Every few years, British Remembrance Sunday falls on the same Sunday as the German Volkstrauertag. This is because Volkstrauertag is on the third Sunday of November, and Remembrance Sunday is on the Sunday closest to 11th November.
I first sang at Volkstrauertag on the invitation of British veteran John Sleep. He fought in the Netherlands and was injured by a German tank shell. He was grateful for his injury because he believed it saved his life; he believed he was deliberately injured and not killed.
John died last January aged 100. Had he been alive and able to travel, he would have attended the Volkstrauertag ceremony in Ysselsteyn, the Netherlands, and the ceremony at the Monument of Tolerance, as he did every year.
This year’s ceremony was very confronting. For the first time, the Chief Rabbi of the Netherlands was present. He gave a speech and led the prayers in Hebrew and Dutch.
Surrounded by the graves of 32,000 German soldiers and civilians, and of Dutch collaborators, we prayed for the millions of victims of the Third Reich’s terrible campaign of hatred and discrimination: Jews, Sinti, Roma – victims of some of the very people whose graves surrounded us, victims who have no graves.
Chief Rabbi Jacobs said he felt almost as if he were a traitor by being present at the ceremony, and yet he was grateful to be together with people who are not trying to polish away the past, but working to make it visible and to confront people with and warn them about the consequences of prejudice and hatred.
After the ceremony we had tea in the new visitors centre. I was moved by the warmth of the Rabbi and his wife. And very, very sad to learn about the anti-Semitism that people still face today, in 2021, right here in the Netherlands. There is still much work to be done.
Chief Rabbi Jacob’s speech, in Dutch, is available on his Twitter feed.