Hate is never good, it clouds judgement and mind. I am not only saying this to those who read this but more so to myself.
I have written so many pieces about World War II, and although for all the horrors, I have always been careful to place the blame on the Nazis and not on the Germans. The fact that my country was occupied by the Germans, and I learned early in life that my Grandfather was killed by them, I grew up hearing the evil Germans from my family, so it is no wonder I developed a distaste for the Germans.
However writing about the war and the Holocaust, and doing the research, has given me a more balanced view. Over the years I have to come to admit that not all Germans were bad and not all Dutch were good.
Karl-Heinz Rosch was a young German soldier during World War II who saved the lives of two Dutch children.
Three days after Rosch turned 18 on October 6 1944, the young German soldier, along with his platoon, was stationed on a farm in Goirle, near Tilburg in the Netherlands, when Allied forces fired on them. He was about to hide in the basement along with his comrades when he noticed that the two children of the farmer who owned the land seemed oblivious to the danger that was on them and continued to play in the courtyard.
He ran to them, took each in his arms and brought them into the safety of the basement. He again ran outside to position himself on the other side of the courtyard when a grenade hit him right at the spot where the children were earlier. Rosch was killed instantly.
“His corpse was completely torn apart, there were body parts everywhere,” according to one who witnessed the appalling scene.
As so oft before after the war, hypocrisy ruled. There were no issues channelling Nazi war criminals to the United States, United Kingdom and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, under the guise of Operation Paperclip and other similar operations. Where many of them received great jobs and even had awards named after them.
However, when it got to honour this young man, who saved two children and as a result, paid the ultimate price himself—it suddenly was a problem.
Rosch was a German soldier, and the enemy, therefore, his story was kept private after the war. The Dutch did not show any sympathy towards the German soldiers who had occupied their country during the war.
According to Herman van Rouwendaal, a former city councillor of the area, Karl-Heinz Rosch’s story was kept under wraps for 60 years, due to the fact that he was an enemy.
“Because he was just a damn Kraut,” were his exact words.
Even his parents and grandparents did not know how Rosch died. It was not until when the rescued children gave their testimonies that the story of the young German soldier’s sacrifice was made known to the public.
But in 2008, change in how the Dutch treated the Germans became palpable that then 76-year-old Rouwendaal, along with his friends, decided to make a push that would make amends to the one-of-a-kind, historical image.
“Some Dutch are caught in a black-and-white way of thinking. The Germans were all Nazis, the Dutch were all good. That there were also unsavoury characters among us, who for example betrayed Jews and robbed them, one does not like to hear,” he commented.
However, the monument honouring young German soldier Karl-Heinz Rosch was not put up without a fight.
Those who supported a memorial for Karl-Heinz Rosch were met with opposition in every way.
They had to stand against the argument that it was not right to make a statue for the enemy when the five men who came from Goirle, tied in stakes and were killed by German troops as a warning to resistance fighters did not have any memorial honouring their unreasonable deaths.
Then it was suggested to put up a monument for the five men next to the stakes which were preserved by the history museum in the locality and finally, put up Rosch’s statue nearby the five men’s monument. Through this, the two sides of the German occupation would be aptly represented – the all-too-common brutality and the scarcely evident show of humanity by some of the enemy soldiers.
However, after much discussion, the city council still turned down the making of Rosch’s monument saying that one in honour of a Wehrmacht soldier would still be “too socially sensitive”. Besides, they did not want to make Goirle a pilgrimage site for the German neo-Nazis. Not only was the state funding for the said statue refused, but the city council also refused to have the monument displayed in any public area—a resolution regarded wrong by many Dutch.
Being turned down by the government did not, however, dampen the desire of the monument’s supporters to see through to its success. They did a fundraising drive to have the needed funds for its erection.
Artist Riet van der Louw depicted Karl-Heinz Rosch as he was – a Wehrmacht soldier complete with the steel helmet many would instantly recognize and had come to hate. But it also showed the extent of compassion he extended to Jan and Toos Kilsdonk, the two children who were tucked in each of his arms as he carried them to safety.
“We will not be honouring the Wehrmacht, but rather the humanity of a young German soldier,” van Rouwendaal strongly pointed out during the drive for Karl-Heinz Rosch’s memorial.
On November 4, 2008, a bronze statue was erected on private property in Goirle in memory of Karl-Heinz Rosch. The statue is considered to be the only monument in the world to a German World War II soldier who was part of an occupying force.
Just consider this, less than a week before saved the 2 children and was killed, Karl Heinz had still been a child himself.
Many thanks to my friend Norman Stone for drawing my attention to the story.
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