Victory Over Nazi Symbols in Our Military Cemeteries

Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, amidst the racial protests over the murder of George Floyd and so many other black men in America, amidst the economic melt down of the economies of the world, there was a small victory this week.  It involved some tomb stones of German POWs who had died on American soil during WW II that had been discovered in two different military cemeteries, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Veterans Administration and me.

Back on the 13th of May, I received an email from Mikey Weinstein, the founder and lead spokesperson for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.  He had been contacted by a Jewish veteran who had discovered two headstones in the Fort Sam Houston cemetery in San Antonio, Texas, which had Nazi symbols on them.  Wary of VA retaliation and wanting to remain anonymous, he got in touch with the MRFF.  Having himself received another email from a Jewish man who thought that it was all right to leave those headstones untouched, Mikey Weinstein, in turn, got in touch with me and asked if I would answer the email from this Jewish fellow.  I wrote the following:

Headstones on American soil that are marked with swastikas can become rallying points for neo-Nazis and White Supremacists one of whose goals is to murder all Jews in America.

There are reasons why most rational southern states are taking down their Civil War monuments. They are symbols that preserve a past no decent person would wish to see repeated or replicated.

I think that you would agree that on the grave of a German soldier, the swastika is a symbol of unspeakable evil. It does not preserve history so much as it memorializes all that the Nazis stood for and did to our people.

There are plenty of places where-at the events of the Holocaust can be learned about and studied.  A military cemetery on our soil ought not be one of them.

It wasn’t until Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz who serendipitously chaired The U.S. House Military Construction and Veteran Affairs Appropriations Subcommitee (FL-23) got involved that the issue achieved national attention. Other Congressional members joined in calling for the VA to remove the Nazi symbols because, as the Congresswoman wrote:

“Allowing these gravestones to remain with the swastikas and messages in place – symbols of hatred, racism, intolerance, and genocide – is offensive to veterans who risked, and often lost, their lives defending this country and our way of life. It is also a stain on the hallowed ground where so many veterans and their families are laid to rest. Families who visit their loved ones who are buried in the same cemeteries with the Nazi soldiers whom they fought against, should never have to confront symbols of hatred that are antithetical to our American values.”

At first, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie refused to have the headstones removed; but after significant Congressional pressure had begun to build, Wilkie changed his mind and his stance.

On the 2nd of June, I received the news that these offensive tomb stones would be replaced.  It was gratifying to me to see that the efforts to get this situation resolved came out the way it did.  I am proud of the small role I had in making this happen.  Being now 74 years of age, I have sometimes wondered about my ability now to have any significant impact on matters of faith, justice and decency.  I am grateful to the Military religious Freedom Foundation and to its president, Mikey Weinstein, for having given me this opportunity.

 


 

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