A brief introduction
Kassel, July 2020 – Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge e.V. is a humanitarian organisation charged by the government of the Federal Republic of Germany with recording, maintaining and caring for the graves of German war casualties abroad. The Volksbund is Germany's war graves commission and provides information to relatives on all matters related to war graves. It also advises public and private institutions and promotes a culture of remembrance as well as international cooperation in the area of war grave maintenance, and encourages young people to come together to learn at the last resting places of war casualties.
The Volksbund currently has 300,000 active supporters. More than one million people take an interest in the organisation and make financial contributions. The Volksbund funds approximately two-thirds of its activities with these contributions and donations, and also with income received from legacies and bequests. The organisation also runs annual collection campaigns both door-to-door and in public spaces. Germany's regional and national government authorities provide the remainder of the funds needed.
The charity was founded on 16 December 1919 for the purpose of locating the bodies of the huge number of German soldiers who lost their lives during the First World War and to subsequently maintain their graves. The Volksbund, which saw itself as a citizens' initiative that represented the entire population, was charged with this task. By the early1930s, the Volksbund had established numerous war cemeteries. From 1933 onwards, the Volksbund voluntarily agreed to "Gleichschaltung" - complete submission and alignment to the National Socialist system of totalitarian control. During the Second World War, the war graves registration and information service of the armed forces was responsible for the establishment of military cemeteries.
The Volksbund took over these duties again from 1946 onwards, setting up over 400 war cemeteries in Germany in only a short period. In 1954, the government of the Federal Republic of Germany commissioned the Volksbund with locating, safeguarding and maintaining the graves of German war casualties abroad.
On the basis of bilateral agreements, the Volksbund now fulfils this task in Europe and North Africa. It currently takes care of 832 war cemeteries and graves in 46 countries, the last resting places of about 2.8 million war casualties. Several thousand volunteers and 556 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. A total of 954,146 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 commemorates the casualties of war through the establishment and maintenance of war cemeteries. The vast burial grounds are a reminder of the past that also confront the living with the consequences of war and violence.
The Volksbund provides a wide range of suitable information material about the cemeteries and the issues and questions associated with war graves.
The staff charged with liaising with the relatives answer around 24,000 enquiries regarding the last resting places of casualties from both world wars every year, and help to uncover the fate of those reported as missing in action. The Volksbund also makes information about the graves of almost five million world war casualties available on its website; members of the public can now carry out a grave search online. This source of information can be accessed free of charge and is used by more than 100,000 people from all over the world every year.
In 1953, the Volksbund started to organise international youth exchanges and work camps throughout Europe under the motto "Work for peace - reconciliation above graves".
The education officers in the regional branches collaborate with schools and higher education establishments and carry out projects in war cemeteries both in Germany and internationally.
The four Volksbund youth exchange and education centres in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany provide young people as well as adults with the perfect framework conditions for on-site peace education projects at local war cemeteries. Around 20,000 youngsters and young adults use these offers every year.
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 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.