How do the Europeans see the Second World War?
"As a child I never dared to ask" : What lessons young Europeans learn from World War II
You want to learn from yesterday for tomorrow. In the “Peace Line” project of the German War Graves Commission, young adults from Europe visit places that were of central importance in the 20th century. Six participants write here about their wishes and hopes for our future.
International solidarity instead of populism
As an Israeli who has been living in Jerusalem, a focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for five years, I know from my own experience how many victims war and armed conflicts can claim, even in democratic states. In Israel, I have the feeling that the political discourse is splitting along ethnic / national lines - with increasingly militant and brutal rhetoric from certain political factions. This rhetoric has led to the assassination of our Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin in the past simply because he tried to make peace with the Palestinians.
In addition, war measures make human rights violations possible with little or no supervision by democratically elected organs and mass surveillance. This is particularly true of Israel and our neighbors in the Middle East, but after 9/11, such measures have spread to the western world as well.
On the other hand, the following is encouraging: if we give peace a chance, democratic awareness, economic prosperity and social cohesion will be increased. All of this promotes disadvantaged groups and a better democratic order.
The peace organizations I work with have often helped create cross-border friendships that have weathered even difficult circumstances and helped encourage business initiatives, potentially keeping more young people out of the vicious circle of violence and armed conflict.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the fragility of peace and global cooperation as unfortunately several countries have opted for unilateral action rather than a multilateral strategy, especially at the beginning of the crisis. This shows that, while peace in Europe and in most countries of the world is an unprecedented achievement, it remains fragile, especially in times of crisis, socio-economic upheaval and insecurity.
Against the backdrop of violence and the rise of global populism, we need more cooperation, more international aid and solidarity. I believe that the importance of international cooperation, dialogue and joint efforts and understanding is essential to address the global challenges in Europe and the rest of the world. These things can only be achieved through an in-depth knowledge of history and open discussion about our values.
Dvir Aviam Ezra, 23 years old, is a Dutch-Israeli citizen and lives as a lawyer and human rights activist in Tel Aviv. He recently completed a Masters in International Law from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and currently works for an international law firm and as a volunteer in Israeli-Palestinian dialogue programs.
As a child, I never dared ask
On some days when I visited my grandfather as a child, he told me about the hard times during the Second World War. At the age of 21 he fought under Erwin Rommel in the Africa Corps and was captured by the Allies in the wake of the defeat in North Africa. The fighting in the desert heat marked my grandfather. He sustained several wounds - arguably the most serious is a shrapnel that he carried with him throughout his life. He was poisoned in captivity, miraculously survived, and had the privilege of coming home alive.
As a child, I never dared ask him if he ever had to kill anyone and how he fared. He only reported what was supposedly the bare minimum in order to keep reminding us how well I and my siblings were doing. He was a contemporary witness of the darkest hour in German history. The last contemporary witnesses are gradually dying, which is why it can only be said for future generations: Against oblivion.
[End of the war and a new beginning in 1945: In our people newsletters we also report on many forms of remembrance in the twelve Berlin districts. You can order the newsletter free of charge here: people.tagesspiegel.de]
The Second World War ended 75 years ago. Nevertheless, since then there have been many "smaller" wars and political conflicts that have restricted millions of people in this world, in whatever way, in their freedom and dignity or even exercised violence on them - up to and including death. Crimes against humanity and violence against minorities are still globally present. The political pursuit of power and influence for decades after World War II meant that only the arenas of the wars have changed; they can take many forms (from war of annihilation to insurrection). War does not always have to take place on a “battlefield”.
In the past, wars were waged in order to gain sovereignty over certain raw materials such as crude oil or iron ore. The most important raw material of the future is called data. There will be war on another level here. Which major power has which data and how will they get the maximum benefit from this knowledge - that will be the key question. We are all currently experiencing another war - the war against Covid-19, a virus that within a very short period of time has taught humanity and their economies to fear, an enemy that humans cannot see.
Wars in the 21st century will be different from wars in the last century. It is important to avoid them as much as possible, to be a peacemaker. Peace Line is one approach to being such a peacemaker by opening up young people to learn from the past. Strong solidarity among the peoples must be promoted. Against forgetting.
Carsten Hess, 28 years old, is German from near Mosbach in the Neckar-Odenwald district in Baden-Württemberg. He completed his master's degree in business management at Heilbronn University Graduate School in 2018 and has been with the Würth Group ever since.
About the value of humanity
What did we learn from World War II? From our normal and peaceful perspective of youthful life, we can honestly say with ease that we have learned that war is never the answer. Our grandparents suffered a lot from a war they had no part in, and even after the war ended, life did not get any easier because of the consequences. Those of no value to humanity choose to wage wars, and in the end it is the innocent who suffer most.
In our country, men and women had to fight to finally see others take their country. In our day and age, after seeing all of the atrocities it caused, people look more seriously and rave about war less. Of course, there are still wars in some places, but luckily, there have been no mass wars on the scale of a world war in more than half a century. And we are working towards a future where there are no wars and where differences and problems are resolved so that the impact on ordinary citizens is less.
[Our revamped app, which you can download here for Apple devices and here for Android devices, offers you diverse perspectives of remembrance 75 years after the end of the war in Europe, further impressive reports and current news live on your mobile phone.
How sure is the peace is a good question! We all know that there is nothing really good or bad, that everything is based on our perspective, and the golden mean is usually the best option. Peace itself is an elusive concept because it is very powerful, but everyone has their own idea of peace. We believe that peace is something we should never stop investing in.
The fact that at the beginning of the third millennium there are more democratic countries around the world than other regimes and one of the lowest numbers of people who lost their lives due to war cannot be denied. And we are of course very grateful to our parents, grandparents and everyone in our country who had to endure so much then and in the half century after the Second World War in order to ultimately bring us democracy and peace.
Edmunds Okmanis and Veronika Okmane come from Latvia. Edmunds Okmanis, born in Riga in 1996, has a bachelor's degree in biology. He has a lot of experience in volunteering, loves projects that convey knowledge about other people's experiences and cultures. Veronika Okmane, born 1997 in Daugavpils, Latvia, is studying to become a teacher for sports and social sciences at Daugavpils University. She loves volunteer work, has done volunteer work all her life. She is a member of the Red Cross, chair of the university student council and a member of the Daugavpils Youth Council.
Together we can influence our fate
It has now been 75 years since the Second World War ended. But peace has not yet returned to the world as a result. Military threats still exist, including those from radical and extremist forces who do not use traditional military warfare but rather the means of terror. In one case as in the other, the peaceful people are the ones who suffer. However, we are not only threatened by armed conflict, but also by economic crises and various diseases. Unstable economic conditions are the result of wrong decisions made by a few top politicians. And everyone in society, without exception, must suffer from this.
Nevertheless, we have learned a lot from the warlike history of the 20th century: We have learned to keep peace even when we are in crisis areas. We have learned to make contracts and defend ourselves together. And we learned democracy in order to be able to make more rational decisions.
75 years of liberation:
However, it is not certain that this always happens. We cannot look to the future and have strict control over everything. We are free people and have the right to decide for ourselves what we want to do - but that also means: making mistakes. However, we can cover ourselves. We know that much of human suffering stems from ignorance. And it is because it plays into the hands of some politicians that we do not know certain things. This is how social conflicts arise. New terms are emerging that are only used to stir up hatred and to divide people in this society into different camps. Tolerance must not prevent us from defending the democratic consensus.
Together we can influence our fate. The democratic order is capable of ending any crisis or conflict, but we must also realize that it cannot do everything.
As a rational person, I am actively involved in the social life of my country. I will finish my studies because the world needs well-trained professionals in all disciplines. I take care of my family and support my brothers in reasoning. I want to get involved politically so that we are all better off. We all have the same goal: to get better and to give other people the best so that everyone is well. If we want to contribute to general security, the most important thing is to obey the law and ensure the rule of law.
For me, the Peace Line project is an opportunity to share these thoughts with other young people from many European countries. That's why I'm there.
Cristi Sturza, 19 years old, comes from Moldova. He studies finance and banking at the Academy of Economic Studies in Moldova.
I can become a voice of a free world
The events and atrocities of World War II can be traced in the family histories of many of my contemporaries. My grandfather was a prisoner in a labor camp from which he was able to escape. My mother's uncle was forcibly drafted into the armed forces when he was 17. He fought on the Eastern Front. His company got close to Moscow, where it was surrounded. Only he and one other soldier managed to return. Everyone else was killed.
My relatives, who were born in the 20s and 30s of the 20th century, talked about the war. From food rationing, the raids or the “Kashubian Golgotha” in Pianica. The stories aroused my interest in history. I began to devour books as early as elementary school, and visits to museums were always a must when visiting my big sister in Warsaw.
As an almost adult I already knew that I wanted to work for integration with my work and social participation and to prevent racism, intolerance and disregard for human and civil rights. My subjects - European Studies and Political Science - helped me to combine theory with historical events.
[How the war ended in Berlin and Germany, how it continued afterwards - discover our main topic.]
In this way I can become one of the voices of a free, just, constitutional and democratic world. Even if there are billions of Polish, European and global voices, it is precisely my voice that can convince one more person, and that one more, and together we face the problems that we have to grapple with in today's very complex world.
We young people live in a world in which wars have been waged around the world for years, extremely nationalistic ideas are emerging again, the European economy is stagnating and the problem of displacement remains unsolved. Unfortunately, Europe is falling apart in the face of these problems. To make matters worse, we are now facing a terrible pandemic.
We, the young people, the future, should raise our voices more often and louder, learn from history and not repeat mistakes. European integration reflects the longings of our grandparents and parents. They taught us freedom, equality and tolerance. The European Union and the integration that goes with it is - just like us - not perfect, but it is up to us whether we strive for perfection. Because if not us, who will?
Karolina Myszka, Kashubin, Polish, European, was born in Koscierzyna, Pomerania and lives in Warsaw. After her bachelor's degree in public policy and European studies as well as her master's degree in European studies at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, she is now a doctoral candidate in the field of administration and public policy at the main commercial school SGH in Warsaw. She describes herself as a “passionate German scholar” and is doing her doctorate on the feeling of national identity among Germans after the Second World War.
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