A total of 11,956 people lie here. Men – German soldiers fallen during the fighting – but also women and children.
Of all those here, only 58 are unknown, their markers reading EIN DEUTSCHER SOLDAT – A GERMAN SOLDIER. That’s a very low percentage. Remarkable really.
Embedded in a 30-m-high hill is a vault extending over two circular floors, each floor containing 34 crypts. Each crypt houses the bones of 180 dead. A stone cross marks the centre. It’s all a tad surreal.
The last time I was in an ossuary was in Naples – and it was nothing like this.
Bronze plaques are etched with the pertinent details: name, rank, and the dates that bookend any life. Some had flowers.
Others had the ubiquitous poppy, immortalised in the poem by WWI army surgeon Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae – In Flanders Fields.
The occasional one went a step beyond the bare necessities by adding a photograph. I wondered if this was done by the family perhaps? I thought perhaps it might be rank but from what I’ve read, GEFR (Gefreiter) is equivalent to a private and today, is usually promoted to an OGEFR (Obergefreiter) within six months. I tried to find out more about Viktor Kepes, but no luck. The ribbon suggests he might have been Hungarian. If anyone has any ideas of how I might go about it, let me know.
published an article in 2018 in the in which she writes:
After the Battle of Normandy, one of the primary concerns in the region was what to do with the bodies of the former occupiers: the German war dead. As the Allied graves registration units left Normandy, local French leaders were responsible for the care of German war graves until the German War Graves Commission (Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge, VDK) took over maintenance responsibilities in the mid-1950s and officially inaugurated them as VDK sites in the early 1960s.
I can only begin to imagine the work that went into gathering all those remains and bringing them to their final rest in this one place.
The remains come from the western quarter of France and the Channel Islands. Before entering the building, a series of slabs in the stairs recall the names of the cities and islands from which those who now rest here came.
I read a quotation on the wall in the entryway by Nobel Peace Prize Laureat Albert Schweitzer:
The soldiers’ graves are the greatest preachers of peace.
Why don’t we learn?