Why we glean

Erwin Kowalke, a member of the German War Graves Association, has been digging outside of Berlin for over 4o years, excavating more than 20,000 remains of mostly German and Russian soldiers who fell during the last days of WWII. But it is not out of historical curiosity that he brings back the memories of the forgotten.

“In these bones you see what war is like. I know war now. I’ll tell you what it is. War is young men killing other young men they do not know on the orders of old men who know one another too well.”

And so he digs, this compact 65-year-old man with a briefcase holding ledgers of the dead and an amber-tinted photograph of his father, a German soldier killed somewhere in France. What a boy didn’t have he invents; the bones Kowalke collects honor his father and those days in 1944 when the man returned briefly from the front to visit his 3-year-old son. It was the last time they saw each other.

“He was tall,” said Kowalke, “I still remember my small arms around his black boots. He arrived home on June 3 and three days later it was D-day in Normandy and they called him back.”


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