By William B. Carey
The exchange of joint visits between the leaders of the United States and Japan to Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor, two places of horrendous mutual destruction in World War II, has been moving and welcome. However, over the years, there have been other significant war memorials elsewhere, though they have been less publicized. I would like to present one that I first became aware of some years ago.
In the summer of 1950, having just graduated from college, I made my first post-war trip to Europe. Responding to an invitation from a former German language professor of my older brother, Henry, I included a visit to Muenster. The professor was there on a sabbatical in that important north German city, which had been the cultural capital of Westphalia. More than 60 percent of the city had been destroyed by Allied bombing, mainly in October of 1944.
Since I usually visit European cathedrals to admire their architecture, I had to see the one in Muenster. Its damage was massive and, five years after the war, still largely unrepaired. However, I was impressed by the diligence and friendliness of the German students and others I met socially in the city. I almost forgot that Henry had been killed in combat on the front in France, not very far away.
In 1987, I had the chance to attend an international research meeting in nearby Bielefeld and on the way wanted to revisit Muenster. In 37 years the city and its cathedral had been impressively rebuilt. On a Sunday morning I ventured into that barely recognizable structure. One of my many recollections of the new interior was the glorious sound of an organ and flute duet.
As I emerged through the entrance, I noticed on the external surface an oddly placed stone built into the wall. Under it was a plaque with inscriptions in both German and English. The essence of the message is this:
"This stone was taken with permission from the ruins of the cathedral at Coventry in England, which was bombed by the Luftwaffe in 1940. Let us forgive each other."
The extent of the Coventry destruction was evidently second only to that of London and Plymouth. Both Coventry and Muenster were then, and are again today, important industrial cities.
Whenever I remember that message on the wall, I am overwhelmed by sadness over the horrible war we all experienced. But I also feel the joy of having been unexpectedly reassured that these bombs did not destroy human decency and compassion.
William B. Carey is a physician in Philadelphia. firstname.lastname@example.org