Why ‘lest we forget’ just isn’t enough
Just lately, these three little words have been everywhere – lest we forget.
Hardly surprising, I know, around the time of Armistice Day.
But this year it started to feel like the worst kind of hollow gesture, with people flooding their timelines with their own posts and sharing others along similar veins. Alongside the usual lest we forget messages there were dog-themed ones from dog-lovers, horse-themed ones from horsey types, and a host of other completely unrelated images and themes.
It left me wondering whether the people posting these messages had forgotten what it was they were supposed to be not forgetting and had instead just piled in on something.
I started to think about what is it that we are supposed to avoid forgetting.
Remember the fallen?
Remember their sacrifice?
Yes, yes of course. Absolutely.
My father served in WWII (he wasn’t a conscript – he lied about his age, joined up of his own free will and stayed on after the war ended). I have a great-uncle in my family tree who died on 2 October 1916 from injuries sustained during the Battle of the Somme in WWI.
What with that, and all the war movies, TV series, documentaries, books and so on, it’s never seemed very hard to remember and it’s always felt easy to make sure I never forget. So easy I’ve never had to think about it.
So, this year I decided to think about something new to remember.
And I found something.
It was only this year that I found out about the resistance movement in Germany during the Nazi Third Reich. Thousands of people, ordinary people, made it their business to engage in everything from small acts of defiance like printing leaflets criticising the Hilter regime, through to hiding Jewish people in their homes, all the way up to organising attempted assassinations of the little Austrian shitbag.
Ordinary people. Ordinary German people. Some of whom worked in government departments or served in the armed forces, yet still risked their lives in the anti-fascist struggle.
Ordinary people? No, extraordinary people.
They could have kept their heads down and just got on with life. But they chose not to.
The Third Reich was responsible for some of the most grotesque crimes against humanity imaginable. Anyone who fell foul of it was treated with a brutality that is hard to comprehend. It’s easy to write off millions of Germans who stayed silent as being complicit in the regime’s atrocities. But how would most of us have behaved in those circumstances, I wonder.
I’d read about other resistance movements. Like those in France or Poland – people fighting back against a tyrannical occupying force. But why on earth would anyone willingly go out of their way to put themselves at odds with such a regime when they could have just kept quiet?
No, I don’t know either. It’s tempting to wax lyrical about courage and heroism and whatnot, but I shan’t sully their memory with my idle speculation.
Remembering is one thing. Remembrance is something else. That’s the conclusion I have come to. We should never forget the terrible loss of life, the innumerable injuries and incalculable damage caused by war. All wars.
But I think we should also make space in our memories and in our hearts for the many untold stories of ordinary people undertaking extraordinary tasks in pursuit of the greater good – against insurmountable opposition, facing almost certain capture and death.
I cannot begin to imagine the bravery and determination members of the German resistance must have had.
But I do know that now I’ve learned about them I will always remember them.