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AliceF

German cemeteries in France

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Hi,

A week ago I received a little parcel from Kassel. The Volksbund (German equivalent to CWGC) had sent me a DVD with all digitized volumes of their members’ magazine. From 1921 onwards, which I had ordered only a couple of days before. I have only scanned through the first volumes. Here there are lists of cemeteries with German soldiers buried in France (in 1920 there must have been 1000s), sometimes there are comments on the state of the cemetery and if burials were moved. But there are also a lot of accounts of travels to these cemeteries written by relatives.

So it was possible to visit France for those who could afford it. And even if the description of the cemeteries sounds often quite depressing the first years – it improves during the coming years. In many stories it is described how helpful French were to find burial places of German soldiers for their relatives.

I start with a part from 1925 (translated by google with slight changes – but I am not sure if my changes make it worse or better):

“I received the visa at a French consulate in Frankfurt am Main to visit the grave of our son at the cemetery of St. Gilles in Roye. [...] . The German cemetery St Gilles is located on a hill, about an hour away from Roye. 4000 German soldiers sleep here their last sleep. [...]. The graves have no hills and are separated by narrow paths. The dead soldiers are placed head to head, each grave is wearing a simple black wooden cross with numbers. At the time of my visit there were only three graves decorated with flowers out of thousands. I saluted the grave of my son in silent awe ... .”

1925 Dezember

Christine

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Hello,

The magazines are indeed a great source of information. I have the collection as well.

Jan

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Hi Christine,

I receive the Stimme & Weg magazine and didn't see the DVD you mention. Probably because I have to Google Translate also. Do you have a shortcut to the ordering site?

Thanks,

Dave

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Jan, yes I thought you might have them as a source for your research!

Dave,

I saw this webpage from the Volksbund here (about their archive):

http://www.volksbund.de/archiv0.html

It was this sentence here i noticed:“Eine weitere Ergänzung erfolgte durch die komplette Digitalisierung aller Ausgaben unserer seit 1921 erscheinenden Mitgliederzeitschrift Kriegsgräberfürsorge, die 1982 in Stimme & Weg – Arbeit für den Frieden umbenannt wurde.“

Saying that the member’s journal is digitized – all of them since 1921. So I wrote an e-mail given at that page (see link above , Mr Paessler), asking how these are accessible. Well, there were sent for free to me within a couple of days – for “own research purposes”. I’ll pay in form of a voluntary contribution to the Volksbund.

The files I got are most in Djvu, which can be installed, but works at my computer only in internet explorer not in google chrome. I had to get some help from the family to get it work. It includes also a database search function which allows to search for example place names. (All instructions were sent in German - not sure if they have in English version).

Good luck!

Christine

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Here another one:

In early July I made a journey to the grave of my only son, to Caix in the Dep. Somme. [...] The cemetery offers a sad sight: no fence, one broad middle path, to the left and right of it the row graves, ½ feet raised above the ground, just like in the cemetery on the "Chemin des Dames". The caretaker of the cemetery, a one armed war invalid, keeps the cemetery tidy. A sad sight, not a single flower, no green bushes on the entire cemetery. If I can, I want to plant flowers on the entire row of graves, where my son is – in this cemetery 1232 German soldiers rest in individual graves. The cemetery of the French soldiers, which is part of the local cemetery, gives a very bad impression. It is all overgrown with weeds. Nearby is the English cemetery. We Germans should be ashamed: the cemetery resembles a magnificent flower garden. This autumn the grave of every English soldier gets a headstone.”

March 1926

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That sounds fascinating. I may trouble them for a copy and send a few euro for the flowers for the unknown.

Thanks for sharing Christine.

Dave

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The problem was that Germany was officially not allowed to take care of its graves according to the Versailles Treaty (only allied and associated commissions were allowed to take care of the graves). The Versailles Treaty (art. 225) was first broken by Belgium when in 1925-1926 a German war graves service was allowed to take over the German graves in Belgium in a secret agreement. Not much later, the French allowed the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge to do some refurbishing of the German cemeteries, although the French government stayed officially in charge of the German graves.

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Jan, you are right, good to point out the different conditions.

Egbert, thank you for the link to your thread! A bit difficult to continue with my google translate versions – after having read it. Yes, there is quite a bit lost in translation, but I hope it is still understandable for those who are interested.

Anyway here another one:

“[…] A few steps and we are in the cemetery. In the front of us were about 2000 graves of French soldiers (with white crosses) and behind about 5000 graves of German soldiers (black crosses), including our only son. There were also two mass graves of unknown German soldiers. A forest of crosses! The hand goes by itself to remove the hat from the head in awe. The deep silence affects the mood; probably the hardest man gets tears in the eyes thinking of all the shed blood of these brave men. War invalids ensure the maintenance of the cemetery, especially that no weeds are growing. Only one single tomb had flowers, daisies. A mother had brought them from Germany and had planted them herself on the grave of her son, a Braunschweiger. The woman had traveled here alone, without being able to speak one word French and even without knowing the number of the grave of her son.”

March 1926

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Christine

Thank you for posting these accounts,

Charlie

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Christine thank you so much for posting these moving reports and bring them to the attention of British readers.

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Thank you for your comments Charlie and Egbert!

Well, I’ll continue with some more, here another one:

“On December the 31st in 1925 my wife and I visited the grave of our son. He died on the 27th of November in 1916 and is buried on the" Cimetière de Manicourt définitif". [...] Upset* we looked for the grave with the number, which was provided to us. Such a contrast to the first grave in Matigny, which was prepared by the 3rd Guard Field Artillery Regiment. That grave had a grave-mound and a wooden cross with inscription. Photos were sent to us and this is what we had in mind. Because of the current state of the graves [at Manicourt] and because of the fact that the cemeteries were moved twice, we were not convinced that we really stood before the mortal remains of our own son. That is why we definitely gave up the obvious desire to rebury him at home - a desire we could not pursue further under war times.”

May 1926

* What was upsetting was the condition of the cemetery as described in the other travel reports: cemeteries without flower, bushes, trees. I try to attach the title photo of the members’ magazine from May 1926. It is not from Manicourt, but seems to express what was meant.

Brieulles.pdf

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Yes, Charlie, I guess that it what happened. I can not really imagine what it would be like (and I do not want to). I really try not to judge or anything like this. This letters to the newsletter really fill a gap to me. But 90 years later having not lost my dearest family members in a war, I can partly understand, why the cemeteries looked like they did (well I am a member of one of those families, who never went there, even if we have started to contribute to the VDK since the 1990ies occasionally). Actually I am surprised to read how friendly Germans were treated when they came to France after the war to look after their relatives' graves. Somehow there must have been some kind of understanding of the tremendous personal losses all parts had.

Here another one:

The German cemetery in Buch (Fey), Lorraine

"My dearest wish, to visit the grave of my fallen brother in France, should finally come to fulfillment this year. Comrades informed me after their return home, that my brother had been buried on the forest cemetery Buch on 12th of November 1918 [...]. As the grave records only existed until October 1918, it was long not possible to track the grave. Only after reburials were made in the area, I managed to obtain the official French grave location certificate last September. This was done with the help of the German War Graves Commission [Volksbund]. According to these documents my brother is resting in the newly created cemetery Buch in grave no. 1429.

Eastern 1926 I traveled to Buch. The journey via Cologne, Trier, Thionville to Metz took a few hours. In Sierck we reached the border and could pass without difficulty. The next morning I travelled via Arz (Ancy) to Novéant. Spring was shining above the Mosel mountains, nature was in full bloom. From Novéant one walks in about an hour via Corny to Buch, a small village with just over 200 residents. The cemetery caretaker, a one-armed war invalid, whose name had been given to me from the Volksbund, lives just left hand side at the village entrance. I did not find him at his home, but his friendly wife guided me to the cemetery, where I met him. The cemetery is located outside the village on the road to Dezon [?], about 10 minutes outside the village. It is surrounded by forest on two sides and by meadows on the other sides. A hedge surrounds it. Concrete pillars and a gate will soon complete the enclosure. The cemetery is located silently and lonely; the surroundings are worthy our dead. It was early morning hour when I entered the cemetery bareheaded and conveyed the greetings from home to the silent heroes. In the nearby forest, the birds sang and the cuckoo called; the already verdant trees rustled softly in the spring winds. With wistfulness I was looking for the grave of my brother and found it soon. – The location of the cemetery is beautiful, but because of its regularity and the total lack of grass and greenery and flowers it gives a desolate and loveless impression. [...] And if someone like me is coming to visit this [...] place and saw the sea of black crosses and stood at the completely loveless mass graves, one cannot get rid of the idea that our soldiers have been forgotten."

VDK June 1926

Pictures from Fey today: http://www.volksbund.de/kriegsgraeberstaette/fey.html

Christine

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Christine, is there any similar info about (visits to) German cemeteries around Ypres?

Roel

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Hi Roel,

I can check this evening. If you have some specific places names (besides of Ypres), that would be good. Then I could go into the database and check specifically for those places.

Christine

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Hi Christine,

You are doing a great job with the personal statements from the soldiers families.

It would have been a great expense for people who had no money and travel was very difficult in those times.

As you know it took just over 100 years for our family to visit the final resting place of my Grand Fathers Brother, Johann Feledziak. I am guessing that there were a number of reasons for this.

The family very rarely discussed those dark times and even when there was mention they had no knowledge of where in France Johann met his end. They were not very wealthy coming from farms and coal mines, Most of the males in the family would have been soldiers themselves and of those three were killed, several wounded and 2 taken prisoner.

Johann is at rest at Servon Melzicourt with 10147 other souls, even now there are hardly any family tributes. There are 4 names on each cross so even though the area looks sparse it would be 4 buried in sections around each cross. The mass graves are at the top of the site with large plaques listing the names. I am sure that it would have looked much different in 1919, the trees present now would not have been there and the crosses would have been made of wood,

Happily the internet has provided a way into this missing history. The Verlustlisten and VDK on-line search facilities were the key for me and now others will find history with the help of people like you. Good work.

post-103138-0-17982800-1449664237_thumb.post-103138-0-47379400-1449664244_thumb.

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I can check this evening. If you have some specific places names (besides of Ypres), that would be good. Then I could go into the database and check specifically for those places.

My great-grandfather was killed north of Kemmel, so anything around that spot would be great. Thanks in advance!

Roel

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Martin, thanks! Good to see your photos in colour - I feel I have looked at too much black and white ones lately!

Roel, firstly I checked now for Kemmel. What I found under “Kemmel” was a description of a journey to Flandern, it shortly mentions Ypres and then a walk to the “mount” Kemmel. There is also a short description of English cemeteries (more in general), but in this report not a detailed of a German one. What the writer (they are all anonymous) describes is how he walks up the Kemmel, where his brother died. However the grave is unknown, so the writer does not know where his brother is buried.

If you can read German, I could send you the text as a message (it is too large to post it here). Otherwise I can type of some parts, use google translate and post it here – just takes some time. The repot is in issue 11 from the year 1925. But there is much more on Flandern in other issues – just not under “Kemmel”. So I can look for more later.

Christine

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Christine, I just want to let you know how much I do appreciate this thread from the high seas, far away from any land for 4 weeks.

Also- is it possible that you post the original German text in paralell to your excellent translation pleeeeze?

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Thank you for this interesting and moving thread.

Are there any references to cemeteries in the Vosges? There are still remains of the original cemeteries in some places.

(Words to look for might be Vogesen, Elsaß / Alsace, Buchenkopf, Lingekopf, Rabenhühl, Hexenweiher, Drei-Ähren / Trois-Épis / Ammerschwihr, Hohrod / Baerenstall, Hartmannswillerkopf / Hartmannsweilerkopf, Mongoutte (Ste-Marie aux Mines), Cernay / Sennheim ... )

Gwyn

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Here about the journey to the Kemmel. I think I misunderstood the word brother - probably here in the sense of comrade. The full German version as attachment, Egbert!

Kemmel

"On the morning of the 25th of April 1918 our “Feldgrauen” [soldiers] have taken the Kemmelberg by storm from the east. Because some of the friends have taken part in it and died here, I try to follow scattered traces – also here. Kemmel Berg - Kemmel Hill - Le Mount Kemmel -: pride, pain, horror is felt, whenever the name of this hard-fought hill is mentioned – a hill that has drunk the blood of the sons of so many nations. "Canadians" are found in the cemetery here, there are "Scotch Rifles" and Australians and over there in the field is an Obelsik: Aux Braves de la 32 Division franҫaise tombes au Cham d'Honneru. A dirt road leads here from Wulverghem between the harvested sugar beet fields. Where it crosses the road to Bailleul, there is the Estaminet "Au Repos Paisible". - A new brick building, like all others, surrounded by a number of rusty corrugated iron huts. A wooden sign shows the way to a more peaceful place, to Lindenhoek-Cemetery; several hundred soldiers are buried here under lawns and flowers, most of them unidentified. Here the wooden crosses are already all replaced by headstones. "A soldier of the Great War" – is written in English and underneath "Known unto God”. The path to the summit is steep and it is a narrow pass, better called “cave walk”. Every few steps there are to the left and right black yawning [?] holes. […] The slopes of the Kemmel are still a crater field, only nature has softened the impression of horror: shrubs, hedges and thorns growing over barbed wire, trenches and craters. The Kemmelberg - restaurant is under construction; on ladders you can climb up the tower and look through the empty window openings into the vast land. There is Kemmel, Wulverghem, Voormezeele, De Groote Vierstraat. "The big building site" it should say, because all the houses you see, are unfinished or just finished, but none older than 3-4 years.

The church bells ring down in the planes, it is probably noon; it sounds so peculiar as lacking the double sound, the third tone - it is more a lament than a ringing. “Flanders is in need, in Flanders rides the death” once we sang in the refrain of an old soldier song. From a hedge I broke red, blood-red, rose hips in order to send them to a father at home, because I found nothing of our soldiers besides graves without names. "German soldier" and - unknown. […]. It was probably here, where his lines were written, his last ones that ended with the words: “If you receive this letter, we will have the East ahead”. The new day had dawned to him as his letter arrived to his beloved.

The evening approaches slowly and urges to leave. Leaving is breaking away. Back to the hill there is a path that leads to an English war cemetery. Cross stands near cross, usually there are Canadians who are here - three Germans are also listed- U.G.O - U.G.S. - U.G.O. - " Unknown German Officer " - " Unknown German Soldier " - "Known unto God", which of them is you ? No, you are not here, because you lie down there, I felt it, when I was sitting there.

A muddy farm track leads to the main road, where wagons pass and cars rattle. At the crossroads stands a high, massive stone, with four sides and upwards shaped like an English steel helmet. "1918" is to read on one side, the other three are in English, French and Flemish : Here was the invader brought to a standstill - Ici tut arrêté l’envahisseur – Hier weer de overweldiger to staan gebracht. You should have placed this stone further down, where my brother died – that was far more ahead! Then it becomes night, but the road to Ypres is good, and one can move forward quickly – but from time to time one had to stop and look back. East over the Kemmelberg, where the moon is so pale in the sky, the far home must be."

VDK November 1925

Kemmel_2.docx

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Gwyn, yes there are quite a lot of entries to several of the places you named. Though they were none about Buchenkopf, Lingekopf, Rabenhuehl, Hexenweiher, Mongoutte. Drei Ähren, Ammerschwir, Bärenstall, Hartmannsweilerkopf and Sennheim have all several of these very short descriptions (sometimes only on sentence about the condition of the cemetery). Drei Ähren is described as very beautiful and well managed in several notes. Also some of the others seemed to be in good condition at the beginning of the 1920ies. Hartmannsweilerkopf was moved around 1925. There are two longer (several pages) travel descriptions from the Alsace from 1924 and 1931.

Christine

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Thanx for attaching the original text!

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Thank you for looking, Christine. I was just giving a random sample of names which came into my head, to try and help you. There are others!

This is Drei-Ähren (now known by its French name Trois-Épis or cimetière allemand d'Ammerschwihr) in a postcard dated 1928. I will follow with a modern picture.

Like some other German cemeteries in Alsace and the Vosges, this cemetery still contains some original grave markers, which I have also photographed. In 1971 the wooden grave markers were replaced by metal crosses bearing names and dates. The graves are set around a mound and have had to be set in concrete foundations. The surviving original stone monuments have been restored, and the whole cemetery is surrounded by a natural stone wall which blends into the woodland setting. (I put more photos in a post for remembrance on my Facebook - I've made the page public so you don't need to belong to FB to see them.)

post-16-0-45702100-1449746641_thumb.jpg

I have quite a few more 'then' postcards and 'now' photos of German cemeteries in the Vosges and Alsace.

Now. (June 1915)

post-16-0-48271600-1449746767_thumb.jpg

My card, my photo.

Gwyn

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