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VE Day: Berlin marks end of WW2 with unprecedented holiday


A sign reading 8 May hangs on the German-Russian Museum in BerlinImage copyright
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Friday is a one-off holiday that will only be marked in Berlin

Berliners have been given an unprecedented public holiday on Friday, to mark the end of World War Two but also liberation from Nazi rule.

Not since reunification has a German city acknowledged 8 May as a day of liberation in this way; some Berliners are unaware of its significances.

A street party and several events have been cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The holiday is one-off and is not being held outside Berlin.

But there are growing calls for a public holiday to be held across Germany.

What does 8 May mean for Germans?

For some, particularly in areas of the old West Germany, 8 May has long been associated with defeat in World War Two. Many families preferred to draw a veil over the period, both those who had suffered persecution as well as those who hadn’t.

In the areas of the old communist East Germany, 8 May was taught as a “Day of Liberation” from the Nazi regime by the victorious Red Army. Post-war Berlin itself was divided into four sectors – the Soviets in the east and the US, French and British in the west.

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Berlin was a divided city for decades

In the latter years of the West German state, the date was also seen as marking liberation from the Nazi regime.

In 1985 President Richard von Weizsäcker made clear the day should be seen as a day of liberation and not defeat. Ten years later, on the 50th anniversary of liberation, a reunified Berlin was at the centre of a state ceremony.

Nowadays the date is viewed more significantly as the rebirth of democracy.

But the only national public holiday currently marking German history is 3 October, which celebrates the date of reunification in 1990.

Why now?

“It’s the principles of democracy that we want to get across,” explains Moritz van Dülmen, whose Kulturprojekte is behind a number of events.

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Kulturprojekte

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A campaign highlights how voters should not allow democracy to be overthrown: “At the beginning was the vote – a vote and its result”

Although many of the plans for Berlin’s public holiday have been scrapped, including a street party, an open air exhibition and numerous events at museums, some projects will still take place online.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will lay wreaths at Berlin’s memorial for victims of war and tyranny.

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Queen Elizabeth II laid a wreath at the German memorial for victims of war and dictatorship in 2004

“We are also keen to reach a young audience, particularly those with a migrant background, who have little knowledge of German history,” Mr van Dülmen explains.

Remembering history, he argues, is more important than ever in light of recent deadly far-right attacks at a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle and a shisha bar at Hanau near Frankfurt.

Is the idea popular?

Talk to Berliners and many will not see the significance of 8 May as the end of the war, or even the surrender of Nazi Germany. Many only found out this week that Friday was a public holiday.

Hannelore Steer, who grew up in East Germany, sees the holiday as a good idea as she was used to seeing it celebrated many years ago.

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Weng Yuen believes it would help people remember what had happened. “17 June used to be a public holiday in West Germany to remind us of the uprising in East Germany in 1953. That’s now largely forgotten particularly with a younger generation,” she told the BBC.

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Media captionThe punk rocker who took on the East German Stasi

Berliner Tina Michael, who has two teenage sons, says that’s important as the history curriculum has recently been cut in German schools.

“As history and geography classes have been merged, a lot of material can’t be covered any more,” she complains.

Friday’s holiday has also been a subject for political debate.

Holocaust survivor Esther Bejarano, 95, wrote an open letter to Mrs Merkel and President Steinmeier calling for 8 May to become a lasting and nationwide public holiday.

She believes it could help Germans appreciate that 8 May 1945 was “a day of liberation and the crushing of the National Socialist regime”. One hundred thousand people have signed a petition supporting the proposal.

Politicians including Katrin Göring-Eckardt from the Greens and Katja Kipping of the left-wing Linke party have backed her proposal. It was Die Linke that lobbied for the day to become a public holiday in Berlin.

Not everyone backs the idea. The far-right AfD party, which is the biggest opposition force in Germany’s Bundestag, is bitterly opposed to the holiday.

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Co-leader Alexander Gauland sees 8 May as an “ambivalent” date, because while it may have meant liberation for some, it also represents the “absolute defeat” of Germany and the “loss of big parts of Germany”.

The day is being widely covered by German media, in an attempt to portray the broad array of experiences that Germans had as the war came to an end.



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#Conservative win marks bad day for people of Britain, says #GUE/NGL


A statement by GUE/NGL Co-President Martin Schirdewan on the Conservative Party’s victory in the British general election: “Today is a sad day for people living in Britain.

“It is bitterly disappointing that the message of hope has not carried in the face of a dirty and dishonest campaign by the Conservatives.

“Voters who had voted for change, for an end to austerity, for social and tax justice, will now have to endure a government bent on social inequality, deregulation, discrimination and xenophobia.

“It is also now clear that Britain will be leaving the EU at the end of January. As the Left in the European Parliament, we will continue to hold the British government to their commitments under The Good Friday Agreement,” he added.

“Furthermore, we will protect the interests of people across the EU in the negotiations on the future relationship. We will also seek to safeguard the interests of the people in Britain, and will work with the broader labour movement and progressive forces in Britain to this end,” said Schirdewan.

Also commenting on the vote’s impact on Brexit, Martina Anderson (Sinn Féin, Ireland) said: “The people in the North of Ireland want to remain in the EU. The result of this election shows that the only way that this can happen is through Irish unity – a referendum on which is guaranteed under The Good Friday Agreement.”

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Memorial in San Bernardino marks four years since terrorist attack



The more than 1,400 days since Yvette Velasco died at the hands of two terrorists in the San Bernardino attack hasn’t buffered the grief for the family she left behind. They said it’s actually worse.

Every time there’s another mass tragedy, Velasco’s mother and sister say they live through the pain again. When Velasco’s mother, Marie, watched news coverage of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., and the shooting at a Walmart in El Paso in August, she heard of other mothers searching for their children, only to learn they were killed. That mentally transports her back to where she was four years ago, she said.

“When you hear parents on TV saying, ‘I can’t find my kid,’ I know what that felt like,” she said. “We know that nightmare because we’ve lived it. It’s indescribable.”

There are ways to cope with the pain even though it is permanent, the family said. On Monday, the four-year anniversary of when Velasco and 13 others were killed, Cal State San Bernardino held a memorial for the victims. Speaking before the crowd, Velasco’s sister, Erica Porteous, said these moments help her family though hard times.

“For our family, not a day goes by that we don’t feel the loss,” Porteous said. “But this brings us comfort.”

On Dec. 2, 2015, a San Bernardino County employee and his wife marched into an office holiday party at the Inland Regional Center; they were clad in black and armed with assault rifles and pistols. They killed 14 people and injured 22 others. Authorities killed them in a shootout.

Velasco, who worked as an environmental health specialist, was 27.

Five of the victims — Robert Adams, Juan Espinoza, Shannon Johnson, Michael Wetzel and Velasco — were Cal State alumni. Three years ago, the university created a “Peace Garden” to honor the victims. It was built just steps away from the College of Natural Sciences, where the five alumni graduated.

At the beginning and end of Monday’s service, a faculty member rang a bell in the center of the stone-accented garden 14 times, once for each of the fallen. It remains silent for the rest of the year.

Sastry Pantula, dean of the college of natural sciences, joined the university in 2018. Though he didn’t know the victims, he said they are always on his mind.

The garden, he said, has become important to the campus. His faculty and students sometimes hold meetings there. Occasionally, he will eat lunch there and meditate. Pantula said it’s imperative to remember the lives lost, not just on the anniversary.

“When you Google San Bernardino, the first thing you read about is the shooting,” Pantula said. “But you can’t live in fear, and it is good that we are promoting peace.

“The biggest worry for me is seeing people reading the news and becoming immune, saying ‘That’s just another shooting.’ People are getting thick skin and aren’t paying attention to the violence around us.”

Dressed in dark clothes with sunglasses covering her eyes, Porteous held a picture of her sister with her black graduation tassel dangling from the frame. After the ceremony, which included brief remarks from Pantula, Porteous and William Vandyke, who works in the college, family members of Velasco and other victims laid white roses at the base of the bell. Porteous said she wants the public to know that her sister was a loving person, and she is thankful that her memory is being kept alive.

“I think that this garden and the fact that the Cal State community continue to remember the alumni, and that their deaths were not in vain, can hopefully bring a sense of awareness,” Porteous said.





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