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May, 2005 - Nr. 5


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Letter from the Editor

Sybille Forster-Rentmeister  

Dear Reader

May, famous as the month in which we commemorate our mothers with a special day, has this year many more meaningful dates.

We can hardly overhear the many reminders of 60 years of living in peace, the end of tyranny, the freeing of Holland, 30 years after the end of the war in Vietnam and so on.

I realize that I am going out on a limb here, but I feel the need to reflect some of my community’s sentiments on this occasion. Our feelings on this subject are a bit more mixed than those of our Canadian fellows and neighbours, which is quite understandable if we consider that there are two sides to every coin. There is the point of view of those that were called the Allies back then, and then there is the point of view of those that were German and lived in or outside of Germany before, during and after World War II.

Much changes in the course of time, including the constellation of allies, yet memories remain and they are personal, no matter which "side" one was on. This very subjective memory unfortunately does not often take into account the famous other side of the medallion and marches instead to its own drummer, proud and deaf to the sensitivities of others. Thus even the right facts and wrong stories could be told over and over again, exasperating the situation.

In all those celebrations and recollections we miss an expressed understanding of our current allies for those that suffered needlessly and helplessly on the German side, at least we have hardly ever heard any such concerns.

It is quite amazing that self-righteousness knows such excess that it never regards the feelings of those on the other side that suffered, when any knowledge of history should point out that it is rarely the large body of a population that stands behind any oppressive regime, but only a very miniscule percentage. The masses only fall into a silent line out of fear or apathy in regards to their own survival, something that oppressors know very well and have used successfully for as long as mankind can remember, as witnessed with past communist regimes for instance.

We also know that there are an awful lot more followers than leaders at any given time, and that disagreeing takes a considerable amount more civil courage than agreeing with the status quo. Thus change for the better often comes too slowly and sometimes not at all, or only because of outside pressures, as we can see again and again even in present time occurrences.

So how do we feel when we hear that Germany and Israel are commemorating 40 years of co-operation, established between German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion on May 12?

How do we feel when we hear of a speech given by Mr. Reuven Rivlin, Speaker of the Knesset in Israel during a special session with German President Horst Koehler February 2, 2005? He stated: "We commemorate, this year, the anniversary of 2 events: 60 years liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army, and 40 years of the establishment of the relations between our two countries relations, which are difficult, complex, apparently impossible, though special, strong and warm."

The German President acknowledged this in his own way at the same occasion: "Between Germany and Israel there can never be what is called "normality". However, who would have thought 40 years ago that relations between our countries would develop so well, indeed in a spirit of friendship? Today, not only our Governments work well together. Our relations are also characterized by the friendship between many people in our two countries."

How do I feel? I am taking a Jewish raised girlfriend to the commemorative concert in Toronto.

By the same token some people here in Canada cannot have "normal relations" with everyone else without recalling some of their own horrible experiences, and that includes those of the Germans that came to live here after World War II. Television shows, movies, history reports, all tear open old wounds again and again.

When our current friends are celebrating their wins, many of us bemoan our losses.

There is hardly a day that goes by that I do not hear of a heart braking story from that time and the suffering that still exists in the minds ands souls of those that experienced them. And I speak of "both sides".

I speak of those that barely survived the needless bombing of Dresden all those 60 years ago.

I speak of the Canadian pilot who told me of the bombing of Berlin and how he cannot forget seeing people running in the streets during a firestorm; how he cannot sleep at night and how the bottle became his best friend in an effort to forget.

I am speaking of a Jewish gentleman who came to me to tell me how a German guard soldier at great risk to his own life gave him every day half his sandwich while he was imprisoned in a concentration camp. That is how he could keep up his strength and how he survived!

I am speaking of my own family and others I know of, which suffered unspeakably at home and at the front. A lot of them never made it.

And I feel pressed to say: War has no winners, only loosers, regardless of which side: Loss of life, loss of integrity and freedom, loss of sanity, loss of friends and family, of happiness and togetherness, loss of a future together with loved ones.

That constitutes a lot of losses and a lot of suffering on all sides.

It is 60 years later and there is still a living memory of those times out there among all who where there and their off-spring.

One of our readers, Peter Runge, gave us the concept for our front page. I want to thank him for his generosity and for sharing some of his history with us. He stands for so many stories that need to be collected. He, like so many, is grateful that we have lived with peace for 60 years. And with him we think of those that went before us, our fathers and forefathers, our mothers and comrades, and we celebrate their memories in our current world of co-operation. And we should ask ourselves what I recommended my Jewish friend to do when he used to go every year to "his" concentration camp and never failed to cry: Have a look around all around and ask yourself: How is it now?

He came back that time and reported that when he stood there and felt sad he suddenly remembered what I had asked him to do, so he looked and asked this question: How is it now?

He realized that the past was in the past, that now there was a place that was aesthetic, not ugly, trees stood were barb wire was, birds sang were the din of a camp used to be heard.

After this visit he took off his coat and hat when he came to visit me with bagels and lox in hand for lunch.

There are many stories, and they all deserve to be told and collected, on all sides.

And I also ask at this time: How is it now?

I feel that the past is over, that it is no longer dark. We can reach for the stars together, if we really want to.

And how is the bigger picture? Like in smaller situations like a family unit, when someone makes a mistake, no matter how severe, a chance for rehabilitation is given, damage made up, injustice corrected as much as is possible and forgives is proclaimed. The end of responsibility towards the past allows a future to take place. Endlessness does not help, it creates hopelessness and in the end protest.

Certainly I am applying logics and concepts of sanity here to the small and bigger picture.

Like our wayward children I hope nations can overcome the past and live peacefully together without making one another continuously wrong.

But as long as there are people that insist on pointing out nothing but the bad past this is not going to happen, at least not fully.

Somewhere I read that someone who lives only in the past is psychotic, someone who lives only in the present is neurotic, and only someone who is creating future is really sane.

At least we need to live in the present with an eye to the future. It does not take care of itself; it needs to be created every moment.

And this brings me to something in the present: Our new and German Pope.

Everywhere I went in the last few couple of weeks I was congratulated on the election of German Pope Benedict XVI. The world is celebrating with us this. To have a German in a position important to the whole world is truly wonderful. It almost feels like when the wall fell and Germany was united. There was euphoria in the air, a sense of acceptance, caring, joy and enthusiasm.

Echo Germanica not going to bring any other information about this event, it has been covered extensively elsewhere.

I am bringing this up because we are standing here asking: How is it now?

Let us work on keeping the good feelings happening!

Sybille Forster-Rentmeister


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