By TOM WIENER
On May 26, 2005, the Veterans History Project convened a symposium in the Coolidge Auditorium to explore various facets of the end of World War II. The symposium, co-sponsored by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, was timed to mark the 60th anniversary of the two dates—VE Day on May 8 and VJ Day on Aug. 15—which are commonly used to mark the formal end of hostilities.
Following welcoming remarks by Diane Kresh, director of the Veterans History Project; Arthur Berger, director of communications for the Holocaust Museum; and Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), who drafted the idea for the VHP and sponsored legislation in the House of Representatives to create it, the symposium got off to a rousing start with a keynote speech from Benjamin Ferencz. As an Army officer serving in the European Theater of World War II, Ferencz was well aware at war's end of the Nazis' insidious network of concentration camps, the most dramatic manifestations of the Third Reich's Master Plan. A lawyer by training, he was chosen to be chief prosecutor in the second phase of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, in which Nazi officials were tried for their extensive crimes against humanity.
Ferencz eloquently and sometimes emotionally related the need for international justice, citing Nuremberg as a template for identifying, prosecuting and punishing war criminals, no matter how modest their offenses in comparison to the Nazis' brutality. He has worked tirelessly for the past 35 years to prod the United Nations and other international organizations to establish such proceedings, and as his speech made clear, he believes the world community still has much work to do in this area.
The first of the afternoon's two panels then convened. This writer, a historian for the Veterans History Project, moderated the Eyewitnesses Panel, consisting of Art Buchwald, the syndicated columnist who is a Marine veteran of World War II; John Dolibois, an Army veteran of that war and one of five interrogators who prepared cases against the Nazi high command in advance of the first Nuremberg trials; John A. Glusman, author of the new book "Conduct Under Fire: The Story of Four American Doctors and Their Fate as POWs in the Pacific Theater, 1941-1945" (Viking), about his father's experiences as a Navy doctor and prisoner of the Japanese for three years; and Yeiichi "Kelly" Kuwayama, a veteran of the 442nd Combat Regimental Team, composed entirely of Japanese American soldiers, whose record of bravery in the European Theater was unmatched.
The four men recalled their experiences in the war (Glusman for his father, who died in January 2005 after cooperating in researching his son's book): how they came to serve, where they were stationed, what action they saw and where they were on VE and VJ days. On the latter occasion, Buchwald and Kuwayama related that they were both in Times Square. On VE Day, Dolibois was in a jeep driving through the town of Rheims, France, but he was unaware that General Jodl of the German Army was signing the surrender papers there. John Glusman's father was, like many prisoners of the Japanese, unaware for several days of the war's end, as they were kept in strict isolation from any contact with the outside world.
After a brief break, the second panel convened, chaired by Prosser Gifford, director of the Library's Office of Scholarly Programs. In attendance were Klaus Larres, a historian and former Kissinger Scholar at the Kluge Center; James Hershberg, a professor of international relations at George Washington University; Peter Black, the Holocaust Museum's historian; and Elizabeth B.White of the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations. Gifford led the panel through a lively give and take on the consequences of World War II for world history over the next 60 years.
Among the topics discussed were the deal Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill struck at the Yalta Conference with Joseph Stalin and the claim that it led to more than 50 years of Soviet repression in Eastern Europe; the difficulty of assigning collective guilt to the German and Japanese peoples for what their respective governments did in igniting the war; and, following up on the keynote speaker's theme, the efficacy of the Nuremberg trials.
Both panels concluded with question-and-answer sessions involving the near-capacity audience in Coolidge. A reception was held afterward in the Whitall Pavilion and the adjacent interior courtyard.
The Veterans History Project, created in 2000 by congressional legislation, is devoted to documenting the wartime experiences of men and women who served in the military and the civilian workers who supported them during the major wars of the 20th century. To date, the project has collected the stories of more than 40,000 individuals and has made 1,300 of those collections completely accessible at its Web site, www.loc.gov/vets/, which also contains a searchable database for all its collections.
Oral history interviews with Art Buchwald, John Dolibois, and Yeiichi Kuwayama were already in the project's collections before the symposium took place, and the VHP is in talks with John Glusman about his donating audio interviews he did with his father to research the book "Conduct Under Fire" to the project. The entire symposium was recorded on video by the Library and is available for viewing on the VHP Web site.
Tom Wiener is a historian in the Veterans History Project in the Library of Congress.