As I enjoy a quiet walk in the English countryside among hedgerows Nature decorated with white, blue and red (pink, actually, but today, for symbolic purpose let’s call it red), my mind drifts, inevitably, to Victory in Europe Day.
The different meanings it holds for people.
The different experiences I’ve had on such anniversaries as a German living in Great Britain.
My parents were kids of 8 and 11 when WWII ended, came from different regions and backgrounds and both related to me their deep sense of liberation from tyranny and fascism the events around the 8th May 1945 brought.
There was great hardship for my dad in the months leading up to it, as he walked West with his mum and little sister, away from the Russian advance. Yet still, he felt liberated by the Allied Forces – too strong were the horrors of Kristallnacht in Breslau burnt in his young memory, too clear the messages he picked up from illegally tuning into the BBC.
And as a young child in rural Bavaria, my mum experienced the fear of the tentacles of the tyrannical regime all around her, she saw people from her community arrested and disappear. Hush! Not one wrong word!
Where does this leave me today?
Yes, the Fallen on all sides are now commemorated in official ceremonies. Yet the notion that ordinary Germans, too, have been liberated from tyranny and terror, that they, too, were longing for this moment, is not represented here.
I’ve had various upsetting encounters on D and VE Days over the years. Some people, even some I thought of as friends, have taken these anniversaries as license to distrust and hurt me on the basis that I am German. No matter who I am as an individual, my country of birth makes me suspicious. An easy target, as the indefensible cannot be defended. A welcome deflection from one’s own nation’s troubled history. Still a common villain, a ready enemy, when one is in need to feel better about oneself.
Or perhaps it’s just years of conditioning, unreflecting thoughtlessness, no harm intended?
The emotionally charged, and driven, BREXIT has heightened my sense of not belonging on days like this.
Yet, I love living in the Southwest. Largely, people live and let live, largely, they are friendly, good neighbours and colleagues and some make very good friends. Largely, I feel as integrated and positively contributing to society as anyone can wish for. 363 days a year.
Still, I won’t be joining my neighbourhood’s well-meant invitation to join them for a socially distanced 2 minutes silence followed by strawberries and cream today. Today, Let the British have their British commemoration among each other. I was asked to wear white, blue and red clothing.
I would want to wear white only.
White for peace.
Peace matters. Everywhere and to every individual. Ther is not enough in the world today – even though our focus is elsewhere.
So, I am pausing my walk here, by the river, and stand in silence for peace.
And I remain hopeful that enough of us will come together for discourse and working together, in small and in big ways, for the common good.
A force against the polarisation and the populism that keeps people apart.
We are stronger together, more resilient, happier.