Saturday, November 17, 2012

Volkstrauertag: Photos of German POW gravestones at Fort Sheridan

Tomorrow is Volkstrauertag, the people's mourning day in Germany. So in honor of that holiday I'm presenting a photographic essay centered on the nine German prisoners of war buried at Fort Sheridan Cemetery in Lake Forest, Illinois.

The fort, which closed in 1993, served as a logistical center for the many POW camps in the Midwest during World War II. No POWs were held at Fort Sheridan--four of the nine were originally buried at Camp Ellis in Fulton County, Illinois. Most of the German prisoners worked as agricultural laborers during their detainment.

Volkstrauertag occurs on the final Sunday before Advent. The holiday honors not only war dead, but also the victims of oppression.

The gravestones are quite new. As late as last spring, older headstones marked the graves of the soldiers. The Germans are buried in Section 13--it once was an isolated section of the small cemetery.

But first I'd like to honor Major Edward J. Vattman. He was born in Prussia, but served for many years as an Army chaplain, including for a while at Fort Sheridan. Father Vattman was a confidante of presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. Pictured above is his memorial--where he is also buried. Vattman was also deeply involved in Chicago North Shore civic affairs.

Multiple online sources state that most of the German prisoners buried at Fort Sheridan were captured in North Africa. After researching the Illinois Digital Archives, I discovered that only three of the POWs were captured in that theater of operation--the others were detained in Europe. There are photographs of each soldier on the IDA site--with one exception.

Heinz Braune, a lance corporal, was one of the three. According to the IDA, he was captured at Cap Bone in North Africa, but on the unlikely date of November 5, 1943. The Afrika Corps surrendered to the Allies in the spring of that year. Braune was born on June 29, 1912 and he died of multiple organ failure on November 16, 1944. Click here to see a photograph of Braune's burial ceremony.

Corporal Willy Paap and the next two soldiers died in a truck accident on November 25, 1944. According to a German war memorial site, it's unclear if they were killed at Camp Rockfield in Wisconsin or en route from Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois to a work site. Paap was born on March 30, 1912 and he was captured in Palermo, Sicily on July 22, 1943.

I couldn't find any information on Kurt Meyen on the IDA site. But the German site I referenced above lists a birth date for him of April 3, 1920.

Online translation sites say that the German rank of stabsgefrieter corresponds to lance corporal--just like obergefreiter, Meyen's rank. I hope to eventually clear up this discrepancy. Stabsgefreiter Rudolf Loehr was captured in Normandy--in Cherbourg--on June 26, 1944. He was born on April 27, 1915.

The oldest of the German POWs buried at Fort Sheridan, Sergeant Emil Krauss committed suicide on August 3, 1945--three months after V-E Day. He was born on April 15, 1899. Krauss was captured somewhere in France on August 24, 1944. That's a flagpole behind Krauss' headstone--which flies the German flag each Volkstrauertag.

Corporal Egon Kranz and the remaining Germans are the soldiers who were first buried at Camp Ellis. Like Braune, Kranz was captured at Cap Bone--the IDA gives a more realistic date of May 2, 1943. Eleven days later the Afrika Corps surrendered. Kranz, who was born on July 11, 1923, died of pneumonia on October 26, 1943.

The youngest of the Germans buried at Fort Sheridan was Private Richard Barthel. He was born on January 2, 1924 and he also died of pneumonia--on April 16, 1944. He was captured in Sicily on July 23, 1943.

Corporal Kurt Roessger was captured at Pont Labbe in Normandy on June 16, 1944--ten days after D-Day. He died what must have been a painful death which the IDA says was caused by "internal bleeding through stomach and intestinal inflammation" on August 5, 1944. Roessger was born on April 8, 1912.

Like Loehr, Private Heinrich Bauer was captured in Cherbourg---but on July 1. Bauer was born on November 5, 1913 and he died on August 15, 1945--the day after V-J Day--of a brain tumor 

The Germans are in the last row of Section 13 of the cemetery. Six of the graves--from Paap through Barthel--can be seen in this photograph.

Fort Sheridan Cemetery is located on US Route 41 just north of Old Elm Road. From the east end of the graveyard you can see Lake Michigan.

Related posts:

Sece, Latvia's World War I German cemetery

Veterans Day 2012: A look back at Fort Sheridan

Gravesite of a veteran of Custer's 7th Cavalry

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