Veterans Affairs Department Will Remove Swastika-Engraved Tombstones of German Soldiers Interred in US Military Cemeteries
The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has agreed to remove a series of headstones engraved with Nazi symbols from military cemeteries in Utah and Texas following protests from members of Congress and advocacy groups.
The unclaimed remains of German prisoners of war were interred at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in Texas and Fort Douglas Post Cemetery in Utah following World War II. Their gravestones feature a Nazi swastika in the center of an iron cross with an inscription in German that reads, “He died far from his home for the Führer, people and fatherland.”
The VA initially refused requests to remove the headstones, saying the department had a “duty” to preserve the historic markers. But in a statement on Monday, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie conceded that it was “understandably upsetting to our veterans and their families to see Nazi inscriptions near those who gave their lives for this nation.”
“That’s why VA will initiate the process required to replace these POW headstones,” Wilkie said.
Responding to Wilkie, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) — who serves as chair of the House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee — expressed relief at this decision.
“VA’s initial decision to leave the gravestones in place was callous and irresponsible, but today’s decision is an honorable move in the right direction,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “I will eagerly monitor how VA moves forward with this process, including how they choose to provide historical context to enemy prisoners of war buried in US Veterans cemeteries.”
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) — an advocacy group that first protested the presence of the Nazi graves — said in a statement that it urged “moving these Nazi headstones to the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, where an appropriate educational display can be erected explaining the salient particulars as to how and why those Nazi headstones are on display there.”