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Volkstrauertag, Remembrance Day in Germany
Volkstrauertag, People's Day of Mourning, is a German National Day of Mourning held in November commemorating those from all countries, members of the military or civilians, who have died either in or as a result of armed conflicts, or as victims of violent oppression and tyranny separate from a war situation.
And it includes all those who have been left behind to mourn.
First held in its current form in November 1952, on the second from last Sunday before Advent, it is the end of the ecclesiastical year and a part of the period in Germany which traditionally concentrates on thoughts of death, time and eternity, known as "Stillen Tagen". Quiet Days.
During World War I the lives of 2,050,00 German soldiers were lost and, following the Armistice on 11th November 1918, a day of remembrance for their lives, and solidarity with the families they had left behind, was begun in 1919 by groups who cared for the war graves and who named it Volkstrauertag. The first official day took place in 1922 and was held in the Reichstag, the lower house of the the German parliament, but in 1926 a decision was made to observe it regularly.
As the Catholic Church already celebrated All Souls Day on November 2nd as their day for remembering the dead, and the Protestant Church Totensonntag, Sunday of the Dead, also known as Eternity Sunday, Ewigkeitsonntag, on the Sunday before Advent, it was decided Volkstrauertag should be held on the second Sunday of Lent, in either February or March, depending on where it fell that year.
As this was during Passiontide it met the approval of both church communities.
However in 1934 the "People's Day of Mourning" was renamed Heldengedenktag, basically “Heroes Remembrance Day”, by the Nazis under the Reich's Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, and was turned from a day of mourning and solidarity to one of celebration, which was held right up until a few weeks before the end of WWII in 1945.
Reintroduced to Germany on a national level in 1950 it reverted to its original description of Volkstrauertag, and was observed as it had been, remembering the Germans who had fallen and their families.
Over 5 million Germans died during World War II. Three and a half million soldiers and one million six hundred thousand civilians. And the West German government was aware that it was through the actions brought about by the Reich that tens of millions of civilians and soldiers belonging to countries with which Germany had been at war had also died. And in addition millions in the Holocaust.
New concepts began to be introduced in 1952. No longer held only in remembrance of Germany's dead and bereaved, it became a commemoration of the loss of life from all nations. Regardless of whether they were members of their country's armed forces or not, but those who had died either in or as a result of armed conflict or because of violent oppression. And recognition of the families they left behind.
At the same time, having already returned to being known as Volkstrauertag, to further differentiate the day from the Nazi's "Heldengedenktag" the date was moved to the second Sunday before Advent, mid-November, to join Germany's traditional "Stillen Tagen".
The German Chancellor, cabinet and diplomatic corps attend an official Volkstrauertag ceremony at the Bundestag in Berlin where Germany's President makes a traditional speech. The speeches and a cultural program are followed by a song which for the German Armed Forces has an important ceremonial role, and is a part of any military funeral, "Ich hatt' einen Kameraden". "I once had a comrade", the last salute to a fallen soldier. It precedes Germany's National Anthem which then officially closes the ceremony.
This song is also to be heard at ceremonies held in cities, towns
and villages, where there will be church processions to the local war memorial, prayers from the clergy together with speeches by veterans, officials and dignitaries, a guard of honor, the laying of wreaths, and if possible an officer from the Bundeswehr, the German Armed Forces, attending an as official representative.
Volkstrauertag in today's Germany represents all victims of violence and tyranny, whether they were members of the military or civilian. Both those who have died and those left to mourn, from the old battlefields of Europe to the armed conflicts and struggles which continue to take place in the present-day world.
Versoehnung ueber den Graebern - Arbeit fuer den Frieden
Reconciliation over Graves - Work for Peace
Illustration: Monument in honor of victims of war in Staufener Cemetery, Breisgau, Baden-Württemberg. Photographer M. Donner
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