I think it is timely that Remembrance Day follows the Thanksgiving holiday. As Remembrance Day approaches, I am reminded of how thankful I should be — thankful that I have never personally experienced war.
Remembrance Day demands respect. When I was teaching, I was always impressed that 600 adolescents could remain respectful during an hour-long Remembrance Day ceremony. Perfect silence was maintained during the minute of silence — not an easy task for those with ADHD and raging hormones. Perhaps many students realized that throughout history, adolescents have shouldered the role of soldier. This is a sobering thought for all of us.
"There but for the grace of God..."
My mother was an adolescent during the Second World War. She had left her home town in Yugoslavia to further her education at a boarding school in Austria. Fearing an attack by enemy forces, the teachers moved my mother’s class of students deep into the Austrian Alps. My mother lived there for two years, without any word of her family. After the war, she was reunited with her parents with the help of the Red Cross.
The news from home was bittersweet.
Both my grandmother and grandfather survived a Russian work camp, but lost everything — their house, their land, and my grandfather’s blacksmith shop. My mother’s sisters were transported to a Russian labour camp. One sister survived but my mother’s oldest sister, Anna, fell ill and died. My mother’s hometown of Deutsch-Zerne was destroyed and the population was dispersed. Home, as my mother remembered it, no longer existed. My mother emigrated to Canada and was grateful to establish a new home where she could raise a family in freedom and peace.
When I was growing up, the war years were never discussed in my home. I guess there were just too many painful memories associated with that time period. Friends and family members had perished, properties were lost, and lives had changed forever.
Only when my mother began to share her war experiences did I begin to understand what life must have been like for her during those years, and how those years shaped her life.
This Remembrance Day, I will take the time to give thanks for the peaceful lives that my family and I have been lucky enough to enjoy. I will remember my mother’s war stories. Mostly, I will pray that our world leaders remember that no one wins in a war, and hope that our future world will learn the lessons of history, and live in peace.