Thursday, September 3, 2009

Another anniversary

Since 1969 was a such an eventful year, I've been mentioning some notable 40th anniversaries on this blog. Now we await another September 11th coming up, difficult to believe, the eighth anniversary of another day that will live in infamy.

But today, September 3, 2009, is the anniversary of an event that overshadows the rest, the tragedy of unspeakable proportions that has in some way effected every man woman and child on the face of the earth, both at the time and for all the years since.

After the invasion of Poland two days earlier, seventy years ago today England and France declared war on Germany, officially marking the beginning of World War II.

It's surprising how little attention this anniversary is getting, at least on this side of the big pond. It was brought to my attention over the BBC on Tuesday, the anniversary of the invasion, the day officially recognized as the beginning of the war. There was a ceremony in Gdansk, Poland attended by the leaders of the principal nations involved, Poland, Germany and Russia among others. For some reason President Obama did not attend which I think is a shame. We Americans need to be shaken from our historical amnesia, and the president's involvement in this solemn ceremony could have done some good toward that end.

Unfortunately the people of the generation that experienced the war directly are quickly leaving us, at a rate of around 2,000 per day I'm told. Soon all the information from that terrible time in history will be second hand at best. My baby boom generation which has been so preoccupied with its own relatively privileged childhood needs to pick up the slack. Our parents lived through some of the most trying times in history, great depression and war, and hopefully we will be able to pass their stories on to future generations.

Almost everyone I grew up with had fathers who saw action of some kind during the war. I had a friend as a young child whose dad was Austrian and fought in the German Army. My best friend's father landed in Normandy the day after D-Day, not knowing at the time that his kid brother was killed there the day before. Another dear friend's father was in the U.S. Navy stationed at Pearl Harbor aboard a destroyer on December 7, 1941. Another's dad fought with the Polish Resistance during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

My mother's brother was a bombardier aboard an American B-24. His plane was shot down over Rumania. My uncle, one of only two survivors, was captured by the Germans and served as a prisoner of war.

My father, from occupied Czechoslovakia, was a forced laborer working in Berlin. He lived there until the end of the war. And the father of my colleague at work was an American B-17 pilot who flew several missions over Germany including Berlin, his plane dropping bombs over my dad during the day as the British bombers dropped them at night.

Sadly, all these men are gone, entrusting their legacies to their children, and hopefully their grandchildren, and beyond.

In that vein I would like to spend the next few weeks, this time of dreadful anniversaries, addressing how we preserve this legacy in our lives and in our cities.

My first stop will be Berlin.

Post script: In honor of Father's Day, 2011, the names of all the fathers I mentioned above can be found here.

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