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WWII Story: Enemies or Victims?

by Linda Jenkinson |

bombed building in Germany

By OSU Special Collections & Archives : Commons
(Bombed building, post-WWII Germany)
[No restrictions],via Wikimedia Commons

As I began to write this, I was looking for an image that would help tell the story. I found a lot of allied photos, but very few that showed the destruction of Germany. While it is important to remember the horror of the concentration camps and the atrocities Hitler perpetrated upon the world, war is horrible from every vantage point. I know it's hard to feel sympathy for the Nazis, but this story has helped me remember that not all Germans were Nazis. Many were just victims of their times in the same way that many refugees are today.

Some years ago, I worked with a woman who had been a child in Dusseldorf Germany in WWII. Her father had been called into the German military. My friend, her brother, mother, and grandmother shared an apartment in his absence. Elise (not her real name) said that when the air-raid sirens sounded, her family would immediately leave their apartment and run to a bomb shelter down the street. The commotion and excitement were usually unwarranted, for although there was some bombing by allied forces, explosions were mostly in the distance and sounded like a strange and exceptionally loud thunderstorm.

On June 11, 1943, the RAF sent 783 bombers over Dusseldorf. When the sirens sounded, Elise’s mother and grandmother awakened the children and the family quickly sought the protection of the shelter, just as they had so many nights before. When they arrived, her grandmother realized she had left her purse, which contained her identification papers, in the apartment. Elise's grandmother ran back up the street and into their apartment building. The small family huddled in the shelter doorway, waiting for her return.

They had no way of knowing that this attack was hundreds of times worse than the others that had come before, that it would devastate the whole city, and that by morning 130 acres of Dusseldorf would lay in ruins. The roar of the hundreds of planes overhead was terrifying, but the real horror started as the bombing began. They saw the explosion as a bomb fell directly on their building. Elise's mother screamed in horror. At first, the children didn't know why. Then, as the fire shot out of their crumbling building, they began to understand.

Forty years later, this was as far as my friend could go with her story. Her memory of that night was still vivid and horrible. When she told me the story, I realized how fortunate I was to be an American and to live in a country where, although we have sent our sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters into foreign wars, since the civil war, no war has ever touched our shores.

On 911 that kind of terror did come to America. The grief it caused was a strong catalyst for vengeful anger. Yet, whenever anger against an entire people starts to take hold of my reason, I visualize a young woman and her two small children huddled in a doorway as an allied bomber dropped an indiscriminate weapon on her mother.


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