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East Germany Table of Contents

East Germany

Military Traditions and Ceremonies

The fostering of military traditions occupies a large place in the political and ideological instruction of East Germans before, during, and after military service. In the NVA, this instruction is said to be based on resolutions of the SED Central Committee and the government, as well as the research findings of Marxist-Leninist historiography.

Numerous forms of recalling military, socialist, and revolutionary traditions are observed: the presentation of banners; ceremonies centered on the taking of the oath of allegiance; the awarding of honorifics to units, garrisons, schools, and ships; the creation of unit museums; the maintenance of rolls of honor; meetings with veterans; visits to historic sites and the East German Army Museum; and anniversary celebrations. Major elements in these observances, which are continually revised and augmented, can be categorized as follows: commemoration of glorious feats of arms in the service of progress; recognition of exemplary soldiers, political figures, socialist groups, and NVA units; celebration of East GermanSoviet and socialist brotherhood-in-arms; and identification of military traditions that are to be rejected because of their undesirable historic associations. Certain historic events such as the Great Peasant War of 1525, the 1923 communist uprising in Hamburg, and the building of the Berlin Wall fall into the first category. Among the exemplary personalities are Rosa Luxemburg, August Bebel, Götz von Berlichingen, General Carl von Clausewitz, Richard Sorge, Friedrich Engels, and General Gerhard von Scharnhorst. In the modern army, NVA soldiers and entire units can be declared worthy of emulation as well. Marching songs, parades, garrison reveille, honor guards at the Memorial to the Victims of Fascism and Militarism and elsewhere, and celebrations commemorating such events as anniversaries, the completion of a certain amount of flight time, or victories in socialist competition also serve as reminders of socialist tradition and instruments of political and social integration.

Each NVA unit has its own banner, which is used in taking the oath of allegiance. It is held so sacred that the unit itself is not permitted to repair a damaged banner. The banner must be defended at all costs; if it is lost or falls into enemy hands, the unit is dissolved, and the commander and those soldiers deemed directly culpable are called to account.

Some traditions of recent vintage have a public relations function. For example, upon leaving active duty every member of the NVA or Border Troops is given two reservist handkerchiefs. One, a fancy handkerchief, is for the reservist himself; the other, made of lace, is intended for his wife, girlfriend, or mother. Other traditions intentionally recall historic antecedents: the uniforms, except for the fur cap of the winter uniform, resemble in cut those of the Wehrmacht. In fact, the steel helmet was designed at the end of World War II by the Wehrmacht's Army Ordnance Office.

Data as of July 1987