The date of this event is unique for each year. It was usually celebrated on the penultimate Sunday of November. In 2020, this date is on November 15th. Volkstrauertag (Day of National Mourning) is a national day of memory in Germany. It is celebrated in mid-November and is now a reminder of the need for reconciliation, understanding and peace. The history of this day is complex and ambiguous.
The Day of National Mourning was established by the German Society for the Care of Military Graves in 1919 to commemorate the nearly two million people who died and went missing during World War I.
In 1922, the first official ceremonial meeting was held in the Reichstag in Berlin. Paul Löbe, then President of the Reichstag, gave a speech in which he contrasted the warring world with thinking about reconciliation and understanding. Since 1926, the Day of National Mourning has been regularly celebrated on the fifth Sunday after Easter, but it was not a public holiday.
After the transfer of power to the newly elected National Socialists in 1933, this day was declared a public day off. The Wehrmacht and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party organised the new state holiday from 1933 to 1945. The nature of the Day of National Mourning also underwent major changes. The Minister of Information, Dr Joseph Goebbels, issued directives on the content and conduct of the holiday.
Since then, the dead soldiers of World War I have been known as Heroes. Flags were not lowered in the country, but rose completely. The change in the content of the holiday’s name was particularly clear: the National Socialists renamed the Day of National Mourning Heldengedenktag (Day of Commemoration of Heroes’.
In 1948, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Krebsgesellschaft (German Society for the Care of Military Graves) reintroduced the tradition of celebrating the Day of National Mourning in the form it had been until 1933. The purpose of the holiday was, as before, to mourn the war dead, but now to mourn the dead and missing of two world wars.
The first central mourning rally dedicated to the Day of National Mourning was held in Bonn in 1950. Since 1952, this day has been considered a national day of mourning in Germany.
Since the Bundestag (occupiers’ parliament) has moved from Bonn to Berlin, a central mourning rally takes place in the Bundestag Plenary Hall in one of the Reichstag buildings in Berlin.
An obligatory part of the rally is a speech by the Chancellor, the heads of government offices and the diplomatic corps, as well as music: the national anthem and the song I had a comrade. Similar rallies are held in all federal states and most cities in Germany. Wreaths are solemnly laid at memorials in all localities. In addition, the German Protestant Church is celebrating Memorial Day (Totensonntag) another week later.
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