- The Washington Times - Monday, May 25, 2020

Top House Democrats and Republicans demanded Monday that the Department of Veterans Affairs remove three headstones over German prisoner-of-war graves that bear swastika insignias and words praising Adolf Hitler, calling it “callous” to leave them in place.

The VA has defended the grave markers, saying they are part of history and to remove them would violate a 1966 preservation law.

But the heads of the House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittee on veterans wrote in a letter to the VA that the law is meant to protect things “for the benefit of present and future generations.” They said there’s no benefit in this kind of Nazi history.

“VA’s decision to leave the swastikas and messages honoring Hitler in place and ignore the calls to take them down is callous, irresponsible and unacceptable,” the lawmakers wrote. “We understand that these cemeteries were not under the jurisdiction of VA at the time these headstones were installed, but now that they are under VA’s jurisdiction, there is no excuse for VA to continue to maintain these headstones, instead of replacing them.”

Signing the letter were Democratic Reps. Nita M. Lowey of New York and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, and Republican Reps. Kay Granger and John R. Carter of Texas.

Two of the Nazi inscriptions are in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in Texas, while another stands at Fort Douglas Post Cemetery in Utah.

In addition to the small swastika on the gravestones, each includes a message in German that reportedly translates to “he died far from home for Fuhrer, people and fatherland.”

The grave sites throughout Europe of German World War II casualties are mostly marked with crosses. Germany has had laws in place against public displays of swastikas or other Nazi symbols since the end of the war.

The U.S. headstones attracted relatively little attention until recently, when the Southern Poverty Law Center and other advocacy groups launched a public campaign pressuring the federal government to remove them.

The VA says it wouldn’t allow gravestones with swastikas to be placed in a VA-run cemetery now. But it also has a policy of not altering graves already in its care.

The VA says it runs 13 cemeteries where prisoners of war from World War II are interred.

The cemeteries weren’t under VA control when the headstones were erected.

“The cemeteries were under the control of the Army when these interments occurred in the 1940s,” VA spokesperson Timothy Nosal said. “The Fort Sam Houston and Fort Douglas cemeteries were subsequently transferred to VA’s National Cemetery Administration, in 1973 and 2019, respectively. Headstones of enemy combatants stand only in cemeteries where enemy combatants are buried, and we have no plans to disturb those gravesites.”

The VA operates 142 national cemeteries and 33 soldiers’ memorial sites across the country, according to the agency’s website. More than 4 million Americans are buried in the properties it oversees.

Other than the Texas and Utah locations, there’s been no record of swastikas appearing on gravesites at any other VA cemetery. In all, Fort Sam Houston Cemetery is home to the graves of 132 German POWs, along with four Italian, three Japanese and one Austrian POW, according to figures compiled by the San Antonio Express-News.

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