Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

"German dead were piled into mass graves"


SteveMarsdin
 Share

Recommended Posts

Good evening All,

I read a Remembrance feature in The Press (York) on Friday based on and recounting the journalist's son's recent half-term school trip to Flanders:

http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/features/column...irst_World_War/

It's fairly standard stuff but one paragraph caught my eye:

"He told me of how few German cemeteries there are and how the German dead were piled into mass graves under black crosses because, burdened with reparation payments, the Germans didn't have their own war graves commission and were treated as the enemy, even after death"

From what I have read (including on this Forum) and visited, this isn't wholly correct, is it ?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Good afternoon All,

I was thinking of e-mailing the journalist because I don't feel that that paragraph truly reflects how both "sides" respected the others dead, which I feel is particularly important at this time of remembrance.

During the war the German Army/administration had specialist sections dealing with graves and cemeteries etc. After the end of the war I think the Treaty of Versailles made the German graves the responsibility of the respective countries in which they were buried. The VDK came into being in 1919 and worked with the various other countries. There was consolidation of many graves into larger cemeteries between the wars and after and the question of the headstone/cross/colour has been well discussed on another thread.

The idea that all the German dead were collected up and "piled" into mass graves etc. etc.is not how I understand it (but as I am less familiar with Flanders than elsewhere) before I e-mail her I would welcome the opinions of others.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

She also says, "I took for granted that every British town and village has a war memorial, without wondering why the same isn’t true in other countries." I think she would find that even the small communities in France and Germany have war memorials. I have lots of photos of haunting, poignant German memorials.

Re the burials. I have little knowledge of practices, but having a quick look in 'Weathered Witness', by Wim Degrande and Patrick Goossens, I found the statement that German cemeteries during wartime were "sited in carefully chosen locations, particularly in wooded environments (where they were known as Waldfriedhof) or on long slopes. Experts were involved in laying out cemeteries: architects, builders, masons, gardeners, etc." The authors describe common characteristics, such as monumental entrances, fenced enclosures, individual graves with durable headstones and sometimes monuments. They say that the lasting design of them meant that some survive today. I have certainly seen relics which predate the end of the war.

Some of the German cemeteries I have photographed in the Vosges are still recognisable as those in the early photographs, even if the bodies have been disinterred and taken to a concentration cemetery. (There is a 1920s postcard of a concentration cemetery at the end of my Reichackerkopf thread.) Some are, sadly, close to the hospital bunkers.

I'm sure there are people with far greater expertise. Maybe it would be worth amending the title of your thread?

VdK

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks Gwyn,

Hopefully the new heading may attract more response !

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Most German dead (or a high proportion) are in mass graves, it is true, but there is always a large plaque on the grave giving the names of all or most of the men buried there. I have always puit down to a simple cultural difference, but I may be wrong.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have seen references to French reluctance to allow high profile German monuments to remain, especially where they were considered triumphalist. That would be understandable in a post war France and may have been exaggerated. Certainly there are German mass graves and ossuaries, their French equivalent. It was a deliberate decision by the British for each man to have a headstone but any visitor will know that some of the cemeteries are very close to mass burial even where the separate headstones memorialise the men who lie beneath.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Steve,

the attached pic gives an imagination of such mass-grave. This one is situated in the German military cemetery St. Laurant-Blangy near Arras. Nearly 25 000 men (!) were buried here. The half of them unknown.

When I visited this site my first idea was "unworthy". I was sad and angry too about these conditions. Later I changed my mind. Here you can experience what war is, with all your senses. An impressive memorial against war.

Regards

Fritz

post-12337-1257784262.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In some German cemeteries there are ossuaries or mass graves and rows of crosses. Does this mean that the crosses are simply symbolic - that is, the bodies are in the mass graves and not laid out in rows where the crosses are?

I appreciate that in some circumstances it would not be possible to place each cross neatly at the exact spot where the man was buried.

This is Hohrod cemetery in the 1920s. It's a concentration cemetery.

4080877153_1fbc3fc213.jpg

There is an ossuary at the top, but the ground where the crosses are looks disturbed. Are there the remains of men under the crosses, or are they all in the ossuary? Or is the cemetery a mixture? I had assumed that the ossuary is for incomplete remains, who are listed on plaques on the stone work, and that the named crosses are where identifiable individuals lie. I would welcome clarification.

Gwyn

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...