On the slopes of the Sierra de Gredos, a formation of exactly identical and perfectly aligned greyish crosses stands in the shadow of 26 olive trees. In an endeavor to escape oblivion, this mysterious place reminds us of the wars and the tragic moments in which the German soldiers buried here lost their lives. The so-called ‘Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof’ or the German cemetery lies hidden along the road that leads to the Monastery of Yuste (Caceres), where Emperor Charles V decided to spend his last years, unknown to most. It’s lonely place with a decadent and romantic feel to it, where now rest the remains of 28 fallen soldiers from World War I and 154 from World War II whose bodies were found on Spanish territory.
The proximity of the Iberian Peninsula to the countries involved in these two great wars led to wounded and deceased German soldiers being washed up on the coasts, carried there by the sea from various shipwrecks. Airplane crews crashed down at different locations in the interior of Spain. As indicated on a plaque at the entrance to the cemetery: “their graves were scattered throughout Spain, where the sea threw them ashore, where their planes fell or where they died”.
In 1980 the German government, through the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (body in charge of watching over German cemeteries), decided to bring them together in this last resting place, officially inaugurated in 1983 with the assistance of representatives of the German Embassy, Spanish authorities and family members who had arrived from Germany.
Each of the crosses bears the name of a soldier, his military rank as well as his dates of birth and death. However, not all the bodies could be identified and this is why the inscription “Ein Unbekannter Deutscher Soldat” (An Unknown German Soldier) can be read on eight of the crosses.
This mysterious cemetery, which inspires silence and remembrance, has served as a source of inspiration for a group of local authors, who published ‘‘Twenty-six Olive Trees”, a book of short fiction around the subject of the German Cemetery of Yuste. Thirteen authors or “endearing madmen/women”, as they call themselves, have contributed to the book and worked together in literary workshops.Despite being literary fiction, many of the stories are well documented. They intertwine characters from Germany and Spain whose paths for one reason or another cross at the Yuste cemetery. Literature makes unplausible encounters possible.
// Flora, with a German mother and an Extremaduran father, with her dog Kaiser takes care of the grave of a soldier she probably never met, oblivious to mockery. A group of Spanish and Austrian teachers and students who participate in a Comenius exchange project visit the site. Herbert, a pioneer of the botellón feast and married to Carmen, the daughter of a Spanish emigrant in Germany, arrives in his Volkswagen to Cuacos de Yuste, where his companions from U-77, a submarine that was shipwrecked in the Mediterranean, are buried.
“They tell stories that may or may not have happened and in which, as is usually the case, reality would surely surpass fiction,” says Guadalupe M. Casas, one of the authors. Martin, a character in her story, is an American scientist of German origin, who attends the official inauguration of the cemetery to keep a promise and say goodbye to the ghosts of his childhood.
“It is an entertaining and varied book, with very different styles, in which each author expresses him/herself freely, maintaining a dignified respect for the characters and the real events that caused so much suffering at the time”, points out Pilar Galán, who wrote the book’s prologue.
In one of the stories, the olive trees talk and wonder “Why did they die?” and they answer “Who knows? In any case, let’s gather in tribute to them all (…) A gust of strong wind them entered from the east, and small olive twigs broke off from the branches like offerings from those who do not know of racial or political differences, of religious creeds or wars”. //
Veintiséis olivos. Ficciones inspiradas en el Cementerio Alemán de Yuste. Tallertulia. Patio de Escritores, Jarandilla de la Vera (Cáceres), 2013. ISBN 978-84-616-4234-2