SALT LAKE CITY — The controversy surrounding a Nazi headstone inside a Utah cemetery has been resolved, history has been preserved, and both sides walk away winners.
In 1944, A Nazi named Paul Eilert died of colon cancer inside a Brigham City, Utah, hospital. Eilert was a prisoner of World War II and worked alongside other German and Italian POWs in Ogden.
The prisoners gathered $275 and purchased a headstone for Eilert, who was the first German POW to die in Utah. Atop his grave at the Fort Douglas military cemetery in Salt Lake City is a tombstone adorned with a Nazi swastika and Iron Cross.
History is not always pretty
Back in May, Lee Lonsberry first addressed this subject on Live Mic.
“The Nazi grave in the Salt Lake City cemetery is a piece of history — ugly, disgusting and vile — but history all the same. The historic marker doesn’t condone the mass murder machine of Adolf Hitler; it just explains the background with facts,” argued Lee.
On Memorial Day, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League joined four members of the House Appropriations Committee, who wrote to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie to ask that the headstone at Fort Douglas and two other Nazi grave markers in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas, be removed or altered.
Initially, the VA resisted calls to remove the grave markers.
Wilkie said he was looking for ways to “find a way to put this in historical context” rather than simply remove the grave markers, saying removing the gravestones would be lengthy and complicated, citing the National Historic Preservation Act.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. and chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on veterans issues, disputed that and accused Wilkie of “hiding behind” the federal statute.
“I understand [these graves] were not under jurisdiction of VA at the time they were put in, but there is no excuse now for VA to leave them,” she said as quoted by the Military Times. “[The law] is not a blanket excuse to avoid addressing past mistakes.”
Praises for the VA move
On Monday, the VA reversed its decision and will remove the three Nazi headstones which begin later this month.
“It is understandably upsetting to our veterans and their families to see Nazi inscriptions near those who gave their lives for this nation,” Wilkie said, according to San Antonio Express-News.
Wasserman Schutlz applauded the decision.
“I am grateful that Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie initiated the process required to replace German POW headstones that bear offensive swastika symbols and Nazi inscriptions honoring Hitler in our VA National Cemeteries,” Wasserman Schultz said Monday night, according to Florida Politics.
“The families of soldiers who fought against intolerance and hatred must never be forced to confront glorification of those very ideologies when visiting their loved ones. VA’s initial decision to leave the gravestones in place was callous and irresponsible, but today’s decision is an honorable move in the right direction,” she said.
The VA has proposed that the three Nazi headstones be relocated and preserved in the National Cemetery Administration History Collection.
A piece of history is preserved. And those who took offense to seeing a Nazi headstone alongside the graves of American WWII GIs will be appeased as well.
Looks like a win-win for all involved.
Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.
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