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OPINION: Nazi headstone in SLC should stay put

A swastika adorns a gravestone of a German PIO buried at Ft. Douglas Cemetery in Salt Lake City. (Photo: Sean Moody, KSL TV)

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom. 

SALT LAKE CITY — Adorned with a swastika and Iron Cross, a headstone within a Salt Lake City military cemetery marks the grave of a German prisoner of World War II — a Nazi who died of colon cancer inside a Utah hospital in 1944. Some people want it gone.

The grave at the Fort Douglas Post Cemetery belongs to a long dead man named Paul Eilert. His fellow POWs gathered together $275 to purchase the grave marker.

Take it down

The Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League have joined four members of the House Appropriations Committee who wrote to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie on Memorial Day to ask that the headstone at Fort Douglas and two other Nazi grave markers in Texas be removed or altered.

The letter is signed by Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., and the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Kay Granger of Texas; Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and John Carter of Texas, the top Democrat and Republican on a subcommittee overseeing veterans’ affairs.

Here is a passage from the letter:

Allowing these gravestones with symbols and messages of hatred, racism, intolerance, and genocide is especially offensive to all the veterans who risked, and often lost, their lives defending this country and our way of life. It is also a stain on the hallowed ground where so many veterans and their families are laid to rest.

I agree with all of that — absolutely, 100 percent.

Should the headstone at Fort Douglas be taken down or, perhaps, the swastika and Iron Cross be obscured?

Share your views

I addressed this subject with viewers on my Facebook page and opinions were mixed. Many said the swastika and cross must come down. But others said taking it down is akin to rewriting history.

 

Let me know what you think by visiting my Facebook page.

I fall somewhere in the middle: It should remain — under certain conditions.

The ugly truth

Most of us had no idea the Nazi headstone was even at Fort Douglas until it broke the news, which fueled the flames of protest, as it always does.

Removing statues of Confederate generals from public places in the South cannot rewrite the history of the Civil War. They are carted off and displayed in a history museum.

The Nazi grave in the Salt Lake City cemetery is a piece of history — ugly, disgusting and vile — but history all the same.

Place a sign, a historic marker, at the gravesite of Nazi Paul Eilert that has the context of how German POWs ended up in Utah during WWII, including the fact that other POWs at the time paid for the gravestone and not the U.S. government.

The historic marker doesn’t condone the mass murder machine of Adolf Hitler; it just explains the background with facts.

We know history can be ugly — very ugly, but we can handle it. So I’m OK if it stays because I am a student of history and this is part of it.

 

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app