I’m Belgian, from Flanders to be completely exact, the uncle of my grandmother fought on the Eastern Front as a member of the SS.

The silly thing is that he only joined because he liked the uniforms. No political motivation whatsoever. He claimed the Russians tortured their captives worse than the Germans, which is of course his very biased opinion. I don’t remember him saying anything else about it.

I grew up with that family ‘anecdote’ of him joining a band of murderers because of their fancy uniforms, and it always made me aware of how silly people’s motivation can be. So when I read about wars I always thought of uncle Jef, and how we can probably never know why millions of people decided to do something, even something awful.

On my father’s side we have an other such anecdote. My great-grandfather worked at the train station of a small town in Belgium. One day he was roaring drunk and he sidetracked a German troop train, completely by mistake, he was just drunk off his ass. The resistance gave him a medal for that after the war…

Reality is so very different from what we read in history books.

 

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