Two headstones with swastikas removed from Texas veterans cemetery
The headstones of two German WWII graves bearing swastikas and other references to the Nazi regime have been removed from a Texas veterans cemetery and replaced with new ones following months of calls to eliminate the structures.
The Associated Press reported that Aubrey David, director of the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas, led a group of workers in removing the headstones of German prisoners of war Alfred Kafka and Georg Forst on Wednesday morning.
The graves featured an iron cross and swastika and an engraving referencing Adolf Hitler that read, “He died far from his home for the Führer, people and fatherland.”
“Clearly, it took a long time for this to happen, and it’s obviously the right thing to have been done,” said Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
The foundation demanded that Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie order them to be removed after discovering the headstones in May.
That same month, a bipartisan group of representatives also called on the VA to remove or alter the headstones as well as a third at Salt Lake City’s Fort Douglas Post Cemetery.
“Allowing these gravestones with symbols and messages of hatred, racism, intolerance, and genocide is especially offensive to all the veterans who risked, and often lost, their lives defending this country and our way of life,” the representatives wrote in a letter to Wilkie.
Despite these demands, Wilkie initially resisted agreeing to replace the headstones, saying at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing in May that he believed the structures served as historical reminders of the WWII era and “making sure that when people visit our cemeteries they are educated and informed of the horror is an incredibly important thing to do.”
“The last thing we need to do is not remind Americans of the horrors of anti-Semitism and the horrors of the Nazi cult,” he added at the time.
However, Wilkie days later announced in a statement that the VA would be initiating a process to remove the three tombstones.
“Americans must always remember the horror of the Nazi regime and why so many Americans sacrificed so much to free the world from its reign of terror,” he said in the statement.
“It is understandably upsetting to our Veterans and their families to see Nazi inscriptions near those who gave their lives for this nation. That’s why VA will initiate the process required to replace these POW headstones,” he added.
It is unclear if the headstone at the Utah cemetery had been removed as of this week.
Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro (D) told the AP this week that he was “glad” the headstones in the state “have been replaced.”
“It’s jarring to think that symbols of the Third Reich and the Nazi regime would stand in an American military cemetery,” he added.