“This is no exercise! These planes have swastikas painted on their tails!”
Those were the words of a British director witnessing the German surprise invasion of Belgium on May 10, 1940, as recorded in the diary of Anne Brusselmans who would later become a leading figure in the Belgian/French underground.
On that day, New Yorkers were anticipating the reopening of the World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows in Queens for its second and final year. Here in Madison Township, now Old Bridge, people were making preparations for the grand opening of Cheesequake State Park. Then came the catastrophic news from overseas. Hitler had unleashed blitzkrieg, or lightning war, on the countries of Western Europe: Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.
Through fear and propaganda, Nazi Germany had already taken over Austria and Czechoslovakia without bloodshed. By negotiating a non-aggression pact with Stalin, which gave the Soviets free reign in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, part of Romania and half of Poland, Hitler was allowed to attack the rest of Poland without fear of Soviet interference. Then on April 9, 1940, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway.
Herman Goering, Hitler’s second in command, assured the people of France, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg that they had nothing to fear. Germany had only bombed and attacked those countries and with tanks and planes to protect the citizens. He claimed that Germany had uncovered Great Britain’s plot to invade those countries and Germany was just looking to protect them. Of course Germany’s claim was found to be bogus.
Although the bombing of Pearl Harbor would bring the United States into the war 18 months later, Germany’s May 10 invasion plunged nearly all of Western Europe into what would become World War II.
This year will commemorate the 80-year anniversary of Germany’s invasion of Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France. This Memorial Day, in addition to remembering all of our countrymen and women who sacrificed so much for all of us, the Madison-Old Bridge Township Historical Society asks that we also take a moment to remember people everywhere who have given their all for the liberty of others.
Sebastian Rizzo is a member of the Madison-Old Bridge Township Historical Society. He occasionally writes the “Living History” column for Newspaper Media Group. The historical society invites readers to share memories of Old Bridge for its newsletter. Send stories to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to 4216 Route 516, Matawan 07747-7032. For more information, visit www.thomas-warne-museum.com.