Reconciliation with Past

1968. I was thirteen and in grade eight at Ness Junior High here in Winnipeg.  Our music teacher, Mrs. Lohr, gave us an assignment: pick out a piece of music and share why you like it. It was a fun assignment for most of the class, but caused me a fair bit of anxiety. My church frowned upon rock and roll music and I’d had little exposure to it. So, while the other students were bringing in evil 45s like “Lady Willpower” by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap; the syrupy “Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro or the angry political hit “Sky Pilot” by the Animals—I brought in the theme from “Born Free.” I was allowed to be in love with the baby lions . . . Little Elsa, Jespah and Gumpa, but I was not allowed to have crushes on any pop stars. 

1968. The year that Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated. I remember feeling that the world was a dangerous place. I remember thinking I didn’t want to be an adult.

1968. The year that Prague was repeatedly in the news, but I had little comprehension of where it was or what was happening.  For me, Eastern Europe was as far-away as the moon.

Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

1968. The year of anti-Vietnam protests. Those made an impression in my young life. The hippies and the flower children strumming about peace . . . also taboo . . . as it was laced with drugs, long hair and free love.

1968. Student protests in West Germany that led to changes with how that country dealt with its Second World War history. Being a German-Canadian here in Winnipeg, I missed out on that history lesson. My parents didn’t talk about the war and at school they taught me nothing about Germany’s guilt and recovery. My parents taught me little. We might have spoken German in the house, but we didn’t discuss German guilt or the Holocaust. Maybe that’s why I’m still so fascinated with it. 

If I’d been living in Germany in 1968 as a teenager, I might have been more aware of  that country's student protests.  I might have become aware of the changes forced upon German institutions, as they reckoned with their war history and demanded that ex-Nazis be removed from positions of power.

1968. When German society began to face its past. Monuments were built, textbooks were re-written and Nazi crimes were confronted.  Meanwhile, over here, I focused on American protest movements about Vietnam and women’s lib. There was no re-education here for children of German immigrants. 

Remembering Stutthof Camp

The 1968 student protests in West Germany led to a wake-up call. While West Germany had prospered economically, there was more needed for that country to heal. Vergangenheitsbewältigung. The Germans love long words. It means, ‘coming to terms with their past.’ We Canadians are going through it right now with the ‘truth and reconciliation commission.’ German young people, born post-World War Two, were tired of the hypocrisy of their leaders . . . many with Nazi pasts still in power.  Now here, in present-day Canada, young Indigenous people question the colonial mindset that has named, honoured and controlled much of this country. 

It takes courage to admit guilt and silence doesn’t make the past go away. It just keeps festering, getting infected and causing problems. I think as Canadians, during this official week of Truth and Reconciliation, we’re trying to own up to the wrongs of the past. And I dare say, the Germans have tried, too. 


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