Remembering the victims of violence and war and appealing for peace through this remembrance is a key concern of the German Government.As a part of this, the German War Graves Commissi
on, which was founded in 1919, works abroad on behalf of the Government. Tending to the graves of the German war dead of the First and Second World Wars as well as the graves of persons who emigrated from Germany as a result of National Socialist persecution and died abroad encompasses many tasks: the building and upkeep of cemeteries and particularly the maintenance and restoration of grave sites, tending of graves, identification of graves and reburial of bodies.
The Commission’s international work with young people plays an especially important role in grave maintenance. The end of the East-West confrontation has made this work a part of grave maintenance not only in Western European countries, but also in Central and Eastern Europe.
Bilateral agreements on war graves with more than 40 countries provide the legal foundation for the Commission’s work abroad. In keeping with its motto, “Reconciliation across graves – working for peace”, the Commission has been making an important contribution to international understanding and reconciliation between formerly warring peoples for more than 90 years. German and Russian soldiers work together on war grave sites in order to create and preserve places of remembrance, mourning and reflection, as do young people from across Europe.
Duties of the Federal Foreign Office
The upkeep of war graves is in principle a responsibility of the government, and is rooted in our constitution, the Basic Law (Article 74 (1) (10)). Within the Federal Government, the Federal Foreign Office is responsible for matters concerning war graves abroad. This includes negotiating and concluding agreements with other countries on war graves. The War Graves Commission and the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, which is responsible for the maintenance of war graves in Germany (including German war graves abroad), also take part in these negotiations. A framework agreement concluded in 2003 between the Federal Government, as represented by the Federal Foreign Office, and the War Graves Commission provides a clear legal foundation for war grave maintenance abroad. The Commission is responsible for carrying out this duty in accordance with its own statutes. Insofar as its own income (from donations, membership fees, and fundraising) is not sufficient to meet the requirements of war grave maintenance abroad, the Commission receives funding from the Federal Foreign Office (in 2012 and 2013: EUR 10,88 million annually). The Federal Foreign Office and the German missions abroad work with the Commission on a continual basis in a spirit of partnership. Beyond this, German missions abroad care for German war graves in countries where the Commission is not present.
Did you know?
The Commission, which was started as a civic initiative, now cares for more than 2 million of the dead at 800 war cemeteries in more than 40 countries worldwide.
The Federal President is the patron of the Commission.
Each year the Commission brings together up to 20,000 young people from numerous countries who work for peace by tending war graves together.
The Commission maintains four youth education centres, all of which are open year-round: in Ysselsteyn, the Netherlands; Lommel, Belgium; Niederbronn-les-Bains, France; and on the island of Usedom in Germany.
Konrad Adenauer, Gerhart Hauptmann, Max Liebermann and Walther Rathenau signed the 1919 call to found the Commission.
The Commission’s database-driven catalogue of graves includes more than 4.5 million entries, which you can research yourself on the Commission’s website (www.volksbund.de).
The Commission has a total annual budget of about EUR 40 million, which is funded primarily through membership fees, donations and fundraising efforts.