Sunday morning, the sun is shining when I park my car at the entrance of what I know as the German Cemetery. It is situated in a very rural area near the village of Ysselsteyn (Southern NL). A few German cars are parked outside the rather plain and hidden gateway. A small corridor leads you to the actual burial site. Once you reach the 28 hectare open field, the sight is quite overwhelming. As far as my eyes can see, there are grave crosses. Each grey stone cross signifying a German war casualty.
Right after WWII the Dutch Grave Service started to recover all Germans killed from all over the Netherlands to this place – also an amount of Dutch ‘collaborators’ and their family members was buried here. Over 31.000 grey crosses remind us above all of a tremendous loss of lives. It looks very similar to the American, British and Canadian War Cemeteries in the Netherlands (Margraten, Arnhem, Groesbeek) although the number of people buried there are far less (between 2000 and 8000). Although they all have crosses, the white crosses at the ally war cemeteries create a bit of a different outlook. Over 70 years after the end of WWII there is still a different feel to visiting an ‘enemy’ cemetery from an ‘ally’ cemetery. At the entrance a small plaque refers to this by posing the question: ‘How difficult is it for people to find reconciliation with an enemy?’ And stating: ‘Whether right or wrong, we are all human’ as well as: ‘The dead of this memorial admonish to keep peace’.
Most crosses carry a name, military rank and date of birth and death. Some graves simply carry the phrase ‘ein Deutscher Soldat’ [A German soldier]. Although vases and materials are provided not too many graves were marked with flowers or personal items. This morning there were some small groups clearly looking graves of relatives, which appeared not that easy to find (and some took quite a walk). There were also locals taking a walk or a bike ride in the ‘park’ as they called it. And there was one death researcher with a camera wondering what to make of all of this.