A NEW generation of Germans now regard 8 May as a day of liberation for them, too.
When today, owing to the coronavirus, just a few church and interfaith leaders gather in Berlin Cathedral, to commemorate the end of the Second World War, in a nationally broadcasted ecumenical service, it will be in the spirit of a day of liberation.
This has not always been the case, however. It took four decades before the focus of 8 May shifted in Germany from a day that a generation of Germans remembered as a day of military defeat of the Third Reich to a day of liberation.
On 8 May 1985, the then Federal West-German President Richard von Weizsäcker, addressed the German Bundestag in Bonn at the 40th anniversary of the end of war. In a speech, at the time not universally well received, he clearly stated: “This must be stated on behalf of all of us today: 8 May was a day of liberation. It liberated all of us from the inhumanity and tyranny of the National-Socialist regime.”
Last week, the chairman of the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Dr Georg Bätzing, explained this German phenomenon. “Everywhere in Europe, 8 May 1945 has been remembered for decades as a day of happiness and joy. We Germans, on the other hand, have long struggled with this date. It was the day of surrender. It was the day of defeat.”
Like Von Weizsäcker before him, he said that the Germans themselves had to experience first-hand the consequences of the war started by their country as never before: “as an occupation, as famine and, above all, as mass flight and expulsion from the eastern territories of the Reich.
“Nevertheless, with increasing distance from the events, the Germans understood more and more deeply that 8 May was above all a day of liberation for us, too. We, too, have been liberated: from the horrors of war, from Nazi oppression and mass murder,” Dr Bätzing said.
He will lead the ecumenical service under the title “Peace”, with the chairman of the German Protestant Churches (EKD), Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm.
The German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and the Chancellor, Angela Merkel, will lay wreaths at the Neue Wache (New Guardhouse), the Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Dictatorship. The monument is close to Berlin Cathedral on Unter den Linden, in the centre of the city, where, 75 years, ago the war ended, and where German and Russian troops fought bitterly to the very end.