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Volkstrauertag in Salt Lake City

By: Amy Tanner Thiriot - November 14, 2013

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.


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But only if you drive into the cemetery and walk to the memorial will you see what it is.

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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:

GermanyWorldWarICasualtyLists1914-1917ForFriedrichHanfcrop

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.

1918.11.30RokoZilkoDeathCert

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.

Beobachter 25 May 1933, 1 crop

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:

In Memoriam!

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

Beobachter 25 May 1933, 1crop2

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.

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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.

FortDouglasGermanMemorialFlickr

For information about the commemoration this Sunday, see the website of the German-American Society & German Chorus Harmonie.

 

Notes.

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.

  1. 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. []
  2. 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. []


15 Comments »

  1. Fascinating and enlightening post, Ardis. Good to learn of the GA Society – and very sorry I’ll miss the Weihnachtsmarkt and Adventsfeier. (Herman German is a terrific name, by the way.)

    Comment by reed russell — November 14, 2013 @ 8:51 am

  2. Whoops. Wonderful post, AMY!

    Comment by reed russell — November 14, 2013 @ 8:56 am

  3. Thanks for posting.

    Comment by Steve C. — November 14, 2013 @ 8:59 am

  4. Great video coverage of the 2010 event with comments from President Uchtdorf on the brutal murder spree in Salina after the war.

    http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=13279331

    Comment by reed russell — November 14, 2013 @ 9:10 am

  5. Thank you for the link to the video, Reed. That’s a good summary, briefly touching on some of the ethical questions raised by such a memorial and explaining further why the memorial’s purpose was expanded to include the WWII prisoners of war.

    Comment by Amy T — November 14, 2013 @ 9:48 am

  6. My first German teacher at Provo High School, Calvin Bartholomew, told us about the massacre at the POW camp in Salina–but this may be the first time that I’ve heard the story from another source.

    As to German POWs and their treatment by Americans, my dad remembered that POWs were put to work as cooks at the large American military staging area where he spent the summer of 1945. They arrived looking lean and hungry, but within a month they looked robust and healthy. And the quality of the food was much better than it had been with the GI cooks. The POWs knew that they had hit the jobs jackpot, and worked hard to make sure they didn’t lose those jobs.

    Comment by Mark B. — November 14, 2013 @ 10:25 am

  7. Yes, fascinating! And I loved all the images accompanying this post. Brava, Amy.

    Comment by David Y. — November 14, 2013 @ 1:46 pm

  8. Thanks, Amy.

    Comment by kevinf — November 14, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

  9. Very interesting. I love this kind of history. Thanks, Amy.

    Comment by Carol — November 14, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

  10. Several of you have your wars mixed up. These were WORLD WAR I soldiers. The Salina massacre was during WWII. Those graves are also worth visiting at Fort Douglas.

    Comment by Sherry — November 15, 2013 @ 4:24 am

  11. Thanks for the clarification, Sherry. This post highlighted the origin of the monument as a WWI memorial, but when it was fixed in the 1980s, its purpose was expanded to include the WWII deaths as well as the general purpose of Volkstrauertag: to remember “the victims of war and despotism around the world.” I will add one more of Judie’s photos to the post, since it explains that point.

    Comment by Amy T — November 15, 2013 @ 6:48 am

  12. If you’re planning on attending the event, it looks like you should RSVP, and it looks like President Uchtdorf will again be the keynote speaker.

    Volkstrauertag: German National Day of Mourning

    Comment by Amy T — November 15, 2013 @ 6:54 am

  13. I’ve seen the monument a few times. My parents are buried in the Fort Douglas cemetery, and so when I visit, I walk by the various monuments often, as well. Thanks for the background on the monument.

    Comment by Rameumptom — November 15, 2013 @ 7:30 am

  14. The website that Amy linked to in the footnotes to her post this morning contains a listing of cemeteries around the world that contain the bodies of German war dead. Its entry for Fort Douglas reads as follows:

    Fort Douglas

    Zwischen Ende 1942 und 1946 wurden fast eine halbe Million Kriegsgefangene auf Transportschiffen in die Vereinigten Staaten gebracht. Auch während des I. Weltkrieges waren bereits Kriegsgefangene in den USA untergebracht.

    Jedes Jahr am Volkstrauertag gedenken Vertreter der Generalkonsulate mit Kranzniederlegungen der in amerikanischer Kriegsgefangenschaft verstorbenen deutschen Soldaten.

    In Fort Douglas (Utah) ruhen 20 Kriegstote des I. Weltkrieges und 20 Kriegstote des II. Weltkrieges.

    Which means, roughly:

    Between the end of 1942 and 1946 nearly a half million prisoners of war were brought to the United States in transport ships. Also during the First World War prisoners of war were already placed in the USA.

    Every year on Volkstrauertag the German soldiers who died as POWs are remembered by representatives of the Consulate General with the laying of a wreath.

    In Fort Douglas (Utah) rest the bodies of 20 men who died in the First World War and 20 men who died in the Second World War.

    (And if my schoolboy German needs improvement, feel free to correct it.)

    Comment by Mark B. — November 15, 2013 @ 11:43 am

  15. Thanks for that further information, Mark.

    For coverage of yesterday’s event in Salt Lake City:

    German POWs remembered

    Comment by Amy T — November 18, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

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