The fourth in the series of presentations on “Opportunities”

by R. W. Brother Friedhelm Hoffmann

District Deputy Grand Master of South Huron District

Upon his Official Visit to Craig Lodge #574.

7 November 2017

Brethren this “Service of Remembrance” was very well done. You do this every year and you do it so well, as you do with the work of your Lodge. I am glad to be here.

Having this kind of service together should be one of our most important activities. Remembering the people that we loved. Remembering those we knew or did not know – but cherishing their accomplishment in life, accomplishments for each other. Brotherly love. That’s all. Brotherly love is what we reflect on when we think of departed brothers and people around us. We learn in life and reflect in Masonry about life, but also about death. When we reflect on death then we are not celebrating life and trying to forget what death all about is. No. We need to mourn about a loss of a brother or a person in our lives that we have loved irrelevant as to how that love is individualized to our personal experience with that person. A Memorial Service gives us an opportunity to be inspired by mourning and reflecting on life, but also on death. With all due respect to ‘celebrations of life’ which does have its place, but too often, way too often, we forget to mourn because we are busy just celebrating someone’s life and if we do not watch out, it could cover up the mourning that is in us, but we do not want to admit to it. Mourning is important. Mourning helps us to get over issues and loss of love. It actually makes us stronger. Memorials are an important part of our life. Through our degrees, Masonry teaches us about that as well. We as Masons in today’s life can be an example to others. Death and mourning is sometimes seen as a ‘weakness’, and our western world seems to not want to deal with death. Memorials and remembering are therefore important for 2 reasons;

  1. For the mourning, suffering and loss. For reflection on life and death and life after death.

  2. In remembering history of someone’s life, the history of a country, hero’s, martyrs and war.

We remember their lives and often we take them as an example of how to go forward in our own lives or in our decisions based on their experiences. People that died to save others, people that did wonderful things to help and spread love all over. We all have our own people and heroes we know.

That is why we have Remembrance Day celebrations all over the world. All countries have such observances. This past week or coming up, especially this Saturday, we remember the war heroes, the ones that died sacrificing their lives and the ones who suffered as a result.

I want to tell you a very personal story that I experienced that may help to reflect about this.

As you know I am German. I grew up there and spent my first 31 years before I came to Canada. I have now lived 20 years in this great country of Canada. I was born in 1966, 20 years after the Second World War. That War had an immense impact on my home country. Not just the war but the events leading up to this war and the gruesome realization that is was our fault in deed.

When I went to high school, history was always a major part of the curriculum. And not just general history where we can talk about Europe for weeks and years but there was a very strong emphasis on the 3rd Reich and the Nazi Party that took over the government under the leader or ‘Fuehrer Adolf Hitler’. We were taught how the war came to be and how the Nazis took power, how they rose and were organized and what the ideology of these people was in Germany and what it meant for the world and the world’s reaction and so on. I had to study intensely the war and what our strategies were. It was not just taught by American war hero movies where often the big pictures are not even mentioned which can bring a false picture. No! Those were not even allowed. The lessons were sincere and thorough in order for the students to understand what that kind of thinking, that kind of propaganda and that kind of ideology did to people and nations.

And why so thorough? Why not skip some bad part? In order to ensure that this will never ever happen again! And it didn’t stop at High School. It was part again in training for farmer’s school and college. It was offered at the University for Agriculture as well. It wasn’t just on Remembrance Day. The teachers were very well informed and details were important as much as the big dates.

Another part of this study was the Holocaust. The catastrophe of antisemitism was the most gruesome part that history beside the war in the ideology of us Germans. One part of our lessons was that we had to watch the documental films that were done in the concentration camps or in the ghettos that were built for the Jewish community and minorities. One impressive part of our education was when we had to travel to Nurnberg, once the central communication headquarters for the Nazi party. The stadium is still there where big parades and meetings were held. But right in the midst of Nurnberg there is a Museum dedicated to the holocaust. And we were all happy in the bus going there, until we came to this Museum. I am not going into details but I remember there was a huge pile of shoes, half the size of this room and as half way to the ceiling. Shoes that were taken from the people who had to live in concentration camps just before they were shot or killed in the gas chamber. All clothes were collected and separated, the gold taken out of the teeth, hair was collected in order to make something out of it. That pile of true shoes in front of me silenced everyone in a heartbeat. It was almost as if I could reach out and touch history, reach out and touch the suffering and reach out and touch death. It surrounded me – all of us. The museum showed many more visuals like this to us. When we made that 90 minute drive home, there was silence in the bus all the way.

I never will forget that. The guilt that came over me has stuck with me. The inhuman act will be remembered for all my life. The knowledge and the close feel stays as a shock in me. Never ever can that happen again. Perhaps now you understand why Germany takes a bit of a different approach when it comes to the migrant issue in the world. We cannot let people suffer and die. We cannot be responsible again for any one of them.

Then I came to Canada and I became a Mason. I became Master in 2005 of Huron Lodge #224 and I was asked on Remembrance Day to put a wreath down at the cenotaph for the fallen soldiers in both world wars and wars since. When it came time to lay down the wreath, all the history came down on me….I was completely emotionally overcome. I, as a German, was standing here in the country of the soldiers that fought against my country – not once but twice – lost so many lives killed by my people and I am laying a wreath down to remember them. You might understand that this could be a bit much. I could control myself, but it was difficult. This renewed in me even more how shitty war is. It doesn’t matter why. It is just not good.

And lastly to this experience. My Grandfather was in the war and was imprisoned following. Before he died, we would always ask him what his role was and his experiences. He never ever talked about it. Not a word. After his death we found out that he was an accountant through the war working in a concentration camp. We wonder what he had to account for. We do not know. Although he never was a Nazi Party member he had to fulfill his duty. No one had a choice – comply or be killed. Another close family experience to history.

I am sure that every one of us tonight takes something out of remembering of the dead, the remembering of history and why we urgently need to remember! So we are better tomorrow than we were in the past or present. Every time we exercise the rituals in our degrees, we remember and are reminded of good and bad. We are reminded that there are ways in our lives that we need to or can do better. All are hints and reminders that we need to hear over and over again and Symbols that we share or just look at, reminding us of what we stand for and what we need to do. Lessons learned from history. Life without that kind of remembering and reflecting will be very poor.