A couple of men from Propagandakompanie 612 musing at the rows upon rows of crosses at the German war cemetery at Langemark, West Flandres, Belgium, in June 1940. In the cemetery rests the bodies of more than 44,000 soldiers, many of them unknown, who mainly fell in the two battles of Langemark, which were parts of the First Battle of Ypres in 1914, and the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917. The number of buried is about the same as the total number of dead or missing German soldiers in the entire Battle of France in 1940, which shows what a great success the latter was. Despite the losses, it was a much smaller price to pay for huge gains.
In the 1914 Battle of Langemark (usually spelled “Langemarck” in the literature), a number of German high school students, who had enrolled in patriotic fervor, were killed when attacking over open ground. They were inexperienced, but according to the legend that sprang up about “the slaughter of the innocents at Langemarck”, they went into battle singing patriotic songs and dying by the thousands. The legend was later exploited in Nazi propaganda, and once Hitler came to power, 10 November was chosen as the day on which the Party inducted students, and after 1938, every member of the Hitlerjugend paid a compulsory fee, known as the Langemarck-Pfennig. As a party publicist put it, “National Socialism and Langemarck are one and the same.” It suited the death-cultish tendencies of Nazi ideology, and mentally prepared young soldiers for the ultimate sacrifice in the years to come. Millions more of war graves would be dug before it was over in 1945.