Friday, November 11, 2011


The pictures above show French President Francois Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl visiting a German WWI military cemetery near Verdun. The cemetery is named Consenvoye after a local town. It lies right across the road from the Meuse River in a scenic setting that belies the horrors that took place nearby during World War I. The cemetery holds the remains of over 11,000 German soldiers. The cemetery was established in 1920 as a final resting place for German soldiers who had died nearby and who had been buried in provisional cemeteries throughout the area.

In a strange confluence of family history and world history, a relative of mine is buried at Consenvoye in a mass grave with ten other German soldiers. He died in August 1917 fighting for Germany, leaving behind a widowed mother, a younger sister (my grandmother), and a younger brother. I have a collection of postcards that he wrote to his mother during the war. They were scratched in pencil from the front (“Feldpost”). I have yet to have them transcribed, as I cannot read the handwriting. In spite of the fact that he was the oldest son in a family without a father when the war started, he was drafted early and sent to fight on both fronts. He was wounded several times, as post cards sent from different military hospitals document. My family has the letter from the army notifying his mother of his “hero’s death” and awarding him an Iron Cross 2nd Class posthumously. 

All four of my grandparents emigrated from German-speaking parts of Europe to the United States shortly before and after World War I. The outbreak of war was the great political disaster of the 20th century, paving the way for worse to come. It took me two trips to the region to find my great-uncle. I have visited the grave several times, alone and with family. I strongly recommend a visit to Verdun and its landmarks to better understand how Europe destroyed itself in the 20th century. In these current times of crisis in the European Union, many people are reflecting on where Europe is headed and considering carefully their next steps, conscious of their responsibility to avoid past mistakes.

World War I ended on November 11, 1918.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fall is in the Air

I might have chosen different music to accompany this video. For best effect, expand it to full screen size.