Two Angles On History And Memory

On the seventieth anniversary of D-Day, Francois Hollande has saluted the Allied veterans–British, American, Polish, Australian, Canadian, French, and others–who landed on Normandy beaches to liberate Western Europe from Nazi occupation. He also noted the debt France and its allies owe to the Russian Red Army, and properly so. It would be an abuse of memory, though, as Bernd Ulrich wrote in a recent essay (hat tip to Robert Coalson via RFERL), if lingering German war guilt toward Russia, ironically, prompts Germans to downplay Ukrainian claims to self-determination. “Should [Ukrainians] not be allowed into the EU because Germans justifiably have a guilty conscience vis-a-vis the Russians? The fact that Germans and Russians are once again making decisions about the fate of Ukraine would be a perverse lesson to learn from history for this country, which suffered under both nations like no other” (see, for example, Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler And Stalin).

On a happier note re memory and history, an 89-year-old nursing home resident in Hove, England was reported missing yesterday, but has been reported safe and sound in Normandy. Reports are that he was not given permission to go to commemmorative ceremonies in France, but walked out of the home yesterday at 10:30 am wearing his war medals (might have been a clue about his intentions!), got on a motorcoach headed to France, and surfaced after spending last night at a hotel in Ouistreham.

P.S. The care home is apparently denying they impeded veteran Bernard Jordan’s trip to Normandy. He was purportedly offered the chance to go on a package tour, declined, and the home says they knew not that he was “still intent” on going to Normandy. I imagine he may have been intent on showing deference to his comrades who are gone. And, according to Blaise Pascal, “deference means, ‘put yourself to inconvenience’…if deference was displayed by sitting in an armchair, we would show deference to everybody, and no distinction would be made.”

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