Dealing with the Dead

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Dann Falk
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Dealing with the Dead

Post by Dann Falk » 22 Aug 2020 19:34

Greetings all, I posted this question under the Soviet section and received some great information. But, I still need feedback about German battlefield practices during the war with the Soviet Union.

I was just asked by my editor about the dead on the battlefield during WW II. She asked "Who took care of all the dead bodies after a battle". She ask if there were special teams that were sent out or even civilians that were assigned to inter them. I'm asking about both the Soviet and German dead during the war, 1941-45.

I would think the troops in the field would deal with most of the dead, but I just don't know.

So any ideas? Please include any references if you can.

Thanks in advance for you answers.

Dann

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DirkAH
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Re: Dealing with the Dead

Post by DirkAH » 22 Aug 2020 20:37

Hello!

Primarily the unit that the dead belonged to was responsible for the burial. For that purpose, every unit from company/battery level upwards was supposed to appoint a "Gräberoffizier/Gräberunteroffizier" (Grave Officer or NCO) from its ranks to organize a burial command and report the grave locations. They were supervised by a "Wehrmachtgräberoffizier (W.G.O.)" that was attached to every army and also acted as an information hub in that regard. Behind the combat areas were "bodenständige Wehrmachtgräberoffiziere" whose main responsibility it was to register, secure all graves in its area and organize the care for the graves, rebury the dead if necessary, etc.
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Dann Falk
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Re: Dealing with the Dead

Post by Dann Falk » 22 Aug 2020 21:08

Good info, thanks DirkAH

So the dead were taken care of by.
1. The unit in the field lead by a Grave officer or NCO, then
2. A army level Grave officer
3. Then behind the lines a bodenständige (down to earth?) Wehrmacht Grave officer.

What about the enemy dead? I doubt they took the same care with the enemy.

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DirkAH
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Re: Dealing with the Dead

Post by DirkAH » 22 Aug 2020 21:50

Hello!

Yes, and inside of Germany the "Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge" was responsible (and still is, although today also for war graves outside of Germany).
"Bodenständig" means unmovable i.e. they had specific territory (W.G.O. 41 1941/42 Latvia for example) in contrast to the mobile WGO attached to the armies that followed the moving frontline.
WGO were also responsible for killed enemy soldiers and were ordered to treat them similar to the German casualties in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. Although the burial commands were formed from enemy POWs and more mass graves were used as opposed to individual burials. All were to be identified, registered, all graves were to clearly marked and honored as far as that was possible. However, the care for the graves was left to the local populations/grave commissions and the WGO only acted as a supervisor. The Eastern Front from 1941 onwards was different although the principal instructions how the treat the enemy dead remained in place.
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Re: Dealing with the Dead

Post by Br. James » 22 Aug 2020 22:17

Often, at the end of a large battle, one side will advance and the other will retreat. While it would be assumed that the advancing side would have the field in their control and the burial teams could care for the dead after the battle, but what of the retreating side? If one side is in retreat and being pursued by their enemy, who will be able to care for the dead of the retreating side?

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Thumpalumpacus
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Re: Dealing with the Dead

Post by Thumpalumpacus » 22 Aug 2020 22:32

Br. James wrote:
22 Aug 2020 22:17
Often, at the end of a large battle, one side will advance and the other will retreat. While it would be assumed that the advancing side would have the field in their control and the burial teams could care for the dead after the battle, but what of the retreating side? If one side is in retreat and being pursued by their enemy, who will be able to care for the dead of the retreating side?

Br. James
The victors? After all, they weren't only bound by conventions, but had an operational reason to do so, namely, the reduction of disease. Just a guess on my part, take it for what it's worth.

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Re: Dealing with the Dead

Post by Ludwig Wittgenstein » 29 Aug 2020 15:55

I've heard of POWs being used in some cases, though it's against the Geneva Convention I think. Certainly at liberated KZ camps, the former guards and civilians from neighbouring areas were sometimes used by the Allies to clear bodies.

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Re: Dealing with the Dead

Post by Br. James » 31 Aug 2020 22:24

So, Thumpalumpacus, you're saying that, following a battle, the victorious side buried the dead of the opposite side, in order to curtail the spread of disease? This would make sense, since the losing side would be as far away from the battlefield as possible...

Br. James

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DirkAH
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Re: Dealing with the Dead

Post by DirkAH » 01 Sep 2020 11:24

Yes, that was usually the case. Disease prevention was especially a problem on the Eastern front during spring, after the snowmelt and once all the corpses and dead animals from the winter battles began to thaw. But corpses could also have a more direct tactical impact on the battlefield. A trench filled with the dead was harder to defend as all the corpses could impede the movement of one´s own troops. Additionaly there were cases were the smell of the fallen infront of a position forced the defenders to retreat.
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tigre
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Re: Dealing with the Dead

Post by tigre » 16 May 2022 04:17

Hello to all :D; a complement............

The Burial Service (Gräberdienst).

More than 50 million people died in World War II. Not only women and children and other civilians, but also more than 20 million soldiers. About five million soldiers died on the German side, one in three members of the Wehrmacht died from wounds, disease, accidents, suicide, exhaustion or in captivity. The dead were not buried in mass graves, as was common in the Middle Ages or early modern period, but were buried in individual graves whenever possible.

Since each unit was responsible for the burial of its dead, each regiment or battalion had to designate a burial detachment. The management and care of the graves were accompanied by so-called grave officers (Wehrmachtgräberoffiziere) who reported to the army and military commanders and received their technical instructions directly from the OKW.

The burial service was performed by full-time Wehrmacht Graves Officers (WGO)* from the burial service at the Wehrmacht Casualty Department at OKW. Former officers (active or on leave) were called up as WGOs who were no longer fully eligible for front-line service with combatant troops due to age or other circumstances. Each army or military commander (in the militarily occupied zones as the head of the military administration) was assigned a WGO for the duration of combat operations, which he worked alongside the military officers assigned there.

Wehrmacht grave officers supervised proper burials by troops, submitted grave reports, and searched the graves of fallen soldiers. His duties also included moving existing graves to larger cemeteries, as well as identifying so-called wild graves, that is, scattered and unrecorded graves. Wehrmacht grave officers not only guarded the cemeteries of the newly dead, but also supervised the cemeteries of the dead of the First World War.

This extension of the task of the actual management of the graves by the Wehrmacht officers shows the naturalness of the Wehrmacht in its role as successor to the imperial army. The Wehrmacht put the newly dead in line with the dead of the First World War. As the war progressed, the tasks and the number of officers assigned to them grew: by 1941 the Wehrmacht Casualty Department comprised 51 WGOs, two Burial Commandos and three Army Graves Officers in Military Districts VIII ( Katowwitz), XII (Wiesbaden) and XX (Danzig). In November 1944 the number rose to 154 offices.

The increasing number of casualties and the duration of the war required a large number of personnel and administrative expenses. The instructions and regulations established by the Wehrmacht to bury all soldiers could no longer really be guaranteed by the troops themselves or by the full-time burial officers.

The burial of a fallen soldier included not only the actual burial, but also recovery, proper reporting of the soldier's death and the location of his grave, and notification of next of kin.

* The WGO was characterized as »G. v.", i.e. capable of garrison service in the field, i.e. only capable of limited service as combat troops, but suitable for administrative and supply duties in rear areas of operation. WGOs in the Army High Command (AOK) were assigned to the Oberquartiermeisterabteilung (Quartermaster Department).

Sources: Von Toten and Helden. Die gefallenen Soldaten der Wehrmacht während des Zweiten Weltkriegs. nina janz
Aus der Arbeit zweier Gräberoffiziere an der Ostfront 1941–1944. nina janz
700 WWII GERMAN PHOTO s fm ALBUM plane tank cannon flak. eBay Auction. (Completed)

Cheers. Raúl M 8-).
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tigre
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Re: Dealing with the Dead

Post by tigre » 22 May 2022 18:45

Hello to all :D; more....................

Recovery.

Ideally, corpses were buried immediately after a battle and the exact location of the grave reported. However, the fallen often could not be recovered or were considered missing. A grave officer of the 15th Infantry Division reported the discovery of dead German soldiers whose clothes had been stolen and whose bodies had been bayoneted after the recapture of the territory. The bodies found were badly decomposed, and burial commandos had to use chlorinated lime to even touch the bodies. If bodies were left behind during a retreat, unit grave officers would often note the approximate location of the dead so that the bodies could still be buried in the event of a recapture. The WGO also obtained information on bodies that had not yet been discovered in its area of ​​responsibility from prisoner interrogations.

The dead soldiers were identified by their dog tags or their soldbuch, which they always carried with them. In the case of unknown German soldiers (nationality was determined on the basis of uniforms and other clothing), body features were to be recorded and special characteristics of the teeth were to be noted. In principle, an attempt would be made to identify each fallen person; in the case of unknown persons, missing person reports were also checked to determine identity. Unknown dead persons were to be photographed before burial and the photos sent to the Wehrmacht Information Office (Wehrmachtauskunftsstelle).

The images were also distributed in army communications. This great effort could not be practiced with all the fallen. Many of the dead were "buried in emergency" on or near the battlefield or (after half the dog tag was removed) left lying around. Recovering and burying each dead collided with the limits of time and the combat possibilities of the soldiers and also with the limits of their will. A WGO deployed "in the east" reported a lack of efforts by troops to recover the dead.

Soldiers, as the Wehrmacht put it, had an "honor duty" to bury their dead "comrades." By emphasizing this "honor duty", the Wehrmacht continued the mythical grassroots military camaraderie that had been cultivated since World War I and its post-war period with reference to the so-called "trench community". The OKW saw this "duty of honor" as natural and expected every soldier to fulfill this duty to the dead.

In reality, the effort and inconvenience was often too great or the recovery of the bodies too dangerous, for example when the bodies were under fire or the area was mined. In these cases, prisoners of war and civilians were also recruited for salvage and grave digging. Tobacco and alcohol were issued to Soviet prisoners of war and civilians as "payment". In addition, the WGO promised the public a reward of 5 RM per individual grave for finding the graves they were looking for.

The WGO did not speak of many German volunteers willing to remove bodies from dangerous sections, but used civilians (including women and children) and prisoners of war for forced labor, even at the risk of their lives. Since Wehrmacht soldiers were unable or unwilling to dig graves for their fallen comrades, this so-called honorary duty was considered a tedious task, like digging trenches or fortress positions, for which civilians were also recruited and abused.

Sources: Von Toten and Helden. Die gefallenen Soldaten der Wehrmacht während des Zweiten Weltkriegs. nina janz
Aus der Arbeit zweier Gräberoffiziere an der Ostfront 1941–1944. nina janz
700 WWII GERMAN PHOTO s fm ALBUM plane tank cannon flak. eBay Auction. (Completed)

Cheers. Raúl M 8-).
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CogCalgary
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Re: Dealing with the Dead

Post by CogCalgary » 22 May 2022 21:01

tigre wrote:
22 May 2022 18:45
Hello to all :D; more....................

Recovery.

Ideally, corpses were buried immediately after a battle and the exact location of the grave reported. However, the fallen often could not be recovered or were considered missing. A grave officer of the 15th Infantry Division reported the discovery of dead German soldiers whose clothes had been stolen and whose bodies had been bayoneted after the recapture of the territory. The bodies found were badly decomposed, and burial commandos had to use chlorinated lime to even touch the bodies. If bodies were left behind during a retreat, unit grave officers would often note the approximate location of the dead so that the bodies could still be buried in the event of a recapture. The WGO also obtained information on bodies that had not yet been discovered in its area of ​​responsibility from prisoner interrogations.

The dead soldiers were identified by their dog tags or their soldbuch, which they always carried with them. In the case of unknown German soldiers (nationality was determined on the basis of uniforms and other clothing), body features were to be recorded and special characteristics of the teeth were to be noted. In principle, an attempt would be made to identify each fallen person; in the case of unknown persons, missing person reports were also checked to determine identity. Unknown dead persons were to be photographed before burial and the photos sent to the Wehrmacht Information Office (Wehrmachtauskunftsstelle).

The images were also distributed in army communications. This great effort could not be practiced with all the fallen. Many of the dead were "buried in emergency" on or near the battlefield or (after half the dog tag was removed) left lying around. Recovering and burying each dead collided with the limits of time and the combat possibilities of the soldiers and also with the limits of their will. A WGO deployed "in the east" reported a lack of efforts by troops to recover the dead.

Soldiers, as the Wehrmacht put it, had an "honor duty" to bury their dead "comrades." By emphasizing this "honor duty", the Wehrmacht continued the mythical grassroots military camaraderie that had been cultivated since World War I and its post-war period with reference to the so-called "trench community". The OKW saw this "duty of honor" as natural and expected every soldier to fulfill this duty to the dead.

In reality, the effort and inconvenience was often too great or the recovery of the bodies too dangerous, for example when the bodies were under fire or the area was mined. In these cases, prisoners of war and civilians were also recruited for salvage and grave digging. Tobacco and alcohol were issued to Soviet prisoners of war and civilians as "payment". In addition, the WGO promised the public a reward of 5 RM per individual grave for finding the graves they were looking for.

The WGO did not speak of many German volunteers willing to remove bodies from dangerous sections, but used civilians (including women and children) and prisoners of war for forced labor, even at the risk of their lives. Since Wehrmacht soldiers were unable or unwilling to dig graves for their fallen comrades, this so-called honorary duty was considered a tedious task, like digging trenches or fortress positions, for which civilians were also recruited and abused.

Sources: Von Toten and Helden. Die gefallenen Soldaten der Wehrmacht während des Zweiten Weltkriegs. nina janz
Aus der Arbeit zweier Gräberoffiziere an der Ostfront 1941–1944. nina janz
700 WWII GERMAN PHOTO s fm ALBUM plane tank cannon flak. eBay Auction. (Completed)

Cheers. Raúl M 8-).
Some little problems with that.I talked to a man who witnessed Soviet soldiers pulling dog tags and mutilating the faces of soldiers with an axe.Not much identification happening there.

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tigre
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Re: Dealing with the Dead

Post by tigre » 22 May 2022 23:11

Hello CogCalgary :D; thanks for joining............Yes, of course there were exceptions. I think that was intended for standard situations. Cheers. Raúl M 8-).

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tigre
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Re: Dealing with the Dead

Post by tigre » 29 May 2022 18:46

Hello to all :D; more....................

The notification.

Once the bodies were recovered, the loss had to be reported to the responsible authorities and to the family. Ideally, the troops would bury the fallen themselves and fill out a valid loss report with the name and burial place of the dead. The commanding officer would write a letter of condolence to the family and mail (if applicable) his personal items such as photos or items such as a wedding ring to the family. The loss of personnel was reported to other military authorities, such as the replacement troops section and the Wehrmacht information center, along with information on the location of the grave. The Wehrmacht Information Office recorded the grave report and reported war casualties to the appropriate registry office.

There were cases in which the widow first received her late husband's belongings, for example a wedding ring, before the official news of the so-called heroic death (heldentod) arrived. The true circumstances of death were to be enhanced and comforted as much as possible. That is why the death notices contained phrases such as "he did not suffer" or "he died of a shot to the head", which was often not true.

The NSDAP was also involved in the process. The directives stipulated that the most competent senior member of the NSDAP (often the local group leader in the "Heimat") should personally deliver the news of the death to the families. The National Socialists thus attempted to influence the treatment of those who had died. In addition to the Wehrmacht, the NSDAP organized its own "ceremonies in honor of the dead" that placed the dead in the context of the National Socialist death cult and used them for its propaganda and ideological purposes.

Sources: Von Toten and Helden. Die gefallenen Soldaten der Wehrmacht während des Zweiten Weltkriegs. nina janz
Aus der Arbeit zweier Gräberoffiziere an der Ostfront 1941–1944. nina janz
700 WWII GERMAN PHOTO s fm ALBUM plane tank cannon flak. eBay Auction. (Completed)

Cheers. Raúl M 8-).
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tigre
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Re: Dealing with the Dead

Post by tigre » 05 Jun 2022 17:58

Hello to all :D; more....................

Burial in the combat zone.

Fallen members of the Wehrmacht always received a burial with full military honors (where possible). During the war, coffin bearers, medal bearers, crown bearers and, if possible, a military band would be provided. In addition, a Reich war flag would be used for the coffin, if there was one, alternatively a sleeping bag or packing paper could be used. The obligatory three salvos were also planned in front of the tomb. The dead were buried in full uniform, although towards the end of the war orders were given to remove boots and other useful clothing and return them to the troops.

Corpses had to be buried at or near the place of death, and not just for hygienic reasons. The return of the bodies involved a very high logistical effort, so the transfer of the soldiers' bodies was prohibited. Ideally, the soldiers should be buried in their own German cemeteries, separate from those of other nations. In an emergency, field graves were allowed, for example at the entrances to towns, but not in ditches and bomb craters. The tomb was to be dug to a depth of 1.20 meters. If possible, the fallen should rest in a coffin, but in any case in a single grave, not in mass graves. In the burial of the fallen, the lower half of the dog tag was to be removed from the dead. Every soldier had to wear his dog tag around his neck at all times. The lower half was torn off by those who actually buried the dead and reported the place of burial. The other half remained with the deceased for his later identification. If there were no identification tags, the personal details were recorded and the deceased was buried along with a glass bottle into which the personal details were then placed.

Headstones were to be permanently inscribed with information such as first name, last name, rank, date of birth and death, feldpost or unit number. Guidelines for designing graves for the fallen provided sample crosses and templates for grave inscriptions. Attaching the feldpost number was soon prohibited because there was a fear that if the enemy advanced, the feldpost number or troop unit might reveal the position or movements of it. If a cross over the grave was not possible, a wooden stake with all the information had to be used and the grave had to be marked with the steel helmet of the deceased. The grave was photographed and sent to relatives with all the information.

The burial of the fallen presented the troops with great difficulties. There was often a lack of time and material to properly bury the dead, if there were any bodies to bury. During constant combat operations, the dead could be left behind or the fallen could not be properly buried due to harsh weather conditions such as frost and snow. Tombs that had already been used and dug shallow were lost due to predators, floods, the effects of battle, or enemy soldiers. If the casualty reports with the place of burial were destroyed by battles or the name of a dead soldier was misspelled, these graves could no longer be found.

The soldiers who buried the dead in funeral squads worked under difficult physical and psychological conditions; they were often given a special allowance of alcohol and tobacco. Due to lack of time, it was often not possible to take the obligatory photographs of the graves, despite many letters and requests from mourners. The increasing severity of the war meant that tomb officers and their aides were often unable to carry out their duties properly; the actual reality at the front and in the grave visibly departed from the required theory of the worthy burial of heroes.

Sources: Von Toten and Helden. Die gefallenen Soldaten der Wehrmacht während des Zweiten Weltkriegs. nina janz
Aus der Arbeit zweier Gräberoffiziere an der Ostfront 1941–1944. nina janz
700 WWII GERMAN PHOTO s fm ALBUM plane tank cannon flak. eBay Auction. (Completed)

Cheers. Raúl M 8-).
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