D-Day will fade from memory if we don't teach the youth
By Jerry Amernic
[This is a condensed version of a column published in The Globe and Mail on June 1, 2019]
D-Day – the biggest military invasion in history on June 6, 1944 – turned the tide of the Second World War, and next week is the 75th anniversary. It will be the last one with actual veterans, which means there will soon be no more witnesses and that can be a dangerous thing.
I fear that young people today know little about D-Day and the Second World War. This became obvious to me when I taught college. But when the last combatant is gone, knowing what happened and why will be crucial.
While I was born in the 1950s, I learned about the war effort of my country, Canada, in school and from my work as a journalist.
I once did a magazine profile on retired Canadian major-general Richard Rohmer who showed me his Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for service as a reconnaissance pilot. He saw the entire Normandy invasion from the skies that day and told me about it.
Another time, I covered a reunion of Belgian citizens and the Canadian soldiers who liberated them in 1945. I remember the camaraderie, the kinship, and the love that existed among them.
A few years ago, I wrote a novel about the last living survivor of the Holocaust. It takes place in 2039 when my protagonist is 100 years old, but knowledge of past history is remote. My agent shopped it around, and one editor turned it down because he didn’t buy the premise about society becoming ignorant about the Holocaust in a generation. He said he had to suspend disbelief.
After my novel was rejected by that publisher, I made a video. I interviewed students at a Toronto university and asked them about the Holocaust, the Allies, Churchill and FDR, and D-Day. With few exceptions, they knew practically nothing. The video has gone viral around the world.
The problem might be the fact that the young have so many options, in school and outside, and maybe there is no room for knowing about the past. But the fact is young people do not know basic history.
Two weeks ago, I attended the funeral of a man named Milton Berger. He was 94. Milt was a long-time Toronto city councillor and we met when I was a young newspaper reporter covering municipal politics. He was also the father-in-law of a close friend.
Milt was said to be the first Holocaust survivor to serve as a politician in Ontario. When he was 17 he was sent to Auschwitz.
Lest we forget? It’s time for us to wake up and ensure that our young know why we have the freedoms too many take for granted. Having them not know disrespects those who made the sacrifice – such as the men at the Beaches of Normandy – and may even foretell a future that we don’t want to imagine.
image: Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower rallies U.S. paratroopers before they head out to participate in D-Day.
(Credit: Library of Congress)
[Jerry Amernic is the author of several books, including the novel The Last Witness.]