German War Cemetery was established at the end of the Great War, between 1919
and 1923, by the French authorities. The Treaty of Versailles of 1919 provided
for the shared maintenance of war cemeteries and so, in 1922, France granted her
'ex-enemies' who fell on her soil the right in perpetuity to a grave.
the largest German war cemetery in France, is the final resting place for
44,833 German soldiers of whom 8,040 were never identified and buried in a
common grave. The bodies of the dead were originally buried in small
cemeteries close to the Western Front, spread over more than 110 villages in
Pas-de-Calais. Most of the soldiers died in the intense fighting in Artois, on
Lorette Spur (1914-1915) and Vimy Ridge (1917-1918).
In 1926 the
French Government allowed the German War Graves Commission, the Volksbund
Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (VDK), to carry out work on the cemetery but
only under its supervision. With a minimum of earthworks and the planting of
numerous trees, the VDK transformed what had until then been just a field into
a proper war cemetery. At the centre of the 8-hectare site they erected a stone
monument inscribed with the first words of Uhland's famous poem, Ich hatt einen
Kameraden (I had a comrade).
the maintenance of the German War Cemeteries has been the responsibility of the
VDK alone. Between 1975 and 1983 the VDK completely redesigned the cemetery in
Neuville-Saint-Vaast. Cast-iron crosses replaced the wooden ones, each one
engraved with the names of four soldiers, and stone headstones were introduced
for Jewish soldiers buried there.
One of the
VDK's missions is to promote 'reconciliation above the graves' and to this end
they encourage young volunteers to take part in work camps every summer to
maintain German cemeteries throughout Europe.