For the attention of Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission:
Reflection on the international project "Common Traces"
We are students at the Maria-Theresia-Gymnasium in Munich, which is in the Au-Haidhausen district very close to the city centre. In our project seminar we deal with the history of Munich and interview contemporary witnesses. So far we have dealt with the war and post-war period and the joint EU project fitted in very well with that.
Many of us interviewed our grandparents or neighbors who were children at the time about their lives and personal impressions during the war. In particular, they have reported on air raids, famines and their perceptions and feelings. We also looked at the consequences of the destruction of Munich using old photos and compared them with the rebuilt city.
The meeting with contemporary witnesses was an emotional and personal encounter. Their stories make the story more tangible and make us feel the terrible consequences of the war better. The dialogue with so many different people has made it clear that war means enormous suffering for everyone. We noticed that the interview partners had a great need to tell us about their adventures and experiences. The contact with the generation so far away made the project special, since this is missing in everyday life.
In addition to our other activities, we have also been creative. At the beginning of the school year, for example, we recorded drastic memories from the lives of our older relatives and other contemporary witnesses in drawings. In this way, we were able to artistically implement formative moments in the lives of these people, such as Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, which is connected to the Second World War, or the children's trains of the Swiss Red Cross, and reinterpret them in our own way. Another group of our project also compared current photos with photos immediately after the war and worked out the differences.
During the air raids on Munich in the Second World War from 1940 to 1945 by the British and US Air Forces, the Bavarian capital was severely destroyed, even 90% of the center. Over 6,000 people lost their lives and over 15,000 were injured. Munich suffered the same fate as most major German cities, but due to its location in the south, the attacks were not as numerous, but just as violent. A tourist coming to Munich today cannot imagine the extent of the destruction.
Because the city has often retained its medieval character. Although there were already plans for a complete rebuild elsewhere, the people of Munich decided to rebuild, often true to the original. The ownership situation also forced the streets to be left exactly as they were. However, some buildings, such as the Glyptothek, the sculpture collection of the former Bavarian king, required a sensitive redesign that corresponded to the zeitgeist. The Olympic site in 1972, which was built on the rubble heaps of World War II in the north of the city, became a strong symbol of a new beginning and a cosmopolitan and peaceful Germany.
This tackling and looking ahead is typical of the post-war generation. Many feelings of sadness and pain remained suppressed, however, because at the same time there was great shame about the crimes that National Socialism had brought across Europe and beyond on behalf of Germany. The so-called "war children", who experienced the war as children, were never able to come to terms with their traumatic experiences of night bombs, flight, death and destruction. Her children, the “war grandchildren”, grew up with her fears and so the war still affects the people of Germany deep down.
These deeply buried memories are now being resurfaced by those in their 80s in the face of war in Ukraine. For many of this generation, the images that reach us are almost unbearable. Their sympathy and solidarity with the people in Ukraine is particularly high, which is also reflected in their enormous willingness to donate.
Suddenly past and present are connected in our project. Each of us has learned from our conversations how terrible war is. Our sympathy is very great. We must not succumb to anger and hatred. Because peace begins within ourselves. If we don't manage to forgive, overcome fears and keep reaching out to those who have made mistakes and to those who are in greatest need, then there will be no peace.
The students of the project seminar "Munich Contemporary Witnesses" of the Maria-Theresia-Gymnasium, Munich on March 8, 2022