It is almost unbelievable and difficult to grasp, but in an area of less than 20 square kilometers, roughly half the size of Manhattan, there were 700,000 casualties and some 230,000 men died during the year-long battle of Verdun during the Great War.
WWI was the first industrialized war, and as such we had bigger better and more efficient ways of killing. Not that we did not kill each other in wars prior to the twentieth century, because we certainly did, but with machine gun, poisonous gas, and thousands of rounds of artillery ammunition the death toll rose accordingly and of course so did the number of bodies left over.
Inaugurated on 7 August 1932 by French President Albert Lebrun, this house of death sits opposite a cemetery, and contains a death bell, tolled at official ceremonies, and a death lantern which shines out across the cemetery.
Interestingly, unlike the neatly stacked piles in the Catacombs or in Church ossuaries, the bones of the dead soldiers are simply in heaping piles, which strangely feels more appropriate for the violent and tragic way they died, and helps illustrate the sheer scale of death during WWI. The windows of the ossuary peer in on pile after pile of bones, which you can walk amongst, with piles of bones divided up by the region in the 20 square kilometer Verdun area where they were found. Engraved bricks each bear a soldier’s name, though there is by no means a brick for every soldier, and tens of thousands of these soldiers go nameless.
In a day and age where we ceremoniously bring home our war dead it is hard to imagine how many sons, brothers, fathers, uncles and well just how many men were buried where they fell. Not because did not care, but simply because until the 1930’s there was no policy about bringing the war dead home and even if there was, would it have been possible with so many war dead? After all, there was no a household left in all of Europe that was not touched by death in some way after the Great War.