Thursday, 17 November 2011


While Remembrance Sunday tends to be very high profile and well marked in the UK, as you would expect it is a very much lower key affair in Germany. Understandably I think, but we should not lose sight of the fact that both the wars fought in the first half of the 20th Century began with a political assassination in Sarajevo. Then it escalated because a whole slew of family alliances, political alliances and ambitions all came together to drag Europe and then the world into a war. Even though he is often accused of being a warmonger, it is worth noting that the Kaiser sent a batch of urgent telegrams to King George V, the French and to the Tsar inviting them to stay out of "the Austrian/Serb squabble." If they would refrain from mobilising, he would not mobilise his forces.

Unfortunately the Tsar, possibly because he hadn't thought through the implications, ignored the plea and told his generals to mobilise. As a result the dominoes began to tumble, one after another, setting in train the mobilisations which became the mud of the various battlefield theaters,  and slaughter of the flower of European youth. For some it was certainly about patriotism, for others it was simply duty and for many it was a way to escape menial and degrading lives and futures.

Given that the first war ended without a clear winner, despite the propaganda from the winning side, the second was made inevitable by the draconian conditions imposed in the 'peace.' As Churchill has written, the terms imposed at the end of the first war, made the second inevitable. It paved the way for the spread and growth of ideologies that have left a terrible legacy. Russia alone lost almost 15 million men, and the German nation bled almost to death with the loss of over 8 million in 1939 - 45 and the losses in WW1 were much higher on all sides.

I am reminded of this regularly as I take a walk past the little Friedhof in Watzhahn. It is a small village now, it was even smaller in 1914 and not much bigger in 1939. The Albus family and the Debus families still live here, others have gone, their sons and fathers remembered only on the memorial below.

The fresh wreath is laid every year, quietly and without fuss, by the Village committee chairman and the families whose uncles, fathers and grandfathers names are recorded. Propaganda is a wonderful thing, it enables us to avoid looking to closely at how these things happen, what gives rise to the ideologies that drive them and at the suffering that arises on all sides.

Certainly I think, as I look at the names on this memorial for 1939 - 1945, I find myself thinking that D-Day also represented the liberation of the German people from the clutches of a tyrant. Sadly, it left others, almost as bad, in power for another 50 years.

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