It’s Remembrance Day today. That’s what we call it in Canada. For the past week or so, over half of Canada’s entire population wore red poppy-pins on their lapels as a visual pledge to remind us of all the Canadian soldiers who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.
Remembrance Day is a significant day for me: It’s not only a day to remember war veterans–it’s also my birthday. So that makes it a day of personal reflection on several levels. You see, I’m a dual citizen. I live in Canada. By birth I am Canadian. But my heritage is German. My father and mother immigrated to Canada after the Second World War. I live in a nation whose citizens spilled their blood for the freedoms I enjoy, but who secured that freedom by spilling the blood of my family of origin.
This year, my thoughts are particularly poignant since I am currently helping my 86 year old father write some of his life memoirs. My dad, who was involved in “Youth for Hitler” as a youngster, was just 17 years old when he was conscripted to fight on the Russian Front. His memoirs include stories of being shot, being captured, being tortured and mistreated in a Russian POW camp . . . stories of sickness, starvation, fleeing as a refuge, smuggling people out from under Communism, the Russian ethnic cleansing of his home city, Konigsberg on the Baltic Sea, and the world-wide shaming and disdaining of German people. My parents were part of the 16 million ethnic Germans who were forced out their ancestral homelands in Prussia, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. Millions died during the process.
The atrocities my parents lived through during the war were horrific, but the post-war vengeance against Germans was arguably even worse. When Germany surrendered in May 1945, General Eisenhower sent out instructions making it a crime punishable by death to feed Germans. He gave strict orders to US military personnel and wives to destroy or otherwise render inedible leftover surplus food supplies so as to ensure it could not be eaten by German civilians. If you tried to feed a German Prisoner of War, you’d be shot. Millions died in Germany through a combination of disease, exposure, and starvation, produced and compounded by such deliberate policies. My mother and father watched friends and relatives suffer and die because food was deliberately withheld from the German people.
Last month, the United States finally admitted to the post-war crimes it committed against the Germans. On October 31, 2011, in a quiet event at the Marriot Hotel in Washington, US Major Merrit Drucker of the US armed forces officially apologized to the German soldiers and their relatives for the inhumane treatment of German prisoners of war who went through the “Rheinwiesenlager,” where tens of thousands (and some estimate between 750,000 and a million) German prisoners of war perished in US camps. They were mistreated and died after the war had ended!
On my birthday, when I look at the poppy on my lapel, I remember. It’s important to remember.
Lest we forget those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.
Lest we forget the atrocities committed against God’s people—the Jews.
Lest we forget the sin-bent nature of the human heart.
Lest we forget that there’s more than one side to every story…