Operation Overlord was the codename for D-Day, the largest invasion force in history, on 6th June 1944.
It brought together diverse cultures, working to a common goal, the culmination of a world war, that confronted an axis of countries whose ideas were based, to a large part, on discrimination, human rights abuses at the expense of the super race.
The operation was the culmination of two years of planning and there were around 9,000,000 tonnes of supplies and 2,000,000 allied troops stationed in Britain before the invasion.
On D-Day, an armada of up to 5,000 naval vessels departed English ports with up to 160,000 troops aboard. Over 800 aircraft flew up to 30,000 men into occupied territory from midnight on 6th June 1944.
Little did they know the horrors that awaited them beyond the coastal defences and also for the advancing Russian army from the East.
Genocide on an industrial scale, the victims of the Holocaust included:
- The Disabled
- The Gypsy’s
- The African Germans
- Members of the Jewish faith
- Jehovah’s Witnesses
- Political opponents of the Nazis, including Communists and Social Democrats
- Dissenting clergy
- Resistance fighters
- Prisoners of war
- Slavic peoples
- Many individuals from the artistic communities whose opinions and works Hitler condemned
- Many other groups
The Blitz on London and the bombing of other cities including Coventry paled into insignificance compared to the horrors undertaken by the Nazi’s.
The Nazis’ justification for genocide was the ancient claim, passed down through Nordic legends, that Germans were superior to all other groups and constituted a “master race.”
When Germany surrendered in May 1945, the victors’ worst fears were confirmed: the Nazis had committed innumerable and horrific war crimes, including the attempt to annihilate the Jewish people.
So severe were the depredations of Hitler and his henchmen and women that new words were invented to describe their actions: genocide (the obliteration of an entire people) and thanatology (the science of producing death).
Experiments with transplants, bacteria, gases and other chemical agents were carried out on thousands of hapless prisoners.
Worst of all was the Aktion T4 programme, which paved the way for the destruction of all “life unworthy of life” between 1939 and 1941.
In 1939 the killing of disabled children and adults began.
All children under the age of three who had illnesses or a disability, such as Down’s syndrome, or cerebral palsy were targeted under the T4 programme.
A panel of medical experts were required to give their approval for the ‘euthanasia’, or supposed ‘mercy-killing’, of each child.
Following the outbreak of war in September 1939 the programme was expanded.
Adults with disabilities, chronic illnesses, mental health problems and criminals who were not of German origin were included in the programme.
Six killing centres were established to speed up the process – the previous methods of killing people by lethal injection or starvation were deemed too slow to cope with large numbers of adults.
The first experimental gassings took place at the killing centre in Brandenburg and thousands of disabled patients were killed in gas chambers disguised as shower rooms.
The model used for killing disabled people was later applied to the industrialised murder within Nazi concentration and extermination camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In the Asian theatre of the war, the scale of human medical experimentation carried out by Japan’s Unit 731 was also staggering and brutal.
Hundreds of thousands of lives are thought to have been lost to experiments that tested germ and chemical weapons.
“I am concerned,” said Kenneth Rendell, the International Museum of World War 2 founder and director. “Every generation keeps forgetting the human stories of the past.”
“People do want to forget war,” he added. “And that’s really a good idea — except by forgetting the war, you forget how wars happen.”
In the case of World War II, Rendell says, the prelude to conflict included a political climate which is eerily similarities to today’s.
“You have a large segment of the population that feels they’re disenfranchised,” Rendell said. “Nationalism is a huge issue — finding a common enemy that everybody can blame everything on … The marketing of propaganda, which is enormous: tell lies often enough, just keep repeating them.”
“The fear is that people won’t learn any of the lessons,” Rendell said. “And the lessons are that if you don’t appreciate them — if you don’t pay any attention — it will all just keep repeating.”