Keeping The Neighbors Happy

A recent story in the German-language papers brings together two topics of interest; the echoes of the Nazi period and how those echoes are dealt with, and the impermanence of German cemeteries. We’ll start with the second matter: in Germany and Austria (and I assume in a few other European countries), one doesn’t buy a cemetery plot. One rents the space for a number of years (I think 10 or 20), and when those years are up, somebody — a loving relative, say, — has to pay up for another block of years or you get dug up and then I don’t really know what happens to you. This sounds macabre and insensitive, but it actually makes a lot of sense for a cemetery to use their land for the currently-visited dead (and people do visit their relatives’ graves, especially holidays such as All Saints.) If there’s no one left to tend you, out you go.

Which brings us to the news story — the grave of Rudolf Hess, or shall we say, the former grave. Hess had written in his will that he wished to be buried in Wunsiedel, a small town in eastern Bavaria where his parents were buried, and where the family had had a vacation home. The church there reluctantly agreed, not wanting to go against anyone’s last wishes. The grave became a pilgrimage site in the eighties, however, as neo-nazis viewed Hess as a martyr to their cause.

So the church vestry did something to counter that, in a brilliantly unspectacular way — they simply waited until the current rental agreement was up, and then denied a renewal. With permission from Hess’ remaining family (a granddaughter had been holding out, but the rest of the family evidently got her to come around), the grave was quietly dug up at 4 AM one morning and the body exhumed. Hess’ remains were then cremated and will have dropped in the ocean by now. His fans — and I am sure they are pretty pissed off about this — will have to take their pilgrimages elsewhere.

Article in German here.

BBC article in English here.

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