Volkstrauertag (national day of mourning) is a public holiday in Germany. It is observed two Sundays before the first of Advent, and commemorates those who died in war. It was first observed in 1952.
A Volkstrauertag was proposed in 1919 by the German War Graves Commission (Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge) as a commemoration for German soldiers killed in the First World War. It was first held in 1922 in the Reichstag and in 1926, it was decided to observe Volkstrauertag regularly on Reminiscere (the second Sunday of Lent.)
In the Weimar Republic, Volkstrauertag was not a legal holiday for several reasons:
- It was not clearly defined in the Weimar constitution whether the authority to define legal holidays lay with the Reich or the states. Over the years this led to local differences in regulations, dates and interpretations.
- The two largest Christian churches were in conflict over a suitable date for remembrance. Both already had a day of mourning the dead in November: the Catholic All Souls' Day, and the Protestant Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. A proposed date in spring, Invocavit (the first Sunday in Lent) or Reminiscere (the second Sunday in Lent), was in Passiontide. This was also important for both churches, since confirmation services take place at this time in many Protestant parishes.
- The political instability of the Weimar Republic obstructed some attempts to regulate the Volkstrauertag day through legislation, since the Reichstag was suspended several times mid-term.
On February 27th, 1934, the National Socialists
introduced national holiday legislation to create Heldengedenktag
(Day of Commemoration of Heroes), cementing the observance. In the process, they completely changed the character of the holiday: the emphasis shifted to hero worship rather than remembering all the dead.
as Propaganda Minister issued guidelines on content and implementation, instructing that flags no longer be flown at half-mast. The last Heldengedenktag
was celebrated in 1945.
After the end of World War Two, Volkstrauertag was observed in its original form beginning in 1948. The first central meeting of the German War Graves Commission took place in 1950 in the Bundestag in Bonn, and in an effort to distinguish Volkstrauertag from Heldengedenktag, its date was changed to the end of the ecclesiastical year, a time traditionally devoted to thoughts of death, time, and eternity.
An official observation of Volkstrauertag takes place in the German Bundestag. The German Bundespräsident traditionally gives a speech with the Chancellor, the cabinet and the diplomatic corps present. The national anthem and the song "Ich hatt' einen Kameraden" are then played. Most states also hold their own ceremonies.
Because of the relation to Advent, the date is the Sunday nearest 16 November, i.e. in the period from 13 November to 19 November.