The Rev. Dr. DANIEL HÖRNEMANN, OSB
In the cemetery of the Benedictine Abbey at Gerleve, Northern Germany, opposite a cemetery for 112 Russian prisoners of World War II and German soldiers, a new memorial will soon be erected for all victims of the two World Wars. The old memorial was getting more and more illegible. Before the new one is made I thought it necessary to check on all the dates and possibly clarify them further. Not without success!
"Fratres desiderati" "Longed-for Brothers" - they were called in the catalogue of all members of the Benedictine community, those brothers who went missing in action during both World Wars. The ones the community longed for, never came back though. Therefore in 1957 they were all officially declared dead and an individual memorial date was set up for each of them.
It seems hardly possible to find any more traces of these brothers after all these years, but still I succeeded. Our monastic community at Gerleve suffered great losses as did other monasteries too during both wars. The fates of several of the brothers have long since been resolved, from others we only had vague notions like "fallen in Flanders", "fallen in France". Nobody knew where exactly these brothers were buried. During World War I five brothers were killed "on the field of honour", after they fought "with God for Kaiser and Fatherland" as one said in those days.
During World War II the number was doubled. Ten brothers had to sacrifice their lives "for the Führer, the people and the Fatherland" ("für Führer, Volk und Vaterland"), who ironically drove the ones at home from their monastery into exile, forced-labour, prison and even concentration-camp. The Abbey was closed down by the Gestapo from 1941-46 with a very uncertain future. For many years after the war the community remained in the dark regards the fates of the missing brothers. Also they had a lot of other things on their plate what with reconstructing the monastery and gathering the members of the community from different countries where they were held prisoners.
Although contemporary witnesses of World War I have long since died and those of World War II are going fast, it was still possible to find traces after all these years. Documents in the Abbeys archive, yearly chronicles and short biographies offered rudimentary information about the victims of both wars. The main source for clarifying soldiers' fates, the documents of the national "Zentralnachweisamt für Kriegerverluste und Kriegergräber" (Central information office for military victims and their graves) of World War I in Berlin unfortunately were completely destroyed during allied bombardments in WW II. The "Krankenbuchlager Berlin" (Records office for wounded soldiers), is still keeping documents about all the soldiers who went into first aid stations and military hospitals, who were either cured or died there. The German association looking after cemeteries of war ("Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge") also could help with bits of information. Thus it was possible to come to new conclusions about the fates of the 15 brothers killed or missing in action. The fallen ones were not the only victims of war, several brothers were wounded in body and soul. Some had to spend many years as prisoners of war. The upsetting events and experiences left their mark in their lives and their personalities. The ones who suffered most severely were the ones who never talked about it all. They belonged to "a generation which was destroyed by war even if they managed to escape its shells" (Erich Maria Remarque: All quiet on the Western Front).
That monks were forced to go to war does certainly contradict the Benedictine motto PAX (PEACE). St. Benedict encourages in his rule that all the monks: Seek after peace and pursue it" (Psalm 33:14-15; RB Prologue). In WWI as well as in WWII German monks had to leave the relative peace of their monasteries and were forced to join the army. Conscientious objectors were threatened with persecution, severe punishment and even the death penalty. There was no way out.
When general mobilization was ordered for the whole German Fatherland on August 1st 1914, the monks were not exempt. On August 3rd 1914 seven brothers had to follow the call to arms. First on the battlefields were: Br. Martin Wieskötter, Br. Conrad Kless, Br. Gebhard Welte, Br. Viktor Janssen, Br. Willibald Lobeck, Br. Gottfried Kuhlmann, Br. Gerold Lüttmer. They had to serve with the infantry, field- and foot-artillery and with the medical corps.
Other monks had to follow and "do their bit" for long years. Father Gerhard Oesterle (who died in 1963) for example became a highly decorated divisions padre with the Garde Kavallerie at the Eastern Front. About 10 million men were killed during World War I, a number which one cannot comprehend. Individual fates are much more concrete and bring the suffering directly before ones eyes. The following monks were killed in World War I.
Br. = Brother Gottfried = religious name (Bernhard) = civilian name
|Br. Gottfried (Bernhard) Kuhlmann, born 19.05.1880 at Osterfeine near Damme in Oldenburg, entered the monastery on June 1st 1907, became a novice on December 20th 1908, took the vows on March 19th 1911, and was killed - 37 years old as a private on August 1st 1917 in Flanders.|
The relatives of Br. Gottfried already in 1913 had donated a great brass cross for the abbeys cemetery, where he ironically - was never to be buried. Br. Gottfried worked on the farm as well as in the monastery itself. On August 7th 1914 he had to obey the call to arms with a heavy heart. His longing to be back at the monastery echoes from all his letters. "Everything as God wants it" was his motto. Like a child he was overjoyed whenever he was given leave to go to mass and receive communion. He wrote
Fulfilling Gods will and especially during Holy Communion I am able to feel at home and happy, even in the midst of wars trials in the enemys country!
During October 1914 he had to join the bloody battle at Staden and Moorslede (Belgium). His company suffered heavy losses. He himself was wounded by shrapnel in his right cheek after only a few days at the front. Nonetheless he remained at his post, till his corporal led him away covered in blood. Back in Germany in St. Josephs Hospital at Bochum the bullet was finally removed. He wrote:
How fast could I have gone to God, if this shot had torn my head apart. But surely I was not yet dignified enough, to go to heaven so fast, because I have not done enough for our dear God.
Later he was brought to Coesfeld hospital near the monastery. Together with another wounded monk, Br. Gerold, he then waited at the Abbey for further instructions. After his recovery he was allowed to stay on till August 1st 1916 and then had to join the army again. This was terribly hard for him. He talked about his foreboding that he most probably would not come back. From November 1916 he went for months into battle at the Somme. In March 1917 he was presented with the Oldenburger Friedrich-August-Kreuz (Grand Duke Friedrich August of Oldenburg had ordered the award of this medal to all persons "who distinguished themselves during the war"). His foreboding sadly became the truth. On the third anniversary of the mobilization Br. Gottfried Kuhlmann was killed in Flanders. He was to be the first victim of war for the Abbey. On August 10th 1917 the monastery received the sad news, that Br. Gottfried had "found the heros death" in action in Flanders without any further details about his whereabouts on August 1st 1917. Private Kuhlmann is listed in edition 1617 of September 11th 1917, page 20527, of the Prussian List of Losses 934 as "killed in action". His grave is still unknown. Possibly he is now buried at the German War Cemetery at Langemark, Belgium, in the great comrades grave, when all the small cemeteries and individual graves in Belgium were concentrated. All soldiers who could no longer be identified (due to illegible markers and crosses, destroyed by weather and vandals) found their last resting place there. It is the biggest common grave of all German cemeteries of war. Langemark is well known for its four sculptures (Soldiers in mourning) created by the artist Prof. Emil Krieger from München after a 1918 photograph. In front of the common grave lies a monumental wreath of brass oak-leaves with the biblical words: I have called you by your name, you are mine (Isaiah 43,1).
|Br. Wigbert (Theophil) Hättig, born 22.11.1884 at Ettenheim (Baden), took his vows on February 11th 1907, was killed in action at the age of 32 - as Landsturmmann on September 9th 1917 in Flanders.|
Br. Wigbert worked as a bookbinder at Beuron Archabbey and was sent to the new monastery at Gerleve in the summer of 1907. There he became the first and only bookbinder as well as the Abbots assistant and the infirmarian. When he had to join the Prussian army together with Br. Otto on September 16th 1916, he carried "the burden of war confidently, which aggravated doubly his weak body and his soft soul". First the two monks had to go to Blomberg (Lippe) for their military training, and from there, on October 25th 1916, to the Western front in France. Here Br. Wigbert was soon detailed to serve the battalions doctor whom he had to accompany in due course in spring 1917 to Rumania. The doctor soon learned to appreciate the brother's experience, but all his efforts could not avert that Br. Wigbert was called back to Flanders in May. This move though had a positive side to it in that he could be back with Br. Otto. On September 7th 1917 they both had to confront the fire and on September 9th 1917 Br. Wigbert was hit by a deadly shot. According to Br. Anton from Beuron Br. Wigbert said with determination that he certainly would not come back from the firing line. Br. Otto Hunzelmann, who was with Br. Wigbert in the same company, wrote to Gerleve Abbey about his death:
I do have to tell you the sad news that our dear Br. Wigbert was wounded by shell splinters last night around 1/2 10 oclock and has died. On Heart-of-Jesus-Friday we were supposed to go to the trenches, therefore on Thursday night we went to a Dominican father at Ostende for confession and prayed the rosary, on Friday we attended Holy Mass and went to Communion. On Sunday night we were detailed at the beginning of dawn to take old material in the 3rd trench into another dugout when suddenly grenades were fired. We rushed into the dugouts. Br. Wigbert and anther soldier were still on their way. Then one shell struck very close. A corporal came into the dugout saying, someone was severely wounded, some men should carry him away. I volunteered to go, when we got to him, someone said that it was Hättig. Then I was very sad and silently prayed for him. He did not speak anymore. I helped to carry him into a First Aid dugout and there we put him on the floor. The doctor opened his clothes and I saw a big wound in his abdomen. I believe it was 10 cm long and 5 cm wide. The shell-splinter seemed to me to have entered his back and gone right through. There was a lot of thick clotted blood on his clothes. I asked Br. Wigbert if he could recognize me, but he gave no more signs of life. Death had come meanwhile. We got a stretcher and carried Br. Wigbert through the shelling to a cart which should take him to the morgue at Ostende. May the dear God grant him everlasting peace and pay tribute to all his suffering as he already had to put up with so much.
Landsturmmann Hättig is registered in edition 1653 of October 3rd 1917, page 20972, in the Prussian List of Losses 953 as "killed in action". He was buried in the military cemetery at Vladslo, Belgium, block 3 grave 1064. The famous German artist Käthe Kollwitz created the widely known statues Trauerndes Elternpaar (Mourning parents) in memory of her son Peter who was killed in action and buried at Vladslo in 1914. 25,644 German soldiers, killed in WWI, are buried here.
|Br. Gerold (Gerhard Friedrich) Lüttmer (the Volksbund Kriegsgräberfürsorge wrongly list him as Lüttner), born 22.11.1888 at Neuenkirchen (Oldenburg), entered Gerleve Abbey on October 28th 1912, took his vows on August 2nd 1914, was killed in action, 28 years old, on September 26th 1917 in Flanders.|
He is buried in the German military cemetery at Langemark, Belgium, block B, grave 2493. One day after mobilization (August 1st 1914) Br. Gerold Lüttmer took his vows ahead of time, on the next day he had to join the Prussian army as reserve-corporal of the infantry. He already had done service before he joined the Benedictines. A friar watched the following episode which always stuck in his mind (he was very amused!): At Münster central railway-station the army was looking for an officer capable to lead the recruits. As there was no other officer present the strange spectacle happened that Br. Gerold still in his black monastic habit had to command a detachment of Prussian soldiers. He was a reserve-corporal with the Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment 130.
Soon after that his company was hurried to the Western Front. On August 24th 1914 Br. Gerold was wounded in the leg near Etain (20 km from Verdun, France). He got into severe machinegun-fire and received a shot into his ankle and left lower leg. He had to spend some time in the military hospital Kaiserslautern, then he was brought to the Reserve-Lazarett Münster Schützenhof (17.09.1914-24.11.1914) and finally to Coesfeld hospital (Reserve-Lazarett = reserve military hospital). After his recovery he got some leave and had to rejoin the army on November 7th 1916. Early in 1917 he came to a Minenwerferabteilung (mortar-detachment) of the IR (infantry-regiment) 457 to Flanders. Only four days after his return from his leave at Gerleve abbey he was killed in action. His superior officer, Otto Gergen, reserve-lieutenant and mortar-officer with the staff of the infantry regiment 457 wrote to Abbot Raphael Molitor:
I have got to tell your Reverence the very sad news, that your brother, corporal Lüttmer of the mortar-detachment infantry-regiment 457, faithfully doing his duty on September 26th around 2 pm east of Zonnebeke, became a victim of the heavy battle which has been raging at the Flanders front since the end of September (1917). He was hit by shrapnel and breathed his last breath. Death came fast and without pain for him as eye-witnesses told me. Even in death he showed his friendly facial expression which his superior officers as well as his comrades were used to see on him. All of us superior officers, comrades and subalterns are mourning the loss of corporal Lüttmer as one of the bravest soldiers of the battalion. Competent in his service, faithful to his duty to the last, friendly and with a true comradely mind in dealing with others, generous and always looking after the well-being of his men he merited the deepest satisfaction of his superiors, respect and trust of his comrades and subalterns. During the last days of the battle he absolutely proved his worth at a difficult post, where he was put. He never granted himself rest and even during the heaviest artillery bombardments with his courage supported by his faith in God - he was continuously on the look-out in order not to be surprised by the attack which broke out on September 26th. As if by a miracle everything went well. While leaving the front line, when he cold-blooded and duteously rushed back some way to help a mine-thrower who fell behind, his fate hit him. Your Reverence can see how well corporal Lüttmer was liked from the fact that on the evening of September 26th a great number of volunteers immediately offered to recover the dead comrade whom they could not take back during the afternoon, even though an hour long journey lay before them with continuous greatest danger to their own lives. Thus we were able to bury our comrade on September 29th in the heros cemetery (Heldenfriedhof) at Kocknickhock (wrongly spelt! It has to be Koekuithoek near Moorslede, Ehrenfriedhof Nr. 37) far away from the noise of the battle. There he can rest from the troubles of this life, protected by a cross which his comrades made for him, after having been lucky to visit his home only a short while ago. Besides God himself, dear Father, may it be a consolation to you that we are all sharing your suffering and mourning, that we all do remember the dead hero with respect and friendship.
The military cemetery at Koekuithoek was later dissolved and all the fallen were buried in Langemark, Belgium. Br. Gerolds final resting place remained unknown to the community at Gerleve because of a spelling-error. The Volksbund Kriegsgräberfürsorge listed him as Lüttner instead of Lüttmer. Only with the help of WWI-historian Hinrich Dirksen was I able to solve the puzzle. Br. Gerold is buried in the enormous cemetery Langemark: block B, grave 12493. More than 44,312 German soldiers found their final resting place in individual graves and the gigantic mass-grave.
|Br. Otto (Leopold) Hunzelmann, born 21.02.1884 in Busenbach (Baden), entered Beuron Archabbey on May 1st 1903, became a novice on October 29th 1903, took his vows on October 15th 1906, and was killed in action, 34 years old, as Landsturmmann on March 30th 1918 in France.|
On February 7th 1906 Br. Otto was sent from Beuron to the new monastery at Gerleve and worked as a tailor and porter. At the same time he was a keen and conscientious sacristan. For years he alone kept the church clean. In the Abbey church as well as in the vestry exemplary tidiness reigned.
When Br. Otto in September 1916 had to exchange his needle for a gun, his office as sacristan for the trade of war, the silence of the monastery for the noise of the barracks, this was for him a bitter change. Nonetheless he suffered it all in his faith and never complained about it in his letters or showed any unhappiness. His childlike and trusting nature endeared him to his superior officers as well as his comrades though he never could deny where he came from and soon everybody knew that he came from a monastery. He was especially clever to get leave to visit a church or a service. Only once he was granted leave to visit his community at home. At the beginning of his life as a soldier it was a great consolation to him to have Br. Wigbert at his side. They worked together in the trenches and when Br. Wigbert was fatally wounded by a shell, Br. Otto closed his eyes and took care of the recovery and the burial of his body. Now the same fate hit him. According to the medical records (Krankenbuch des Kriegslazaretts Abt.10) of the military hospital at Le Cateau he suffered the following wounds: shrapnel into his left and right leg, into his left upper arm, grenade-splinters into his right and left upper arm. He succumbed to his severe wounds on March 30th 1918 at 11.30 am. The first news of his being wounded was brought to Gerleve Abbey by a farmers son from the neighbourhood. All efforts to get more information were in vain, till a sergeant finally wrote on May 6th 1918 that Br. Otto had been severely wounded in his arms and legs and had died on April 13th in a field hospital. According to a letter from his company commander to his relatives, though, his death happened before March 30th, at Easter. Landsturmmann Hunzelmann of the Infanterie-Regiment 114, 10th company, was buried in the military hospital at Le Cateau, France , Département Nord, block 1 grave 798. Here 5,522 German soldiers found their final resting place. Le Cateau cemetery was built by the German army after the battle of August 25th 27th between Le Cateau and Solesmes during which course the British troops had to vacate the field. Later German soldiers were buried here who had died due to their wounds or illness or after accidents. The major part of them lost their lives in 1918 though. They died of their wounds in the military hospitals.
|Br. Balthasar (Anton) Kurz, born 28.09.1881 at Bühler near Ellwangen (Southern Germany), took his vows on September 3rd 1911 at Beuron Archabbey and was killed in action, 36 years old, as Landsturmmann on June 9th (not the 13th as was thought for a long time) 1918 in the Champagne/France near Reims. His actual date of death and his final resting place were found out definitely only very recently.|
Br. Balthasar was sent from Beuron to Gerleve on August 7th 1912 to help the small group of brothers. The monastery annals recount:
Our respected Br. Balthasar was forcibly pulled out of his tireless work in our farm by the conscription order. On Sept 21st 1915 he had to go to Emmerich on the Rhine together with 500 other recruits from the Coesfeld area. The great tumult in the mass quarters did not please him at all in his silent, shy and somewhat timid nature. But he went along with it. His motto helped him: "Gods will is my consolation in all difficult situations." But he also experienced: "One only gets to know from the military life what man is capable of enduring.
On March 4th 1916 his training was finished and he had to go to the front. Br. Balthasar was detailed to the Infanterie-Regiment 67, which was severely battered during the fight for Verdun. Br. Balthasar wrote:
It is almost a miracle that I am still alive. If it goes on like that, that you do not sleep for eight or ten days, most of us wont need a bullet anymore.
At the end of November 1916 Br. Balthasar had to leave his troop for six weeks in order to be trained for the machine-gun. Handling this weapon pleased him. From January 1917 on he had to rejoin the battle. All year long Br. Balthasar hardly ever left the most heavy fighting for a few days of leave. Landsturmmann Anton Kurz (Inf. Rgt. 57, 5th company) was wounded on July 6th 1917 near Laon by a grenade-splinter in his left hand and had to go to the military hospital Etappenlazarett "Kloster" Longuyon, a former monastery. In 1918 he took part in the great German offensive. On May 30th 1918 he wrote his very last letter:
I have got to tell you that I visibly experienced Gods protection. When we went over the top, stormed a trench and looked for cover three English soldiers began shooting at us and several of us were wounded. One wanted to put his bayonet into me, but I gripped his rifle out of his hand. If he had not been married things would have looked very bleak for him indeed.
A fortnight later his sergeant sent some vague news. Br. Balthasar had remained behind, wounded, during the retreat of his regiment in the area around Reims. Perhaps he had been taken prisoner by the French. At Gerleve Abbey they all waited for a sign of life of Br. Balthasar. The community was very worried because his regiment had black troops opposite who often gave prisoners short shrift. After a long time waiting for over a year, finally the ministry of war sent a communication on June 19th 1919 that Landsturmmann Anton Kurz had been killed on June 13th 1918 near Reims and was buried in a military cemetery. According to the Volksbund, though , Landsturmmann Anton Kurz belonged to the Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment 67 (6th company) and was killed on June 9th 1918. First he was buried at Ville-Dommange and during the 1920s re-buried by the French war grave service in the military cemetery at Bligny, Département Marne, 14 km southwest of Reims. Kurz = Short short as his name was his life in the monastery. He spent little more than four years at Beuron Archabbey, three years at Gerleve Abbey and three years as a monk in field-grey at the Western Front. Decades after his death a short chronicle of his life was published at Gerleve Abbey with the final sentence:
As his own private life also his death and his grave shall remain unknown to us.
Not quite though! Landsturmmann Anton Kurz was listed in edition Ausgabe 2036 of August 5th 1918, page 25464, (Prussian List of Losses 1207) as "missing", and in edition 2179 of October 10th 1918, page 27291 (Prussian List of Losses 1280) as "missing till now, + death in captivity" (uncertified by German military services, communication from a foreign country A.N. = Auslandsnachricht, militärdienstlich nicht bestätigt). His grave, with the date of death as June 9th 1918, is to be found in the German military cemetery at Bligny, France (not far from Reims), block 1 grave 481. 4,732 German soldiers found their final resting place at Bligny. German losses were very high as a consequence of the German major attack (Großangriff) in May 1918. Many died in the field hospitals, in captivity. Many corpses were later found when clearing up the battlefields.
The Abbey Chronicle of 1918 remarks:
So hard the unfortunate outcome of the war has hit us there is one positive side to it that our brothers whom we were missing a long time could come back from the battlefields. Sadly not all of them. The brothers Otto Hunzelmann, Wigbert Hättig, Gottfried Kuhlmann und Gerold Lüttmer had to give their lives and there is very little hope for the life of Br. Balthasar Kurz who was reported missing on June 10th at the Western Front.
The War to end all wars? Sadly this was not to be. The First World War only prepared the way for the absolute catastrophe of World War II.
Sei es auch ein Aufbruch ins Ewige - "Even if it were a departure into eternity (from the last letter of Father Benedikt Oosterkamp)
During World War II with 60 million victims the number of casualties doubled among the brothers of Gerleve who had to join the Wehrmacht. Only four graves have been found so far.
Br. Gerold (Franz Theodor) Brock, born 06.09.1911, as Oberschütze died 24.08.1941 in the field hospital at Weißenstein, Estonia. After the war the graves were razed to the ground. Only in 1997 was the cemetery re-opened and Br. Gerolds name engraved on a stone cross.
Br. Bardo (Bruno) Szymczak, born 05.09.1909, as Gefreiter died 01.07.1942 in Russia in the Wehrmacht field-hospital 504. He worked as a medic and was severely wounded. He was buried in the military cemetery at Porchov, Russia, grave 361. As his remains have not been found only his name was written into the memorial-book at Sammelfriedhof Sebesh.
Two Fathers, Pater Benedikt and Pater Hildebrand, went missing during the Stalingrad-catastrophe in January 1943. P. Benedikt (Wilhelm-Ernst) Oosterkamp, born 30.07.1914, died 20.01.1943 in Russia. His grave is still unknown. As a medic he went missing in Mid-January1943 at the Eastern Front in Russia together with P. Hildebrand.
P. Hildebrand (Hermann) Berning, born 18.12.1914, died 20.01.1943 in the Woronesh-area/Russia. After a heavy tank-attack all traces of the 1st sanitary company have vanished. His grave was never found. Strangely his breviary was sent back to Gerleve Abbey years after the war a last sign from him?
Br. Viktor (Heinrich Walter) Krüdewagen, born 09.12.1909, died as Obergefreiter 30.01.1943 in Russia. When a train was attacked by bomber-planes near Kursk Br. Viktor was severely wounded at Scheremisinowo station. The train still got to Schtschigry military hospital where Br. Viktor died and was buried with military honours. According to the Volksbund Walter Krüdewagen is probably one of the unknown soldiers buried in the cemetery for 40,000 German victims at Kursk-Chmelewoje-Besedino-Sammelfriedhof.
Fr. Athanasius (Herbert) Korting, born 06.03.1919, died 08.07.1943 killed by a Russian sniper at Awinowo, Russia while praying his breviary. He was buried in the "heros cemetery" (Heldenfriedhof) Loknja. His sister never tired to find him and to get his remains back to Germany. All her efforts were not in vain. After 50 years in Russian soil he was buried at Gerleve Abbey cemetery on July 24th 1993.
Br. Engelbert (Paul) Altena, born 17.06.1906, missing, presumed dead since 16.06.1944 at the Eastern Front. His grave in Russia still remains unknown.
Br. Norbert (Heinrich) Schaefer, born 26.06.1900, died as Wachtmeister 13.09.1944 after a direct hit on his bunker in Flanders at the Western Front. He was buried in the military cemetery Bourdon, France amongst the unknown soldiers. 22,213 German soldiers of WWII are buried there.
Br. Altfrid (Hermann Josef) Büscher, [Novice], born 07.09.1921, died 18.03.1945. Having been at the Eastern Front since winter 1943, he wrote his last letter in December 1944. During the retreat of the German army he came to Breslau which became a stronghold on January 21st 1945 to be defended at all costs. There he went missing on March 1st 1945. He was very probably killed in the fight against Russian soldiers. His grave has still not been found.
Br. Wigbert (Joseph) Bauer, born 11.01.1901, died 13.07.1945 in capitivity during a transport near Neu Bentschen, Zbaszynek (railway line Berlin-Posen-Warschau). His grave has not been found yet. Therefore only his name was listed at Sammelfriedhof Poznan-Milostowo (Poland). According to a comrade he died at the Russian POW camp Neu-Bentschen suffering from dysentery, on his way to a hospital at Posen or Frankfurt/Oder. His last letter dating from March 14th 1945 closed thus:
We wont see each other anymore. From where we are going, nobody will return. Auf Wiedersehen if that is Gods will.
The fates of the brothers at the Eastern Front are unlikely to be clarified despite newly available information since the Wall come down. Even when remains are found they are most often not to be identified as grave-robbers quickly sell the identity disks and other relics. Thus it is impossible to give a name to human remains and inform the relatives. And there are still relatives who are waiting for news about their long gone family member. Traces are still to be found.
Doing research at the municipal archive Coesfeld, with the help of Volksbund Kriegsgräberfürsorge and the Krankenbuchlager Berlin I was able to clarify several fates and find some graves. For the memorial at Lette Railway museum (see www.bahnhof-lette.de.vu for the complete list) I compiled the long list of war victims among the Coesfeld railwaymen which now comprises 130 people killed doing their service in WWI and WWII.
Amongst them a Dutchman, Cornelis Stafleu, who was forced to work with Deutsche Reichsbahn in November 1944 and had been killed during an allied air-raid at Coesfeld marshalling yard on March 21st 1945. His relatives had waited 62 long years to finally get any information. I was now able to make contact and take his daughter - who never knew him - and her family to his final resting place at Coesfeld. A very moving occasion! Uncertainty is more difficult to bear than to stand at a grave. His daughter Margriet Stafleu expressed her hope that others who may still be searching for a lost relative dont give up. There are still people living with unclarified family-fates. These lines may encourage them, that that must not be the last word. There are still traces to be found!
For a direct link to the author of this article, email Daniel Hörnemann
Copyright © The Rev. Dr. Daniel Hörnemann, OSB, February, 2008
All photographs Copyright © The Archive of Gerleve Benedictine Abbey, Germany
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