On the train to Osaka last week, I sat opposite a young woman. She was casually dressed and carried a large shoulder bag that she had placed on her lap. As such, it was nothing out of the ordinary, and I did not pay much attention to her at first.

The Germany-Russia non-agression pact being signedWhen I put down my book, however, I noticed the writing on her bag – it appeared to be from the front page of an old French newspaper – and I felt oddly offended. The article said something about von Ribbentrop signing the non-aggression pact with Russia and I went “HUH?”. It’s history of WWII, or rather its beginnings, August 24th, 1939 to be precise, and it felt very odd seeing any such reference being used to spruce up an accessory. I realize that the young woman probably did not know the meaning of the French and the historical significance behind the headline, and probably neither did the bag’s designer. Hence, I would assume that there was no offense intended by either of them.

For myself, I cannot explain what exactly caused the uneasy feeling about the bag: Is it that talking about WWII is still somewhat taboo in Austria and always comes with mixed feelings? That my grandparents lived through it and the few tales they did tell about it were no pretty ones? Or was it simply the thoughtlessness behind the act? I thought about that for a while and I still have no answer…