Beyond History Blog

The German War Graves Commission and a very special project

Heike Leiacker - 08. December 2022 - Archives, Societies, Museums, Genealogy, General, Germany, Historical Documents, WW I, WWII

The Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge e.V. (German War Graves Commission) is probably known to most German genealogists - or it should be. Mainly, because information on fallen or missing persons from the First and Second World Wars can be found via an online searchable database or a search request.

But the War Graves Commission also looks after German war grave sites abroad, supports the institutions looking after the ones in Germany, is involved in the culture of remembrance and offers educational programs for young people.

The regional association in Saxony is currently pursuing a very special project. And perhaps you can help with it!



The German War Graves Commission

On 28 June 1919, the Peace Treaty of Versailles was signed. In it also the handling of the war graves was regulated. The Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (German War Graves Commission) was founded as a non-profit organization on 16 December 1919, to search for the German war dead of World War I and to record and care for their graves. After World War II, its work became important again and was allowed to resume in the three western occupation zones. After the political changes in Eastern Europe, the War Graves Commission was able to begin its work in the states of the former Eastern Block in the 1990s.

Today, the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge looks after more than 830 German war gravesites in 46 countries where around 2.8 million war dead were buried. It also supports the institutions looking after the more than 12,000 war gravesites in Germany. The sites at home and abroad are to be further developed as places of public commemoration, remembrance, encounter and learning. In addition, international cooperation in war graves care is supported. And it is still looking for German war dead that have not been recovered, which are then buried with dignity.

The German War Graves Commission is also committed to remembering and commemorating the dead of war and tyranny. For example, the Volkstrauertag (Rememberance Sunday) was introduced by it in 1919 to commemorate the war dead of the First World War and is still celebrated and developed today. It seeks ways of dialogical remembrance and promotes understanding between people from formerly hostile countries at war graves.

In addition, it offers peace education projects, such as work camps and international exchanges for young people, e.g. in its own youth centers and educational institutions.

Of particular interest to genealogists is a database of over 4.8 million war dead, graves and missing persons, which can be accessed via the Volksbund website. It can be checked free of charge via a search form in relation to one's own relatives. If a person being searched for cannot be found there, or if one hopes to find more information, a search request is the next option. Not all data is available yet online and the list is still expanding. So a clue could still be found.

In addition to relatives, historians, chroniclers, researchers, authors and heir investigators also contact the research team.

The War Graves Commission is also looking for information on German war biographies and welcomes submissions from relatives.

And you can order grave decorations and photos of graves.

It finances much of its work through its nearly 330,000 members and donors. The rest is covered by public funds from the federal and state governments. Of course, it also relies on the support and voluntary commitment of people from all kinds of groups and ages.



The project "death notifications"

We would like to introduce a current and particularly exciting project of the regional association of the Volksbund in Saxony and hope that we can also contribute a little in this way.

The deaths of millions of soldiers in both world wars left documentary traces in the form of death notifications, which were written by troop units and home service offices and informed the surviving relatives about the death of their sons, fathers and brothers. These death notifications are a source genre not previously recorded or evaluated by historians. With the increasing temporal distance to the world wars, these sources might soon be lost forever.

At the same time, there are fewer and fewer contemporary witnesses, which makes written sources even more important. For this reason, the project of Dr. Dirk Reitz, the Saxony Regional Director of the German War Graves Commission, is attempting to secure and evaluate precisely these sources. Within the framework of a Saxon pilot project, 11,000 letters were sent out with requests for such contemporary documents. And after all, about 4% (more than 400) of those written to responded with documents. On this basis, there will be a mailing to another 110,000 households in the coming year. But of course you can also send in your documents independently of a written request!

The documents collected will be evaluated as part of a dissertation project supervised by Prof. Dr. Sönke Neitzel, Professor of Military History/Cultural History of Violence (War Studies) at the University of Potsdam. The official letters, which are often embellished, are to be put in a realistic light, among other things. Letters from comrades can help with this goal. Also the evaluation of the "change of meaning of the soldier's death" 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 could be part of the project.

Do you have official German death notices or communications from superiors and comrades about the death of your German ancestors or relatives at home? Then do not hesitate to support this great project with your submission (copies are welcome)!

The German War Graves Commission is looking for:

  • official communications (troop units/offices of the state/public services/party offices, etc.)
  • personal communications from superiors and comrades,
  • self-testimonies on the perception of the death of son/father/brother,
  • reports on delivery and (their perception) by pastors, mayors, NSDAP officials.

Please send the documents to:

Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge Landesverband Sachsen
Loschwitzer Street 52 A
01309 Dresden

Please note: If you send originals, please keep in mind that they cannot be returned. Also, no confirmations of receipt will be sent.



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