Remembrance Day for me has always been difficult for me to process, just as war history in school was. While it is incredibly likely that I had relatives who fought in WWI and WWII for the allies, I don’t know of any of them. If they exist, they’re not a part of the family that I have been told about.
What I do know is that I had relatives who fought for the Nazis. My great-grandfather fought for the Nazis, not because he agreed with them or supported Hitler, but because he had no choice. Because the lives of his family were threatened at gunpoint if he didn’t join the war. I find it hard to believe or fathom that he was alone in this. Men who fought for nothing more than to keep their families alive.
I remember hearing about the bombings of civilians in Germany before they changed our textbooks here to reflect the truth. I remember crying the day I heard about the concentration camps here for Germans, for the Japanese. For immigrants who had wanted nothing but a life here and were treated like the enemy. Who were dehumanized solely because of where they were from.
That’s the biggest problem with war – whether intentional or not, people become dehumanized simply because of race, skin colour, religious beliefs, gender. They become dehumanized because they agree or disagree with something.
It’s the biggest reason why I cannot watch war movies. Especially not war movies from the ‘Allies’ perspective. Because more often than not, they feature characters who dehumanize every member of the German forces. Because they talk about every single person in that military being murderous scum, and they often feature people taking joy in killing German soldiers. I struggle, because these are the men and women that fought for my country here, treating my heritage, my family as if they were nothing more than target practice.
I’m a first generation Canadian. My mother, her siblings, and her parents were immigrants from Germany when she was a teenager. When I see these movies, where a German soldier is begging for his life because of a family he has back home, a family he never wanted to leave (Fury), and the allies simply put a bullet in his head, I can’t help but start sobbing. Sobbing because that could have been my Great Grandfather. Because, if the Canadian and American soldiers who captured his squad had been anything like the ones depicted in these movies, I wouldn’t be here today. Neither would my sister, or my future niece or nephew that we’ve been so blessed to have joining our family.
Remembrance Day has always been emotional for me. For these reasons, and because it gives me the opportunity to remember the men and women who didn’t allow themselves to dehumanize every soldier who fought opposite to them. It’s a reminder to me, that good hearts always triumph in the end.
This year, we’ve experienced that firsthand. With the deaths of Cpl Nathan Cirillo, and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, there was a moment I waited with baited breath in fear that we would react as many have before us – with a fell swoop of dehumanization towards the ethnicity of the two people who did this. But we didn’t. The few that did, who attacked a Muslim place of worship filled with hatred and the inability to see them as humans were drowned out by the people who came together to shower them with love, and show them that the acts of a few deranged souls do not in our minds reflect the hearts of the many. We’ve seen communities rally, regardless of faith or heritage, to honour and support our soldiers and veterans during this loss.
I’m proud to be Canadian. I’m proud that we have the capability to stand here on November 11, each year, and pause to take a moment at 11 a.m. to remember. To remember those who fought for our freedom, and to remember the men and women who freed not just those who were imprisoned by their own country, but those who were figuratively imprisoned by being forced to fight for a cause they did not believe in.
I’m proud that our humanity won out, and is continuing to win out over judgement and racism.
But I’m also proud of my German heritage. I’m proud of the men and women who did what they could to save others during the war; who risked their own lives so that a family might escape the torment of a concentration camp.
That is why I remember. I remember the humanity that helped bring an end to the war. Because the moment we allow ourselves to forget what happens when we dehumanize others is the moment we open the door for another Hitler, another unnecessary war. I remember because of the men and women who fought for their loved ones, who fought for people, not just for countries and flags.
I remember the men and women who serve today, so that those freedoms and those privileges can be sustained today. I remember the men and women who refuse to let war dehumanize them, so that they can see the innocent lives they are standing for on either side.
I will never forget.