Looking Back and Looking Forward in Washington

V-E Day and an Upcoming Landmark Supreme Court Opinion

Victory in Europe Day

On May 8, 1945, Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day, Germany unconditionally surrendered its military forces to the Allies, including the United States. There were two surrender signings:

  • The first was on May 7, 1945, when German Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl signed Germany’s surrender on all fronts in Reims, France.
  • The second signing – insisted upon by Soviet Premier Josef Stalin – was by German Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel the next day in Berlin.

Jodl and Keitel were later found guilty of war crimes by the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany, and both were subsequently executed.

The 77th anniversary of V-E Day was commemorated on May 8, 2022 with a fitting ceremony at the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. The U.S. Army Band performed at the ceremony. The U.S. Army Band, “Pershing’s Own,” (shown here) has been the premier musical organization of the U.S. Army since 1922.

© David H. Enzel, 2022

Scene at the Supreme Court

Further down the mall and up past the Capitol, the Supreme Court seems to be getting ready to announce its decision expected to overturn Roe v. Wade. The Court has been fenced off by order of the Supreme Court Marshal.

© David H. Enzel, 2022

A small number of demonstrators were demonstrating peacefully in front of the fenced off Court on Mother’s Day. We will see what happens once the Court announces its decision. I hope for the best.

© David H. Enzel, 2022
© David H. Enzel, 2022

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

A powerful monument recently restored

I have lived in Washington, DC for more than forty years. Washington is a beautiful city with many grand monuments. My favorite is the Jefferson Memorial.

The exterior of the Memorial is simple and elegant. The exterior of the Memorial is a circular, open-air structure featuring a shallow dome supported by a circular colonnade composed of 26 Ionic columns. 

© David H. Enzel, 2022

The interior is powerful. Thomas Jefferson stands 19 feet tall. He’s holding the Declaration of Independence and peering out to the Tidal Basin. The bronze statue of Jefferson weighs 10,000 pounds (4,500 kg).

© David H. Enzel, 2022

A rehabilitation project to replace the Thomas Jefferson Memorial’s three roof systems and clean all of the exterior marble was completed in in 2021. And the statue sculpted by Rudulph Evans has been cleaned. Evans was born in Washington, DC and studied in France. His fellow students in France included  Auguste Rodin and Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The Memorial was built between 1939 and 1943 .

Jefferson Memorial, Washington, DC (2020)

Putting Putin’s Language in Context

Yale historian Timothy Snyder, writing in his newsletter, explains the significance of Vladimir Putin’s accusations that the Ukrainian government committed “genocide”:

It means, most likely, that he plans to arrest the political and civic leaders of Ukraine, carry out show trials, and have innocent people executed. 

It is grotesque . . . for Putin to accuse the Ukrainian government of being Nazis.  The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelens’kyi, is a Jew with moderate political views.  His grandfather fought the Germans in the Red Army; his grandfather’s family was murdered in the Holocaust.  He was elected with more than seventy percent of the vote by members of a multicultural society who generally define their nation in civic terms.  The far right gets imperceptible percentages of the Ukrainian vote and plays no role in government.

Putin also disrespects those who suffered and perished in the Holocaust.

The Russian Challenge

Chris Miller, an assistant professor of international history at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and a co-director of the school’s Russia and Eurasia program writing in The New York Times:

Today the threat to Europe’s security is not hybrid warfare but hard power, visible in the cruise missiles that have struck across Ukraine.

A Ukrainian Memorial in Washington Commemorating an Earlier Tragedy

The Holodomor Memorial to Victims of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932–1933 was opened in Washington, D.C. on November 7, 2015. Congress approved creation of the Holodomor Memorial in 2006.

The Holodomor was a famine in Soviet Ukraine from 1932 to 1933 that killed millions of Ukrainians. It was a man-made famine engineered by the Soviet government of Joseph Stalin. Holodomor is term derived from the Ukrainian words for hunger (holod) and extermination (mor).

The memorial was built by the National Park Service and the Ukrainian government to honor the victims of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932–33 and to educate the American public.

The memorial, designed by Larysa Kurylas, is one of three monuments in Washington, D.C., designed or co-designed by women—the others being the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial.

The memorial is located near the U.S. Capitol building at the intersection of North Capitol Street, Massachusetts Avenue, and F Street N.W. It is diagonal to the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, about one block from Union Station.

You can read more in Atlas Obsura.

In light of current events, this history is especially sad – and timely.

Holocaust Revisionism: Very Much Alive 77 Years After WWII

Jan Grabowski, a professor of history at the University of Ottawa, writing in The New York Times:

Poland’s efforts to reframe history reflect a trend proliferating in other European countries to obfuscate the history of the Holocaust. In France, the far right has made efforts to whitewash the record of the Vichy government, which collaborated with the Nazis. In Hungary and Croatia, local complicity and collaboration during the war is downplayed, shifting the blame for the Jewish catastrophe entirely onto the German occupiers. What makes the Polish example so distinctive is the apparent scale of state official involvement in redirecting the narrative.

In all these cases, pushing blame for the destruction of Jewish communities entirely onto Nazi occupiers obfuscates the larger context of Holocaust horror and the very real problems of collaboration, bystanderism and local antisemitism that helped run the machine of the Holocaust.