The German cemetery at Vladslo is a quiet place in the Flemish countryside where few people ever go.
It contains the graves of 25,638 German soldiers who died in this region of Belgium, including the 18-year-old son of the Berlin sculptor Käthe Kollwitz.
Peter Kollwitz died near Diksmuide on 23 October 1914 when the war had hardly begun. On that day, the German army was launching a series of savage attacks in an attempt to break through the British trenches around Ypres.
Thousands of young German students marched into battle singing patriotic songs. But many of them were killed almost immediately, like 18-year-old Pieter Kollwitz. The Germans refer to this futile battle as the Massacre of the Innocents.
Pieter was buried under simple a wooden cross in a nearby cemetery called Friedhof Roggeveld along with another 1,558 soldiers. The cemetery was closed down in 1954 and the bodies were moved to the massive Vladslo Cemetery, where more than 25,000 German soldiers are buried. And Friedhof Roggeveld vanished from the map.
Just a few days after she learned of her son’s death, Käthe Kollwitz began to work on sketches for a memorial. Many years later, she completed a powerful work featuring two enormous granite figures modelled on herself and her husband.
The two kneeling figures known as ‘The Grieving Parents’ were initially placed in Friedhof Roggeveld but later moved to the far end of Vladslo cemetery. Pieter Kollwitz is buried under a black granite stone just in front of the figures.
Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.