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I have just received through the post from Germany a beautiful medallion from The City of Berlin. On one side it bears (sorry about the pun) a picture of the bear on the arms of Berlin. On the other, a wonderful picture of the Brandenburg Gate as it is today but reflected below it the Gate as it was in 1945. All in all a beautifully produced coin/medal, that any numismatist like me would be pleased to add to their collection. But as I collect coins to reflect my interest in history this is a especially interesting. It commemorates the end of Nazism and the coming of peace. Berlin in this 75th Year since the end of The Second World War has declared 8th May to be a public holiday. The first such commemoration since the fall of East Germany, where annually the Communists celebrated the victory of USSR over Nazi Germany with military parades. Thus for West Germans there is a double hurdle to surmount. Berlin though has sought to do this. A spokesperson for the City of Berlin is reported as saying, 'Remembering history is more important than ever in light of recent deadly far-right attacks on synagogues in the eastern city of Halle....' Many Germans have joined the demand to make the 8th May a national holiday of remembrance.
As I prepared to type this piece this morning, I read in The Times, over coffee, the most disturbing news from Ukraine. In the small town of Kolomyya, a senior policeman has demanded the names and addresses of all Jews living there to be handed to the police. The town lies not in Russian dominated Eastern Ukraine but in Western Ukraine, which perhaps makes the report even more horrifying. All going to show that we must continue to teach The Second World War across Europe, as a preventive measure against anti-semitism and the rise of the Far Right..
I was anxious before VE Day that the commemoration would be used to bolster the Government's nationalistic language about the pandemic. One Government MP even mentioned in Parliament this week 'The Blitz Spirit'. As Dr Johnson said so long ago, 'Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel'. After all was violent nationalism not at the core of Nazism? As things turned out there was less faux patriotism and historical comparisons made than there might have been. The Queen's broadcast was the very model of how such a speech should be. In fact, given the inadequacies of politicians, it was a breath of fresh air to hear VE Day spoken about with such knowledge and such emphasis on peace. Her oblique references to the pandemic were extraordinarily good. I clearly was not the only one to be impressed as The Times had a leader article, writing, 'The Queen again displayed her ability to unite the country'. The leader ended by saying, '....our magnificently enduring head of state's pep talk on the anniversary was hugely welcome'.
The Queen's references to our enemies of 1945 now being our friends was echoed in a similar speech by the German President.
One sour note was struck by The Daily Mail which also issued a medallion to commemorate the day but sadly referred not to Victory in Europe but to Victory over Europe. I rest my case for better education in our teaching of history in Britain.