Volkstrauertag in Michigan as a Microcosm for the Relationship Between West Germany and the U.S. During the Cold War Era

Shelby Reidle, Dr. Richard Chapman, Department of History, Concordia College, 901 8th St S, Moorhead MN 56562

In 1953, the Fort Custer military cemetery in Michigan became notable for hosting the first memorial ceremony for World War II German POWs buried in the United States. This paper argues that the connections formed between the POWs and community members coupled with the federal government’s promotion of the Cold War narrative of Germany made the establishment of Volkstrauertag as an annual ceremony possible. Michigan newspapers detail the community’s perspective of these POWs both during the war and in the context of the Cold War. Comparative analysis with similar ceremonies across the U.S. and Canada distinguishes the memory culture of Fort Custer. The founding of Volkstrauertag as an annual ceremony to remember the German POWs buried at the Fort Custer National Cemetery, reflects the empathy of the community for their former enemies. Additionally, due to the influence of West German and American actors, this event acts as a microcosm of the alliance between the two countries during the Cold War Era. The story surrounding Volkstrauertag at Fort Custer adds local nuance to the understanding of POW camps in the United States during World War II and how American communities incorporated the Cold War narrative into memorialization.

Additional Abstract Information

Presenter: Shelby Reidle

Institution: Concordia College - Moorhead

Type: Oral

Subject: History

Status: Approved

Time and Location

Session: Oral 6
Date/Time: Tue 2:00pm-3:00pm
Session Number: 645
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