The Controversial Memorial in Honor of WWII German Soldier Karl-Heinz Rosch: “Hero with No Glory”

Statue of Karl-Heinz Rosch
Statue of Karl-Heinz Rosch

What prompted the small village of Goirle, Netherlands to make a small statue honoring Wehrmacht soldier Private Karl-Heinz Rosch?

The steel helmet Private Karl-Heinz Rosch wore during the height of WWII unmistakably spoke of what side he was on – the side of the enemy. He belonged to Germany’s Wehrmacht.

But to the eyes of the residents in the tiny southern Netherlands village of Goirle, he was a hero worthy of commemoration which they just did – through a small bronze statue they erected of him.

Karl-Heinz Rosch’s Story

Young Karl-Heinz Rosch
Young Karl-Heinz Rosch

October 6, 1944 – Three days after Rosch’s turned 18, the young German soldier, along with his platoon, was stationed in a farm in Goirle when Allied forces took fire on them. He was about to hide in the basement along with his comrades when he noticed that the two children of the farmer who owned the land seemed oblivious of the danger that was on them and continued to play in the courtyard.

He quickly dashed to them, took each in his arms and brought them into the safety of the basement. He again ran outside to position himself on the other side of the courtyard when a grenade hit him right at the spot where the children were earlier.

“His corpse was completely torn apart, there were body parts everywhere,” according to one who witnessed the appalling scene.

Honoring the “Hero with No Glory”

According to Herman van Rouwendaal, a former city councilor of the area, Karl-Heinz Rosch’s story was kept under wraps for 60 years due to the fact that he was an enemy.

“Because he was just a damn Kraut,” were his exact words.

Even his parents and grandparents did not know how Rosch died. It was not until when the rescued children gave their testimonies that the story of the young German soldier’s sacrifice was made known to the public.

But in 2008, change in how the Dutch treated the Germans became palpable that then 76-year-old Rouwendaal, along with his friends, decided to make a push that would make amends to the one-of-a-kind, historical image.

“Some Dutch are caught in a black-and-white way of thinking. The Germans were all Nazis, the Dutch were all good. That there were also unsavory characters among us, who for example betrayed Jews and robbed them, one does not like to hear,” he commented.

But the monument honoring young German soldier Karl-Heinz Rosch was not put up without a fight.

The Battle

Those who supported a memorial for Karl-Heinz Rosch were met with opposition in every way.

They had to stand against the argument that it was not right to make a statue for the enemy when the five men who came from Goirle, tied in stakes and were killed by German troops as a warning to resistance fighters did not have any memorial honoring their unreasonable deaths.

They then suggested to put up a monument for the five men next to the stakes which were preserved by history museum in the locality and finally,  put up Rosch’s statue nearby the five men’s monument. Through this, the two sides of the German occupation would be aptly represented – the all too common brutality and the scarcely evident show of humanity by some of the enemy soldiers.

However, after much discussion, the city council still turned down the making of Rosch’s monument saying that one in honor of a Wehrmacht soldier would still be “too socially sensitive”. Besides, they did not want to make Goirle a pilgrimage site to the German neo-Nazis.

Not only was the state funding for the said statue refused, city council also refused to have the monument displayed in any public area – a resolution regarded wrong by many Dutch.

Being turned down by the government did not, however, dampen the desire of the monument’s supporters to see through to its success. They did a fundraising drive to have the needed funds for its erection.

Artist  Riet van der Louw depicted Karl-Heinz Rosch as he was – a Wehrmacht soldier complete with the steel helmet many would instantly recognize and had come to hate.

But it also showed the extent of compassion he extended to Jan and Toos Kilsdonk, the two children who were tucked in each of his arm as he carried them to safety.

“We will not be honoring the Wehrmacht, but rather the humanity of a young German soldier,” van Rouwendaal strongly pointed out during the drive for Karl-Heinz Rosch’s memorial.

As of now, the small statue in honor of young WWII German soldier Karl-Heinz Rosch, built through a civil initiative, stands in a front garden privately owned by one of the older residents of Goirle, someone who had known Rosch when he was still alive. It is the only WWII memorial to honor a German soldier in whole Europe and, perhaps, in the whole world.

Die Welt reports; Additional notes from The Few Good Men website, Military Photos and Traces of War

Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE