The 8th of May, the day of the unconditional capitulation of the German Wehrmacht, is finally a holiday in Berlin. We decided to take a road trip towards the East to visit some relevant locations in the area. We went to the honorary cemetery of soviet soldiers in Müncheberg, to Seelower Höhen, where one of the last big battles of WW2 took place and to Küstrin, where the Red Army crossed Oder River to close the ring around Berlin and initiated the end of WW2.
And again: We still learned something new.
Some years ago, a friend asked me, if I could take someone his buddy with me in my car to Hamburg. I was delighted, because I don’t like to drive alone and so I had a very interesting trip with someone I didn’t know before. The guy told me, he grew up in Eastern Germany and graduated from High School when the wall came down and he went directly to the United States afterwards. Clash of cultures and everything. Not only because America but also because of small town Iowa Christian environment. An adventure.
When he was asked about the Nazis – because every German in a foreign country is asked about the Nazis – his first inner reaction was something like “Wait. That’s not us. That’s the other Germans.”, but he quickly noticed, that something was strange about his inner dialog.
In Eastern Germany, kids at school and citizens in general were taught, that the Nazis are the people on the other side of the wall. The wall between the two Germanys was called “Antifaschistischer Schutzwall”, protective wall against fascism. And of course, while my (western socialized) grandmother in the 1980th still had a fearful expression on her face when she saw anything Russian, resulting from cruel wartime experiences augmented by western propaganda during cold war – Russians, in the eyes of Eastern Germans, were seen as saviors from evil.
History and education made, that Eastern German people today write thank you letters to the Red Army which liberated Germany from the Nazis. Which is of course completely true. But it is also true that the concerned Nazis may have been the grandparents of the authors.
There is no clear line between good and evil. The more you learn and know, the more it becomes obvious. You can observe it in everyday news. Black and white in history and communication – nothing is as untrue as that.
On Our Way to Seelow
The landscape on the picture above is the battlefield of the fight between the Red Army and the German Wehrmacht from 16th to 19th April 1945. It was the last big obstacle for the Russians on their way to Berlin. Many lives were lost in this battle and in those last days of war. 11 days later, Hitler killed himself in his bunker and 8 days later, war was over.