Germany's last WW I veteran died without fanfare: Der Spiegel
The last known German veteran of the First World War reportedly died weeks ago in Hanover but — unlike the fanfare accorded to such veterans in other countries — Erich Kastner's death passed almost unnoticed.
Canada, Britain and France are among a long list of countries that publicly commemorate the lives and deaths of the veterans from that war.
In 2007, for example, Canada celebrated the 107th birthday of its last known surviving veteran of the war, John Babcock, with letters and gifts from notables including Queen Elizabeth, Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
And when one of France's two remaining First World War veterans, Louis de Cazenave, died on Sunday at 110, his death made headlines around the world. At the time, President Nicolas Sarkozy declared: "His death is an occasion for all of us to think of the 1.4 million French who sacrificed their lives during this conflict, for the 4.5 million wounded, for the 8.5 million mobilized."
But when Kastner — considered the last surviving man that fought in the German Imperial Army — died on Jan. 1 at 107, the only confirmation came from a family death announcement posted in the Hannoversche Allgemeine newspaper.
The German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel, which reported the death on its website Tuesday, said it was unable to reach Kastner's family for confirmation.
Nor was it able to get any information on Kastner from the German Defence Ministry in Berlin or the army's Military Research Institute. And it's unlikely it will, Spiegel Online said, pointing out that Germany doesn't keep official records on its veterans of the world wars.
"In Germany, such an event doesn't have the same kind of significance as it does in other countries," Bernhard Chiari, a spokesman for the Military Research Institute, told Spiegel Online.
Chiari said there's a stigma attached to Germany's track record in the Second World War, and the taint has spread to include the earlier war.
"Any form of commemoration of military events is seen as problematic here," Chiari told Spiegel Online.
"Our veterans only take part in public ceremonies when they are invited abroad to join commemorative events with veterans from other countries. World War I is seen as part of a historical line that led to World War II. You can't equate the two but there is much debate about it."