It’s 9th of May. I am German, so this day has huge significance. Yesterday, my country has been brought to its knees. Yesterday, Germany has been defeated.
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Only a minority of Germans ever voted for Hitler. He needed a coalition to come to power. But you don’t care. You say “Nazi” and you mean all Germans. And when you say “German” you mean Nazi. And you are right to do so. Remember that thought. It will become important later on.
But for us Germans, it’s very different:
Because we Germans we were the good guys. We Germans fought the evil, that was the worldwide conspiracy of America, Great Britain and the Soviet Union. So many countries all over the world: They conspired to bring down the country of all that is good in the world: Nazi Germany.
We Germans were the good guys. At least that’s what we thought.
Imagine we Germans would not have been defeated. Do you think anyone in Germany would think of the German army as invaders, murderers, torturers and rapists?
Or would we think of ourselves as good people? Simply because it’s “us” – and “we” can’t be evil, because we are: we. We are good by default.
When American bombers destroyed German cities and eventually the Russian tanks rolled into Berlin: That was a catastrophe for us Germans. The forces of evil – the red star and the star-spangled banner – had overcome the forces of all that is good and noble, the mighty German army.
That’s how the average German felt.
And how was that even possible? Our propaganda told us the war went splendidly. We were never defeated, we just had “Frontbegradigungen” to make our fighting more efficient. In the end the Frontbegradigungen were so efficient that we could supply our tanks right out of the Führer bunkers front door….
And then we lost.
The evil Americans and Russians defeated us. And then they forced us to see what we had so successfully looked away from: the trains full of Jews to Treblinka, the mass graves in Ukraine, the destroyed cities in the Netherlands, France, Poland, everywhere where our “brave soldiers” ever set their foot.
We wept when we realized that the monsters that we had been fighting were we ourselves.
The whole world had to unite just to bring us to our knees.
And that saved our souls.
It was a wet and cold day, 7th of December 1970 when German chancellor Willy Brandt fell on his knees. He kneeled there, at the “memorial for the uprising of the Ghetto” in Warsaw for several minutes. His head down, tears in his eyes.
Brand physically expressed the shame that we Germans felt for our crimes. It was an admission of guilt.
And it opened the hearts of our neighbors.
Germany again joined the circle of civilized countries, because we faced our guilt and we asked for forgiveness. And we spent generations rebuilding the trust that we destroyed, when we burned the cities and lives of our neighbors.
Where would Germany be today, if we never admitted our guilt? How would our neighbors treat us if we stuck to false pride instead of honoring the truth? We would be a very different country: Poor, friendless and dark.
Today Ukrainian cities burn, Ukrainian children die, Ukrainian women get raped and Ukrainian men get tortured and murdered. By you. By the good guys. (You must be good, because you are: you.)
Today you cannot talk to your friends and relatives in Ukraine anymore. Because you don’t want to hear what they have to tell you about the war. How will you ever be able to look into their eyes again?
It’s not only Putin who is guilty. Just like it wasn’t only Hitler. It’s not Putin who dropped the bomb on the teater in Mariupol, murdering at least 600 men, women and children. It wasn’t Putin who raped women in Bucha. And it’s not Putin who cheers on the “Z” war. All Germans bear guilt for Hitler’s war. And all Russians bear guilt for Putin’s war. That’s hard to swallow, I know. What do you think it feels like to be German?
Today 42 countries join their military and economic power to defeat the Russian army and preserve a free Ukraine. Just like dozens of countries joined forces to bring down my home country Germany.
Europeans in the European Union and Russians both celebrate the 9th of May – even though, the war ended on 8th of May. But for different reasons:
The German army surrendered on 8th of May. But Stalin demanded a second, separate surrender just to Russia – excluding the Americans, British and French. That was delivered on 9th of May. And that’s why Russia celebrates the defeat of Germany on that day.
After the war, we Germans admitted: “We are guilty” and we asked our neighbors to forgive us. And because we admitted our guilt, our neighbors admitted our good will – and with time they forgave us.
Europeans in the European Union also celebrate on 9th of May.
Because, the 9th of May was the first day of peace.