The charity was founded on 16 December 1919 - and it was born out of necessity. At the time, the only recently proclaimed Weimar Republic was neither politically nor economically in a position to take care of the graves of the soldiers killed in action during the First World War. The Volksbund, which saw itself as a citizens' initiative that represented the entire population, was set up to take over this task. By the early1930s, the Volksbund had established numerous war cemeteries. From 1933 onwards, the Volksbund voluntarily agreed to "Gleichschaltung" - complete submission and alignment to the National Socialist system of totalitarian control. During the Second World War, the armed forces were responsible for the establishment of military cemeteries.
However, the Volksbund took over these duties again from 1946 onwards, setting up over 400 war cemeteries in Germany in only a short period. In 1954, the federal government commissioned the Volksbund with locating, safeguarding and maintaining the graves of German war casualties abroad.
Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge e.V. is a humanitarian organisation charged by the government of the Federal Republic of Germany with recording, maintaining and caring for the graves of German war casualties abroad. The Volksbund provides information to relatives on all matters related to war graves, advises public and private institutions, promotes international cooperation in the area of war grave maintenance and encourages young people to come together to learn at the last resting places of war casualties.
The Volksbund currently has more than 310,000 active supporters. More than one million people take an interest in the organization and also contribute financially. The Volksbund funds approximately 70 per cent of its activities with these contributions and donations, and also with income received from legacies and bequests. It also runs annual collection campaigns both door-to-door and in public spaces. Germany's regional and national government authorities provide the remainder of the funds needed.
In accordance with bilateral agreements, the Volksbund now fulfils this task in Europe and North Africa. It currently takes care of 832 war cemeteries and graves in 46 countries, the last resting places of about 2.7 million war casualties. Several thousand volunteers and 567 salaried employees now deal with the organization's various activities.
After the political revolution in Eastern Europe, the work of the Volksbund also extended to the former Eastern Bloc countries, where around 3 million German soldiers lost their lives in the Second World War - almost twice as many as those resting in war cemeteries in all of the other European countries together. This harboured huge challenges for the Volksbund: many of the over 100,000 burial places are difficult to locate, or they have been destroyed, overbuilt or plundered.
Since 1991, the Volksbund has repaired or reconstructed 331 Second World War cemeteries and 188 burial grounds from the First World War in Eastern, Central and Southeast Europe. A total of 910,293 war casualties have been reinterred on 83 war cemeteries.
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Philip Reinders, 2016