This Memorial Day we mourn those who gave their lives in defending our country. Over the years, many German Americans have been part of the loss of lives that we reflect upon today.
Rituals honoring the dead, especially those who fell in battle against one’s enemy, can be traced back as far as to Ancient Greece. For Americans, Memorial Day is a federal holiday, honoring those in the Armed Forces who fell in service to their country. Germany has a similar day of remembrance called Volkstrauertag
, which is observed two weeks before the first Sunday of Advent. On the surface, these two holidays seem very similar, yet there are some noticeable differences: The focus of Memorial Day in America lies in soldiers and those who have served in the Armed Forces, whereas the German Volkstrauertag
memorializes all victims of war: soldiers, civilians, and those who fell victim to oppressive systems. This reflects some of the cultural differences regarding how the Armed Forces are perceived in each country. Returning after WWII, American soldiers were praised as heroes and saviors of the Free World. In Germany however, former soldiers were initially eager to play down the Wehrmacht
’s involvement in Nazi Crimes and cast themselves as victims, too. Since the 1980s, the perception has changed toward associating Hitler’s Army with Nazi Germany’s shameful past. However, in neither patterns of interpretation did German society give much reason to remember their soldiers as heroes of the nation like in the United States.