While in Normandy I had the opportunity to visit the La Cambe German Cemetery. This cemetery honors the German soldiers of World War II; in the middle is a hill-shaped mass grave of nearly 20,000 German soldiers. Also, as opposed to normal headstones, the cemetery contained smaller plaques. Most grave markers had no flowers, crosses, or items of remembrance by them, giving the place a uniformly plain appearance. One grave, however, was adorned with the typical offerings: Michael Wittmann’s grave. Wittmann was one of the most famous Panzer officers. In comparison to the other graves, his had flowers, candles, coins, and a cross. Buried with other tankmen killed alongside him, only his grave received this level of recognition. Professor Steigerwald noted that there was concern over whether neo-Nazi fanatics made pilgrimages to Wittmann’s grave.
Professor Steigerwald’s comment made me think about the recent rise in the alt-right. However controversial this might be, I think removing Wittmann’s grave would be a positive thing to do. It stymies neo-Nazis’ opportunity to worship a horrible killer, but at the same time would not hurt the remembrance of the ordinary Nazi solider. Through my research and reading during our spring seminar class I had the chance to learn about the ordinary German soldier. As in other countries they were drafted into the army without much of a choice. Thus, I think recognizing them is most important because it is a testament to the folly of war experienced on all sides, of the lack of choices many men faced. And with the 75thanniversary of the D-Day Invasion approaching, the persisting relevance of Nazi philosophy appears striking to me. There is a grave in the La Cambe that might be contributing further to the very problem that these men so bravely died fighting against. How does one grapple with this honoring of both sides fallen soldiers and the indiscriminate toll war takes on all sides? To me, I see recognition of the ordinary soldiers on both sides as the key to that answer.