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On Saturday 19 may 2012, before our visit to the Militracks event in Overloon, we stopped near the village of Ysselsteyn. Here lies a very large German war cemetery.
To put things in perspective, Ysselsteyn is even larger than the German War Cemetery at La Cambe in France, which is the final resting place for around 24,000 largely German casualties. But unlike La Cambre, Ysselsteyn has no mass grave. More than 31,000 fallen German soldiers are buried here and almost all have their own grave marker, making this burial site an imposing large cemetery.
There are 31.598 victims on the cemetery to be exact, covering an area of 69.2 acres. This makes it one of the largest German cemeteries of World War II worldwide.
The cemetery is also the final resting place of 85 casualties from the First World War. These graves are the first you encounter upon entering the War Cemetery.
Captain Lodewijk Johannes Timmermans
Captain Lodewijk Johannes Timmermans was commissioned by the Dutch Government between 1948 and 1976 as cemetery administrator and earned the name; “father of the German war cemetery”.
The soldiers have a variety of backgrounds and nationalities. We encountered names from Poland, Hungary and Romania amongst others.
Also we came across some Dutch names. All of these men enlisted in the German Wehrmacht during WWII.
Many Battlefields of Europe
The battlefields where these men fell vary a lot. There are about 3000 names from the Battle of Hürtgenwald and of the Ardennes offensive (Battle of the Bulge), these originally came from from the cemetery of Margraten in Belgium. During and after both battles the German soldiers were buried at Margraten together with U.S. soldiers, until the United States decided to make it an American resting place.
There are also around 1700 names of fallen soldiers from the area around Arnhem. Most of them fell during Operation Market garden.
Two famous Night Fighter Aces
The two names on the memorial stone at the picture above attracted our attention. Major Egmont Prinz zur Lippe Weissenfeld and Heinrich Prinz zu Sayn Wittgenstein lie buried here next to each other. Both names suggest an aristocratic background.
Major Egmont Prinz zur Lippe Weissenfeld
Major Weissenfeld was a Luftwaffe pilot. With 51 air victories to his name, he was a genuine ACE. He flew with the specialized night fighter squadrons of the Luftwaffe.
Originally from Austria where he was born in 1918, he joined the Luftwaffe in 1936. He earned the Iron Knight’s cross with oak leaves on 2 August 1943 for shooting down 45 enemy aircraft. He was appointed Major and put in charge of a night fighter squadron.
In March 1945 misfortune struck. Weissenfeld and his crew flew into bad weather above the Ardennes and the plane crashed. Weissenfeld and his crew died in this accident. House “Zur Lippe” has another famous member, this is Prince Bernhard Zur Lippe – Biesterfeld, who is a member of the Royal Dutch family.
Major Heinrich Prinz zu Sayn Wittgenstein
Heinrich was a Luftwaffe Ace of the specialized night fighters section of the Luftwaffe as well. His roots lie in Denmark, where he was born on 14 August 1916.
Wittgenstein fought in the Battle of France (Fall Rot), the Battle of Britain and Operation Barbarossa, the attack on Russia. Later Wittgenstein was active in the defense of the German Reich.
Wittgenstein has 83 air victories written on his account and received the Knight’s cross with oak leaves and swords, posthumously.
In January 1944, the plane of Heinrich was downed by escort fighters while attacking a squadron of RAF Lancaster bombers. The crew jumped to safety with their parachutes. Wittgenstein however wasn’t among them.
The next day the plane wreck was found, along with the body of Wittgenstein and an unopened parachute.
Post mortal identification
Back in 1950, the Dutch Grave Commission, together with the German “Volksbund und Dienststelle” from Berlin started a project. They reopened the graves of unknown soldiers to try and determine their identity. During this project more than 7300 unknown soldiers received a name after all.
Video impression of Ysselsteyn
We made a video to get an impression of the size of the cemetery at Ysselsteyn.