Volkstrauertag-Memorial Day (Satis Shroff)
Volkstrauertag at Freiburg-Kappel in the Black Forest, Germany
Once a year we in Germany think about the victims of past wars, conflicts and rulers who used aggression and brutality to attain and preserve their power. We were gathered in the Black Forest town of Freiburg-Kappel to honour the people who’s names were engraved on the stone-slab; sons of Kappel who died in the killing-fields of World War I and II. The dedication ran thus:
‘…Ihren in den Weltkriegen
1914-1918 und 1939-1943
The people of Kappel were standing between the graves, the navy-blue uniformed men of the Voluntary Fire Brigade standing at attention, the music verein and the men’s choir (MGV-Kappel ‘Liederkranz’ played appropriate music and the choir sang a Russian song ‘Tabje Pajem’ as well as the German version of ‘Nearer My God.’
The ones who were honoured were the sons, fathers and young husbands who died in the last two big wars. The memorial service was also for those who weren’t mentioned, as well as those who have had to live without the dead and missing members of the family. Even today, young German widows are weeping for their husbands who were killed on duty in the Hindukush. At the same time, the memorial reminds us of the right to protest in countries where people are treated inhumanly and where peaceful living and togetherness are jeopardised.
Values and norms are always followed by deeds and our memorial in Kappel is one such act. We have to extend our hands to others in friendship, and the soldier who has his finger on the trigger should have the civil courage not to shoot another human being, thinking of the people of the Volksarmy of the old German Democratic Republic, who didn’t hesitate to shoot their own people, who wanted to flee from the socialist, totalitarian country where barbed-wire, the automatic shooting devices, long and tall walls were normality, and where the people were crushed by army-boots and many tortured and killed. The trauma of those days and the days of the holocaust still haunt us today, and in the future too.
As a result of aggression on the weaker by the powerful, wounds were, and still are, being created, which can never be healed and the sufferers swear revenge in the sanguine and fearsome wars. Yet there is no other way than to forgive and live in peace.
In Germany we have lived long in peace after the last World War II, and we shouldn’t give war a chance to raise its ugly head, but endeavour to look for peaceful solutions when conflict flairs up. Our children must be told about the misery and loss in wartime and it is our duty to tell them about the experience and deep feelings that we have whenever we’re confronted with the word ‘war.’ It should not be a taboo like death. It’s not about DVD and computer games: it’s the hard reality. We have to bring the symbols of aggression and tyranny to our hamlets, towns and cities and talk about it and endow respect for the deceased and those injured, whether the damage is collateral or not. If we show respect, tolerance, togetherness and peaceful intentions to other people it will be possible to build bridges of consolation, friendship and togetherness.
We should never cease to hope and act for peace, because krieg, brutality and aggression are evident very much in our lives, brought to us through the media. The war in Afghanistan, which was for a long time sold by the governments of Germany and Britain as a mere ‘conflict,’ even when we all knew that it was a terrible war where people died on both sides. The Arabian Spring has shown what people can do against tyranny by joining forces and fighting against it.
In Freiburg the memorials for the fallen soldiers were commemorated after World War I, among them one for the 5th Badische field artillery at the cannon-place on Schlossberg in the years 1925-26, and also at the big graveyard with the themes: Germania and Heimat. The ‘Alma mater in grief’ can be seen at the university building I, initiated by a psychiatrist named Alfed Hoche later for all the victims of World War II and tyranny.