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Appalling Nazi headstones should be removed

Swastikas adorn the graves of 2 German soldiers who died in the US during WWII and were buried in American military cemeteries
One of the graves at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery that bears a swastika. (Michael Field/Wikimedia Commons)
One of the graves at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery that bears a swastika. (Michael Field/Wikimedia Commons)

The Department of Veterans Affairs should remove the headstones of two German prisoners of war buried in military cemeteries in the United States.

The gravestones of Alfred Kafka and Georg Forst, who died in U.S. internment camps in 1943, each bear a swastika — the hated symbol of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi movement — and an inscription glorifying Hitler: “He died far from his home for the Fuhrer, people and fatherland.”

The remains of captured German soldiers who died in the United States during World War II were buried in American military cemeteries under headstones bearing only their names and dates of birth and death. Yet for reasons which have yet to be clarified, only the headstones of Kafka and Forst were engraved with Nazi iconography.

Mikey Weinstein, the chairman of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation — a non-profit civil rights group dedicated to preserving religious freedom in the armed forces — was informed about these appalling headstones by a former US army officer visiting the cemetery to pay respects to his grandfather, uncle and aunt, who are all buried there.

Outraged by the photographs of the headstones he received, Weinstein wrote a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie demanding that his department “immediately replace the gravestones of all German military personnel interred in VA national cemeteries” and ensure that Nazi symbols in American military graveyards should be henceforth removed.

Weinstein’s demands are not unreasonable.

The United States and its allies expended blood and treasure to defeat Nazi Germany, one of the most evil and diabolical regimes in modern history. The American and European Allied soldiers who sacrificed their lives for this noble cause were laid to rest in cemeteries in Europe and the United States.

On occasion, German corpses were buried in the same cemetery. But a red line was crossed when the gravestones of two of these soldiers, Kafka and Forst, bore a highly objectionable symbol and an outrageously unacceptable inscription.

One could have assumed that the Department of Veterans Affairs would be the first to understand and empathize with Weinstein’s demands.

Surprisingly, its response was less than satisfying.

Les Melnyk, the head of public affairs and outreach for the Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Association, said it “will continue to preserve these headstones,” citing an agency policy to “protect historic resources, including those that recognize divisive historical figures or events.”

At best, Melnyk’s rationale is myopic, as Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz noted in a press release.

“It is deeply troubling and terribly offensive that swastika-adorned headstones that include messages honoring Hitler continue to stand in this nation’s Veterans Administration National Cemeteries,” she said.

Wasserman Schultz correctly described its guidelines as “callous and irresponsible” and called on the Department of Veterans Affairs “to eliminate this antiquated policy and immediately replace these inappropriate and insensitive headstones.”

There is no logical reason for the department to obfuscate or delay. These horrendous headstones have no place whatsoever in cemeteries honoring brave American men and women who gave up their lives to eradicate Nazi Germany from the face of the earth.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal, SheldonKirshner.com
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