KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – Losing a child is one of the most traumatic and painful experiences a parent can go through. While the grieving process can vary greatly from person to person, it often lasts a lifetime.
While there is no "right" way to grieve the loss of a child, it is crucial for parents to allow themselves to grieve and find ways to honor and remember their children.
Between 1952-1971, 451 infants were laid to rest in the Kaiserslautern Main Cemetery kindergraves, near Daenner Kaserne. These kindergraves were specifically designated for the infants of Americans stationed in Germany who died at birth or shortly after, but could not be brought back to the United States.
The term “kindergrave,” stems from the German word “kinder,” which means children, and the English word “graves.” Kindergraves refers to a section of the cemetery where young children's graves are located.
Originally, the City of Kaiserslautern donated two public burial plots for these infants, with an initial lease expiring in the 1980’s. When that lease was nearing expiration, the cemetery management contacted the German-American and International Women’s Club, who had been caring for the graves, and informed them that the children’s remains would be removed to allow for cemetery expansion. In order to retain burial plots in accordance with local customs, families are typically required to make lease payments.
Determined to protect the graves, the women’s club worked to retain the plots and preserve the graves through donations. The cemetery management agreed to let the Ramstein Area Chief’s Group (U.S. Air Force E-9’s), a private organization affiliated with the U.S. military, in partnership with the women’s club, assume responsibility for the gravesites, which were later moved to a new area in the heart of the cemetery. A new lease was agreed upon and signed.
The Kaiserslautern Kindergraves Memorial Foundation was established in 1986, solidifying a commitment to preserving the memorial site and providing support to families seeking information about their lost children. The foundation plays a critical role in organizing memorial events, and serving as a resource for those affected by the loss of the infants.
Every year, on the Saturday following Mother’s Day, the foundation holds a remembrance ceremony at the Kaiserslautern Main Cemetery to honor the children who were unable to return home to their families. This year, the event was held May 20.
“We will not give up caring for these children,” said Christine Schneider, president of the German-American and International Women’s Club Kaiserslautern. “Thank you all for remembering the sacrifices that were made by the parents who put their children to rest here.”
Several official representatives of the U.S. Forces stationed in Kaiserslautern attended the event.
Brig. Gen. Otis Jones, 86th Airlift Wing and installation commander at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, provided remarks.
“There is a sacred bond between a parent and their child,” he said. “The love we have for our children is deep-rooted, and I imagine that a similar intense emotion would be present in the pain from their loss.”
While our individual experiences may differ, Jones said we all can understand how fragile life is. He encouraged everyone present to cherish each day as a gift, emphasizing the importance of not taking life for granted.
“The children we remember and celebrate today were citizens of this great community,” he added. “A community built nearly three quarters of a century ago, supporting each other in good times and in bad. The kindergraves are a shining testimony to the enduring friendship and bond shared by the community, withstanding the test of time.”