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Monday, November 16, 2020

The German World War II Cemetery, Pomezia

The German World War II cemetery in Pomezia, 25 kilometers outside of Rome, is a calm, well-maintained green space.  We first ventured there on the advice of our friend Virginia Jewiss, a Dante scholar and author of an essay on the Pomezia cemetery [linked and quoted below]. She knew we toured towns founded - from scratch - by the Fascists in the Agro Pontino, the flat plains that run from the Castelli Romani to the sea (malarial plains for most of their existence, and hence, little occupied before then). [This post follows an earlier one about the town of Pomezia, its Fascist architecture and its vaccine industry.]

We had a second goal - to find the grave of the father of a German woman, who had posted online that she wished to have a photo of her father's grave. We had seen her post in our efforts to find information about the cemetery location and hours.

What struck us first about the cemetery was the immensity of it - the numbers of crosses - only some of which are in the photo above. On closer inspection, we were even more struck by the fact that every cross represents 6 soldiers - so one must multiply this vision by 6 to have a sense of the 27,000+ soldiers who are buried here. Here is a one of the crosses; 3 names are on the other side as well.  

There's a "Herbert Gräbner" on this cross.

Jewiss's article, written after we went to the cemetery, points out the bisecting path through the graves leading to a large memorial in Roman travertine (see photo at top). She notes the two soldiers, facing the cemetery (see photo at bottom), and, at the back of the monument, female figures - an old woman, as she says, "clearly a mother figure" and "a wife and small child."  (Photo below, left)

There - at the back - she says one also can read the inscription (in German flowing into Italian without pause) on the monument:


Here the Dante scholar takes flight, pointing out these words are from the third canto of Paradiso by the nun, Piccarda, who was forced to break her vows. And, that this inscription is "startling": "Rarely--if ever--do the inscriptions [in a war cemetery] derive from another national tradition, let alone from a belligerent nation in the conflict."

The inscription is translated as "In His will is our peace."

Jewiss notes the "extraordinary moral complexity" of honoring a sacrifice "made for a dishonorable cause" (something Americans still struggle with relative to the Civil War, of course). And goes on, "what is the Italian poet doing in a German cemetery, why this verse, and why is it carved on the back of the memorial?"

She suggests the quotation means--at the simplest level, "a utopian expression of hope that God grant peace to the dead, that his will remain unfathomable." There's much more in Jewiss's piece, including statements such as this one: "The soldiers here are both in exile from their patria and recognized as citizens of the wider world of the dead." You will profit from exploring her analysis in more detail. It's here.

Jewiss also notes that most of the soldiers in this cemetery were killed after the Italy-Allied Forces armistice of Sept. 8, 1943. That was the case with both of the Graebners we found, and the father of the German woman who wanted a photo of her father's final resting place; they died in 1944.

My recollection is that the German woman's father was Felix Klose (one of the photos we sent her is at right).  We were able to look up the location of his burial ground in the book kept at the entrance to the cemetery.

Above the book (photo below) is the sign reading: "Nambücher...Friedhof Pomezia...Gefallene A-Z" - "Book of names of the fallen, Pomezia Cemetery."

After we sent her the photos, the daughter of the fallen soldier wrote us back: "My father died of his wounds in Rome and was buried in Rome, then he was moved  to Ponetzia [sic] in 1966. It was a small stone like flat cross on the ground. I have a picture of it and I always wanted to know he ever was moved again and when. Again I thank you so very much, you don't know how pleased I am to know and see the place at last.  I would like to know when he was moved for the second time.  He still is in my heart, never forgotten, Best wishes and thank you again from the bottom of my heart.., Mrs E.S."

As in many war cemeteries, this one was founded well after the end of the conflict (it was inaugurated in 1960) and gathered the remains of soldiers from all parts of areas in and around Rome, as was the case with Mrs. E.S.'s father's remains. 

Front of monument, with soldiers in greatcoats "looking at their fallen comrades."

The first lines on the cross at right read "Ein Deutscher Soldat" - "A German Soldier," with no dates. An unknown soldier, of which there were many in this cemetery.

We left the cemetery on this lovely road (photo below), observing the diligence of some of the young Germans who were maintaining it.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

I just read the comment you had, "made for a dishonorable cause" meaning the Civil War and the Confederacy (CSA). Here's some more information you may not know about as to the Confederate soldiers. 1) The Confederate Secretary of State was Jewish. 2) The leader of the Confederates living in California was a Jewish Rabbi. 3) The city in America with the most Jews was New Orleans, Louisiana. One of the Rebel states 4) By percentage, there were more Jews in the Confederate Army than in the Union Army. Just wanted to let you know. Sincerely, Michael Skaggs, Paris, Tennessee, 38242 USA