Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I apologize for this non-knitting post. I don't want to post this over on the Veterans' Day threads on Ravelry, because it would be drama-inducing. But I also want to say it somewhere.

Today is November 11, which is celebrated as Veteran's Day in the U.S. and as Remembrance Day in the countries of the British Commonwealth. It's a day that is set aside to remember those who served in the armed services, and in Commonwealth countries, it's a day to remember members of the military who died in wars. But it means something else to me.

Today is the 90th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I. Three days after that document was signed, my grandmother turned nine years old. In the United States, Britain, and the Commonwealth countries, there was a hard and fast division between the front, where soldiers fought, suffered and died in appalling numbers, and the "home front," where civilians lived their lives more or less as normal. In Vienna, where my grandmother lived, that division did not exist. A central part of the Allied strategy was the "hunger blockade" which the Allies imposed on the civilian population of the Central Powers. The idea was to cut off food supplies to citizens of Germany and Austria, starving the countries' civilian populations and forcing their governments to surrender. This strategy was successful: it's one of the reasons that Germany and Austria lost the war. And it visited tremendous suffering on ordinary Austrian and German people. American visitors like Jane Addams and Mary Heaton Vorst talk about arriving in Vienna immediately after the armistice and encountering crowds of skeletal children, victims of the hunger blockade. My eight-year-old grandmother was one of those children. She never served in the military, but she suffered in the war nonetheless, and she lived with the results of childhood starvation for the rest of her life.

There are veterens in my family. There are people in my family who have served honorably in wars. My grandfather flew the extraordinarily dangerous supply route over "the Hump" during World War II. But mostly, my family has experienced war as civilians, and because until recently my relatives were Eastern and Central European Jews, that means that members of my family have suffered and died in wars as civilians. There are no days set aside to remember refugees and displaced people. There are no days set aside to honor the suffering of children who were victimized by hunger blockades. My great-great-grandmother was shot by the Nazis, so she gets remembered during Yom HaShoah, but there's no day to remember her children, who successfully fled the Nazis and made their way to Leningrad just in time to starve and freeze in the siege.

So on November 11, I remember everyone who has suffered and sacrificed and died in wars: soldiers and civilians alike. I honor their courage. I marvel at the ability of those who survived to create lives for themselves and their families, despite all they'd endured. And I hope we'll find a way someday to make all this suffering and sacrificing unnecessary.


Kuka said...

A beautiful and thoughtful post.
Thank-you for sharing these stories

Suse-the-slow-knitta said...

That was very moving, and I agree with you wholeheartedly. Let's never forget all those who suffered or died.