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Celebrating VE Day

In this column Anne Mayer reflects on her experience of VE Day (which is on 8 May) and what it means to her.

There are not many people old enough to remember VE Day, whose 75th anniversary we are about to celebrate in Great Britain. It has been made a special Bank Holiday although all the wonderful street parties and celebrations have had to be cancelled as we are still in lockdown for coronavirus.

I was eleven years old in May 1945 so remember it clearly although under very different circumstances. I lived not in Blitz-torn London but in a peaceful suburb 35 miles north of Chicago, Illinois, USA. The war was far away and affected us little, although we had gas rationing and were proud of our V for Victory garden.

In fact, the war in Europe caused little comment in our household, and I knew nothing of the extermination of Jews and other “undesirables” including gypsies, the disabled and anyone else whom Hitler put on his list. I also did not know at the time that my father was Jewish. For some reason he was ashamed of it, and having married a Christian wife and had two fair haired and blue-eyed children, it was not a topic which was ever raised in our household. The fact that alone in our neighbourhood, we were the only children who did not and seemingly could not belong to the local country club was often queried but never answered.

So 8 May 1945 passed quietly for me. Back in 1941, my father woke me up at 5am on a December morning to tell me that the “blankety blank Japs had bombed Pearl Harbour”. Having no idea at the age of seven what either a Jap or Pearl Harbour might be, I was mystified. Two mornings later, I heard a sound outdoors, also very early, and looked out my bedroom window to see the young Japanese couple who lived above our garage and served as our maid and handyman being marched off across the snowy lawn by policemen with rifles. All Japanese living in the USA were interned and we never saw them again; my father wanted nothing to do with it but my mother bundled up their worldly goods and made sure they were sent to the right address in California, where the camps were located.

So when VJ day followed in August 1945, my father went crazy with joy and organised a huge barbeque for family, friends and neighbours. So vituperative was he about “those Japs” that to this day I have never been to Japan or bought a Japanese car or much admired their culture or cuisine.

As I progressed through school and university and then came to live permanently in England, I found out what the war in Europe was really about and how fantastic it must have been to mark the end of the war here in the UK, who had suffered so much. How wonderful it would be to say that with the end of Hitler and Nazi beliefs, we had stamped out prejudice, hatred, inhumanity, social and racial divisions and all the things which separate us. Then there would be real cause for celebration.

Photo: by Carole Railton (copyright). VE Day is on 8 May.

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