The Legend

Currently, Julius Erasmus and his activities are described more or less identically in all sources.


A first good example is the text used by Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge e.V., the German War Graves Commission, to describe the war grave site in Vossenack. It says about Julius Erasmus (translated from German):

“On the military cemetery of Vossenack rest 2,347 dead of the Second World War. Inseparably connected with the military cemetery is Julius Erasmus, a captain of the engineer forces. Julius Erasmus was a textile manufacturer in the city of Aachen and later became a captain in the Wehrmacht’s engineer troops.

‘In the summer of 1945 I returned to Vossenack’, he later recounted. ‘I had lost all my belongings, the war had taken everything from me. And there I found them in the roadside ditches, at the edge of the forest, under shot-up trees. I just couldn’t see them lying there, unburied and forgotten. I couldn’t stand it.’

At first, Erasmus buried about 120 fallen on the edges of the forest, until the municipality provided him with a piece of land in the municipal cemetery close to the church. Men from the village helped Erasmus with his work. The local priest, Dr Eschweiler, was a particularly loyal friend and a tireless helper. The bones of the dead were placed in paper sacks, usually loaded onto a horse-drawn cart and buried in the municipal cemetery. About 800 dead found their resting place there until August 1949.

Erasmus recovered 1,569 German fallen soldiers – mostly at the risk of his life – in the Huertgen Forest. The forest was still burning in many places and was mined. He wrote down the data of the fallen, buried the dead, drew up grave location plans and occupancy lists, and marked the graves with simple, homemade wooden crosses; commissioned by no one, employed by no one, paid by no one.

Soon the space in the municipal cemetery was too small. Between 1949 and 1952, the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge e.V., with its chief architect Robert Tischler, laid out what is now the Vossenack Cemetery of Honor on Hill 470, the same hill that was bitterly contested during the war. Erasmus became an employee of the Volksbund. He was a headstrong man and lived for more than 15 years in a hut near the forest, close to the cemetery. In the sixties he left Vossenack. His further trace has been lost. Where he found his grave, nobody knows until today ….”


In a 1997 publication of Geschichtsverein Hürtgenwald (“Hürtgenwald Historical Society”) entitled “Memories of the Hürtgen Forest in World War II and the Post-War Period – Contemporary Witnesses in Hürtgen Forest, Episode 3” there is a short article on p. 30 f. by the then 1st Chairman of the Geschichtsverein, Dr.-Ing. Leo Messenig, about Julius Erasmus (“Erinnerung an einen Totengräber – Julius Erasmus und der Hürtgenwald“ [“Remembrance of a Gravedigger – Julius Erasmus and the Hürtgen Forest”]). It states (translation from German language):

“Who was Julius Erasmus? He is forgotten and his trace has been lost. But still: What he did in Vossenack unobtrusively and quietly was not a matter of course. He deserves to have his name held in high honor, because he gave the final resting place to many soldiers, young people who died senselessly and still in death – as if uselessly thrown away – lay around in the destroyed, mined Hürtgen Forest.

Julius Erasmus was previously a textile manufacturer in Aachen and later a captain in the Wehrmacht. Trapped in the battle, he stayed behind in the forest, which even the Americans did not dare to enter at first. There he saw the many dead soldiers lying around. He set to work.

He retrieved 1,569 dead German soldiers from the Hürtgen Forest, most of them at a time when the forest was still burning and no one dared to enter it. He buried them, noted the identification number, made grave location plans and lists, made the first primitive wooden crosses – commissioned by no one, hired by no one, paid by no one.

Men from the village helped him with his work. The bones of each of the dead were placed in a separate paper bag; time had not left much of the fallen. First they were loaded onto a horse-drawn cart and buried in the community cemetery near the church. After the establishment of the military cemetery, they were reburied.

When he had just recovered the 532nd soldier, the meanwhile re-established German authorities also came forward. They issued a ban on going into the Hürtgen Forest and burying the fallen. After all, everything had to be in order, and not everyone could do as he pleased. Julius Erasmus then started before four in the morning.

In the meantime, the military cemetery Vossenack had been taken over by Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (“German War Graves Commission”) and properly prepared. Erasmus became a representative of Volksbund.

For more than 15 years he lived in his cabin by the woods in close proximity to this resting place. Day after day, he has unselfishly gone out to recover those who had their young life taken from them before they could fulfill it.

What a person! Certainly an idiosyncratic oddball who wanted to lead an alternative life far away from bourgeois society, as one would say in today’s parlance. In the sixties he left Vossenack. His further trace leads into the darkness of oblivion.”


So much for the current popular narrative about Julius Erasmus and his actions, this narrative being referred to here as “the legend”. Initial results of a review of aspects of this legend can be found in the Questions & Answerssection.


(Head picture: Julius Erasmus around 1960
[source: private, photographer: Jürgen Theis, Düsseldorf];
military cemetery Vossenack in the 1950ies
[source: Archives Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge e.V., Kassel])