War memorial

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World War I Memorial in Kimberley (South Africa)

A war memorial or war memorial , rarely, War Memorial , recalls in particular in a war killed has come soldiers . War memorials - war memorials or memorials - are part of the landscape in almost all participating states of the First World War . Many have been expanded to include commemorative writings on those who fell in World War II . War memorials were also erected in other countries on the occasion of conflicts that preceded or followed the two world wars.

Origin of the war memorials

War memorials that remind not only of generals or officers , but also of ordinary soldiers , were created after the French Revolution with the Levée en masse . They have been of great importance in Germany since the wars of liberation . A minor form are battle memorials that illustrate the deaths of named or anonymous soldiers, such as the Winkelried monument ( 1865) in Stans or the St. Jakobs monument (1872) in Basel , both by Ferdinand Schlöth .

The function of a war memorial is diverse. It is supposed to comfort the relatives by giving meaning to the death of their relatives, it is supposed to oblige the survivors to follow the example of the victims and to represent the state and its ideals. That is why there were often conflicts over the erection of war memorials. Various social groups are still trying to put their understanding of war and society in the foreground. The many keywords include gratitude , grief , cult of the dead , heroes , nation , people and freedom .

War memorials in Germany

Obelisk on Karolinenplatz , Munich (1833)

In Germany, including memorial plaques, there are said to be over 100,000 war memorials. The oldest war memorials in today's sense are likely to be some memorial plaques for residents who died in the Napoleonic wars . After Friedrich Wilhelm III. On March 10, 1813, with the Foundation of the Iron Cross , he created an order for the first time, the award of which was independent of rank and rank, i.e. for the first time could also be awarded to ordinary soldiers. On May 5, 1813, he issued the “Ordinance on the foundation of a permanent Monument to those who remained in the struggle for independence and the fatherland. ” a .:

"§. 1. Every warrior who finds death for the fatherland in the exercise of a heroic deed which, according to the unanimous testimony of his superiors and comrades, would have earned him the Order of the Iron Cross, should also be erected in the regimental church at the expense of the state to be honored after his death. […] §. 3. In addition, for all who died on the bed of honor, a plaque should be erected in every church at the expense of the parishes, with the inscription: From this parish died for king and fatherland; under this inscription the names of all those who had fallen in the parish are inscribed. Above to those who received the iron cross or were worthy of it. "

A large number of war memorials, represented throughout Germany, were first erected to commemorate those who participated in the Franco-German War in 1870/71 , with the regions affected by the German-Danish War in 1864 and the Prussian-Austrian War in 1866 on the Monuments also often commemorated the participants in these wars. Later war memorials from the First World War usually only pay tribute to the fallen soldiers of the respective location, and those of the Second World War mostly civil and military victims.

On many war memorials, the fallen and missing of a place or the political community are individually named - these are the war memorials in the literal sense. If only a dedication text can be found on the memorials without naming the fallen soldiers, strictly speaking it is not a war memorial, but memorials, regiment memorials, etc. Ä. In larger cities, where it was very difficult or impossible to determine the exact names of all those involved in the war, there are seldom monuments with lists of names.

The predominantly used building materials such as bronze , granite , marble , boulders and the like. a. already express the desire for the durability of a monument. The memorial inscriptions on the monuments that were created up to 1945 often refer to the virtues of the fallen soldiers: bravery, courage, patriotism, loyalty, willingness to make sacrifices, camaraderie and the fulfillment of duty until death. In contrast, the role of the Fallen was after the Second World War over war victims stressed and the monument the role of a memorial allotted for peace.

War memorials in 1864, 1866 and 1870/71

Many war memorials after the wars of unification in 1864, 1866 and 1870/71 ( Franco-German War ) have less to do with honoring the fallen than for all (including those who survived) who participated in the war. After the founding of the empire and the victory of the Franco-German War, the soldiers awarded the memorials are often referred to in the inscriptions as “victorious heroes”. Places that had sent combatants often commemorated their veterans and fallen soldiers with monuments in central public places, for example at the town hall, the school house, the market square, in the city garden, etc. The monuments were donated by warrior associations and the communities.

According to the national self-image of the time, such memorials often adorn the Nike (Greek) or Victoria (Latin), Germania , or eagle with outspread wings, and the obelisk as an ancient symbol of victory is often to be found. Mere memorials for the dead often have exaggeratedly ornate depictions of sarcophagi, laying out or urns that would do justice to a state burial, but have nothing to do with the actual burial situation. The depiction of soldiers' figures on the memorials in 1870/71 was very rare.

The erection of monuments was accommodated by a law of 1890, which transferred the authority to erect monuments to the municipalities. From then on, numerous new cenotaphs were erected for 1870/71, in particular on the anniversaries of the victory over France ( Sedan Day ), such as the 25th anniversary in 1896 or the 40th anniversary in 1911. Industrialization had meanwhile made money for many communities, the surviving veterans were now at the set age and often set a monument for themselves. At the same time, many monuments erected after 1900 for 1870/71 are also signs of the militarization that society experienced under Kaiser Wilhelm II .

War memorials 1914/18

Lion Monument, the most powerful of the student World War II monuments
In memory of those who fell in World War I and II, Swakopmund (2014)

Erected until 1933

Due to the disproportionately higher number of victims that the First World War claimed in comparison with the previous wars, the memorials for the soldiers from 1914–1918 initially focused on the commemoration of the dead. In many places, the donors were parishes or parishes and only rarely war clubs. The monuments are therefore mostly on or in churches and are often limited to listing the names of the fallen. Since not only the war was lost, but also the empire collapsed and the old army was disbanded, the monuments usually do not show any national symbols, but rather they show the iron cross , oak leaves , sword and steel helmet as well as Christian symbolism. The obelisk or the column as a symbol of victory are less common. Figurative representations often show medieval figures in monuments around 1920, later dying and mourning warriors.

It can be observed here that the greater the size of the municipality ( city ), the lower the likelihood that a memorial is present. While almost every village in Germany and Austria still commemorates the fallen of the two world wars, there is practically no major city with such an overall monument. Instead, “memorial books” were published for some cities such as Nuremberg, Stuttgart and Würzburg. Probably the most extensive major German city monument was the Munich war memorial with 13,000 names that was damaged in World War II and no longer restored in its original state . The memorial for the people of Bremen who fell in World War I is likely to be the largest name memorial that still exists in Germany. Apart from political reservations as early as the 1920s, the erection of monuments in larger communities was hampered by the question of cost and / or the effort involved in identifying the many names was avoided.

In the course of the 1920s, war memorials erected at a later date began to show a trend towards more figurative scenes. However, the representations were now often antiquated, i. That is, they showed ideal-typical, often also naked fighters, who in places anticipated the heroic portrayal of warriors during the Nazi era , which began a little later . Nevertheless, there are notable exceptions, such as the memorial built in Golzheim in 1929 , in the center of which is a sculpture of a peace dove with an olive branch. The war memorial of the SpVgg Fürth , which was inaugurated in 1923 in honor of the 144 fallen club members, is also a specialty. It is the only one in the world that was held in the shape of a soccer ball and is composed of two granite halves. It is about two by three meters and contains a case with contemporary items, such as coins and newspaper clippings, as well as a list of the names of the members of the association who died. Such monuments were also erected at German universities, e. B. the lion monument of the University of Leipzig .

Organizations close to the labor movement in particular tried to counter the expression of many German war memorials, some of which glorified war, with the motto Never Again War . One example is the memorial erected by the Benningen Workers' Gymnastics Club for its members who died in World War I in 1928, which, in addition to the usual name boards, contains the inscription Never again war on the memorial base.

Erected after 1933

The war memorial on Dammtordamm from 1936

War memorials erected after 1933 for 1914–1918 focused on the demand for willingness to make sacrifices. The symbols used represent readiness to fight, courage and the certainty of victory; after 1933, symbols of victory such as pillars, eagles, swords ( Lindhoop monument in Kirchlinteln ) and flames can be found again, sometimes also heroic battle representations. Many of the monuments such as the Hamburg war memorial on Dammtordamm show (soldiers) figures in the style of the time, who seem to represent a guard of honor turned in stone . In turn, the monuments were increasingly erected in central locations and away from churches, in order to free the “heroic memory” of Christian mourning aspects and to bring it more into the public eye.

During the time of National Socialism , a gigantic triumphal arch was planned for the world capital Germania . It was to bear the names of the approximately two million Germans who died in World War I. The heavy load body has been preserved from the preparatory phase of the project .

War memorials 1939/45

War memorial 1939–1945 in Volmarstein with a simple cross
Example of a memorial without names in Neuenkirchen (Land Hadeln)

During the Second World War , the proportion of civilian casualties in the total losses took on enormous proportions (see war deaths in the Second World War ). Due to the political discussion and the pacifism of the post-war period, monuments were therefore mostly dedicated not only to the soldiers, but to all the victims of the war, although the individual names were mostly omitted. The chaotic post-war period in Germany after the Second World War, with millions of people displaced and missing, would have made it impossible to precisely record all names in larger cities. Pure war memorials were therefore only occasionally rebuilt. War memorials for 1914–1918 were more frequently supplemented with the names of the dead from 1939–1945. In the case of war memorials erected after 1945, Christian symbols such as the cross and the Pietà or palm branches can often be found, and the architecture often makes the complexes look like a temple.

In the Soviet occupation zone and the later GDR , German war memorials for 1939–1945 were out of the question. Instead, the Allied Control Council ordered the removal of all German monuments and museums of a military nature in Directive No. 30:

"From the time this directive comes into force, the planning, design, construction, installation or other display of memorial stones, memorials, posters, statues, structures, street or country road signs, landmarks, memorial plaques are prohibited and declared as illegal or badges that aim to preserve the German military tradition or to maintain the memory of the National Socialist Party, or by their very nature consist in the glorification of armed events [...] "

- Directive No. 30 of the Allied Control Council of May 31, 1946

This directive also required that existing monuments be removed by January 1, 1947, with the exception of installations of significant public use or of great architectural value . In an amendment to this ordinance published on July 12, 1946, memorial stones erected in memory of the deceased of regular units were determined to be preserved, with changes to the design (e.g. by removing militaristic symbols and inscriptions) being proposed. Contrary to these stipulations, however, there were “wild” removals of war memorials without official involvement, especially in the immediate post-war period.

In many places, however, memorials for Soviet soldiers were erected. The first on German soil was the Soviet Memorial, inaugurated on November 25, 1945 in Dresden.

After the Germans fled and were expelled after 1945, countless monuments were razed or rededicated in the former German eastern regions .

The largest cenotaphs in Germany for those who fell in the Second World War are the Naval Memorial Laboe near Kiel (although it was built for the First World War and its significance was then expanded) and the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park . The comparatively simple memorial of the German Army is located in the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress . For decades, Koblenz was the largest garrison in the Bundeswehr. The central memorial of the Air Force is located at the site of the Military Academy of the Air Force near the aviator Horst's the Air Force in Fuerstenfeldbruck . However, this is not a pure war memorial in the narrower sense, but rather reminds of both civil and military victims of aviation in war and peace.

Memorial of the Bundeswehr

Memorial of the Bundeswehr in Berlin

At the Berlin headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Defense on the grounds of the Bendler Block , a memorial was erected for members of the Bundeswehr who were killed on duty . The foundation stone for the memorial was laid on November 27, 2008 on the eastern edge of Hildebrandstrasse, and the finished memorial was inaugurated on September 8, 2009 by Federal President Horst Köhler . It is a reinforced concrete cuboid 32 meters long, eight meters wide and ten meters high. It is draped with an openwork bronze cover, the structure of which is reminiscent of the soldiers' identification tags, which are halved in the event of death . In the room of silence ( cella ), the names of over 3,100 soldiers who died in the service are projected on the wall for about five seconds. This makes it similar to a video installation and different from traditional war memorials, where the names are carved in stone. This is to avoid hero worship and instead emphasize the transience of life and the individuality of death. The monument is directly connected to the public space and is open to the public.

The three branches of the armed forces have their own memorials:


Nossentin War Memorial 1806

Some cities and towns with war memorials


Red Army Hero Memorial in Vienna

In many villages in Austria, there are war memorials on the main square, by the church or in the cemetery, which are supposed to commemorate the fallen of both world wars. The names, date and country of death who have fallen from the respective locality are usually entered here. In rare cases, these monuments include photo galleries.

The first large-scale war memorials emerged during the First World War . Due to the already high number of victims, guidelines were drawn up in 1915 for the erection of memorials to the fallen . For example, the teachers at the Austrian Museum for Art and Industry and the kk Gewerbeförderungsverein, such as Josef Hoffmann , Franz Barwig and Oskar Strnad , designed war memorials.

But there were also individual monuments earlier. So that was dedicated to the fallen Battle of Aspern of Joseph Kornhäusel as "Temple of military glory" in 1813 the Husarentempel in Mödling built. Also in memory of this battle, Anton Dominik von Fernkorn created the Lion of Aspern . In memory of the fallen soldiers in the Battle of Leipzig , soldiers of the Imperial Austrian Army built the Heldentor on Vienna's Ringstrasse ( Burgring ) according to plans by Peter von Nobile and Luigi Cagnola . The Hall of Fame of the Vienna Army History Museum (then the Imperial and Royal Court Weapons Museum ) was designed by Theophil von Hansen and Emperor Franz Joseph I as a memorial for the Imperial Army (subsequently for the Imperial and Royal Army ). There are several marble tablets on the walls of the Hall of Fame, on which the names of over 500 officers (from Colonel to General of the Imperial Army from the beginning of the Thirty Years' War in 1618 to the end of the First World War in 1918) are noted with the place and year of their death.

Commons : War memorials in Austria  - collection of images, videos and audio files


Lion Monument Lucerne

In Switzerland, which has been neutral since the increase in the erection of war memorials in the 19th century, there are naturally only a few war memorials. Examples are the Lion Monument in Lucerne and the Suworow Monument on the Gotthard Pass.


Monuments were erected across France, especially in the 1920s for those who fell in World War I. In contrast to Germany, in many larger communities (cities) some very extensive memorial sites have been created, very often in the form of a stone memorial (wall, obelisk ) in a central location.

A considerable proportion of the monuments from the 1920s have an expressly pacifist or anti-militarist tendency.

A particular problem of remembrance arose in the areas of Alsace and Lorraine , which had been under German rule 1871–1919 as the Reichsland Alsace-Lorraine and 1940–1945 as the Gau Baden-Alsace : History meant that the in After the wars (1870/71, 1914–1918 and 1939–1945), from the point of view of the post-war period, those who died mostly for the “wrong thing” (cf.: Malgré-nous ). On the other hand, it also shows that as time went on, the sentence of an unknown Alsatian became a guideline: "Then they were all just dead and no longer soldiers."

For victims of the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871)

The War Graves Act of April 4, 1873 already led to the erection of numerous memorials on the graves of the victims of the Franco-German War in the 1870s . However, it was only around twenty to thirty years after the events of the war that the private organization Le Souvenir français took larger initiatives .

For victims of the wars in Indochina (1945–1954) and Algeria (1954–1962)

In France there are also monuments in memory of the victims of the Indochina War (1945–1954) and the Algerian War (1954–1962): z. B. in Saverne and Obernai .

United States

After the First World War, the monumental sculpture " The Spirit of the American Doughboy " , which was widely used in various copies, enjoyed great popularity.

The soldiers motive of the United States Marine Corps War Memorial from 1954 at the Arlington National Cemetery is based on that of the war correspondent Joe Rosenthal in 1945 during the fighting on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima made recording Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima . It shows the raising of the American flag on Suribachi, the highest point on the island. The scene was not, as is often claimed, recreated, which is shown by the film recordings made at the same time by another war correspondent. However, it was the second flag-raising on Suribachi, in which the first flag was replaced by a larger (and therefore more visible) one. The larger-than-life monument based on the photo condenses the composition of the group of figures and is clearly in the tradition of hero worship.

In contrast, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC has a clear memorial character. The monument, designed by architecture student Maya Ying Lin , goes back to the initiative of Vietnam veteran Jan Scruggs and was inaugurated in 1982. A wall of black polished marble lists over 58,000 names in the order of death or missing persons without comment. The accusatory character caused controversy which led to further design additions.


Memorial to the Soviet Union soldiers who died in Afghanistan

Other countries

Korean War Memorial in Seoul

In addition to France and Germany, countries such as Great Britain , Italy and states on the territory of the former Danube Monarchy ( Austria , Czech Republic , Slovakia , Hungary ) and the successor states of Yugoslavia should be mentioned. Even there you can still find war memorials for the First World War to a large extent - especially in rural areas. In the Kingdom of Yugoslavia , the monuments by the Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović , which show a classical reference, become programmatic.

In the former Yugoslavia, the monuments of the so-called anti-fascist liberation war of the communist-led partisan organizations of Josip Broz Tito should be mentioned in particular . The sculptor and architect Bogdan Bogdanović is the main representative of the extensive facilities, which are often set up as a sculpture park and which have received great international attention .


in alphabetical order by authors / editors

  • Bernhard Böttcher: A favor for the people and homeland. War memorials of German minorities in East Central Europe during the interwar period (= Studia Transylvanica. 39). Böhlau, Cologne et al. 2009, ISBN 978-3-412-20313-9 (also: Jena, University, dissertation, 2007).
  • Folkhard Cremer: Attempts to give meaning to the meaningless. Fallen memorials from the interwar period . In: State Office for the Preservation of Monuments in the Stuttgart Regional Council (ed.): Preservation of monuments in Baden-Württemberg. News of the State Monument Preservation 4/2017. ISSN 0342-0027, pp. 288-293.
  • Peter Franz : Martial Idols. The language of the war memorials in Thuringia. A nationwide presentation of the stock and a critical analysis of its iconographic and verbal messages. Thuringian Forum for Education and Science, Jena 2001, ISBN 3-935850-04-2 .
  • Joachim Giller, Hubert Mader, Christina Seidel: Where did you go ...? War memorials and honoring the fallen in Austria (= writings of the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum (Vienna). 12, ZDB -ID 525152-7 ). Österreichischer Bundesverlag, Vienna 1992.
  • Manfred Hettling, Jörg Echternkamp (eds.): Ready to remember to a limited extent. Remembrance of soldiers in the Federal Republic. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2008, ISBN 978-3-525-36756-8 .
  • Manfred Hettling, Jörg Echternkamp (ed.): Commemoration of the fallen in a global comparison. National tradition, political legitimation and individualization of memory. Oldenbourg, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-486-71627-6 .
  • Ulrich Hübner: Typologies of the war memorials of the First World War in Dresden . In: Announcements of the Landesverein Sächsischer Heimatschutz eV 1/2019, pp. 7–13
  • Reinhart Koselleck : War memorials as identity foundations for the survivors. In: Odo Marquard , Karl-Heinz Stierle (ed.): Identity (= poetics and hermeneutics . 8). Fink, Munich 1979, ISBN 3-7705-1578-1 , pp. 255-276.
  • Reinhart Koselleck, Michael Jeismann (ed.): The political death cult. War memorials in modern times. Fink, Munich 1994, ISBN 3-7705-2882-4 .
  • Loretana de Libero : Vengeance and Triumph. War, feelings and commemoration in the modern age (= contributions to military history. 73). De Gruyter Oldenbourg, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-486-71348-0 .
  • Meinhold Lurz: War memorials in Germany. 6 volumes. Esprint, Heidelberg 1985–1987.
  • Gottfried Maicher: memorials and war memorials in Styria. Österreichischer Kameradschaftsbund - Landesverband Steiermark, Graz 2012, ISBN 978-3-200-02589-9 .
  • Andreas Metzing: War memorials in France (1871–1914). Studies on the collective memory of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71. 2002, (Freiburg (Breisgau), Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, Philosophical Faculties, Dissertation, 1995; ( online ; PDF, 1.38 MB)).
  • Kurt Pätzold : War memorials in Germany. A critical investigation. spotless, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-360-02076-5 .
  • Werner Pieper : Man, think about it. On the history of war memorials and their alternatives. Also using the example of the small town of Weinheim (= The Green Branch. 275). Pieper & The Grüne Kraft, Löhrbach 2011, ISBN 978-3-930442-75-1 .
  • Helmut Scharf: Small art history of the German monument. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1984, ISBN 3-534-09548-0 .
  • Justus H. Ulbricht: Reminder signs and food for thought. For dealing with war memorials . In: Announcements of the Landesverein Sächsischer Heimatschutz eV 1/2019, pp. 4–6.

Web links

Commons : War memorials  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: War memorial  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Arnold Winkelried, his memorial in Stans. Exhibition catalog. Nidwalden Museum Stans, Stans 1986; Brigitte Meles : The St. Jakobs Monument in Basel. Bern 2012; Stefan Hess : Between Winckelmann and Winkelried. The Basel sculptor Ferdinand Schlöth (1818–1891). Berlin 2010
  2. Carola Nathan: "For those who stayed in battle". There are more than 100,000 war memorials in Germany . In: Monumente , Jg. 2014, issue 5, pp. 54–59, here p. 55.
  3. Bernd Schmid: War memorials - an exhibition project. , in: puzzle - Journal for Peace Education, Issue 1/1994, p. 12.
  4. ^ Official Journal of the Control Council in Germany , No. 7 of May 31, 1946, ed. from the Allied Secretariat Berlin.
  5. Disappeared monuments Destroyed - Forget! Military historical writings of the Saxon Military History Working Group, Issue 7, Dresden 1999.
  6. Stadtlexikon Dresden , Verlag der Kunst Dresden - Basel, 1994, p. 115.
  7. ^ War memorial in Ballenstedt
  8. Monuments and historical places in Bischofswerda
  9. oak
  10. Restoration of the Hohennauen war memorial
  11. ↑ The war memorial is being renovated (MAZ)
  12. ^ War memorial in a small town in Thuringia
  13. Histocard ( Memento from January 4, 2016 in the Internet Archive )
  14. Monuments through the ages . Retrieved May 5, 2019 .
  15. Zitzschen War Memorial 2015 ( Memento from January 4, 2016 in the Internet Archive )
  16. Ordered commemoration ( memento of September 10, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) on the BDA website , accessed on September 13, 2011.