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Monday, 16 June 2008

Our former enemies

While spending inordinate amounts of time describing war memorials in Cumbria it is easy to forget the losses of other nations, in Europe and beyond. As war is the universal human condition, so too is the consequent loss; to family, community and country. Thus does each search for appropriate ways to express ideas of service or sacrifice, employing an iconography and language that best expresses national or communal perceptions of purpose; in the case of the Great War the validation of mass death.

I recently bought a job lot of old photos on ebay, among them was this image of the dedication of a war memorial in some anonymous village in Germany or Austria.

A group of rather stereotypical German gentlemen of all ages (no women!) are gathered around a new stone memorial. At the top is a rather modernist figure of a naked man holding a broken sword, gazing heavenwards towards what appears to be a cloud with rays emanating downwards. The dedication in the central panel, above and below the list of names, reads,

Unsere tapferen Gefallenen fur Volk und vaterland zur ehre und zum gedenken.
Die dankbare gemeinde gross besten
I would appreciate a translation!

What does this imagery, somewhat different from British memorials, mean? What does it tell us about post 1919 Germany or Austria?

3 comments:

xbigtrux said...

With regard to the German War Memorial: It is in many ways similar to those small memorials found in most parishes around UK.
The markings I believe are of the older style of German and I think it reads something like this:

To the honour an glory of our valiant dead fallen for the nation and Fatherland. Rembembered amongst good (intimate) friends in the community (municipality).

anyway, words to this effect certainly.
trux

The blog said...

Thanks for that friend. Yes it is similar to British village memorials, but different too, in terms of imagery and, it would appear, in the absence of women! Lots of good books about these things out there in the world!

Wolfgang said...

First of all it's a good translation which Trux did.
The village was GroƟ Besten and is called Bestensee today. It's south of Berlin . . . not very far away.
As second point do I want to write my comment as German (born 1956).
Germany was a broken nation after the war. The conditions of the armistice contract made it impossible to recover the German economy. One result of many was the huge economical crisis which influenced the whole world. Millions of unemployees determined the scene of streets.
Germany had never contact with democracy until 1918. There were always an emperor who decided for the people and it was never allowed to contradict. The democracy was a little baby at 1919 and as we know today also very weak until 1933. A woman right didn't exist. Women belonged into the kitchen, have to pamper the childrens and has to go to the church on Sunday. Political commitment? Impossible.
The time after the war was a time of huge depression. There were no light at the end of the tunnel. There were nothing were the people could pull themselve out of the "mud". For most of the people was this time fulfilled with hopelessness.
A good condition for a man called Adolf Hitler to climb up the peak of the German political scene and to push the world into another disaster.
What could the men on the picture think? There were not very much things which could straighten them up. There was only the past. The "heroic" fight during the war and millions of fairytales which underlined the thinking of the people. As I said . . . a broken nation.
Please don't misunderstand. I don't accuse. Both wars are far away and it's about time to forget the enemyship between all our nations. But we should never forget the time and the men who sacrificed their lifes. We should remember together. Let us go to their graves and let us remember hand in hand. Let us show them that their death was not in vain. Let us promise them "Never again."

In this sense
have a peaceful and happy day.

Wolfgang from Brunswick, Germany.