From the San Antonio Press-News
HEADSTONES BEARING Nazi swastikas are not worth keeping.
Their recent removal from Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery should be celebrated. The event should have been broadcast far and wide to raise awareness about the horrors of the Holocaust, the genocide of 6 million Jewish people and the murder of millions of others under the Nazi regime. This was a teachable moment. Never again.
Instead, the removal and replacement of two headstones for German prisoners of war Alfred P. Kafka and Georg Forst was a stunningly quiet moment, even if it was a welcome about-face from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The removal was chronicled by Express-News reporter Sig Christenson thanks to a tipster, not a formal announcement or press briefing.
While this reflects Christenson’s outstanding sourcing on all things military, we agree with the sentiments of Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who slammed the VA’s decision to keep the removal quiet.
“The fact that ... they were trying very hard not to have anyone see it shows that they were embarrassed. They don’t like having to do it, and it’s as simple as that,” he said.
There is simply no compelling argument to maintain these headstones on a military cemetery. Americans died fighting the Third Reich. And what were Nazis fighting for?
To ignore their cause — inscribed on the headstones as “He died far from his home for the Führer, people and fatherland.” — is an insult to history and the dead.
And this is why the argument that these headstones somehow preserve history falls way short and is so insulting and infuriating.
In an earlier statement, the VA defended the preservation and continued display of these headstones, saying there was an obligation “to protect historic resources, including those that recognize divisive historical figures or events.”
But these headstones offered no historical context or understanding about the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust.
That context can be found at the Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio. Never again.
And yet we worry people are forgetting.
In recent years there has been a sharp increase in documented anti-Semitic incidents, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Its 2019 audit found 2,107 such incidents. This is an increase from 2018, when 1,879 incidents were reported. In 2016, there were 1,267 incidents, and in 2015, 942 incidents.
A depressing survey from 2020 commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found a “worrying lack of basic Holocaust knowledge” among adults younger than 40.
This included 1 in 10 adults never having heard the word “Holocaust.” The majority of those surveyed did not know 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and some respondents thought Jewish people perpetrated the Holocaust.
So, in this context, how does displaying Nazi headstones at a military cemetery inform us about our history or deepen our understanding about the horrors of the Holocaust?
It doesn’t. The headstones had to be removed because they never should have been there.