Archaeologists in France recently discovered the remains of 21 German soldiers from World War I in an underground shelter that hasn’t been touched since the day it was destroyed by French shells 93 years ago. Pocket books and prayer beads tell stories of life in the trenches — but Germany doesn’t want to hear them.
In Britain, the discovery of such a mass grave would be front-page news. Journalists would track down the descendants of the dead soldiers and tell the stories of the Tommies who made the ultimate sacrifice in the horrific conflict that shaped the 20th century.
That was what happened in 2009, when mass graves containing 250 Australian and British soldiers were unearthed near the village of Fromelles, close to the city of Lille. A program was launched to identify the remains through DNA matching, and 110 have been identified by name after over 2,000 relatives responded to calls for DNA samples.
In Germany, it’s a very different story. The find has only made the inside pages of a handful of newspapers. In the nation’s memory, the war is eclipsed by World War II, the Holocaust and the collective guilt that weighs on Germany to this day. Both conflicts have imbued Germany with a deep streak of pacifism.
"Britain, France and Belgium still refer to it as the Great War, but our memory of it is totally buried by World War II with the Holocaust, the expulsion from the east, the Allied bombardment," Fritz Kirchmeier, spokesman for the German War Graves Commission, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "World War I plays only a minor role in the German national memory."
(via Pocket Books and Prayer Beads: WWI Grave Find Tells Story Germans Want To Forget - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International)