November 15th: Volkstrauertag

Germany has a terrible history of aggressive warfare and its armies have committed innumerable crimes against humanity. Thus, the nation is less comfortable with celebrating its soldiers in a manner similar to the US or the UK. Instead of a Veterans’ Day, Germany has Volkstrauertag, a day to commemorate the soldiers and civilians of all nations who died in war and as a result of violent oppression. On this day, Germany remembers all victims of war, and in doing so rises above national boundaries.

The history of German veteran’s celebrations follows the nature of German governments. In 1893, Prussia consolidated the many days of remembrance into Buß- und Bettag, to be celebrated on November 23rd. In 1919, the German War Graves Commission proposed that a Volkstrauertag remembering German WWI dead be established and the holiday was held first in 1922. In 1934, the Nazi government introduced Heldengedenktag, a day of hero worship not remembrance. Heldengedenktag was celebrated until 1945 when following the defeat of Nazi Germany the population lost any desire to hold the celebration. In 1948 Volkstrauertag was first celebrated and in 1952 it was changed to honor civilians who died under oppressive governments. Since then the holiday has been celebrated on the end of the liturgical year. The holiday stands as an example of Germany’s efforts to cope with its horrific past and move forward as part of the global community.

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