Respecting the Enemy

Deutscher SoldatenfriedhofThe events of World War II left Germany as the enemy of just about every person on planet Earth.  I will not go into the Nazi party’s actions or debate the wrong or right of any of it.  Rather, today I am talking about the men who served in Germany’s military during that time period.  The young men who were no different than the young men in any other country, whether then or now, who have stood up to serve their country.  The only difference between the Germans of that day and the rest is simply that the first was on the losing side of history…

Deutscher SoldatenfriedhofWith the above stated, when I learned of the German War Cemetery here on Crete, I was intrigued to go and see it.  I have long since learned that I have a “condition” called taphophilia, which is more or less the love of anything cemetery related.  I just don’t take it to the creepy level that some might.  I simply enjoy being at and photographing cemeteries.  They can be very peaceful places, somber, and make for some really unique pictures.  Not only that, I can’t help but feel that I remember the people in some of these places by photographing their graves.  I try and add pictures or graves to the site, FindAGrave.com, a completely volunteer based website for recording cemeteries around the world, namely for families to find loved ones or distant relations (genealogy purposes).  So, with my discovery of this cemetery, I knew I had to see it, regardless of the fact that they were German soldiers.  They were men.

Deutscher SoldatenfriedhofSo, there I found myself, standing on a little hill known as Hill 107, staring out across the graves.  Most of the men buried here, 4,465 total, fought and died on this hill or in the surrounding areas within days of each other during the Battle of Crete.  In May of 1941 Germany launched an aerial assault on the island, utilizing paratroopers and gliders for the initial invasion.  Unfortunately, plans were leaked to the British who were already on Crete after a withdrawal from mainland Greece in April.  They, along with the New Zealanders, Australians, and Greeks prepared for the invasion, locating forces at the key locations Germany was going to attack.  However, they were still very focused on naval warfare and felt this was the only way Germany would attack, despite their intelligence telling them that it WAS an aerial assault.  So, they spread their forces along the coastline in these areas…

Deutscher SoldatenfriedhofThis separation of their troops was their undoing when the Germans attacked the 3 airfields on the island on May 20th.  Despite this, though, the Germans fared no better with their plans.  The paratroopers dropped into the middle of enemy battalions and were decimated or into local villages, where they were slaughtered mercilessly (FYI, do not invade Crete, they will not let you live to tell the tale).  The New Zealanders who held Hill 107 eventually retreated in the night after taking a beating all day, and the Germans took the hill.  Hill 107 was crucial, it overlooked the one runway airport in Maleme.  With this capture, the Germans were able to start landing planes with supplies and reinforcements.  By the 22nd they had control of the area and the Battle of Crete was lost for the Allies.

Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof and the Maleme Airport Runway Below

Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof Cemetery and the Maleme Airport Runway Below with the Mediterranean Beyond…

It was sobering to stand there, staring out across this field full of soldiers (each square stone in the ground represents two soldiers, not one).  To see this hill and imagine the bloody battle that raged here, and on the airport down below, visible over the olive trees, with the beautiful Mediterranean just beyond. So many men, so many lives gone…  Does it truly matter if they fought for the enemy?

Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof

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