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Volkstrauertag (German: people's mourning day) is a public holiday in Germany on the second from last Sunday before the first day of Advent. It commemorates all those who died in armed conflicts or as the victims of violent oppression. It was first observed in its modern form 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 years, Volkstrauertag was not a legal holiday for several reasons:
On 27 February 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 the dead. Joseph Goebbels 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 in West Germany, beginning in 1948. The first central meeting of the German War Graves Commission took place in 1950 in the Bundestag in Bonn. In 1952, 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. Its scope was also broadened to include those who died due to the violence of an oppressive government, not just those who died in war.
An official observation of Volkstrauertag takes place in the German Bundestag. The President of Germany 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 provinces also hold their own ceremonies; veterans usually organize ceremonies that include a procession from the respective Church service to a war memorial, prayer by the pastor, speeches by the mayor and the veterans' chairmen, a military guard of honor, several wreaths are laid, and “Ich hatt' einen Kameraden”; where available, also with the attendance of a Bundeswehr officer as official representative.
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.