Last Thursday, the 11th November, people in the UK people remembered those who had fought, and sometimes fallen, in conflicts since WWI. It is a day on which people from across the political divides unite despite any misgivings about the need to fight or whether their cause was just; the sheer scale numbs all into silence. Two minutes of silence at 11am, the exact time the Armistice was signed on the same day in 1918 and ended hostilities.
I find remembrance cultures fascinating, though November 11th is no time to analyse it too deeply. Having said that, though I didn't observe the formal silence (Germany remembers the dead on 9th November for reasons I've previously mentioned) something did occur to me over the course of the day. On Thursday I began working at the Dachau Youth Hostel, which was developed in recent years in order to deal with the number of young people coming to the memorial site and provide a location at which educational work could take place. I was informed as I went through the door that there was going to be a Zeitzeugsgespräch (lit. Witness-talk) from a survivor and that I was warmly invited. Such is life in Dachau!
While the talk was interesting, it suddenly occurred to me, surrounded by a group of young people from Switzerland, that ours will be the most significant generation for WWI and WWII remembrance. We are the last generation to hear the veterans of WWI and will quite possibly be one of the last to hear the victims of WWII while they are active in telling their stories. Quite worryingly, we need to find a better reason for remembering the dead of these wars beyond 'He was my Grandfather' or 'it was in our lifetime'. Certainly the ephithet 'Never Again' has been shown to have been an empty promise in the twentieth century and these days feels more like a plea than a demand.
One final thing. One of my jobs on Thursday was to scan some photos for an upcoming workshop on the concept of Volksgemeinschaft, a word which denotes a kind of unified culture. Amidst the photos I found one of some men constructing one of the Autobahns that were developed during the Nazi era. They were British POWS. It was at that point that I remembered my countrymen who fought to liberate Europe. We Will Remember Them.