The William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History is full of stories about Jews serving in the American Armed Forces during the war.
Friday, May 8, marks an important anniversary. It has been 75 years since VE Day, the official end of World War II in Europe. Beginning on Sept. 1, 1939, with Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland, the war lasted nearly six years. The war in the Pacific was not yet over, it would end three months later in August 1945, but victory for the Allies there was a foregone conclusion.
The destruction of the despicable Adolf Hitler and his equally loathsome Nazi allies was indeed something to celebrate. There were spontaneous, mass demonstrations of joy in the streets of cities throughout America, Canada, the United Kingdom and other Allied nations. In Downtown Detroit, thousands of citizens waved flags, hugged one another and even jumped into the fountain on Cadillac Square.
Metropolitan Detroit and Michigan, nicknamed the “Arsenal of Democracy,” had certainly done their part toward winning the war. This area manufactured a large percentage of the hard material needed to win the war: tanks, airplanes, guns, shells and more.
The physical cost of the war was huge. The Allies spent billions of dollars on war goods and amassed huge debts. Across Europe, a swath of cities and national economies were left in ruins, to say nothing of destroyed homes and stores, churches and synagogues.
More important, the human toll of the war was horrific. More than 60 million lives were lost, including military and civilians,
In some ways, VE Day held the same meaning for Jews in Detroit as for all other Americans. The men and women in the military would no longer have to fight and die in Europe.
The William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History is full of stories about Jews serving in the American Armed Forces during the war. According to estimates from the Jewish Welfare Board in Detroit, more than 10,000 Jews from the city joined the military. Page 18 in the May 18, 1945, issue of the JN is a good example. It has a wide range of stories about individual Jews in the services and, more sobering, a list of casualties including wounded, missing in action and prisoners of war.
For American and Detroit Jews, however, VE Day had a more poignant message: The Nazi death camps had been liberated; the Holocaust was over. This was also a sad thing to consider. Many Jewish families in Detroit lost relatives in the Holocaust.
The end of the war also resulted in another serious issue. As a result of the war, millions of people were displaced persons; nearly a million DPs were Jews. A front-page essay in the May 11, 1945, issue of the JN summarized the problem: “VE Day Intensifies Challenge to Jewry for Rescue Efforts.”
In short, VE Day was certainly, without a doubt, something to celebrate. But in the aftermath of the war, another battle was about to begin. It can be reported that, once again, Detroit Jews did their part by helping displaced persons arriving in Michigan, those interned in European camps and those who made their way to Palestine to establish Israel in 1948.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.