By Ron Haggart Special to the Toronto Star Sat., April 7, 2007
When Hitler's armies were advancing across France in 1940, the Canadian government put out a story that German troops were damaging the memorial at Vimy Ridge.
Walter Allward's soaring monument had been unveiled only a short time before, in 1936, the only official ceremony (except for abdication) in the short reign of Edward VIII. A popular postage stamp was widely in circulation, so Canadians were thoroughly familiar with Vimy Ridge, and they were outraged. There was someone else who was outraged by this story; his name was Adolf Hitler.
The monument at Vimy Ridge was Hitler's favourite memorial from World War I, because it is a monument to peace, not a celebration of war. There are no carved guns at Vimy Ridge, no helmeted soldiers, no stacks of cannonballs. Instead, the figures are of Canada grieving for her lost sons.
Hitler went to Vimy Ridge on June 2, 1940, called in the world's press as best he could and insisted they take his picture on the unscathed steps. He then assigned special troops from the Waffen-SS to guard Vimy Ridge.
The SS had a vicious reputation – they were Hitler's personal army, they guarded him. And it was also their job to protect Vimy Ridge, not only from Allied armies but also from regular Wehrmacht soldiers who, rather understandably, might want to deface it. No one would defy the SS.
Hitler's plan was a great success. All the Australian war graves in France from World War I were destroyed in World War II. But the cemetery beside Vimy Ridge and the memorial itself remained untouched because the Waffen-SS did its job.
The Vimy memorial stands there today, ready for this week's ceremonies, mainly because the government of Canada has invested a great deal of money in repairing it.
But the Vimy memorial is there at all because it was saved by its most infamous fan, Adolf Hitler.