ROSE Barracks, Germany – Each Sunday after All Saints Day, Rose Barracks opens its Gates to families whose ancestors used to live in Langenbruck and Haag, towns that were evacuated during the expansion of the Grafenwoehr training area in 1937 and 1938.
During this time the families get the chance to clean and take care of the graves of their loved ones they had to leave behind.
In 2023, U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria leadership and distinguished guest joined the event to remember the 85th anniversary of the relocation.
The military training area was established in 1907 by the Kingdom of Bavaria to train troops for the III Royal Bavarian Corps, forcing about 230 people to leave their homes.
Later, in 1937 and 1938, the Wehrmacht underwent a major expansion from 96 to 230 square kilometers (37 to 89 square miles), evicting more than 3,500 people from their villages, including Langenbruck (now Rose Barracks near Vilseck) and Haag (within the Grafenwoehr Training Area).
After the Second World War, the US Army took over the military training area. This year marks 85 years after the first evacuation. The graveyards in those two towns have endured until today.
While both cemeteries are normally not available for visiting due their location within the Grafenwoehr Training Area, the Sunday after All Saints Day, a major Catholic holiday dedicated to prayer and memory of the dead on Nov. 1, the Vilseck military community opens their gates to give families the opportunity to take care of the graves of their ancestors.
"We are very grateful to the U.S. Army and the leadership of USAG Bavaria for allowing us to come out here again this year to visit and prepare the graves of our ancestors," said Vilseck Mayor Hans Martin Schertel.
“We are guests here in Germany," said USAG Bavaria Command Sgt. Maj. Hermes Acevedo. "There is a lot of history, and we are responsible that the families that once were residents here on the training area have the opportunity to come visit where their dead are buried – to come visit their relatives and to remember them.”
Every year a group of 80 to 100 citizens from the Vilseck and Grafenwoehr surrounding communities come to join the event.
Werner Stubenvoll has been organizing this trip every year for at least 10 years. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather are all from Haag and are buried in Haag.
“In the past you couldn't go here because everything was deserted," he said. "But I think it's important to look after your ancestors.”
This annual event has been offered since 1991, when both the Langenbruck and Haag cemeteries were first repaired. Since then, the German Bundeswehr has been taking care of the Haage cemetery and the Directorate of Public Works has been taking care of the Langenbruck cemetery.
"It means a lot to us to be able to come here every year. After all, this is where our roots are,” said Elleonora and Elisabeth Engelhardt.
Their grandparents had to emigrate from Haag to Langenbruck and then later from Langenbruck to Sorghof, where the family still lives today. In the past, their father Anton Engelhart had organized the annual trips to the military training area.
Another event participant, Paul Zeilmann, was 6 years old when he and his family moved out of the military training area. Today, at the age of 91, he still comes on the trip to the training area every year. He still remembers many of the buildings that no longer exist.
“There used to be chapels and churches and a guest house and a school,” Zeilmann said.
His family is also buried in Haag. Unfortunately, it is no longer recognizable where exactly the graves are, but he knows the approximate location.
Many of the stones from Langenbruck houses were used to build up the new established village of Sorghof in 1938, including the Sorghof church and former school building constructed in 1951.
In honor of relocated communities new military housing areas have been dedicated with their names.
This year Karlheinz Mörlein, who has ancestors at Langenbruck, had organized together with DPW that graves were repaired and prepared.
"We asked USAG Bavaria if we could do it and there was no discussion at all," Mörlein said. "Everyone was on board right away and it all worked smoothly and very quickly.”
Rose Barracks DPW employees worked beyond their normal duties to clean up and perform ground maintenance at the historical Langenbruck cemetery at Rose Barracks. Employees include:
- Werner Held (fixing headstones with his own equipment)
- Alexander Wedl (team leader)
- Bernhard Ringer
- Wolfgang Friedrich
- Peter Wächter
- Gerhard Forster
- Harald Müller (chief of roads and grounds).