WAR GRAVES MONUMENT & MEMORIAL ALCOVE
The most prominent and immediately visible feature when you visit the German War Graves Section is the large stone cross that marks the northern boundary of the area.
In front of the cross is a marker embedded in the ground that briefly explains the history of the German War Graves Section.
It is in this general area that the Volkstrauertag (national day of mourning) ceremonies are held every year.
The three flag poles that mark the edge of this area normally fly the Canadian and German national flags. The middle flag pole is used for a ceremonial rememberence flag.
At the very back of the German War Graves Section is a three-sided, open alcove constructed of fieldstones.
The alcove contains two wooden grave markers, which were moved along with the remains of two POWs from another grave site.
A small plaque on the wall between these wood markers provides a brief history to their origin.
Two of the three alcove walls contain three narrow windows; since the alcove’s design intent is unknown, it’s difficult to say what these windows were meant to represent.
One possibility is that they mimic the shape of the wooden markers and simulate a continuing row of graves.
Others might feel that the narrow openings resemble the shooting slits that are a common feature of military defenses. Unfortunately that would make the alcove feel more like a bunker than a place of quiet contemplation.
Built into the south wall of the alcove are two stone benches. They are the only places in the German War Graves Section where visitors can sit and spend a moment with their thoughts.
Although the ornate and skillfully-made markers are now in a well preserved state, it’s unfortunate that both have been drastically altered over the years.
Originally much taller, the markers have been cut down in size, presumably either because their bases had rotted or had been permanently fixed in place at the Gravenhurst cemetery.
Far more tragic is that these handcrafted monuments were vandalized in 1978, intentionally defaced at the insistence of one reactionary Canadian Legion member who lacked both perspective and respect.
Soldat (Private) Erich Ertz was an Iron Cross recipient, and in honour of his heroism a representation of the medal was carved into the base of his grave marker. It has since been removed.
A similar travesty was performed on the grave marker for Major Wilhelm Bach. A hero who was greatly admired by those who served with him, Bach fought in Rommel’s Afrika Korps. His marker had been adorned with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, a prestigious award that he had won for outstanding bravery on the field of battle.
The medal contains a swastika, which is an integral part its design. It too was chiselled off his monument.
For those interested in a photo of Bach’s monument as it originally looked at Gravenhurst, Ontario, it can be found in the POW History pages of this website.