German Defense Minister Wants Bundeswehr to Rename Barracks Named After Wehrmacht World War II Heroes

By | May 16, 2017 08:15 PM EDT

Luftwaffe Hauptmann Hans Joachim Marseille (left) and Oberst Helmut Lent. (Photo : Bundesarchiv)

Controversial German Federal Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen has begun what might turn into another rift with the Bundeswehr (the Federal German Armed Forces) by saying "kaserne" (soldier's barracks) bearing the names of soldiers that fought for the Wehrmacht in World War II be renamed because of their association with Nazism.

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Von der Leyen's latest statement seems part of her crusade aimed at convincing the Bundeswehr to completely expunge its Nazi past, which the Bundeswehr apparently hasn't accomplished since reminders of the Wehrmacht (the Armed Forces of Nazi Germany) still exist.

Among these are the "kaserne" named after Wehrmacht officers that distinguished themselves in combat during World War II.

"The Bundeswehr has to send signals both internally and externally that it is not rooted in the tradition of the Wehrmacht," said von der Leyen.

"It needs to confidently put more of an emphasis on its own 60-year history. Why not rename those barracks?"

Her proposal comes as part of the Defense Ministry's latest push for the Bundeswehr to make a clean break with its Nazi past following a series of scandals.

German media noted that among the few major barracks named after Wehrmacht officers are the "Marseille-Kaserne" in the municipality of Appen, Schleswig-Holstein (northwest of Hamburg); the Lent-Kaserne in Rotenburg (Wümme), Lower Saxony in northern Germany and the Schulz-Lutz-Kaserne in Munster, a city in North Rhine-Westphalia in northern Germany.

The Marseille-Kaserne, which is a Heeresflieger (army aviation) installation, is named after Hauptmann (Captain) Hans Joachim Marseille, the highest scoring Luftwaffe ace in the West during World War II. Marseille shot down 158 aircraft of the Western Allies (mostly British and mostly fighters) in North Africa, his exploits earning him the sobriquet, the "Star of Africa."

The Lent-Kaserne is named in honor of Oberst (Colonel) Helmut Lent, the first night fighter pilot in the world to shoot down 100 aircraft (all of them British) at night. Lent scored 110 aerial victories and 102 of these were achieved at night.

Both Marseille and Lent were killed in flying accidents, and both received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, Nazi Germany's highest military award.

Von der Leyen received support from Johannes Tuchel, head of the Memorial to the German Resistance memorial museum and chief executive of the foundation responsible for it.

"It's long overdue to rename the last barracks named after Wehrmacht officers," said Tuche.

"Officers like Schulz, Lent and Marseille fought in Hitler's war and were part of Nazi propaganda."

On the other hand, Hans-Peter Bartels, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces, said "the issue of ties to the Wehrmacht and its traditions are now largely behind the Bundeswehr."

He also noted that von der Leyen's probe into recent scandals tainting the Bundeswehr was merely about excluding a handful "problematic remaining devotees" but her disproportionate response to the problem had spurred resentment among many soldiers.

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