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Monday, 6 January 2014

Memorials to War

War memorials across Europe have thankfully escaped the homogenisation of the EU, and still repay an intelligent reading. 

Our own are almost exclusively reserved for the armed forces dead of two world wars, the inscribed panel of names from the first almost always much larger than that carrying the names of those that fell in the second. The thousands of merchant seamen killed have their own on Tower Hill - a beautiful and very poignant sunken garden beneath the waves of the bustling City. Civilians who died as a result of aerial bombardment are not collectively listed on public stones but sometimes lie together in quiet churchyards, as when a school or a shelter were hit. The larger town centre Post Offices, now almost all demolished, frequently displayed a marble or bronze plaque naming the postmen fallen in battle. Sometimes on Great War lists the class distinctions of the time leak through, with officers named first, but this is rare. 1919 generally brought democracy in death as well as in life.

German and Austrian war memorials are much more confused, and themselves tell a story of how, over the past sixty years, these nations have come to terms with the war. For a start, the panels listing the military dead of the first war are dwarfed by the lists of those killed in the second; the Reich's military losses were some ten times or more greater in magnitude than our own. Particularly moving are the appended lists of soldiers with no given date of death - those million that disappeared into Stalin's camps and whose deaths were never recorded. Between the two, on Austrian memorials, are sometimes listed the dead of the red / black civil wars of the 1920s. Then there is often another appendix panel, generally dating from the 1950s, listing the dead from allied bombing. Finally, and somewhat reluctantly, with some panels added as recently as the millennium, there is another appendix listing the local victims of  National Socialism - those Germans and Austrians gassed, shot, guillotined or hanged during the Nazi years not being common criminals.

This final panel is the reason why Boris, writing in the Telegraph, is right. The lists of NS victims are still not universally accepted in the old Reich; some old soldiers can't see why they should share their stones with queers, deserters and social democrats. In some cases local opposition has meant that victims of NS are listed on completely separate memorials.

But those memorials in the old Reich that list every single victim from the Gemeinde of German militarism, from August 1914 through to May 1945, whether soldier or civilian, whether killed by enemy action, cold and starvation or by their own parents and grandparents, are the biggest hope for the future of a Europe that has eschewed war. And it's nothing to do with the EU. 


Anonymous said...

If the EU has anything to do with our educational history, the wars which Germany started will be airbrushed out as "European civil wars". Google it if you think I'm joking.

Coney Island

G. Tingey said...

The village I git every year (If I can) had a population, in the 1938 census of (approx) 1000.
How many names on the WWII memorial?
Remember that half that population would have been female - which leaves 500, then those 15 or under in 1945 or 60 & over in 1939 would not be potential victims ....
About 140.
Work that out as a percentage of those liable to be victims.

diogenese2 said...

Some years ago, on holiday in Germany I visited the Moselle valley to test the local produce and parked on the riverside next to a park housing the WW2 memorial. The dead were listed according to the year of decease.
By far the largest list was 1946!
This puzzled until I realised that that was when Stalin named his remaining prisoners. The 1946 entry were those disappeared on the eastern front - resting place unknown.