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 December 2008 - Nr. 12

Merry Christmas and the best of Seasons from Echo Germanica

Herwig Wandschneider

All visitors to the German war graves at Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener on the day of Volkstrauer have lost someone, a far or close relative, a friend, someone who became a friend in the midst of conflict or an acquaintance. They take the occasion to remember in the company of others with related memories to honour and mourn those who died. They also understand the individual hardships and pains that are caused for all those who still experience the consequences of still active wars, of terrorist acts, conflicts and sufferings in all parts of the world and on all sides. Huge casualties in a conflict are always devastating, but the individual suffering of so many people is what unites on Volkstrauertag.

Only few of the 187 German prisoners of war, who died in Canadian POW camps and were transferred to Woodland Cemetery, will have someone who attends the ceremonies at this location. Here as in other parts of the world someone will attend the local ceremonies and remember someone buried elsewhere at a known gravesite or perhaps even not knowing where that someone rests.

Helene Schramek at Hubert Wio's headstone  [photo: Alfred Lowrick]The ever closer bond, which results from knowing, was never more evident than in an exchange of e-mails with Hans-Juergen Wio in Moscow, who found the Echo Germanica website and wrote to our publisher. He and his family have attended Volkstrauertag in Moscow without knowing and have finally tracked the gravesite of his grandfather Hubert Wio to Kitchener’s Woodland Cemetery. Now they have also managed to make direct contact with someone, who can bring the gravesite closer to them through pictures and by following the Volkstrauertag ceremonies in Kitchener through articles published on the Internet. There will also be an account of the ceremony in Moscow, where Russians only participate since the year 2005, 60 years after the war is over.

Volkstrauertag 2008 in Kitchener, Ontario  [photo: Herwig Wandschneider]

Headstone of Hubert Wio & Franz Thalmayr  [photo: Herwig Wandschneider]Hans-Juergen and his family now know that their grandfather, Gefreiter Hubert Wio, rests in a cared-for cemetery and is part of remembrance in Canada. After 65 years, the grandfather is suddenly still closer to the hearts and souls of the Wio family.

1943 Funeral of Hubert Wio in CanadaHubert Wio was wounded in Africa and brought to Canada, where he died of his head-wounds at age 34 in 1943. The Camp commander wrote to Mrs. Hubert Wio (freely translated): "…German as well as Canadian doctors have done everything humanly possible to cure the head injuries your spouse - our fellow soldier - suffered in Africa". At the time, Hubert Wio was laid to rest with full military honours at the Hillside cemetery in Medicine Hat, Alberta. In 1970 he was transferred together with other POWs, who died in 36 different camps in Canada, to one common site here at the German War Graves site at Woodland cemetery. Hubert Wio shares a headstone with Franz Thalmayr. In an e-mail, grandson Hans-Juergen expressed his gratitude to the people of Canada for treating POW’s in a human, honourable way…"

In spite of the rather cold weather, this year’s ceremony was attended by an estimated 400 people. The service was organized by the German-Canadian Remembrance Society under the direction of its President, Helene Schramek. Gerhard Griebenow, Chair of the Co-operative Council of German Canadian Clubs of Waterloo Region and the Principal of the German Language School Concordia, spoke of the significance of this site as the only German commemorative venue in Canada.

Following the musical contributions of the Transylvania Brass Band under the direction of Jeremy Frim and the Concordia Choirs, directed by Dr. Alfred Kunz, Pastor Manfred Strauss addressed the participants in prayer. Mrs. Stefanie von Oppenkowski, Deputy Consul General of Toronto representing the Federal Republic of Germany, then addressed the participants recounting the history and tragedies represented by this Memorial.

Wreaths were laid by representatives of the German Consulate General, representatives of all Canadian Government levels, veterans and ever more representatives of German Clubs and German Associations from South Central Ontario and beyond. Final prayer was spoken by Martin Jacek Ron Schatz plays the Zapfenstreich  [photo: Alfred Lowrick]Mikulski, Pastor of the German Congregation at St. Mary’s Parish, followed by "Ich hatte eine Kameraden" played by the Transylvania Brass Band.

The ceremony concluded with the Zapfenstreich, played with emotional clarity - in spite of the cold - by Ron Schatz, Conductor of the Transylvania Brass Band.

Strangely, the Zapfenstreich was suddenly even more meaningful for me knowing the emotional connection between Hans-Juergen in Moscow and his grandfather at this Memorial site has been established with ever greater presence.

Email to Herwig Wandschneider
Herwig Wandschneider reports about issues regarding art, performances, dance, business and professional events especially from the Kitchener-Waterloo region

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