Remembrance Day is upon us once again and, thanks to a couple of conversations this week, I find myself with a bit more to reflect on this year than simply being thankful to veterans.
Bear with me, I’ll try not to be too long winded or self-indulgent:
This week someone thanked me for wearing a poppy. I don’t think anyone has ever thanked me for that before now.
An elderly lady started chatting to me at a tram stop on Wednesday morning, pointed to my poppy a couple of times and thanked me for wearing one and lamented that younger generations of Czechs hardly know a thing about the contributions Czechs made in the Second World War.
As soon as I started replying, she caught my foreign accent (and certainly Czech grammar errors) and asked where I was from and so forth. In the space of four tram stops (ten minutes or so) she told me how her father had been a soldier in the exiled Czechoslovak army under British command during the war.
She also asked where I had bought my poppy as she’d never seen them for sale here; her eyes lit up when I told her it was a shop just down the street from where we had got off the tram.
I’m pretty sure she got one for herself before the day was finished.
Later on Wednesday, I related the above conversation on my Facebook page and one of my friends asked about how acceptable it would be for her to acknowledge on the day those of her ancestors who fought under German and Austrian flags.
It’s something I’d not really thought about until she asked, but I couldn’t see a reason for her not to so long as those ancestors had simply been regular military and not in the SS or similar branch.
Whenever I have passed by the German war graves section of the central cemetery in Brno, there have always been a few graves with tributes placed by them. In light of that, someone is clearly remembering them and not afraid to show it.
The latter conversation made me think about what level of obligation, if any, younger generations should be made to feel when it comes to the guilt and grudges between previous generations.
There is, of course, the well known proverb of those who forget the past being doomed to repeat it; but is it required for younger generations to be made to feel some need to bear an older generation’s guilt or hold their grudges in order to be sure the past is not forgotten? Surely such attitudes only serve to ensure that not only is history not forgotten, but that the chances of it being repeated are increased.
That question transcends the Second World War and can be extended to other events that created much bloodshed and bitterness between people, especially those events which we are separated from by not only many years but also several generations.
When those of the generations most directly involved in the actions and conflicts leave us, but could in their lifetimes find it in themselves to reconcile and even become friends, the excuses for later generations to feel guilt or hold grudges on the part of previous ones seem very frail and few indeed.
To put that into more material terms:
If you came into the possession of a family heirloom that you knew represented a darker chapter of your family or peoples’ history that happened three or four generations or more prior, should you personally feel any shame for having it?
You can’t deny your connection to the item even if you personally didn’t have a hand in creating it. However, is anyone else really in a place to tell you that it is irrelevant precisely who created it and that you personally should be ashamed of it as if you had been its creator and hide it away somewhere even though those who created it are long gone from the world?
When you’ve been able to reconcile a dark corner of your family’s or peoples’ past to its rightful place in the past, how much of an obligation should you feel to bear the previous generations’ guilt in the face of someone who has opted to hold the previous generations’ grudge?
When I read about men who fought each other in wars and later became friends sometime after hostilities had ceased, I can’t help but think we should be honouring that ability in them just as much as we honour the sacrifice of those who didn’t survive the conflict.
Lest We Forget