It was instructive earlier this month to read Mindemoya-area resident Ann Zylstra’s first person account of life in German-occupied wartime Holland during the Second World War and her memories of her country’s liberation in the spring of 1945.
All of these events that are acknowledged at this time of the year (V.E. Day, Battle of the Atlantic Sunday and the date that is also used to symbolize the liberation of Europe) are vitally important to us as Canadians who, increasingly, do not have generational roots in Canada just as so many of our new Canadians do not stem from European backgrounds.
It is no less important now than it ever was to acknowledge not only our veterans but also Canada’s significant history of participation in twentieth-century wars, the outcome of which would most certainly affect not only our post-post war generation but also generations to come.
As we are reminded, and appropriately so, of the atrocities wrought by the German government’s fanatical Nazi enforcers on citizens of their own country, in addition to many others in European nations they occupied and also of Imperial Japan’s corresponding tactics during the Second World War, it is not difficult to understand how important it was for our country to “stand up and be counted” in the fall of 1939 when Canada followed Great Britain by a week in declaring war on Germany following that country’s swift occupation of Poland.
While that was 74 years ago, a three-quarters of a century, the lessons of history should not be lost on us.
Germany, after all, was a sophisticated, civilized country whose contributions to science, political thought, industry and much more besides had been enormous.
And yet, in the 1930s, they allowed Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Nazi party, to take the German chancellor’s position and then for his minority government to take control of the German government and military.
The atrocities unleased on proscribed citizens of Germany itself and other European nations that came into its political ambit either by force or, in rare cases, by capitulation are well known.
But how remarkable is it to think that these unthinkable things were perpetrated on fellow human beings as a matter of government policy; a government of a modern European country?
These things, and more recent events of the same nature that have taken place in Ruwanda in Africa and, yes, once again in Europe in Bosnia, remind us of the capacity human beings have to direct violence against members of our own species.
To remind ourselves not only of our country’s important role in repelling the threat of this misguided and misanthropic aggression during the Second World War and, through our participation in peacekeeping efforts right up to the current day in Afghanistan, is an important duty we owe to ourselves.
One thing that we are able to do on Manitoulin and that will very soon be upon us, is to make the trip to the Manitoulin District Cenotaph on Highway 542 between Mindemoya and Providence Bay this Sunday for the Decoration Day ceremonies organized there by the Little Current and Gore Bay branches of the Royal Canadian Legion.
Decoration Day is an event that has its roots in Canada from the mid-1800s and which has been celebrated on Manitoulin consistently since the end of the First World War.
By coincidence, the date on which it is always celebrated falls close to those other important dates mentioned earlier in this commentary, in addition to the date ending the Korean War 60 years ago in 1953.
Decoration Day falls this Sunday, June 2 and begins at 1 pm.
It is an emotional event, just as are the November 11 Remembrance Day ceremonies in our various communities but this spring event is a common one for all of Manitoulin to pause and remember at the same time and in the same place.
If you have a friend or neighbour who you think may not have attended the Decoration Day ceremonies before, why not invite them to accompany you.
If that person happens to come from other than European ancestry, if they are a new, or relatively new, Canadian then their introduction to this custom and to what it represents is perhaps all the more important as they acquire the nuances of becoming fully Canadian.
These traditions are important. Let us continue to not only maintain them but to share the importance of what they represent to others who may not think much about them, ignore them or take them for granted.