This sign in France, in the first line

enter image description here

seems to say

Hier waren 30 Soldaten beigesetzt = Ici sont enterrés 30 soldats

Google translate says that

Ici sont enterrés 30 soldats.


Here are buried 30 soldiers.

(i.e. the soldiers are still buried there in France and not in Germany)


Hier waren 30 Soldaten beigesetzt.


Here were 30 soldiers buried.

Also according to google translate the French for "Here 30 soldiers were buried" is

Ici, 30 soldats ont été enterrés.

Is the sign wrong or can the passive "être + verbe" sometimes mean the past?


The picture was taken at 48°31'56.9"N 7°10'18.5"E (48.532472, 7.171809), in north-eastern France, on the D44, near the boundary between the Moselle and Bas-Rhin departments.

Thanks for the replies.

  • Not an answer but "furent" must be written with a single "r"! "commémoratif" doesn't take an "e" at the end!
    – Toto
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 8:43
  • Seeing so many mistakes in a permanently engraved, solemn text, is quite painful...
    – dim
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 9:24

4 Answers 4


Is the sign wrong ?

The tense of the first verb is indeed incorrect. The remaining of the sign makes clear what the sign was meant to say.

Can the passive “être + verbe” sometimes mean the past?

Yes. This is called the présent historique/de narration which also exists in English (historical present).

While it is not the case in the sign you posted, small changes are enough to make it possible:

Ici, en 1940, sont enterrés trente soldats allemands tombés au champ d'honneur. Ils seront1 transférés à Niederbronn-les-Bains le 1er octobre 1966.

Adding en 1940 makes clear when that first event happened thus the present can't be but historical.

Note: the fact the French text uses a letter that doesn't exist in French (a with acute accent: á) clearly shows it has been written by a non native person with whom we definitely need to be lenient.

1: futur de narration

  • 1
    It is worthwhile to note that your (correct) sentence stresses that the sont specifically refers to 1940 - narrating the act as if it was happening now. Without the "en 1940" the meaning is different (and incorrect, as on the sign)
    – WoJ
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 14:19

The sign is indeed wrong. Ici sont enterrés means indeed that their corpses are still buried here. The correct form can be ici étaient enterrés, ici ont été enterrés, ici avaient été enterrés or ici furent enterrés (the passé simple fits more here as this is a formal sign, and as it is used in the next verbal form).

Note that there are other mistakes in this sign:

  • furrent instead of furent
  • desir instead of désir
  • commémoratife instead of commémoratif
  • Niederbronn les Bains vs Niederbronn-les-Bains
  • á instead of à

My bet is that the French text is simply a poor translation of the German text.

  • 1
    You missed á vs à and Niederbronn les Bains vs Niederbronn-les-Bains.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 22:52
  • Good point, I will add it.
    – Greg
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 4:22
  • 2
    I disagree with the passé simple being most appropriate as it evokes the actual act of burying rather than the state of being buried, and to me would imply that the bodies are still present. I'd suggest a form not on your list: ici étaient enterrés. (Disclaimer: native Canadian French speaker.)
    – Kyle
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 8:41
  • Agreed, I share your feeling, Kyle. Maybe as an epitaph we'd have in French "Ici reposaient…"
    – user21018
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 17:26
  • Agreed, I will add it , thanks.
    – Greg
    Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 5:09

The translation from the German is faulty. Waren beigesetzt means furent enterrés, were buried.

What happened is the following, German soldiers who had died during WWII in the region were scattered in the various villages where they had been buried. In 1966, after an agreement between France and Germany was concluded, the bodies were transferred and centralised in Niederbronn, in the north of Alsace (https://www.jbs-niederbronn.de/fr/le-cimetiere-militaire-de-niederbronn.html).

I thought at first that they must have died at the end of the war in late 1944, early 1945 when heavy fighting took place in that area but the 197 I.D. (Infanterie-Division) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/197th_Infantry_Division_(Wehrmacht)) was destroyed on the Russian front near Vitebsk in the summer of 1944. It's highly unlikely even remnants of it would have made it back to the Western front.

The only explanation is that the thirty fell during the Battle of France in June 1940 at the end of the Phoney War (la drôle de guerre). It appears that at the time the 197 I.D. was stationed near Saarbrücken near the Siegfried line and took part in the combats that occurred in the northern Vosges Mountains.

My guess is that that plaque is somewhere in the north of the Bas-Rhin département or more likely in the eastern part of the Moselle département. Maybe user53784 could tell us more about the picture.

I know I'm straying from purely language issues but I can't help being touched by that mark of soldierly camaraderie, mistranslations and all.


The translation from the German is inexact, yes. But the sign is not wrong, in that it says correctly what would be said on the same sign in France. A correct cultural translation, if not a linguistic one.

EDIT: Closer look at the German, @WoJ is right! If the soldiers were originally buried here but later moved, the sign in French is wrong. Ils ont ete enterres would be the right way to say it. Sorry... (should I just delete?)

  • "in that it says correctly what would be said on the same sign in France" What do you mean by this? The sign says that they're buried there, but they've also been transferred somewhere else, which doesn't quite make sense.
    – Bruno
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 11:16
  • Well, the sign IS wrong. They are not buried there anymore. This sign in French would have used the past tense.
    – WoJ
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 14:17

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