My family has two very different connections to World War II. My dad is Jewish; his parents were Concentration Camp survivors who met after the war, immigrating to the soon-to-be land of Israel. They died when I was young. There was a story that my grandmother was actually my grandfather's second wife; they were separated during the Holocaust. He had a daughter too, and we don't know if they survived. My dad says his parents never spoke about their experiences; my grandfather survived Auschwitz.
My mom's side has a bit of a story too. She's Canadian- seventh generation. Her father served in the Armed Forces in Atlantic Canada. My grandmother still tells me stories of letters he'd send; he couldn't say what he did, or where exactly he was. He served in the same regiment as my great aunt's first husband, and towards the end half the men were slated to go overseas. My grandfather ended up being in the half that stayed in Canada; the other man went overseas where he died.
History for me is more than dates on a calendar. It is stories like my grandfathers,' and the places where it happened. I was in St. John's Newfoundland and Labrador a few years ago and visited Cape Spear. They have monuments there commerating the fact German U-Boats were stopped as they were trying to enter the St. Lawrence; it was so easy to picture the soldiers looking out over the Atlantic from their perches.
I've been to London, U.K. in November, 2010. I arrived about a week or so after Remembrance Day, and there were still wreaths at the cenotaphs. I spent my last day before coming home at the Churchill War Museum taking the audio tour and it was one of the highlights of my trip. The place, and the time came alive for me; it was as if I stepped into another world. The map room was the same as it was when the war ended- the soldiers just packed up their things and went home at the end of their shift. I had trouble imaging that!
History has a way of repeating itself. It won't if we choose to experience it- listen to family stories, visit museums; the places where it happened. As long as we do, we can learn from it.