A brief introduction
A brief introduction
Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge – or short Volksbund – is the German War Graves Commission and as such a humanitarian nonprofit organisation. On behalf of the Federal Government, the Volksbund is dedicated to the task of searching for and recovering war dead abroad, giving them a dignified burial and caring for their graves. The Volksbund offers services for relatives of the war dead and advises public and private bodies, also internationally, on issues of war graves care. The Volksbund is committed to the culture of remembrance and promotes the exchange and education of young people at the resting places of the war dead.
Today, the Volksbund has around 240,000 members and donors. With their contributions and donations, with income from legacies and bequests as well as the proceeds from the annual door-to-door and on the streets collections, the Volksbund finances almost two thirds of its work. The rest is covered by public funds from the federal and state governments.
The Volksbund was founded on 16 December 1919 to search for the countless German war dead of the First World War, to record their graves and to care for them. The Volksbund, which saw itself as an early citizens’ intiative, took on this task. Until the beginning of the 1930s, the Volksbund expanded numerous war gravesites. From 1933 onwards, the leadership submitted of its own accord to the equalisation policy of the Nazi government. The construction of military cemeteries of the Second World War was taken over by the Graves Service of the Wehrmacht.
The Second World War devastated cities and countries, left millions wounded, dead and countless relatives searching for their family members. The work of the Volksbund became important again. It was allowed to resume its task in the three western occupation zones in Germany.
From 1946 onwards, the Volksbund quickly established more than 400 war gravesites in Germany. In 1954, the Federal Government officially commissioned the Volksbund to search for German soldiers' graves abroad, to bury the dead and to maintain the war gravesites.
On the basis of bilateral agreements, the Volksbund now fulfils this task in Europe and North Africa. It currently takes care of more than 830 war cemeteries and graves in 46 countries, the last resting places of about 2.8 million war casualties. Several thousand volunteers and 500 salaried employees now deal with the organisation's various activities.
After the political revolution in Eastern Europe, the work of the Volksbund also extended to the former Eastern Bloc countries, where around three million German soldiers lost their lives in the Second World War - almost twice as many as those resting in war cemeteries in the other European countries. This harboured huge challenges for the Volksbund: many of the more than 100,000 burial places are difficult to locate, or they have been destroyed, overbuilt or plundered.
Since 1991, the Volksbund has repaired or reconstructed 331 Second World War cemeteries and 188 burial grounds from the First World War in Eastern, Central and South-East Europe. Around 990,000 war casualties have been reinterred in 83 war cemeteries.
To safeguard the work it is doing long-term, the Volksbund established the foundation "Gedenken und Frieden" ("Peace and Remembrance") in 2001.
The Volksbund preserves the memory of the war dead by establishing and maintaining the cemeteries. The huge grave sites remind the living of the past and confront them with the consequences of war and violence. The Volksbund offers numerous opportunities to educate and inform about the war graves and the associated topics and issues.
Last year, the staff of the Volksbund’s Service Department received more than 21,000 enquiries about the location of graves and the whereabouts of war dead and missing persons from the First and Second World Wars. In addition to relatives, historians, chroniclers, researchers, authors and heir investigators are increasingly turning to the Volksbund with their research requests.
On its website www.volksbund.de the Volksbund provides information on the graves of almost five million war dead under the button "Grave Search". This resource is used by more than one hundred thousand inquirers from all over the world every year.
As early as 1953, the Volksbund conducted the first official international youth exchanges and work camps in Europe under the motto "Reconciliation over the graves - work for peace". The education officers in the regional Volksbund associations work directly with schools and colleges by offering projects about and at war gravesites at home and abroad.
Conferences and seminars on the culture of commemoration in a European context, work camps for adults, educational trips and trips for relatives are further central pillars of the Volksbund's education work.
The four youth exchange and education centres in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany, recorded almost 23,000 overnight stays in 2022.
Every year, several thousands of young people take advantage of the educational opportunities offered by the Volksbund ranging from work camps to school projects.
The COVID pandemic severely limited the scope of the Volksbund’s international projects, but more than 30 work camps were possible again in 2022. However, due to the war in Ukraine, several projects and exchanges had to be cancelled.
This war in Eastern Europe has hampered the peace work of the Volksbund enormously. Nevertheless, the Volksbund’s staff members continue to work tirelessly at all levels for understanding and peace. Together for peace - that is the motto of the Volksbund, to which staff, friends, sponsors and supporters feel committed.
The Bundeswehr, the German army, and the association of volunteer reservists support the Volksbund by providing practical help at national and international war cemeteries, during the youth exchanges organised by the Volksbund, at commemorative events and also by collecting donations both door-to-door and on the streets.
"Volkstrauertag" in November is Germany's official annual day of remembrance. The Volksbund organises the various commemorative events held throughout Germany on that day. It is an important day both in political terms and for the public; a day for mourning the dead that also serves as a reminder of how precious peace is.
The Volksbund's official patron is the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Mr Frank-Walter Steinmeier.