National Museum of Military History in Diekirch brings history alive

  • Published
  • By Iris Reiff
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg has a long tradition of welcoming guests from all over the globe. Luxembourg is among the cultural capitals of Europe, attracting countless foreign visitors every year.

For many American military members and their families stationed in Europe, Luxembourg has also become quite popular to discover because of the rich World War II history it shares with the United States. There are more than 120 memorials, commemorative plaques, streets and squares dedicated to U.S. units that fought in Luxembourg from 1944-45. There also are several museums, historical battlefield trails, and main sites, as well as the Luxembourg-American Cemetery, where General George S. Patton, Jr., is buried.

One highlight attraction in Luxembourg, where WWII history is preserved in a very impressive way, is the National Museum of Military History in Diekirch. Founder and curator of the museum is Mr. Roland Gaul, who also conducts special guided tours of the facility for different audiences.

During a recent tour by a group of Spangdahlem service members, Gaul showed and demonstrated how the museum presents the liberation of Luxembourg in 1944-45 by American and allied forces and the history of the "Battle of the Bulge."

"It all started in 1982 with a handful of enthusiasts and volunteers who arranged a collection of military equipment items found by farmers and residents throughout the country and were donated for the museum," Gaul explained.

During the past 30 years, the museum has become a key attraction in the country for focusing on WWII and military history and remembrance.
"People from all over the globe, including veterans and tour groups from the United States come to Diekirch now to experience military history here," Gaul said.

Some people claim the museum itself is perhaps the largest of its kind in Europe, extensively focusing on the "human dimension" of the "Bulge" in the Ardennes. Others believe the museum is even the largest WWII museum in the world.

An interesting feature of the museum is the large number of great personal stories behind many of the pieces displayed. The museum has compiled personal statements from both American and German soldiers regarding their personal experiences of fighting in the area, as well as the story behind the items donated to the museum.

The Diekirch Historical Museum is located in the historic complex of the old brewery in Diekirch, right in the center of the town. It is the product of several years of intense research and dedicated work by a group of young enthusiasts assisted by the Luxembourg army and supported by the City of Diekirch and the government of Luxembourg.

The museum was officially opened Sept. 23, 1984, with numerous government officials and some 150 American and German veterans attending. Since then, the museum has attracted several thousand visitors, especially tour groups of World War II veterans and is rapidly gaining popularity far beyond its national borders.

The Diekirch Historical Museum calls itself an objective museum according to its main guideline to equally depict both sides of the military conflict in the Ardennes 1944-45, in addition to recalling the suffering of the local civilian population caught in the crossfire.

A series of more than 12 impressive and life-size dioramas, carefully selected and reconstructed after meticulous research, gleaned from interviews with veterans, accessible archive records and still photographs and footage, provides an impartial insight of the dramatic situations and tragic individual fates. The museum's main objective is to leave a lasting impression on the visitor as it yields many opportunities through its realistic exhibits to identify oneself with certain situations.

In addition to the dioramas, the museum has an almost complete collection of small arms, individual and collective gear, communication equipment, ammunition, and other types of ordnance. It displays a great variety of original photographs and personal belongings of veterans, but also possesses a selection of typical American and German vehicles and artillery used in the Ardennes, as well as in Yugoslavia and Korea.

The museum has exhibits on more than 1,300 square meters on three floors, offering specific displays of artifacts, vehicles and an audiovisual room, where original documentaries can be viewed or audio interviews can be listened to.

The city of Diekirch, being a traditional garrison town with a rich military past, has the outstanding cooperation of the Luxembourg army. Those were two key factors that led to a major extension of the museum including the "Battle of the Bulge" section. This facility was also turned into a museum of national military history covering various important periods from 1815 to present.

The Luxembourg Army Museum is also located in the same building and was built by dedicated volunteers in the same quality as the "Bulge" section. It contains military history, which is an important chapter of Luxembourg's contemporary history.

Upon special request, the museum crating team also conducts combinations of guided museum tours and field trips or studies to several important sites of the 1944-45 battlefields.

It would take too long to describe all the different displays of the museum, but one very authentic scene, that deserves to be mentioned is the "Thanksgiving Day 1944" diorama in showroom 2, where a pressurized gasoline-operated U.S. field stove is used by soldiers of the 109th U.S. Infantry Regiment to prepare a delicious "American style" Thanksgiving turkey dinner. The diorama shows a group of soldiers as they enjoy an appetizer of fresh fried eggs they had just swapped for U.S. Army-type dehydrated powdered eggs with the local farmers and who had never sampled them before. The diorama further shows an assistant cleaning the mess kits and a medic presenting a "Hershey" bar and chewing gum to the farmer's son. To many visitors this scene is very authentic and speaks volumes.

As of early November 1944, liberated Diekirch, like many other towns and villages in Luxembourg, served as rest and recreation areas for battle-weary troops where the soldiers could takes showers, eat good food and enjoy the warm hospitality of the civilian population liberated from four years of Nazi occupation.

In return, the locals were able to taste U.S. products they never knew before such as peanut butter, dehydrated powdered eggs, corned beef, spam, lemon juice powder, corn bread, and others. This diorama was built with the help of many veterans and civilian eyewitnesses, focusing on passed-on verbal history and personal recollections surrounding Thanksgiving in 1944, as well as "turkey dinner" stories from the time.

A variety of wood and canvas frame pack boards and special packs for carrying heavy loads of supplies or ammunition are also shown in this room in addition to a thematic display of uniforms, memorabilia, photos, documents and personal belongings of soldiers from the 26th and 35th U.S. Infantry Divisions who fought in late December of 1944 to mid January 1945 in the Schumann crossroads sector around Wiltz.

The museum's educational exhibits are rated very positively by all nationalities because of their impartiality and attention to historical accuracy and detail. A visit pays off and the museum staff recommends at least two hours for a visit!

A visit to the National Museum of Military History in Diekirch, Luxembourg, can be easily coupled with a "terrain walk" of a section of the former battlefield along the Luxembourg-Germany border area and a tour of a large range of American and allied WWII memorials in Luxembourg, as well as the Luxembourg-American cemetery and the German WWII military cemetery.

During past years, this combination: museum, terrain walk(s), visits of key memorials; the two military cemeteries; and even remains of the German "Westwall/Siegfried Line" can all be comfortably managed during one day and has gained increased popularity. More elaborate trans-border tours are possible during a weekend.

From an educational point of view, visitors will also learn there was a battle for Bastogne, Belgium and there was a battle of Northern Luxembourg and other parts of Belgium before the German troops reached Bastogne. Numerous historians nowadays agree the "Battle of the Ardennes" was actually "won" in the first two days on the northern and southern shoulders, without taking away the credit from the U.S. troops who defended Bastogne. In addition, the 3rd Army, commanded by Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., had to liberate town after town, village after village in Luxembourg in January 1945, long after Bastogne had been retaken.

The Diekirch museum is open 2-6 p.m. daily. Admission is 5 Euro for adults and 3 Euro for students and children 10-18 years old. Children under age 10 get in for free.
The museum offers group rates for groups of 10 people and more who will pay 3 Euro per person in a group. Optional audio-guides in five languages are available at cost 2.50 Euro.
The museum is located at 10, Rue Bamertal, Diekirch, Luxembourg. There is a sign, pointing the way to the museum when entering the town of Diekirch.

To get to Diekirch, take the E29 to Echternach. Once you're in Echternach, follow the road signs as you approach Luxembourg city and look for signs to Diekirch.