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Commemorative ceremony in Maleme, Crete

20. Mai 2019
Maleme/Kreta, Kriegsgräberstätte

Island of peace

Sometimes the most dreadful things that human beings can do to one another are perpetrated in the most beautiful of places. This is how it was exactly 78 years ago, when on 20 May 1941 the Wehrmacht launched its devastating attack on Crete. These events were remembered by the German embassy in Athens in its role as organiser of a dignified commemorative event at the war graves site at Maleme. Among those taking part was Volksbund national committee member Hartmut Tölle.

The burial ground, dotted with red flowers, has a meticulously maintained air and frames the magnificent view of the sea off Maleme. The cemetery is indeed a beautiful sight, and this is down to the regular hard work of the local maintenance staff as well as – at present – the commitment of Master Sergeant Dirk Bremm and his soldiers of the airborne Luftlandebrigade 1 from Saarlouis. However, everyone taking part in this act of remembrance knows that thousands lie buried here, individuals who gave their lives for an inhumane regime.

Painful memories

The inherent contradiction was also invoked by Hartmut Tölle of the Volksbund in his remembrance address: “This German assault marked the beginning of a period of brutal violence and often despotism. The aims of the occupation were carried through in the face of fierce opposition by the Cretan inhabitants. The population was subjected to German reprisals that included brutal massacres and other serious war crimes. Attention also needs to be drawn here to the deportation of Crete’s Jewish inhabitants. Today these horrors would seem to be far from the thoughts of the holiday-makers on the island – with its picturesque nature and the wonderful hospitality of its people – and indeed they may not even be aware of them. Yet in many places and within many families on the island, the memories are painfully alive.”

It was therefore not necessarily to be expected that the Cretans should extend a hand to us Germans in the cause of reconciliation. This however is a prerequisite for the existence of a place of remembrance such as the German war graves site of Maleme on Crete. The gratitude that has been expressed is also shared by the 150 or so participants in this commemorative event, among whom were a coach party from Franconia under the supervision of Volksbund regional director Oliver Bauer, some 25 members of the Association of German Paratroopers and numerous guests of honour.

Gemeinsames Gebet

Insgesamt verlief die von der Deutschen Botschaft Athen gestaltete Veranstaltung mit dem Moderator Oberst i.G. Kammerer sehr feierlich, umrahmt von einer griechischen Blechbläserformation. Den würdevollen Abschluss bildeten das traditionelle Totengedenken, die Nationalhymnen, Kranzniederlegungen sowie ein gemeinsames Gebet.

Unter den Gästen war mit Gerhard Beier auch ein Angehöriger, dessen Vater am 20. Mai 1941 über Kreta als Fallschirmjäger schwer verwundet und in der Folge auch dort stationiert wurde. Sein Sohn versucht nun, die Nachkommen der Familie zu finden, bei der sein Vater damals einquartiert war. Damit will er stellvertretend für den Vater seine Dankbarkeit ausdrücken – und zugleich ein Zeichen für Versöhnung setzen.

Ihm dürften die abschließenden Worte von Hartmut Tölle besonders nahe gegangen sein: „Kriegsgräber sind Orte der persönlichen Trauer, aber auch Orte der gesellschaftlichen Verantwortung und der Auseinandersetzung mit unserer Geschichte. Kriegsgräber zu Orten der Begegnung, der Versöhnung und des Wissens um unsere Geschichte zu machen, ist unsere Chance, Fehler nicht zu wiederholen und mit gemeinsam entwickelten Werteorientierungen an unserem Europäischen Haus zu bauen.“