German dignitaries paid their respects to the victims of war, oppression and violence in Berlin on Sunday on the country’s annual Volkstrauertag ceremony.
The day was marked by the laying of several wreaths and a remembrance ceremony at the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, attended by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier together with Wolfang Schneiderhan, president of the German War Graves Commission, and several leading German politicians.
Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer also attended a ceremony at the Jewish Weissensee cemetery in Berlin.
A warning against the return of the far right
The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, used the day of remembrance to caution against what he called “a creeping tendency” of right-wing populism and extremism.
“We should again be more aware of the crimes of National Socialists and the lessons we drew from them,” said Schuster, who also attended the Weissensee ceremony.
Schuster also spoke of “a real danger of” becoming accustomed to right-wing extremism, citing “regular neo-Nazi concerts” and the electoral success of the far-rightAlternative for Germany (AfD) party. He also criticized AfD party leader Alexander Gauland over his “bird shit” remark on the Nazi era.
Schuster concluded by saying “we owe it to those who died in the Second World War, we owe it to the six million Jewish men, women and children to never, I emphasize, never, get used to such conditions.”
What is Volkstrauertag?
Remembrance day was first observed in Germany in 1919 to mourn the victims of the First World War.
In 1934, the Nazis changed the focus and the name of the day — renaming it “heroes remembrance day,” which it was called until the end of the Second World War.
Now the day is used more widely to commemorate not just soldiers but also victims of violence, terror and oppression, including victims of racism and xenophobia as well as refugees.
The day is not affiliated with any particular religion, although religious groups participate in ceremonies or hold their own ceremonies.