German WWII Vets Gettting Proper Burials
Sat Nov 29, 1:24 PM ET
By MATT DUEHOLM, Associated Press Writer
LIETZEN, Germany - As the Red Army advanced on Berlin in 1945, Adolf Hitler threw everything from teenagers to elderly men into Nazi Germany's last stand. Even now soldiers are still being unearthed, and the search is likely to go on for a long time yet.
The difference is that with the Cold War over and Germany reunited, these men are getting a proper burial, and their families are finding closure.
A group that cares for German war graves tends the remains of hundreds of World War II soldiers found every year in the heights and pine forests east and south of Berlin.
"The earth was drowned in blood here," Gisela Kowalke, who works for the mostly donation-funded group, said at a recent burial ceremony for 86 soldiers killed during the fighting in early 1945.
"We estimate there are still 30,000 soldiers we haven't found. We'll never find them all."
The latest remains, most discovered during dike construction near the Oder river that now separates Germany and Poland, were put in black boxes and buried in a small cemetery alongside nearly 1,000 comrades.
All were killed in the area when Soviet generals sent waves of men against the Wehrmacht. After a massive pounding, the strategic Seelow Heights fell to the Soviets in April, opening the way to Berlin. An estimated 38,000 Soviet and Polish troops died, along with 12,000 German defenders.
After the Nazi surrender in May 1945, German civilians began returning to their homes, but the remains of countless dead soldiers were simply thrown into holes and covered with dirt.
Today construction crews still routinely check the ground for unexploded mines or bombs before starting work.
When a soldier's remains are found, Kowalke's group -- the Union for the Care of German War Graves -- gets called to remove and bury them in Lietzen and other cemeteries in Brandenburg, the state that surrounds Berlin. Funeral services are held up to five times a year.
About 70 percent of the remains are of soldiers of the Wehrmacht, the German armed forces, and more than half of those have identity tags. But it can take more than a year for the family to be traced and contacted by the government's Administration for the Notification of the Relatives of Former Wehrmacht Soldiers.
Tracking remains of Red Army soldiers is harder because most don't have ID tags, said Margaret Jahn, an official from a nearby town with a Soviet war cemetery. When they are identifiable, German officials pass the information to Russia, she said.
Lietzen's grave markers starkly illustrate Hitler's last-ditch attempts to save the Third Reich: The soldiers ranged in age from over 60 to just 15.
Hedwig Schnurre, 84, heard two weeks before the latest funeral that her husband, Jakob Schuth, had been found and was being buried at Lietzen. He was a 30-year-old sergeant when he died.
"It was an absolute shock," said Schnurre, who remarried after the war. "It stirred up all of my memories of him and of our life together. We'd long thought we'd never find out where he was."
Ingeborg Borchardt, 72, came to pay her last respects to her father, August Brand, who had been pressed into Wehrmacht service out of a civilian job and was killed at age 37.
"It's a pure miracle," said Borchardt, fighting back tears. "I'm happy he finally has a resting place."
The burial ceremonies would have been impossible when Brandenburg was part of communist East Germany, whose official ideology denied any continuity with prewar Germany.
"Before 1990, all these soldiers were just fascists," said Gisela Kowalke's husband, Erwin. "It was a political matter. But death and burial don't have to do with politics."
Led by a pastor and attended by government and military officials, the ceremony this month was somber and devoid of patriotic sentiment.
The 86 soldiers "didn't want to be heroes," local government official Juergen Reinking said in a speech. "They just wanted to go home to their wives and children. Every person has a right to live in peace, and we must be vigilant to guard this right."
What a damn irritating article! Not just that the Stalinist scum denied them for many decades what no civilized people would have refused, namely a proper burial, no! In the end we have to listen to the usual bleeding heart peace yabber as well AGAIN. Seems one can't talk to a German about the gross national product of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg or the North Norwegian climate or whatever without being lectured about war and how vigilant we must be not to let it happen again.
We don't know what those soldiers wanted, or didn't want, probably just to survive. But we can safely assume that without the war that prat would now be an office clerk at some local government in the Reichsprotectorate West-Franconia or some such place.
But then, if Germans say "never again", they invariably mean WWII and a war that may spoil Germans' grandiose self-image, so maybe all that peace crap really IS about Großdeutsches Reich nostalgia, after all.