1st of May – Part Three: The End of World War II

May 6th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

After the First of May we in Europe are experiencing the 70th anniversary of the end of World War. In different countries this anniversary has a different meaning and it is being celebrated on different dates. The countries that were under the occupation of NS-regimes are celebrating their dates of liberation by the allied forces. The major west allies are celebrating the 8th of May as the great day during which the NS-regime in Germany signed the unconditional capitulation. The Soviet Union and afterwards the Russian Federation has celebrated the 9th of May – on which the capitulation came into force – as the Day of Victory. Having said all this it is interesting to observe – as an expatriate living in Germany – how the Germans take these anniversaries.

 1. The difficult issue “liberation”

Firstly, it is obvious that the these dates are characterised by mixed feelings – Germany had been on the wrong side, the NS-regime had made itself guilty of atrocities, war crimes and unnecessary mass destruction. This cannot be celebrated with joy. Yet, already a decade a ago the late Federal President von Weiszäcker declared that also Germans should consider the end of the war as liberation – the end of a terror regime and the beginning of the new era. This message was radical at the time he spoke these words, but now it seems to be generally accepted.

The current Federal president Gauck has taken one step further in emphasising that all allies – both Western and the Soviets – were involved in the liberation of Germans. When saying this, he takes into account that many Germans have bad experiences of the Soviets as occupational power and are reluctant to use the word ‘liberation’ when speaking of the Soviets. Gauck himself knows this very well – his father was a prisoner of war in the Soviet Union and it took long years before these POWs (or the remaining ones) were released. Yet, Gauck has drawn attention to the fact that the treatment of Soviet prisoners of war in Germany was far worse – in this context he uses the word ‘war crime’. Acknowledging this is to him the starting point of true reconciliation and getting over to new era.

This message it is being multiplied in the way in which the German leading politicians participate in events that commemorate the liberation of the former concentration camps. It is a matter of honour for the present date political leaders to pay their respect to the victims and to declare their solidarity to the survivors.

 2. The memory of war crimes and of the blind faith on the NS-regime

In this spirit the German TV and radio programs are overwhelmed with historical documents and commentaries that reflect on the dark chapter of the German history. These report very thoroughly of the sad history of the war years and in particular of the last months of the war. In particular they make use of the film material produced by British and American camera teams. Thus, we get a picture of meaningless fanaticism as well as of the slow collapse of militarism. We get insights into the work of exiled German and Austrian Jews who now returned as American specialists (psychologists and social researchers) examining, how and why ordinary Germans felt so tied with the old regime. In the same way we see the old documents that showed how ordinary Germans were confronted with the terrible scenes that they experienced in the liberated concentration camps. All this is analysed by present date German historians and other specialists who want to give reflected insights into events, circumstances and the mindsets of people.

 3. The post-war reconciliation and the present date

The documents have not only covered the final events of the war but the also the shocking experience of the end of the war – die Stunde Null, the moment when time ceased to pass on. They give a picture on the loss of orientation and the struggle of mere survival when the society had collapsed. And they give a picture on the difficult relations between the civilians and the new occupation powers – in different respects.

But the documents also give insights into the newly emerging societal structures and to the tensions between the allied powers. And in this constellation the support for the reconstruction in West Germany becomes a strategic approach in the Cold War between the opposed military blocks. And in this spirit the recently filmed documents on the atrocities are filed into archives. Also, some specialists from secret services, military and police forces (in spite of their dark past) become useful for the new regimes (and not only in West Germany). This all is being reflected and remembered.

In the present-date circumstances – when the era of Cold War has been left behind – this all serves the purpose of presenting Germans as ones who have learned their lessons and who want to speak for reconciliation. Yet, they do not want to push themselves or to instrumentalise the anniversaries in any way. In this respect the German Chancellor Merkel and the Foreign Minister Steinmeier have chosen their dates to visit Russia – not during military parades but during days of mourning and peaceful rethinking.

I think this is enough of the historical anniversaries. It is time to get back to the working issues of our ongoing project.

More blogs to come …

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