Ehrenfriedhof Kolmeshöhe in Bitburg, Germany - honorary cemetery for fallen German soldiers and civilian victims of the two World Wars

Pictures and text by Maria Simpson

The following pictures are a selection of the dozens of pictures I took at this controversial cemetery in the town of Bitburg, Germany. I visited the cemetery in July, 2008 and left with a lasting impression. To all the U.S. Air Force members out there, the town Bitburg should be familiar because it houses one of the overseas stations of the U.S. military. This is precisely the reason why President Ronald Reagan visited the town and the cemetery in 1985 and laid down flowers to memorize the German victims of the World Wars in a symbolic and equally controversial gesture. But I will elaborate on that aspect of the cemetery in my analysis.

1 - This column has been positioned in front of the entrance to the cemetery, and its surreal design presents a clear contrast to the conservatively structured cemetery. The design draws attention and invites the visitors to take a closer look at the monument before proceeding with the tour of the cemetery.
2 - The visual symbolism here - an unidentifiable mass growing from within the column destroys the structure and spills over - is supported by an inscription on a foundation around the column. It states in German, "Wer aber vor der Vergangenheit die Augen verschließt wird blind für die Gegenwart - Richard v. Weizsäcker - 8.5.1985 - Zum Gedenken aller Opfer der Gewaltherrschaft von 1933-1945" In English it translates to, "But whoever closes his eyes in the face of the past will become blind for the present - R. v. W. - May 8, 1985 - In the memory of all victims fallen to the tyranny of the regime from 1939-1945" - Richard von Weizsäcker was German President from 1984-94.
3 - Ehrenfriedhof - Honorary Cemetery: This can be read right at the gate to the cemetery. The crosses next to the name indicate that the cemetery is foremost a Christian memorial site.
5 - The cemetery is constructed in a circular fashion. Once past the gate, the visitor can follow an alley around the graves.
6 - An interesting feature is the stone crosses erected along the alley. These actually "tell a story" - the story of the execution of Jesus engraved into the stones, from the image of Jesus being sentenced to death (Jesus wird zum Tode verurteilt) at the beginning of the alley to the left…
7 - …to the image of Jesus resting in his grave (Jesus ruht im Grabe) at the end of the alley to the right
8 - The centrepiece: the tombstones on the ground, bearing the rank, name, and date of birth and death of German soldiers. Most graves are occupied by WWII soldiers.
9 - At some graves (I counted 4 out of the hundreds there) one can find candles or flowers. This candle here really draws attention because it is like a singular flower in midst of a monotonous, stony landscape.
11 - SS soldiers - Hitler's avant-garde and responsible for many of the war atrocities - are also buried here. I spotted two SS graves. This soldier was 17 years old/young when he died.
13 - Ein deutscher Soldat - a German soldier…unidentified
14 - My tour ends inside the memorial building (the tower): The inscription states, "No one has greater love than those who give their lives for their friends."
15 - On the walls inside the otherwise unadorned tower: 13 stones engraved with the names of all the civilian and military victims of the Nazi regime who died in and around Bitburg but were not buried at the cemetery (I found out this information online and not at the site).
16 - One very interesting detail of my visit was the guest book inside the memorial building. Every visitor can write down his thoughts about the cemetery.
17 - And here are a few thought expressed by visitors: left, "Thank you very much for the beautiful cemetery memorizing my comrades." Right (at the bottom), "God bless the soldiers!"
18 - Top, "Never again war! Never again fascism!" Bottom, "Long live the homeland and the hero soldiers! The soldiers gave everything and I am proud of them. (By an American soldier)"
19 - and finally: "This soldier cemetery is a reminder for everyone to commit oneself to the preservation of peace and therefore of human rights."

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