Erich Kaestner, the man who was believed to be German’s last surviving First World War veteran, has died at the age of 107. Kaestner left school in 1918 and fought on the Western Front for 4 months before the war ended. He also saw service during the Second World War as an officer in the Luftwaffe.
Kaestner’s death went almost unnoticed in Germany – he actually died on 1 January this year. In noted contrast to the way many other countries mark the deaths of their First World War veterans, Germany keeps no official records of its war veterans. Kaestner’s son is reported as saying, “In Germany, in this respect, things are kept quiet – they’re not a big deal.” Similarly, the BBC reported that “the shame of the Nazi genocide and memories of two world war defeats still cast long shadows“.
There are many memorials on UK soil that commemorate German service personnel. A wooden cross marks the site of a Luftwaffe crash site in Donnington, North Yorkshire. A plaque notes the following:
“The cross was dedicated to those who died. A wreath was laid by Herr Herbert Thomas of the Luftwaffe Night Fighter Association and Mr Arthur Tait of the Doncaster Air Gunners Association, bringing together old wartime enemies in friendship and showing the futility of war.
A stained glass cross in Bangor Cathedral bears this explanatory inscription:
“The cross was made by Herr Franz/ Bonnekamp, an artist in stained/ glass, who was a prisoner of war in/ this country./ He created it in gratitude for the/ kindness and care received at the/ old C&A Hospital, Bangor, when he/ was seriously ill in 1946./
A plaque at Eden Camp Museum, North Yorkshire, records the following:
“This plaque/ commemorates/ S/Sgt James Joseph Wadley, Sgt. Ronald Montague Cramer/ and the 10 German prisoners of war/ who were killed when their lorry was in collision with a/ train at Burton Agnes level crossing near Bridlington on/ the 17th September 1947/ also all Axis power P.O.W.’S who…/ “…worked in our fields and have gathered our harvest. We/ thank them for the work they have done in our land for us.”/ Rev. N. A. Vesey/ Bridlington/ Council of Churches 22.9.47