70 Years Ago, Today

Today we mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy.

Discovery has some photos:

The Allied invasion to liberate mainland Europe from Nazi occupation during World War II took place 70 years ago today on June 6, 1944.

Operation Overlord was the largest seaborne invasion in military history, with more than 156,000 Allied troops storming the beaches of France. Soldiers in the operation made up six divisions — three American, two British and one Canadian.

Rest here.

You may also like to read A Padres Tale: How an Army Chaplain’s Diary Throws New Light on the Anniversary of D-Day.

The diary of an Army chaplain vividly illustrates the terror and bravery of the men who took part in the D-Day invasion of Europe 70 years ago on Friday.

Captain Leslie Skinner was an army chaplain who landed on the coast of Normandy on the morning of 6 June 1944 with the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry tank regiment

Close to where fierce tank battles raged only moments earlier, an Army chaplain crouches over the lifeless corpse of a British soldier and carefully stitches him into an impromptu body bag.

During a lull in the fighting Captain Leslie Skinner holds a brief funeral ceremony over the soldier’s body, laid to rest by his comrades in a shallow grave dug into the soil of Normandy.

The pictures below, taken by a war photographer at the front line, show some of the many poignant moments captured by Capt Skinner in a detailed diary he kept of his part in the invasion of Europe in June 1944.

Now extensive sections of his powerful account are being published for the first time, as the centrepiece of the Imperial War Museum Duxford’s commemoration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

The diary, parts of which are being exclusively reproduced here, pays tribute to the hundreds of men from Capt Skinner’s Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry tank regiment who took part in the Normandy landings, and the bitter battle for northern France that followed…

Rest here.



Six German Women Investigated over Auschwitz Crimes

Six women who were guards at the Auschwitz death camp are being investigated on suspicion of complicity in mass murder, German authorities confirmed on Friday.

The Telegraph:

The women are among 50 former Auschwitz guards still living in Germany whose cases are being examined by the country’s Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes.

Thomas Will, an investigator at the Central Office, confirmed that the women were under investigation for allegedly aiding and abetting murder. The women are now in their 90s, Mr Will said. The female guards were assigned to women’s barracks.

Earlier this year, German authorities launched a fresh attempt to bring surviving perpetrators of the Holocaust to justice, which has so far resulted in the arrest of alleged Auschwitz guard Hans Lipschis, 93…

The Central Office has declined to name any of the suspects it is currently investigating. At least one former female concentration camp guard has been publicly identified. In 2006, Elfriede Lina Rinkel was deported from the US to Germany after investigators discovered she had worked as a guard at Ravensbrück, a slave labour camp for women.

Last month, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre appealed for the German public’s help in finding surviving overseers of the death camps and members of the Einsatzgruppen, the mobile death squads responsible for mass murders of Jews and others.

The Nazi-hunters launched a poster campaign in four German cities featuring an image of the entrance to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, an appeal for information and the offer of a 25,000 euro reward.



On Memorial Day: ‘The Purest Democracy’

Jewish Chaplain, Lt (Rabbi) Roland B Gittelson, ChC, USNR, on the Dedication of 5th Marine Division Cenetery on Iwo Jima 21 March 1945:

This is perhaps the grimmest, and surely the holiest task we have faced since D-Day.  Here before us lie the bodies of comrades and friends.  Men who until yesterday or last week laughed with us, joked with us, trained with us.  Men who were on the same ships with us, and went over the sides with us as we prepared to hit the beaches of this island.  Men who fought with us and feared with us.  Somewhere in this plot of ground there may lie the man who could have discovered the cure for cancer.  Under one of these Christian crosses, or beneath a Jewish Star of David, there may rest now a man who was destined to be a great prophet, to find the way, perhaps, for all to live in plenty, with poverty and hardship for none.  Now they lie here silently in this sacred soil, and we gather to consecrate this earth in their memory.

It is not easy to do so.  Some of us have buried our closest friends here.  We saw these men killed before our very eyes.  Any one of us might have died in their places.  Indeed, some of us are alive and breathing only because men who lie here beneath us had the courage and strength to give their lives for us.  To speak in memory of such men as these is not easy.  Of them, too, can it be said with utter truth:  ‘The world will little note nor long remember, what we say here.  We can never forget what they did here. ‘no, our poor power of speech can add nothing to what these men and the other dead of our division who are not here have already done.  All that we even hope to do is follow their example.  To show the same selfless courage in peace that they did in war.  To swear that by the grace of God and the stubborn strength and power of human will, their sons and ours shall never suffer these pains again.  These men have done their job well.  They have paid the ghastly price of freedom.  If that freedom is once again lost, as it was after the last war, the unforgivable blame will be ours, not theirs, so it is we, ‘the living’ who are here to be dedicated and consecrated.

We dedicate ourselves, first to live together in peace the way they fought and are buried in this war.  Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors generations ago helped in her founding, and other men who loved her with equal passion because they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores.  Here lie officers and men, Blacks and Whites, rich men and poor – together.  Here are Protestants, Catholics and Jews – together.  Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color.  Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed.  Among these men there is no discrimination.  No prejudices.  No hatred.  There is the highest and purest democracy.

Any man among us, ‘the living’, who fails to understand that, will thereby betray those who lie here dead.  Whoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother or think himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and of the bloody sacrifices it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery to this, then, as our solemn, sacred duty, do we. ‘the living’ to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price.

To one thing more do we consecrate ourselves in memory of those who sleep beneath these crosses and stars.  We shall not foolishly suppose, as did the last generation of America’s fighting men, that victory on the battlefield will automatically guarantee the triumph of democracy at home.  The war, with all its frightful heartache and suffering is but the beginning of our general struggle for democracy.  When the last battle has been won, there will be those at home, as there were last time who will want us to turn our backs in selfish isolation on the rest of organized humanity, and this to sabotage the very peace for which we fight.  We promised you who lie here:  We will not do that!  We will join hands with Britain, China and Russia – in peace, even as we have in war, to build the kind of world for which you died.

When the last shot has been fired, there will still be those whose eyes turned backward, not forward, who will be satisfied with those wide extremes of poverty and wealth in which the seeds of another war can breed.  We promise you, our departed comrades’ this, too, we will not permit.  This war has been fought by the common man, its fruits of peace must be enjoyed by the common man.  We promise, by all that is sacred and holy, that your sons – the sons of miners and millers, the sons of farmers and workers, will inherit from your death the right to a living that is decent and secure.

When the final cross has been placed in the last cemetery, once again there will be those to who profit is more important that peace, who will insist with the voice of sweet reasonableness and appeasement that it is better to trade with the enemies of mankind than, by crushing them, to lose their profit.  To you who sleep here silently, we give our promise:  We will not listen!  We will not forget that some of you were burnt with the oil that can come from American wells, that many of you were killed by shells fashioned from American Steel.  We promise that when once again men seek profit at our expense, we shall remember how you looked when we place you reverently, lovingly in the ground.

Thus do we memorialize those who having ceased living with us, now live within us.  Thus do we consecrate ourselves – ‘the living, ‘to carry on the struggle they began.  Too much blood has gone into this soil for us to let it line barren.  To much pain and heartache have fertilized the earth on which we stand.  We here solemnly swear; this shall not be in vain out of this and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this, will come – we promise – the birth of a new freedom for sons of men everywhere.

– Amen


Rabbi Gittelson was the first Jewish Chaplain appointed in the US Marine Corps.



The Prayer Shawls of Auschwitz

A post over at Cranmer which simply must be reproduced in full:

Those who have visited Auschwitz are likely to find their thoughts straying back there on this day of Holocaust remembrance.

A visit both underwhelms with the very ordinariness of the buildings, yet at the same time the significance overwhelms, as Auschwitz reaffirms its special place in the pit of human history.

A visit needs to be approached like a pilgrimage, with preparation, otherwise there will be a numbing of the experience, a confusion of conflicting emotions which may encompass anger, indignation, bewilderment and the deepest sadness. The reactions of others around you may mirror your own, yet they may not, and that too can be a challenge. Some seem visibly shocked, some deeply affected, some struggle, whilst others present as merely curious and that response can be a challenge as it may offends one’s own interpretation.

The Holocaust was possible because the humanity of the rejected was stripped away from them as it was, is, and always will be from the unwanted, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, wherever we are in the world.

Holocaust Memorial Day needs its universal dimension.

There, all humanity was killed in a systematic, planned way; not in anger, but simply because that is what the state said needed to be done, and someone had to do it.

It has to be universal, but it also has to be rooted in places like Auschwitz, which shows how genocide moves beyond the personal killing of Abel by Cain. Here it is shown in all its bureaucratic, banal evil. Hair is cropped and piled here, children’s shoes collected and dumped over there.

When I visited, I realised that I would need to take a Bible and that I should find a suitable quiet place to read it. I decided on Psalm 88 and Psalm 10. I invite you to read them. You will find there the anguish of those who wore the prayer shawls captured in verse after verse.

Psalm 88 O LORD God of my salvation, have cried day and night before thee: let my prayer come before thee: incline thine ear unto my cry; for my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave. I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength: free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand. Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps. Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves.

Psalm 10 Why standest thou afar off, O LORD? Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble? The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined. For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the LORD abhorreth. The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts. His ways are always grievous; thy judgments are far above out of his sight: as for all his enemies, he puffeth at them. He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity.

These Psalms surely must have been prayed under those shawls.

Psalm 88 is particularly striking because of its steadfast refusal to find any cause for optimism. “Life is grim,” says the Psalmist. “I know it is grim, God – you know it is grim.”

‘Let’s not kid each other’ is the subtext.

It concludes with no verse of praise, no expectation of redemption, no hope. This is why I think Psalm 88 must have been the Psalm for Auschwitz. The evil was so evil that it takes mortal man beyond hope.

Yet surprisingly Psalm 10 begins to recover from the blow. It ends:

O LORD thou wilt hear the desire of the meek thou wilt strengthen their heart thou wilt incline thine ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

I chose to read these psalms before I went, and I found the place to contemplate their meaning as I stood before those prayer shawls displayed as if on a gibbet in a cabinet. Surely these psalms expressed the prayers of those who suffered and prayed under them.

Many who are separated from the scriptures by the modern world may be shocked by their candour, directness, and anger. God is no stranger to the outrage of those who suffer. Two things are striking: Psalm 88 is in the same spirit as those who urged Job to ‘Curse God and die’. Psalm 10, which retains hope, pre-figures the ‘Song of Mary’ – The Magnificat.


Let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire


He has scattered the Proud in the imagination of their hearts.

And so God did.

So He did.

The underlying sin of Auschwitz and the genocidal killer is that of Adam himself –  Pride. The proud have supplanted the judgment of God with the judgment of themselves. They take to themselves the right to judge and the power of life and death itself, and when Man does that, it leads to places like Auschwitz.

It does not last. If the world hates His people, it hated Him first and God is not mocked for long.

Auschwitz also teaches that early in its story the Atheist Nazi State consigned to the camp the leaders of Polish Church lest it speak its truths, hold its peoples to hope, and challenge the inhumanity of what was to come, and the pride that underpinned it.

As God sent His son, so it sent His Church.

Amongst those was Maximillian Kolbe,  ‘The Saint of Auschwitz, who lit a feint light in the darkness by laying down his life in place of another man. His story is worth reading today: it is one of sacrifice and the triumph of faith and hope.

Yet there is another lesson and paradox to be found at Auschwitz today. It is full of living Jews. Young Jews, confident Jews, handsome young men and beautiful young girls, tanned and healthy carrying their flag. They, too, are on pilgrimage and have prepared themselves for it.

They represent the refusal to allow the triumph of those who hated them then and who hate them today. Their presence demonstrates the power of hope in all places of despair, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

God will not have it any other way. As the Jewish singer-poet Leonard Cohen has written: ‘There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in.’

It is true about our fractured humanity, our brittle pride, and our broken hearts.

Before the Prayer Shawls of Auschwitz, it is possible to doubt and to cry out, “How can this happen? How can this be redeemed?”

With His living Church and His Chosen People, the answer comes back on this and every other day: ‘Because with God – all things are possible’.

(Posted by Brother Ivo)