K-W prepares to honour veterans

With students of today many generations detached from the two World Wars, and with a diminishing number of veterans able to share their valuable experiences, there is some validity to the question, will Remembrance Day continue to have the significance and importance it deserves?

Remembrance Day ceremonies are an annual fixture in Waterloo Region, observed at local memorials, high schools and universities, among others, while the local Legion continues to have a strong presence.

Mike Bechthold, the communications director of the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies (LCMSDS), acknowledged that “students today are fairly detached [from World War I and II].” For him, the wars were fought by his grandparents’ generation, which rendered them highly significant and relevant.

However, the enormity of the impact of these defining events, Bechthold says, outweighs the effect of the passing of time.

“The First and the Second World Wars are always going to be defining events of the Twentieth Century for Canada, so I think whether you have a personal connection to it or not, Canada as a country is what it is today based on what happened during those war years, so it’s always going to be important,” he summarized.

Bechthold participated in a lecture at the Waterloo Public Library (WPL) last week as part of their annual tradition of hosting a speaker from LCMSDS. The WPL also observes a two-minute period of silence on Remembrance Day.
WPL Manager Alannah d’Ailly was in agreement that the meaning behind Remembrance Day still resonates with younger generations. She commented, “My impression is that young people are surprisingly aware of the first and the second world wars.”

D’Ailly does not believe that students take the rights and privilege guaranteed to Canadians through the actions of veterans for granted. “When you ask about hope…there is a concern about whether what we have is secure, whether all the things that they aspire to are really possible given how much is wrong with the world,” she said. “I think there’s still a concern about what those veterans stood up for.”

Remembrance Day also falls shortly after the conclusion of Holocaust Education Week, which ends on Nov. 9. To commemorate this, Hillel Waterloo, a local affiliation of Jewish students from Wilfrid Laurier and the University of Waterloo, hosted Holocaust survivors Howard and Nancy Kleinberg at UW on Nov. 7.

To briefly summarize their incredible journeys would be a disservice to their experiences, but what can be taken away universally are the lessons of resilience and positivity that define their stories. Despite having endured the horrors of the Nazi regime in renowned concentration camps Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, the Kleinberg’s epitomize love and giving.

Despite the fact that public speaking is now a regular fixture in the couple’s busy lives, Nancy explained, “We had no intentions of sharing this story with the whole world.”

However, after stumbling into the role of educators, they both remained committed to informing people about their Holocaust experiences. Howard added, “Being survivors that we are, we felt that our life story should be an inspiration to a lot of kids. And it’s for this reason that we go around … and we share our story. People get some knowledge, or some learning from it.”

In spite of what the indescribable injustice of what they were forced to endure, Nancy believes, “It shows you one thing, that you cannot live for yourself. You’ve got to do good deeds. If God gives you strength, and you can walk around, and you’re healthy, you have to help others.”

She continued, “I’ll tell you one thing kids, no matter how dark sometimes the day is, hope that tomorrow will be better. Never give up.”
The messages which they shared are ones of hope that are highly applicable to Remembrance Day traditions. On this Nov. 11, consider war and loss, pay due respect to veterans, but look with optimism at the future their sacrifice has made possible.

All community members are encouraged to take part in the Legion’s annual Remembrance Day proceedings which will begin at 10:15 a.m. Friday morning at the Waterloo Cenotaph. If unable to attend, Bechthold encourages people to take the time to thank a veteran. “Just have a few words for them, and just thank them for what they’ve done,” he concluded. “It goes a long way.”

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