Volkstrauertag, or Memorial Day, is a German day of remembrance. Celebrated in mid-November, this official German holiday honors fallen soldiers and victims of violence. Modern Germany does its best to differentiate Volkstrauertag from Heldengedenktag , a similar holiday created by the Nazis.
2,050,000 German soldiers perished during World War I. Following the armistice, the German War Graves Commission created a day of remembrance, called Volkstrauertag, celebrated on the second Sunday of Lent, in February or March.
During the Nazi era, Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda, established Heldengedenktag – Day Commemorating Heroes. Goebbels’ implemented regulations for a day of celebration, not mourning. This holiday occurred in the same timeframe as Volkstrauertag. The last Heldengedenktag took place in 1945, a few weeks before the Reich fell.
Germany reinvented the modern day of remembrance in 1952. 3,500,000 German soldiers and 1,600,000 civilians died in World War II. The West German government was sensitive to the tens of millions of soldiers and civilians of their enemies that perished by their hands, plus the millions slaughtered in the Holocaust. The new Volkstrauertag is a day of remembrance for the war dead and all victims of violence. To differentiate it from Heldengedenktag, the German holiday moved to the second Sunday before Advent, or mid-November.
As Americans celebrate their Memorial Day, families will decorate the graves of over 300,000 soldiers, who made the ultimate sacrifice against German armies during the 20th Century. It is difficult to feel any empathy for the fallen former enemy. Yet, mothers lose sons and daughters on both sides of the battlefield. The power of Volkstrauertag is it remembers all victims of violence, military or civilian, from the battlefields of Europe to today’s Libya. Ruhe in Frieden – rest in peace.