The Service at the Soldiers' Cemetery
After we left the old camp site, we were taken down to St Johann where we left the coaches and climbed the hill up to the Soldatenfriedhof (Soldiers' Cemetery). It was in this place that many of the Russian POWs who died in the 1941 typhus epidemic, and those who were killed in the 1945 bombing raid, were buried. When I first came here in 2002, it was a rather sad, neglected site but, since then, efforts have been made to improve the area. I am always aware, when I visit this cemetery, that I am walking over the graves of many Russian soldiers who never made it home.
We gathered quietly near to the Memorial to listen to the small band (a quartet from the City of Wolfsberg Brass Band, leader Paul Wolf) playing a hymn and then Dean Engelbert Hofer, the Priest from the Parish of Wolfsberg blessed the occasion. He then apologised as he had to rush off to officiate at a wedding! The Mayor then spoke to us all. The tone of his speech was one of regret and apology but I don't think that any of us there would blame the Austrian people for the events of World War 2. We should remember the past but learn from it.
The next to speak was Major General Gerd Ebner, a representative of the Schwarzes Kreuz (Black Cross) association. This is the Austrian equivalent of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and is responsible for the upkeep of cemeteries such as this.
All of these speeches were translated from the German by Claudia Kronlechner, who did stirling work over the weekend in doing translations for us all.
Finally I spoke. I didn't realise just how difficult this would be. On this hot sunny day, looking out over this hills, talking about those men who had been brought here against their will and never returned home. Also those men, like my father, whose lives had been cut short by their experiences during the war.
The three of us who had spoken paid our respects at the wreath by the Memorial and then others made their own private offerings. It was rather a sombre reflective party that left that place.