Germany honors victims of war and violent regimes

1st Sgt. Lori Soto (second from the right), along with two Soldiers, attend the National Day of Mourning ceremony at the Wiesbaden South cemetery Nov. 17, 2019. Courtesy photo by Liz Moore

Every November, Germany commemorates and mourns victims of war and violent regimes on Volkstrauertag, Germany’s official annual day of remembrance. This year, it will be Nov. 15.


“It is an important day both in political terms and for the public; a day for mourning the dead that also serves as a reminder of how precious peace is,” writes the Volksbund Deutsche Gräberfürsorge e.V. on their website.


The Volksbund is a humanitarian organization and the initiator of the Volkstrauertag. The members organize various commemorative events throughout Germany every year on that day.

Lt. Col. Edwin Escobar (second from the left), Lord Mayor of Mainz Michael Ebling (third from left), and representatives from the Bundeswehr stand in front of the memorial for fallen Soldiers and civilian victims of wars and terror during the Volkstrauertag ceremony Nov. 17, 2019, at the Mainz cemetery.
Photo by Nadine Bower, USAG Wiesbaden Public Affairs

Volkstrauertag was initially introduced in 1919 as a remembrance day for the deceased in World War I; a sign of solidarity with the family members of the fallen.


In 1922, the first official ceremony in the German Reichstag in Berlin took place. The President of the Reichstag Paul Löbe appealed to the people to turn away from hatred and violence and promoted reconciliation and understanding.


After the Nazis took over in Germany, the meaning of the day changed. It became a day to honor fallen heroes, while all political and social groups, and minorities that did not fit the Nazi ideology, such as fallen Jewish WWI soldiers, were excluded from the commemoration.


Since 1945, the day is also dedicated to civilian victims of war. It is for soldiers, for women, men and children who became victims of war, violence and Nazi persecution in Germany and in occupied countries. It is also for all victims of dictatorships, people who were persecuted for political, religious or so-called racial reasons.


In 1952, the Volkstrauertag was re-introduced as a national day of mourning with a clear demarcation to the Nazi hero commemoration. It is protected by law and takes place every year on the Sunday two weeks before the first Advent.


Nowadays, the Volkstrauertag is a day of remembrance and mourning for all victims of war and violence and at the same time, it reminds Germany of reconciliation, understanding and peace.


This year, its focus is the end of the war 75 years ago as well as the development from Cold War and Iron Curtain to a peaceful and unified Europe, which nevertheless has to deal with many new challenges.


The article is based on a brochure by the Volksbund Deutsche Gräberfürsorge e.V. for this year’s Volkstrauertag.