Memorial to Deserters in Ulm

Pictures and text by Mark R. Hatlie

These pictures were taken on 19 November, 2005, on the day this memorial was formally unveiled by the organization Friedenswerk Ulm - 17 years after it was built! It is located near the Lehrertal entrance to the university botanical garden at Ulm. It is right by the road, near the parking lot of a dog school. The organizers were a bit disappointed that a more prominent place could not be found, but did point out that the place where the memorial now stands is not totally inappropriate.

Those memorialized by this marker are the men who deserted the Wehrmacht during the Second World War. 15,000 men were executed. The idea for the memorial emerged in 1985 at the annual meeting of the organization, "Reservists Refuse". They decided to build a memorial to deserters.

In June of 1988 the Initiative for the Creation of a Memorial to Deserters came to life in Ulm and Neu Ulm. A central idea was, "Desertion is not reprehensible, war is". On 9 September, 1989, this memorial, was unveiled in front of the Roxy Hallen in downtown Ulm. Four weeks later, the city council of Ulm decided to have the memorial removed, and the memorial was moved to the private yard of one Frau Henseler in Neu Ulm/Ludwigsfeld, where it remained for almost 16 years! In July of 2005 it was placed at its current location.

During the intervening years a number of events contributed to a rethinking of the status of deserters in society, including the 1993 decision by the EU parliament to offer asylum to deserters from Yugoslavia and the decision by the German parliament to rehabilitate Wehrmacht deserters in 1997. The convictions for desertion were only formally and legally reversed by the German parliament in 2002 (although the Nazi-era convicions for treason in wartime were not anulled). The group "Youth for Peace", which was formed during the crisis surrounding the outbreak of the Iraq War in 2003, was the primary moving force behind getting the memorial moved onto public land. A 1995 attempt to get the city council to reconsider its earlier decision failed.

The memorial is the creation of Hannah Stuetz Menzel.
The sense of motion is clearest from the side.
The only written information available to passers-by is a quote by Kurt Tucholsky, a writer an journalist, from 1925: "Here lived a man who refused to shoot at his fellow men, honor to his memory!"
Johann Haller, who later spoke on the history of the monument, sets up temporary information posters before the unveiling.
About 100 people showed up.
Markus Kienle, a member of the Ulm city council for the Green party, was the moderator. You can read (in German) a speech he made to the city government about the memorial in March of 2005.
The youth group Jugend fuer Frieden reads texts by the writer Kurt Tucholsky, the historian Wolfram Wette, Ludwig Baumann, Otl Aicher (an Ulm deserter), Berthold Brecht and Wolfgang Borschert.
Manfred Eger speaking on the history of this location. Only a few steps from this location, in the woods near the entrance to the botanical garden, there was a site of execution during the war where several young men were shot. The woods are still marked with the sign, Schiesstand - "Firing Range". Not pictured is Gertrud Schwarz-Langer, who spoke on the subject of the memorial as a work of art.
The a cappella choir Ton ab, all members of kontrapunkt, sang several songs during the event.
After a moment of silence, roses were laid over the memorial by members of the youth group.
Here, members of the youth group pose with the creator of the monument, Hannah Stuetz Menzel, second from the right. This photo by Johann Haller.

Information on this memorial is available (so far only in German) at its own homepage, the program page of the TV show Monitor, which covered the controversy, and at http://de.indymedia.org/2005/04/111305.shtml. I would like to thank Johann Haller, who spoke at the unveiling on the history of the monument, for letting me borrow his speech for much of the information used on this webpage.

There are other memorials to deserters in Germany. See a list of them at http://www.deserteur-denkmal.de/, the homepage of the memorial in Bonn.


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