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Germany's 'last' WWI veteran dies
An undated portrait of Erich Kaestner. believed to be Germany's last surviving World War I veteran, who died 1 January, 2008
Germany has no organisation to keep track of war veterans
The man believed to have been Germany's last World War I veteran has died peacefully at the age of 107.

Erich Kaestner, who at 18 was sent to the Western Front but served only four months in the army, died in a Cologne nursing home, his son said.

The death on Sunday of Louis de Cazenave, France's second-last World War I veteran, made global headlines.

But in a country that keeps no record of its veterans, Kaestner's death on 1 January went largely unnoticed.

"That is the way history has developed," said Peter Kaestner, the soldier's son. "In Germany, in this respect, things are kept quiet - they're not a big deal."

Erich Kaestner was unrelated to the writer and poet of the same name.

End of an era

Reports in Die Welt daily and Der Spiegel magazine identified Kaestner as Germany's last World War I veteran, but verification of the claim was difficult as the country keeps no record of its war veterans.

The German public was within a hair's breadth of never learning of the end of an era
Der Spiegel

In a country where the shame of the Nazi genocide and memories of two world war defeats still cast long shadows, both publications focused more on the German national psyche than the death itself.

"The German public was within a hair's breadth of never learning of the end of an era," wrote Der Spiegel, until someone updated his death notice on the internet encyclopaedia site, Wikipedia.

In its obituary for Kaestner, Die Welt noted: "The losers hide themselves in a state of self-pity and self denial that they happily try to mitigate by forgetting."

Officer, judge, husband

Born in 1900, Kaestner had joined the army when he left school in 1918.

He rejoined the military as a Luftwaffe first lieutenant in 1939, where he served mainly as a ground support officer in France.

After the war, he became a judge in Hanover, where his work earned him Lower Saxony's Merit Cross.

His 75-year marriage was recognised by Germany's president in 2003 shortly before his wife, Maria, died aged 102.

SEE ALSO
Memorial marks French battlefield
13 Oct 06 |  Lincolnshire
France rediscovers WWI veterans
03 Mar 06 |  Europe
The race to remember
11 Nov 05 |  Magazine

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