The faces of Margraten: a visit to the American cemetery of Margraten

If you've already been to an American cemetery to commemorate world war two, then you know that such a graveyard makes you gasp for air again and again. Is it because of the beauty and serenity of this place? Or is it because each one of the thousands of white marble tombstones also stands for one human life? In Margraten, Dutch Limburg, you'll find the only American cemetery in the Netherlands. It lies just over the Belgian border - near Maastricht - and is definitely worth a short visit. I visited this gem together with VVV Zuid-Limburg.

cemetery margraten netherlands

The American cemetery of Margraten

There is only one American cemetery in the Netherlands, and that is located in the province of Limburg just next to the Belgian border.
This place doesn’t give away much from the street, but if you look closely you can already spot some white crosses.
The perfectly manicured lawns lure you in further and further, until you finally arrive at the visitor center.
Wow. Goosebumps.

A rectangular pond serves as a mirror so that only the fountain in the back makes some wrinkles in the mirror like surface. With a sober white tower at the back, this spot really reminded me of the ‘Reflective Pool’ in Washington D.C.

margraten cemetery netherlands

During the faces of Margraten, this American cemetery becomes even more impressive.

8301 tombstones, 1722 missing and 4 women

Don’t go too fast. Before you start to look at the seas of white marble crosses, you can already see an impressive monument here: the Walls of the Missing. 1722 Names have been scratched in white marble to the left and right of the elongated pool. These names honor the soldiers whose remains were never found or never identified.

Once you step onto the stairs, you come face to face with rows after rows of war victims. Each of them, whatever function they had, buried under a sober gravestone. Only the 179 Jewish victims (their stone is in the form of a Jewish star) and the six recipients of the Medal of Honor (their names were gilded with gold) interrupt the pattern of identical crosses that goes on for 8301 times.
If you count up all victims together, you’ll get a total of more than 10,000. And out of this enormous number, there are only four women buried at this sacred place.

Walk newt to the graves, march past the majestic oaks or sit down on one of the benches to view the grandeur of this memorial.
Right at the back of this beautiful cemetery you can see one last monument: a gigantic flagpole with the American flag waving proudly. Fleeting as the lives that have been lost here, but also free like the freedom that their sacrifices have given us.

american cemetery margraten

All these tombstones leave a crushing impression on you.

missing margraten

One of the walls with all the names of the Missing.

The faces of Margraten

Every two years a special event is held in Margraten so that the sacrifices of these courageous men and women will never be forgotten. The months-long work of dozens of volunteers reaches its peak in May, when thousands of photographs are planted next to the white marble tombstones for five days.

When you visit the American cemetery of Margraten; the white crosses and stars are a delight to the eye. However, due to this austerity, it is sometimes difficult to grasp the large scale of this cemetery. The thousands of unknown names carefully chiselled into the tombstones finally get an identity during the faces of Margraten. Men and women, not so very different from you and me, stare at you silently. And that definitely gives goose bumps… The old photos in black and white and sepia really make it clear how big this -because that is what it is- mass grave actually is.

Row after row you see the young faces of men and women who all had their own dreams and plans. And they volunteered, voluntarily or out of necessity, to make our future more beautiful. Because no matter how you look at it: if they had not made those sacrifices, then perhaps we could not enjoy the beautiful democracy where we live in today.

faces margraten

The small photos next to the crosses show the faces of those who are buried here .

Opening ceremony

During my visit to the faces of Margraten in 2018, I also attended the solemn opening ceremony.
High ranked men and women of the American army, ambassadors from the United States and spokespersons of the cemetery honor the fallen with text and songs. You are free to watch this solemn ceremony, or to start exploring the cemetery at your own pace.
During the many speeches it is well emphasized that freedom also has a price, and that of course doesn’t go unnoticed because of the wall of white graves that stretches out in front of you. The Dutch and American flags are proudly fluttering on the green field, while the American and Dutch national anthems sound through the speakers. Then came a last trumpet burst to pay tribute to the dead soldiers before the visitors spread across this gigantic domain and come face to face with all these American heroes.

faces of margraten

One of the speakers at the opening ceremony.

Get to know some victims even better: the Voices of Margraten

Although the faces often say a lot about the person buried here, it is impossible to link them to a real human being. That is why I found the free audio tour, the Voices of Margraten, so incredibly interesting and an absolute added value for this event.
Through an app (> Voices of Margraten) you get an insight into the lives of several soldiers buried here. Soldiers who were given a Medal of Honor, men who were in fact only children, victims who weren’t found to this day, or one of only four women who are buried here, are given the chance to do their story.
On the basis of letter exchanges, newspaper articles and stories of surviving family members or friends, these life stories were pieced together. Actors also gave the faces of Margraten a voice. And a story. And if you didn’t get goose bumps when you saw the pictures, you’ll definitely get it now when listening to these beautiful stories.

faces of margraten american cemetery

The audio guide makes a tour of the American cemetery even more impressive.

Some more figures and facts about the cemetery of Margraten

  • Originally, many more people were buried here. First there were 21.839 burials. Of these, 17.738, 3.075 were Germans and 1.026 had other nationalities. Later, all these bodies were moved to another cemetery or, at the request of family, flown back to America.
  • The first victim was buried at the American cemetery of Margraten on 10 November 1944.
  • The last victim (Willis A. Utecht) was buried on 30 March 1946.
  • In 2005, the cemetery was visited by the American President Bush.
  • 40 brothers were buried next to each other or mentioned on the Walls of the Missing right besides each other.
american graveyard margraten

A Jewish gravestone.

Also interesting: the Eyewitness Museum in Maastricht

If you want to see even better how the Second World War developed in this part of the Netherlands, then perhaps you should also make a trip to the Eyewitness Museum in Maastricht. In a half hour drive from Margraten, in a suburb of Maastricht, you arrive at this beautiful villa.

The local mayor once lived here, but during World War Two, this beautiful house was occupied by the Germans.
Nowadays you still find a lot of Germans here! Dozens of lifelike wax statues pose with (real!) memorabilia from during the world war. You’ll find, among other things, a stamp collection or letters that belonged to Hitler, as well as other valuable objects and costumes of high-ranking army officers.
You will not only learn about the Nazis here, but also about the Allies. You can visit four stories in the building, all having their own exhibitions of a certain part of World War Two.

Look at the authentic prison gates of Jews and other prisoners, experience the ice-cold temperatures during Operation Barbarossa, or experience how it feels to be locked up in a bunker while bombs fall on top of you.

This museum is fun for young and old. And what I liked here is that you are not overwhelmed with too much information to read. Most of it speaks for itself, but also the nice audio guide where actors take over the voices from the wax images is certainly an added value to your visit.

eyewitness museum maastricht

The exhibitions at the Eyewitness Museum show us what life was like during World War Two.

Good food in the neighborhood

8301 Gravestones take up a lot of space. So you can be sure that you’ve walked for quite a bit after your visit to Margraten.
At about twenty-five minutes walking (or one bus stop in the direction of Gulpener) lies the city center of Margraten. Here you can find some nice restaurants and cafes to fill your hungry stomach.

If you fancy delicious food, a beautiful interior and an admirable concept, then you have to go to Talentinos.
This great restaurant is run by people like you and me, but also by people who are a bit different; people with disabilities.

The newspaper article / menu that lies waiting for you immediately tells you more about the vision of this restaurant, but also about how they work and who they work with. Once you open the newspaper, you see the -extensive- menu of this restaurant. Tasty soups, great main dishes and desserts to make your mouth water. The prices are also very affordable. Soup costs barely €3.50, otherwise expensive deer steak is offered for €17.50 and the dessert varies between €3.50 and €5.
If you also that on top of these fair prices, the portions are gi-gan-tic, then you know you’ve hit the jackpot!

The people who work here really want the best for you. “Is it good?”, “Would you like something else?” – Some other restaurants could learn something from the staff working here! That also applies to the kitchen staff, because even here Talentinos works with people who have a disability.

Just as you perhaps noticed that you’re not so different from the people on the photos in the American cemetery of Margraten, you might see that you have a lot more in common than you would think at first sight with the sweet and cheerful employees of Talentinos.
These are the kinds of projects that we all should support more. And if the food would be as good as here in some other restaurants, then a ‘normal’ restaurant would go bankrupt immediately. An absolute must if you are in the area!

talentinos restaurant margraten

The interior of Talentinos was very inviting to me!

talentinos restaurant margraten cemetery

And the food here is absolutely delicious as well! (Deer steak)

Staying near the American cemetery of Margraten

A little further than Talentinos, lies the picturesque village of Gulpen. On the village square, just next to the slow babbling brook, you’ll find an authentic Dutch café: Herberg de Zwarte Ruiter (where you can also eat deliciously!). The pub radiates authenticity and that is in itself enough reason to pay a visit, but at the back of this café there are also some accommodations.

The different rooms are very recently built (In 2018 the hotel was only a few months old) and are all different, but all very charming, filled with luxury and beautifully decorated. After you have drunk a few beers in the cosy café, you wouldn’t expect the rooms of ‘Herberg de Zwarte Ruiter’ to be so different from the tavern itself.
Not only are the rooms excellent, by the way. The breakfast is also phenomenal and the boss and her staff are as helpful as possible.
I think there aren’t enough superlatives to write about this hotel! But let me put it this way: I have stayed in quite a few hotels, but this gem definitely ends up on top of my list!

Herberg De Zwarte Ruiter Gulpen

Beautiful rooms, helpful staff and good food.

herberg de zwarte ruiter breakfast

Did I already mention that the breakfast is great here too?

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