There are always at least two sides in every war, but one thing that is common to both is having to deal with the dead. Cemeteries and other mass graves spring up out of a matter of necessity. In my previous post I mentioned how many small cemeteries I saw from the train window as we approached Ieper, I did not mention how all of them were from the Allied side. But the Germans too, had cemeteries all over this area, 68 to be exact. Only four remain, however, and only one within the battlefield area, and that one is Langemark. Langemark is only a few kilometres from Ieper, but when both sides dug in to fight, Langemark was under German control (they never took Ieper). According to my guide, Langemark had an almost mystical association for the Germans, and it began when 3000 university students were basically cut down in their first battle by the more experienced veterans on the Allied side. This cemetery originally was established to house the remains of those soldiers, although of course many more were subsequently buried there. As a result, this cemetery was known as “Der Studentfriedhof”, or Student Cemetery.
The sacrifice of these young men inspired many who Ould come later, including the Hitler jugend. Hitler himself came to visit this cemetery in 1940 while visiting this area for two days. While some of the memorials there were the same then as they are now, the cemetery as we know it today looks very different. After the WWII, Germany still had to pay reparations from both wars, and was looking for ways to cut costs. One of those ways was reducing the number of cemeteries they had to take care of, which is why this area went from 68 to 4 cemeteries. All of the other soldiers from those cemeteries were reinterred in one of these four. At Langemark, there is a mass grave in the centre for those reinterred, with memorial slabs containing the names of those known. This grave is known as the “Comrade’s Grave”. Inside the memorial are oak slabs with the names of fallen soldiers whose graves are not known. Some of those names are quite Slavic or Baltic sounding, perhaps an indication of the reach if the German empire up to that time. The rest of the cemetery has simple flat slabs on the grounds for soldiers buried there, sometimes one or two to a grave, but I counted up to 16 at another. There is a sculpture of four soldiers at the memorial, this was inspired by a photograph of soldiers mourning one of their fallen comrades in 1918.
Our guide showed us pictures of what it used to look like compared to now, including photos of the Hitler visit. It was strange standing in the same places that he stood so many years ago. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Yet hear we are, 73 years after the Second World War ended, and a hundred years after the first. There was a group of high school students there who laid flowered on the mass grave, they joined others. Coming here was very sobering and thought-provoking.
Monuments: German monuments look very different than Commonwealth ones. The indivdual graves has simple flat slabs, but the short squat German crosses are interspersed throughout the grounds. There are large blocks marking the mass grave, and more important officers have slightly more elaborate graves on the far side of the cemetery. All the stones come from Germany, either granite, basalt, or pink sandstone. Three bunkers are incorporated into this site.
Grounds: This is a fairly small cemetery, although I’d say an average one in terms of war cemeteries. It’s well-kept, but the grass was soggy and slippery on the day we visited, despite it being a sunny day. The grounds are dominated by towering oak trees.
Visitors: There were numerous visitors here, some school groups, some individuals, and my small tour group (5 people)
Notes: I found this cemetery to be strangely moving.
Cemetery: Langemark German War Cemetery
NotableInternments: The students soldiers, total Internments 44,294 war dead.
Location: Langemark town (like Ieper, completely rebuilt after the war)
Hours: Open 24/7