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Observed byGermany
DateSecond Sunday before Advent
2022 dateNovember 13
2023 dateNovember 19

Volkstrauertag (German: [ˈfɔlkstʁaʊ̯ɐˌtaːk] , German for "people's day of mourning") is a commemoration day in Germany two Sundays before the first day of Advent. It commemorates members of the armed forces of all nations and civilians who died in armed conflicts, to include victims of violent oppression. It was first observed in its modern form in 1952.[1]


Commemoration ceremony in the Reichstag, March 1928
A memorial to First and Second World War German soldiers in Tannheim, Baden-Württemberg

In 1893, the Kingdom of Prussia consolidated many days of repentance and prayer celebrated by various Protestant denominations and in various German-speaking regions into Buß- und Bettag, a national work-holiday celebrated on the Wednesday before November 23.[2]

In 1919, the German War Graves Commission (Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge) proposed a Volkstrauertag for German soldiers killed in the First World War. It was first held in 1922 in the Reichstag. In 1926, Volkstrauertag became a feature on what Catholics considered Reminiscere (the second Sunday of Lent.)[3]

In the Weimar years, Volkstrauertag was not a legal holiday for several reasons:

  • The Weimar Constitution did not make it clear whether the authority to define legal holidays lay with the Reich or the Länder (states). Over the years this led to local differences in regulations, dates, and interpretations.
  • The two largest Christian churches were not in agreement over a suitable date for remembrance since each already had its own day for remembering the dead in November: the Catholic All Souls' Day and the Protestant Totensonntag. A proposed date in spring, Invocavit (the first Sunday in Lent) or Reminiscere (the second Sunday in Lent), was in Passiontide and Protestant churches often held confirmation services then.
  • The political instability of the Weimar Republic obstructed some attempts to regulate the Volkstrauertag day through legislation, since the Reichstag was suspended several times in mid-term.

Heldengedenktag (1934–45)[edit]

On 27 February 1934, the Nazis 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. Furthermore, five years later the Nazis abolished Buß- und Bettag as a non-working day and moved its commemoration to the following Sunday, to further the war effort.[4]

On 21 March 1943, Adolf Hitler visited the Zeughaus Berlin, the old armory on Unter den Linden, to inspect captured Soviet weapons as part of his Heldengedenktag speech and ceremony in the wake of the catastrophic German defeat at Battle of Stalingrad.[5] A group of top Nazi and leading military officials—among them Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, and Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz—were present as well. As an expert, Oberst Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff was to guide Hitler on a tour of the exhibition. Moments after Hitler entered the museum, Gersdorff set off two ten-minute delayed fuses on explosive devices hidden in his coat pockets. His plan was to throw himself around Hitler in a death embrace that would blow them both up.[6] A detailed plan for a coup d'état had been worked out and was ready to go; but, contrary to expectations, Hitler raced through the museum in less than ten minutes. After he had left the building, Gersdorff was able to defuse the devices in a public bathroom "at the last second." After the attempt, he was immediately transferred back to the Eastern Front where he managed to evade suspicion.[7]

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.

Modern form[edit]

After the end of World War II, Volkstrauertag was observed in its original form in West Germany, beginning in 1948.[8] 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 liturgical 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.[9] The national anthem and the song "Ich hatt' einen Kameraden" ("I had a comrade") are then played.[10] Most Länder 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.


  1. ^ Hausen, Karin (2013-08-14). Geschlechtergeschichte als Gesellschaftsgeschichte (in German). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. ISBN 9783647370255.
  2. ^ Hornig, Ernst (1977). Die Bekennende Kirche in Schlesien 1933–1945: Geschichte u. Dokumente (in German). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. ISBN 9783525555545.
  3. ^ Ziemann, Benjamin (2013). Contested Commemorations: Republican War Veterans and Weimar Political Culture. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781107028890.
  4. ^ Sider, Gerald M.; Smith, Gavin A. (1997). Between History and Histories: The Making of Silences and Commemorations. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9780802078834.
  5. ^ Nazi Day of the Dead – Berlin 1943 Mark Felton
  6. ^ Nazi Day of the Dead – Berlin 1943 Mark Felton
  7. ^ Roger Moorhouse Killing Hitler (2006), pp. 192–193.
  8. ^ Reichel, Peter; Schmid, Harald; Steinbach, Peter (2009). Der Nationalsozialismus, die zweite Geschichte: Überwindung, Deutung, Erinnerung (in German). C.H.Beck. ISBN 9783406583421.
  9. ^ "Der Bundespräsident / Reisen und Termine / Gedenkstunde zum Volkstrauertag". www.bundespraesident.de (in German). Retrieved 2018-11-04.
  10. ^ ""Der gute Kamerad" – Woher kommt der Volkstrauertag?". www.evangelisch.de (in German). Retrieved 2018-11-04.

External links[edit]

Media related to Volkstrauertag at Wikimedia Commons