Saturday, January 26, 2008

In Memoriam: Dr Erich Kaestner (1900-2008)

A discreet announcement made its way into the pages of the Hannoverische Allgemeine earlier this month. It marked the end of an era, but it passed largely unobserved.

It was a death notice for a man called Dr. Erich Kästner, and he may well have been the last remaining survivor of the German Imperial army of the First World War. Dr. Kästner served on the Western Front in 1918, the last year of the war. He was 107 years of age.

While he just outlived 2007, Dr. Kästner did not outlive Louis de Cazenave, the French Great War veteran who died last Sunday aged 110. De Cazenave's death, marked in news reports, obituaries and a statement from President Sarkozy, leaves just one surviving French veteran.

But the death of his German counterpart was not so marked.There was no comment from Chancellor Angela Merkel on his death, and on the sacrifices of the millions of young men like him who did not survive. No television pictures of him, bent with age, and the weight of a great number of medals.

Indeed it is impossible to know for sure that he was the last remaining survivor of the Great War because Germany has no official records of its veterans from the two World Wars. Germany's losses in the Great War were extraordinary. It is thought to have lost more men in World War One than any other nation and more than twice those of the UK (whose own staggering casualty figures stand at almost 900,000).

Erich Kastner's sacrifice, his courage, and his devotion to his Fatherland have been rewarded with silence and contempt by the nation he served. But if the Germans don't remember, then we do.

Und Ihr habt doch gesiegt, Kamerad.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a tragedy the condition of modern Germany is. This man fought bravely for the sucessive generations of Germans and their ideals. His deeds hearken back to a stronger age. When we knew who we were. But a lot of senseless killing occurred.. brother against brother. As it was said. "Does a field in France get angry at a mountain in Germany ?"

2:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The good Doctor Kastner and all other German war vets of both World Wars were/are heroes in the truest sense of the word.
If there is a Valhalla or heaven where such people go after death, I believe that every single man (and woman) who fought for and stayed loyal to Imperial or National Socialist Germany will find a place therein.

12:04 PM  

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