The war took his family and his home. In 1945 Julius Erasmus returned to the Hürtgen Forest. On his own initiative he started to salvage the bodies of the soldiers who had died during the fighting. Altogether he buried 1.569 German soldiers who nowadays rest in the military cemetery in Vossenack.
It is virtually impossible to separate the history of the German military cemetery in Vossenack from the person Julius Erasmus. During the battle for Aachen, Julius – a German soldier – lost his entire family. A few weeks later he was deployed in the Hürtgen Forest. “I returned to Vossenack in the summer of 1945”, he reported afterwards, “the war had taken everything from me. Then I saw them, lying by the roadsides, on the edge of the woods and under fallen trees. I just wasn’t able to ignore these bodies, unburied and forgotten. They preyed on my mind.” Erasmus decided to give them a respectful grave. After he buried about 120 corpses on the edge of the woods, the local authorities provided him with some space in the public cemetery. Men from the village started helping Erasmus, who became known as the ‘undertaker of Vossenack’. One of them was the local parish priest, Father Eschweiler, who became a close friend. Together they searched the forest. Thus, by August 1949, nearly 800 soldiers were given a final resting place. But Erasmus didn’t stop. Putting his own life at risk (the woods were riddled with mines!) he salvaged 1.569 German bodies from the forest. He collected as many personal data as possible and carpentered simple wooden crosses for every grave.
When the Vossenack public cemetery ran out of burial space, the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge established today’s war cemetery on Hill 470, a scene of fierce fighting. Erasmus was employed by the organization. Being known as somewhat idiosyncratic, he spent his next 15 years living alone in a cottage near the cemetery. Julius Erasmus left Vossenack in the 1960s and died, almost forgotten, in 1971.
During the month of November 1944 fighting between American and German soldiers took place inside the church of Vossenack. Today a commemorative plaque inside and an inscription on the church portal call these events to mind.
The Vossenack Cemetery was constructed on a strategic site, Hill 470, by the German War Graves Commission (Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge) during the years 1949 to 1952. Today the cemetery contains the graves of 2.347 war dead. Among those are 35 men who lost their lives during post-war operations as members of a ‘Ammunition Search and Removal Team’.
For the purpose of remembrance and warning Museum Huertgen Forest 1944 and in Peacetime (Museum Hürtgenwald 1944 und im Frieden) tells the story of the so-called Battle of Huertgen Forest – and its consequences for the local population. The museum is run by volunteers. Almost all objects in the exhibition were collected in the Huertgen Forest area after the war.