Lit­tle to cel­e­brate for losers

Sunday Star-Times - - WORLD -

On the evening of November 11, 1918, Ger­man artist Kathe Koll­witz wrote in her di­ary that a ‘‘deathly quiet’’ had set­tled on the streets of Ber­lin.

Peo­ple were afraid to step out­side their front doors. The only sound in the dark­ness was dis­tant gun­fire as the forces of revo­lu­tion bat­tled for supremacy.

The echoes of those shots have long died away, but to­day the si­lence across Ger­many will be al­most as deaf­en­ing as it was then.

The centenary of the Ar­mistice is barely men­tioned in pub­lic. Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel is com­mem­o­rat­ing the end of World War I in France. The pres­i­dent, Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier, is in Lon­don.

There will be a me­mo­rial ser­vice in the Ber­liner Dom, the old Prus­sian cathe­dral in the heart of the city, and a day of speeches in the Ger­man par­lia­ment next week­end. Th­ese events aside, Ger­many is not in a hurry to men­tion the war.

Yet there are plenty of good rea­sons why Ar­mistice Day is widely ignored in Ger­many, ac­cord­ing to his­to­ri­ans. Sev­eral other mile­stones fall around this week­end: the 100th an­niver­sary of the procla­ma­tion of the Ger­man re­pub­lic, the 29th an­niver­sary of the first breach in the Ber­lin Wall and, above all, the 80th an­niver­sary of Kristall­nacht, the Nazi pogrom against Ger­many’s Jews.

The end of the war was hardly cause for ju­bi­la­tion. Ger­many was crushed, and com­mu­nists, so­cial­ists, monar­chists and the right-wing Freiko­rps waged a bloody struggle for power. It is hard for Ger­mans to look back on this pe­riod with­out think­ing of the tumultuous Weimar Re­pub­lic that fol­lowed it or the later har­row­ing years of the Third Re­ich.

There is also some am­biva­lence about just how cul­pa­ble Ger­many was in start­ing the war.

Ger­mans hon­our their war dead in a more muted way. ‘‘It is a very dif­fer­ent mem­ory, main­tained only through pho­to­graphs and, per­haps in a few cases, let­ters,’’ said Her­fried Mun­kler, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Hum­boldt Univer­sity in Ber­lin. ‘‘And it is pri­vate, not pub­lic. It has its place – if at all – in the fam­ily.’’

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