My earliest memories of Remembrance Day are slightly less than honorable. “A big, solemn assembly at school? With a whole minute of complete silence?? Trumpets? What’s with all the seriousness on my BIRTHDAY??”. I can still recite the words of the poem “In Flander’s Fields” by John McCrae off the top of my head, a poem which I learned in grade school to recite at these Remembrance Day assemblies, year after year.
I suppose it’s fitting that my birthday falls on a day of historic remembrance, being the history lover that I am. Genealogical research, knowledge (and likely maturity) have changed the way I view Remembrance day. Sometimes researching ancestors makes me realize that it is a very complicated and delicate (and lucky) web of events that facilitates my existence. Whilst Remembrance Day (Veterans’ Day in the USA) and the iconic poppy were first celebrated in Canada/USA to commemorate the end of World War One on November 11, 1918, it has evolved to honour Canadian/American veterans of all wars.
As generations pass on, it becomes easier and easier to forget that here in Canada, we are privileged to live the way we do. Everyone living here (unless you’re a native, I suppose) is here because their parents, their parent’s parents, parent’s parent’s parents, (etc, etc etc)came here to try and find a better way of living than they had experienced elsewhere. The freedom we experience here was not free, it cost millions of lives, millions of brave souls who were ready to give everything they had so that we could exist in this way.
During World War Two, my maternal ancestors were forced labourers in Nazi Germany, plucked from their war-ravaged homeland and used as bodies to help fuel the German war effort. While definitely far from paradise, some Latvians suffered far less fortunate fates and this would have seemed a best-case scenario at the time to some. They had watched family, friends and neighbours be brutally executed, deported to Soviet prison camps and forcibly recruited to foreign armies, forced to fight for a cause that was not their own, their country’s cause and voice drowned out by larger world powers. The world must have seemed to have gone crazy, barbarian. Their home would never be “home” again.
World War Two was the deadliest conflict in recorded history, with estimates of 50 to 70 million lives lost. The Allied countries counted an estimated 16,000,000 military casualties. My ancestors were liberated by the Allies (US Army) in 1945 as they captured different towns in Germany that housed the forced labor camps. They were granted immigration to the USA and Canada within 5 or 6 years, where they lived freely the rest of their days. Their families flourished, and continue to flourish today.