Last year I shelfed this post because I felt some might be offended by it’s latter content. As I found out, there is still some very strong feelings about this cemetery in Normandy, France.
I have an interest in the history of the second world war and Normandy of course was a battle ground during the months of June and July 1944. On the occasions I have been to France, I have seen and visited few sites where battles took place, museums and Allied cemeteries but I’d never been to the German cemetery in La Cambe. We stumbled across it by chance on our way back to the house we stay at in Vimoutiers.
The Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof at La Cambe, Normandie
I’m always cautious and respectful when taking images around churches, cemeteries or graveyards. In the picture above, there’s a family ahead and when they passed me earlier at the entrance to the cemetery, I could clearly hear they were German speaking and wasn’t to sure how they might react seeing someone with a camera, let alone an Englishmen, but as the saying goes over here …“Keep calm, carry on”
Thankfully a Leica rangefinder is discreet, quiet and small although maybe some would say a bit sneaky! Years ago as I was taking pictures, I did have a woman take offence that I was using a camera in such a place, so I do like to be mindful of where I am and not to disturb others.
Before walking though the entrance a sign tells you, Until 1947, this was an American cemetery. The remains were exhumed and shipped to the United States. It has been German since 1948, and contains over 21,000 graves. With its melancholy rigour, it is a graveyard for soldiers not all of whom had chosen either the cause or the fight. They too have found rest in our soil of France.
I can understand why some in France still have ill feeling about the existence of this place.
As I start walking quietly though the main a gate your meet with a small marble hall with the large letters on the wall ‘HIER RUHEN DEUTSCHE SOLDATEN + ICI REPOSENT DESSOLDATS ALLEMANDS’ translated, Here lie German Soldiers.
Although very uniformed and tidy, unlike Allied cemeteries there are no headstones or white marble crosses, just stone plaques with the names of the fallen with roughly carved black stone crosses in groups of five dotted among the trees. On the overcast but very warm day I visited there where two national wreaths, one French, one German on stands in the middle of the cemetery. A few smaller wreaths lie on some plaques but no flowers or poppies but what stood out to me was among the bare graves, one plaque was covered in flowers and pictures.
Below is the grave plaque of one SS-Hauptsturmführer Michael Wittmann the German tank ace who was killed near Gaumesnil, Normandie.
Michael Wittmann grave in La Cambe cemetery
I was surprised that his plaque was surrounded by coins, some fresh flowers, some not so fresh as well as pictures of him in his wartime uniform. I am well aware of the exploits of this man, his achievements as a panzer commander and his subsequent demise in 1944. Although there is no record of Wittmann being involved with any crimes, he was still a member of the Waffen-Schutzstaffel who themselves carried out war crimes throughout the war and was born out of one of the worst authoritarian regimes mankind has ever known. I think one must forgive that some individuals still have the misguided belief of having a ‘cult’ status is ‘OK’ regardless of the crimes committed by the same organisation that this man belonged to throughout the conflict.
One final point, outside the La Cambe cemetery there are various plinths on which there are famous quotes. One stood out to me;
All pictures taken with my Leica M4-2, Summicron 35mm f/2 ASPH and taken on Ilford HP5 plus film in August 2020.