If you drive past the corner of Chipeta Way and Tabby Lane at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City and look into the cemetery, you will see a gray memorial topped by a kneeling figure.
But only if you drive into the cemetery and walk to the memorial will you see what it is.
The plaque on the memorial lists the names of German prisoners of war who died at Fort Douglas during and after the First World War. These 21 men who lie buried in foreign soil have names like Stanislaus Lewitski, Friedrich Hanf, Roko Zilko, and Herman German. Who were they?
During the First World War, the government built a prisoner of war camp at Fort Douglas, a few miles east of downtown Salt Lake City. The army brought thousands of captured enemy combatants into this inland camp.1
Some of the prisoners, “German Alien Enemies,” as they were called on the military burial records, may have been captured in Europe; some were members of the crew of the German merchant raider, SMS Cormoran, captured off Guam. The men would have appeared in the German casualty lists as “vermißt,” as in the record for one of the men, Friedrich Hanf:
Among these 21 men were a sailor, a jeweler, an artist, a psychopathologist, and a coppersmith. Most of them died from the influenza spreading from soldier to soldier in late 1918, cutting down these able-bodied men in the prime of their lives. But one was doing gymnastics and fell from the horizontal bar, breaking his neck; another died from tuberculosis.
A decade after the war ended, the German-American community in Utah decided to memorialize these war dead. After a variety of fund raisers, a monument was designed and built by local engineer Arno Steinicke.
The Church’s German publication, Salt Lake City Beobachter, carried plans for the memorial, notices of fundraising concerts, and published a special issue when the memorial was dedicated. Included in its extensive coverage was this note about the men:
During the War about 2,100 German prisoners of war were brought into Fort Douglas, including from the ships “Comoran” [Cormoran] and “Gener,” [Geier] as well as interred German nationals.
The two cruisers were in the Pacific when the United States entered the war, and the crews had to heroically abandon them. Those who lost their lives while in the prison camp away from home are now memorialized by this monument.2
In 1988 the memorial was restored by Hans and John Huettlinger, the German Air Force, and the German War Graves Commission. Its purpose was expanded to memorialize the victims of both World Wars buried at Fort Douglas as well as victims of war and despotism throughout the world.
Every November Volkstrauertag, German Memorial Day, is observed at the cemetery. The commemoration in 2010 was covered in the local media. Guests of honor included Dieter F. Uchtdorf, counselor in the First Presidency and former member of the German Air Force; Robert C. Oaks, former member of the Presidency of the Seventy and retired U.S. Air Force and NATO commander; Charles W. Dahlquist, former Young Men general president and honorary consul of the Federal Republic of Germany; other Church representatives; and German military officials including Air Force Captain Paul Roth.
For information about the commemoration this Sunday, see the website of the German-American Society & German Chorus Harmonie.
The picture of the plaque is from FindAGrave, courtesy of Judie Latshaw Huff, used by permission. The picture of the monument from Flickr, courtesy of Photo Dean, is used under a Creative Commons license. The other pictures of the monument are from Salt Lake City Beobachter, May 25, 1933.
- Like any prisoner of war camp, Fort Douglas was plagued by escape attempts and a variety of difficulties. See a history of the camp here, visit the Fort Douglas Military Museum, or see the book Raymond K. Cunningham, Jr., Prisoners at Fort Douglas: War Prison Barracks Three and the Enemy Aliens, 1917-1920, unfortunately not widely available. [↩]
- Ehre ihrem Andenken!
Die während des Weltkrieges in Fort Douglas untergebrachten deutschen Kriegsgefangenen — etwa 2100 an der Zahl — feßten sich aus den Befaßungen der deutschen Kruzer “Comoran” [Cormoran] und “Gener” [Geier] zusammen, sowie aus internierten deutschen staatsangehörigen.
Die beiden erwähnten Kreuzer befanden sich im Stillen Ozean, als die Vereinigten Staaten in den Krieg eintraten, und die Mannschaften mußten sich nach heldenhaftem Verhalten ergeben. Denjenigen davon, die fern von der Heimat im Gefangenenlager ihr Leben verloren, sei durch das jetzt errichtete Monument ein Ehrenmal gesetzt. [↩]