This year has been the first year for me, a German immigrant to Australia, to fully feel the impact and importance of the Australian and NZ army forces and feel the gratitude many feel on Anzac Day. I never really got it before.
It might be because in my country we feel like we aren’t allowed to be patriotic, sing the German national anthem at school anymore or hang out flags on national holidays. Most Germans would love to do it, as we are a generation that doesn’t feel the guilts of the two world wars anymore, but we won’t out of respect. And fear. Fear that maybe someone might say we have nothing to be proud of, nothing to celebrate, nothing to show off.
Our grandparents and great grandparents went to war for a person that created hatred towards our own and that hate kept him on top for far too long. Many went to war because they didn’t understand or didn’t even know what was really going on but they defended our land, our people, their families and their freedom – the freedom they thought they had. It was a group movement and peer pressure, it was a nation brain washed by a minority and I know lots of those that were and are still ashamed of it.
But Germany is so much more than that. Us Germans are great at so many things. We are very organised, tidy and disciplined in every aspect of our lives. We like routines, procedures and structure. We succeed on a global level in economy, sports, education. But the only time we ever proudly stand united and sing our anthem out loud is during international soccer matches – when it’s not political and we hope not to be judged. We stand strong and united as we should be.
The rest of the time we hide our flags and don’t parade our traditions. Try not to hurt feelings of those hurt a century ago. The Jews, the English, the French, too many to list so we stay quiet.
But is it time to be forgiven and do what other countries do?
Every year Australians and New Zealanders, every generation from young to old, gets out early on Anzac Day, light a candle, wear their poppies and those deserving their war medals, parade the streets and memorials far and wide and remember those that fought for freedom, fought in wars, died young, made these countries what they are now and are grateful for the sacrifice. People here are proud to be Aussie and kiwi, proud to sing their anthem at assemblies and at home, any day. It’s a beautiful thing. And it makes me emotional and teary for my country.
This year we got to meet the soldiers of the armed forces in person. Australian and New Zealand army personnel came to Kangaroo Island after the devastating bushfires to help clean up, keep people save and start the rebuild. But what they also did was bring back the spirit. Meeting these hard working, sincere soldiers that would work from dawn to dusk while leaving their own families behind back home, to help us move forward and stay positive, was magical. Meeting the young, the old, the boys and girls, selflessness written all over their broad chests with a big grin on their faces every day. And it lighting up more if they could make a child smile that just lost it all, it’s house, home, toys, animals.
I am forever grateful to them for taking my kids for a ride in the army tank on one of the hardest days in their life so far. The fun took the shadows away, the smiles took the tears away and for that I salute you. Thank you soldiers, everywhere. Lest we forget.