We in the United Kingdom think of the First World War as happening “Over there” mostly on the Western Front. That is where the majority of the dead are buried. We visit the graves and we expect them to be well cared for and looked after. As part of this we also expect the same care and reverence paid to the German dead. After all they were just common foot soldiers too. There because they were ordered to be. It is fairly simple really. The war happened there. The dead are buried there. They are all some mothers sons, case closed.
Turn the clock back, you are now French, or Flemish or Walloon. The Germans invaded your land. the Western allies came and defeated the Germans. You have to bury the dead.
Each of the allies had there own way. We brits wanted our dead to be buried equally. individual graves, same headstone, and the cemeteries to look like English cottage rose gardens. The French very much overwhelmed by sheer numbers choose to build Ossuaries for a large number of their dead. American WW1 cemeteries tend to be a wee bit triumphalist. What to do with the German dead?
There was a general reluctance to devote large areas of land to the German dead. They had tried to take the land by force of arms. It was not reasonable just to give it to them to bury their dead in. Some were buried individually, some in plots of four. yet others were buried in mass graves. examples of these types of burials can be found at Langemark.which is one of (I think) four German Cemeteries in Flanders. There were at least two other ways used to dispose of the German dead.
Bodies were just cremated, burnt more or less where they were found. Quick no fuss, the land can be brought back into use the next day.
Burial in mass unmarked graves, I know of two alleged mass graves. One, dozens, sometimes hundreds of people stand on it every day. Companies take school children to where it is. Their guides tell them about the other burials there, and ignore the grave they are either standing on or next to. The other, the farmer will not allow anyone to go to and denies it is there.
In a couple of years time the First World War will have been over for a hundred years. it is easy for us in the UK to say all the dead are equal they should be treated equally. Still not for more than a few in France, or Belgium. We have no quarrel with modern Germany, but we do have another world war and the dead from that conflict to add to the dilemma of how the dead should be treated and their equality in death.
At one of my British Forces Children’s schools there was a bus driver who allegedly was involved with the burial of German Children euthanised by the Germans because they were “Bad” and or “Undesirable”. He told me that he used to bury children like me. Now he was some mother’s son and only obeyed orders. He used to park the bus on top of the graves. The graves were unmarked. Should he be treated with the same respect as an allied soldier?
I remember watching J Bronowski in the Ascent of Man. He was at the pond at Auschwitz. he crouched down and scooped up in one hand a grey mass. He was holding soaking ashes of the dead. These dead were murdered by the Germans and after cremation the ashes were dumped in the pond.
The Germans that did this were only obeying orders. They were also some mothers sons and daughters. Do we treat them with the same respect we treat our dead?
When did we forgive the dead of the SS? Are all the dead equal, and do they deserve equality of treatment. If so when did we forgive and forget?