Normandy Cemeteries

I was surprised to see a large parking lot that was almost full of cars.  There were three or four high end tour buses parked in a special area.  The Omaha beach visitor center was large building with an long endless reflecting pool on the lower level.  The exhibits were were numerous and supplemented with multiple flat screens.  The Images of Omaha Beach and the cemetery frequently appear in the media.  President Obama’s 2014 visit for the 70th anniversary of D-Day resulted in much press coverage. Before arriving I had a clear image of what to expect, i.e., long rows of crosses, and a generalized sense of depression.

Among the thousands of crosses, it was rare to see the Star of David.  GIs reportedly had three options for religion on their dog tags; “P” for Protestant, “C” for Catholic, or “H” for Jewish (from the word, “Hebrew”), or (according to at least one source) “NO” to indicate no religious preference.

According to a letter to the NY Times,

Many Jewish G.I.’s omitted from their dog tags the indication that their religious identity was Jewish for the prudent reason that in the event of falling into German hands, their lives would be at greater risk if they were identifiable as Jewish.           PAUL LIPPMAN Hoboken, N.J., June 14, 1994

From talking to friends and family who previously visited Omaha Beach, I expected to feel much sadness.  In fact I felt more angry about the wasted lives than sadness.  Marcia reported sadness.

We also visited the German cemetery where 7000+ Germans were buried. We arrived to see three cars in the parking lot, no tour buses and no one staffing the small visitor center. Like the American counterpart there were crosses, but there wasn’t a one-to-one correspondence between a cross and a deceased soldier.  The actual grave markers were flat on the ground.

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It bothered me that I felt more depressed at the German cemetery than at the American.  I also felt angry about wasted lives.  Based on dates it was not uncommon to see that teenagers were buried in some of the graves.  The feeling was exacerbated by the thousands of German lives that seem to have been forgotten.  

There was plaque at the base of the monument.  I noticed a family discussing the plaque, so I ventured a question in English. Of course they spoke English well. The dad was able to translate some of the statement.  The essence was that the graves were a testament to darkness of war.  Light and hope were represented in the crosses.  It turned out the couple was from Belgium and had the same reason for visiting the German cemetery as we did. They wanted their kids to see both sides. After talking to the couple for several minutes, we learned that they were from Brussels and that exactly one week ago the terrorists had struck the Brussels.  They described the whole city being shut down.  It was a Monday and people were stuck in their offices. We mentioned the Eiffel Tower was lit in the colors of Belgium and  many Belgian flags were hung on government buildings. Collectively, we lamented that horrors of war are still being felt by innocent citizens today in the middle east.

Rather than head back to the hotel we went on to Mont St Michel. The girls were not thrilled about driving 2 hours out of our way.  Despite their protests, their parents had the final say.  The girls retaliated by complaining for a at least 30 minutes.  They were relentless.  When we arrived at the Mont St Michel is was overcast and cold. As the kids were starving, we located a quaint restaurant that was warm and had nice ambiance with stone walls.

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It was low tide when Sarah, Rachel and I walked back to the car.  At high tide the sandy area is completely covered.  Ella and Marcia took the bus.

After all the complaining, the girls had a good day climbing various stairways to get up and around the island.

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