|Memorial at Dachau Concentration Camp|
My New Perspective on Memorial DayThis is Memorial Day weekend, the first official holiday of summer. And as you may know this holiday started following the Civil War to honor fallen soldiers by decorating their graves. It began at Arlington National Cemetery and inspired many local annual observances across America. In 1971 Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May to honor those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice.
During my trip to Europe I learned about Germany’s Memorial Day called Volkstrauertag, known as the German day of remembrance, held in mid November. Their holiday started after WW I to honor their fallen soldiers and then was re-established in the early 50’s to honor the over 5 million German soldiers and citizens who died during WW II. Since then, it has come to also include an annual tribute to the nearly 11 million people killed during the Holocaust.
11 million people, how does that happen? Well, I learned more while visiting the Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich and the Nazi Documentation Center in Austria; both were very sobering experiences. I’m a history guy and I thought I had a good grasp on the events leading up to WW II and what Hitler was all about. Yet I can’t explain my feelings when walking through the shower rooms at Dachau, the barracks, the crematorium or being inside the barbed wire fences of the camp and looking at the many photos documenting the horrible activities that occurred during that time.
Then I found the plaque that read… “In honor of the 42nd Rainbow Division and other U.S. 7th Army liberators of Dachau Concentration Camp on April 29, 1945. And in everlasting memory of the victims of Nazi barbarism, this tablet is dedicated May 3, 1992.”
As we talked to local people and listened to various tour guides it became clear that many had a genuine appreciation of what the Americans and the other allies did for them; young and old alike, most expressed gratitude for the help received for their country and their people during and following the war. One tour guide told us… “Every time I see an American I thank them for liberating my country.” And that happened over 65 years ago.
This European experience gives me a whole new perspective on our Memorial Day. It isn’t a holiday to just honor what our soldiers did, but also why they did it. It is not just about our freedom in America, but about the freedom for millions around the world. Even still today. It made me realize one of the many things that make our country very special.