SAN ANTONIO (KXAN) — The graves of two Nazi prisoners of war who died in Texas during World War II are now gone from Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio after years of controversy.
The headstones of German prisoners Alfred P. Kafka and Georg Forst were removed without prior notice at 8:15 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 23, according to San Antonio Express-News.
The Jewish War Veterans of the United of States of America, called the removal “the last gasp of the Third Reich,” while Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation also praised the decision, calling the presence of the headstones, “not merely an eyesore, it was an assault on everything that is decent and moral and ethical.”
The foundation began its campaign for the removal last May, but the Department of Veterans Affairs declined, saying it had a responsibility to protect historic resources, even ones that are divisive.
The two headstones showed a modified Iron Cross, which had a swastika in the center of a cross — they also contained a German inscription reading, “He died far from his home for the Führer, people and fatherland.”
The headstones, which have been at Fort Same since 1947, have courted calls for removal for several years. Southern Poverty Law Center fellow, Eric Ward, said back in May: “The VA’s defense of the swastika — the preeminent symbol of antisemitism — only gives oxygen to the white nationalist movement.”
Many Texan members of Congress supported the removal, including Sen. Ted Cruz and Reps. Will Hurd and Kay Granger.
In June, the VA announced all imagery related to Nazism and Adolf Hitler would be removed from the Fort Sam and Fort Douglas Post Cemetery in Utah, where there’s one other swastika-bearing headstone.
“I’m glad that the headstones have been replaced,” Rep. Joaquin Castro, according to NBC News. “It’s jarring to think that symbols of the Third Reich and the Nazi regime would stand in an American military cemetery.”
Rep. Henry Cuellar, of Laredo, compared the debate over the headstone removal to that of debates over images of the Confederacy — while noting a key difference, in his opinion.
“They’re both offensive, but this one is foreign country, foreign symbol — foreign symbol for a regime that killed so many of our soldiers and caused misery to a lot of families that lost soldiers during World War II,” said Cuellar.
The VA explained the unannounced removal was to prevent it from becoming a media event, and out of respect for the cemetery. The department reports there are 133 German POWs buried at the site.
It’s not yet known if the headstone in Utah has been removed.