Being a history major and huge World War II buff, when I visited France, the first thing I had to do was go to Normandy for the day. I was going to spend 7 days in Paris, and it was the end of my experience of living in Europe. I was saving the best for last. I met up with a guy named Brooks from Montreal in my hostel, who also was a WWII buff, and we agreed to head to the coast together the next day.
Now, this was Paris in late May. From what I’d heard, it was supposed to be warm, flowers would be in full bloom, and it would just be an amazing atmosphere. As I rolled into the train station the day before, however, the rain had started to fall and a cold front moved in. For most of my time in Paris, it was rainy, cold, and grey. Yippee!
We woke up to find that it was freezing and raining. The wind was blowing the rain in sideways, stinging our eyes. Neither of us had the appropriate clothing. We went to the station early, which was a good idea because as we found out it was some random holiday and the schedules changed. Then there was a bomb threat, followed by the train losing its engine, which caused us to wait around for a while. Brooks, who spoke French, heard from the locals that this was typical.
By the time we got to Normandy, it was so windy that you had to use force to walk towards the beaches. We found a tour guide and buddied up with some other Canadian girls staying at our hostel, ironically, and we headed out to see the bigger sites. At Omaha Beach, the wind was so ferocious and powerful that we could only make it halfway to the water. Then we got to the American Cemetery.
This cemetery is unlike any other I’ve ever been to. There is only one large monument and another display, but otherwise all of the crosses and stars are exactly the same. No one has more importance than anyone else. As far as the eye can see in some places, rows and rows of white crosses cover the perfectly kept grass. It’s humbling, and a place where you have to show the utmost respect. Brooks and I separated for a while, just looking at different tombstones. I found a couple of guys from Massachusetts and wondered where they were from. I looked for the day they died, the unit they were with, and wondered how it happened.
The wind died down for a little bit and then rain fell slowly and sadly on the graves. Call it dramatic, but rainfall in a cemetery just seems appropriate. It’s as if the heavens are crying for the lost. Eventually Brooks and I both met at a star, marking the grave of a Jewish soldier. We didn’t say anything for a minute, just read it and thought. His name was David Ginsburg, he was a Private in the 101st Airborne, and he was killed on June 6, 1944. The wind and rain had caused dirt and leaves to get blown onto the star. The grounds were perfectly kept and tended to, but this mess had obviously just recently happened after the last cleaning.
I found myself hiding the fact that I was Jewish the entire time while living in Europe. Times aren’t exactly great for Jews, and antisemitism is rising once again. I just didn’t advertise the fact to stay out of trouble. But now, towards the end of my time there, I just didn’t care anymore. “I wish I had a stone to put on the tombstone,” I said. “In the Jewish faith, when you visit a grave, you leave a rock or something small to show that someone visited”
“I know, I’m Jewish,” Brooks said. I was shocked. I had no idea that he too was Jewish, and I found it amazing that thousands of miles away from home, we’d randomly found ourselves at the grave of another Jew. But unlike us, David Ginsburg would never be going home.
We both searched around for a minute but found no rocks, the place was just too well groomed. Without saying, we both started to clean up the tombstone, clearing away the dirt and the leaves, or at least trying to make it clean again. We stood by it for a few more minutes, finally deciding it was time to leave. As I left I touched the star, and for whatever it’s worth, the sacrifices of David Ginsburg and the thousands of others buried in the cemeteries overseas will not be forgotten. Not by me anyway.