Skip to comments.Germany's 'last' WWI veteran dies
Posted on 01/25/2008 8:38:07 PM PST by fishhound
The man believed to have been Germany's last World War I veteran has died peacefully at the age of 107.
Erich Kaestner, who at 18 was sent to the Western Front but served only four months in the army, died in a Cologne nursing home, his son said.
The death on Sunday of Louis de Cazenave, France's second-last World War I veteran, made global headlines.
But in a country that keeps no record of its veterans, Kaestner's death on 1 January went largely unnoticed.
"That is the way history has developed," said Peter Kaestner, the soldier's son. "In Germany, in this respect, things are kept quiet - they're not a big deal."
Erich Kaestner was unrelated to the writer and poet of the same name.
End of an era
Reports in Die Welt daily and Der Spiegel magazine identified Kaestner as Germany's last World War I veteran, but verification of the claim was difficult as the country keeps no record of its war veterans.
The German public was within a hair's breadth of never learning of the end of an era Der Spiegel
In a country where the shame of the Nazi genocide and memories of two world war defeats still cast long shadows, both publications focused more on the German national psyche than the death itself.
"The German public was within a hair's breadth of never learning of the end of an era," wrote Der Spiegel, until someone updated his death notice on the internet encyclopaedia site, Wikipedia.
In its obituary for Kaestner, Die Welt noted: "The losers hide themselves in a state of self-pity and self denial that they happily try to mitigate by forgetting."
Officer, judge, husband
Born in 1900, Kaestner had joined the army when he left school in 1918.
He rejoined the military as a Luftwaffe first lieutenant in 1939, where he served mainly as a ground support officer in France.
After the war, he became a judge in Hanover, where his work earned him Lower Saxony's Merit Cross.
His 75-year marriage was recognised by Germany's president in 2003 shortly before his wife, Maria, died aged 102.
75 years...damn. If Karl Malden and his wife live till Decemeber they’ll have 70.
I never thought about this. Wonder about WWI US vets?
Ma and Pa Lewis of the award winning bluegrass group The Lewis Family were married for 77 years. That’s about the longest one I’ve heard about, although I’m sure some more obscure folks have beaten that mark.
According to wikipedia, there are three US combat veterans still alive. The only one to actually go overseas lives in West Virginia. He's 108. His name is Frank Buckles.
I think it’s out there somewhere on the web.
Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden,
Einen bessern findst du nicht.
Die Trommel schlug zum Streite,
Er ging an meiner Seite
In gleichem Schritt und Tritt.
Eine Kugel kam geflogen:
Gilt’s mir oder gilt es dir?
Ihn hat es weggerissen,
Er liegt vor meinen Füßen
Als wär’s ein Stück von mir
Will mir die Hand noch reichen,
Derweil ich eben lad’.
“Kann dir die Hand nicht geben,
Bleib du im ew’gen Leben,
Mein guter Kamerad!”
—Friedrich Uhland, 1809
My German is about 25 years out of date, so its slightly rusty.
Could you translate, Bitte?
I had a comrade,
you won’t find a better one.
The drum was rolling for battle,
he marched at my side
in the same stride.
A bullet flew towards us
is it meant for me or meant for you?
It took him away,
he lies beneath my feet
like a piece of myself.
He wants to give me his hand,
while I reload the gun.
“I can’t give you my hand,
rest in eternal life
my good comrade!”
Four have died so far this month. There are only 15 veterans left.
May he rest in peace. Old soldiers die, but human folly marches on.