The next few weeks will mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the European phase of World War Two.
I wasn’t born until two years after the war, but my father was a decorated veteran who talked a great deal about what happened as Canadians and others laid down their lives to defeat the tyranny of Nazi Germany.
Still, I’m astounded to keep learning about horrible events that happened in the final days of the Third Reich. I wonder how many of us know much about the massacre at Gardelegen in northern Germany.
It happened on April 13, 1945, just 25 days before VE Day. The retreating Germans evacuated more than 1,000 slave labourers from a camp, and herded them into a large barn at Gardelegen. The barn was set on fire, and those who managed to escape before being burned alive, were shot trying to get away.
The German soldiers quickly buried some of the victims in mass graves, and their crime might have gone unsolved for quite a while. But the American forces arrived quicker than expected. They ordered the local townsfolk to re-bury the dead in individual graves with crosses on each one.
More than 50 million soldiers and civilians died in World War Two, so it’s perhaps not surprising that murderous nightmares like Gardelegen are not that well remembered.
If we could time travel, how interesting it might be to ask those German soldiers, ‘Why’?’ Why, when they knew that the end was just days away, did they feel compelled to do something that was so unspeakably cruel and evil?
The leaders of the massacre did not get headline coverage at the Nuremberg trials. Some of them did not pay much of a price at all. Their crime was overshadowed by much larger events.
In the new millennium when it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between good and evil, it’s important to remember that there were wars in our recent past that had to be fought.
I’m Roger Currie