Madonna of Stalingrad and Christmas in three words

General

Traditionally, Christmas is also a time for reflection. A moment to reflect on what you have in a broad sense. In these challenging times, with war in Europe, the personal challenges that people face, everyone should be happy if they can spend this time in freedom, health and happiness. That it is not always a matter of course and emerged from the Christmas story submitted by reader Joop Haitjema from Aadorp. It is worth reading and considering. The title: ‘Christmas in three words’.

In Berlin on the Kurfürstendamm there is a ruined church: Gedächtniskirche. This church was destroyed in World War II. After the war it was not possible to rebuild the church and later, in 1956, it was decided not to restore this church. It was to be a permanent scar to remind people of the horrors of war. Then a new Gedächtniskirche was built next to this destroyed church.

The new church is shaped like an octagon. The walls consist largely of windows, which contain thousands of pieces of glass. Because of all the blue tones of the glass, the new church has a very sacred atmosphere. On the front wall floats a huge copper figure of Christ, which, due to the lighting, has a golden appearance. Very impressive.

A large framed charcoal drawing hangs on one side wall: The Madonna of Stalingrad. Where did that name come from? Who drew the Madonna of Stalingrad? This drawing was made by Kurt Reuber. He is a priest in Wichmannshausen. In the 1930s, Reuber warns of the dangers of Nazism from the pulpit. In his spare time he studies medicine. Just before the war, he graduated as a doctor. In doing so, he realizes his ideal: to be a priest and a doctor, just like Albert Schweitzer. A talented artist, he draws and creates portraits in oils.

At the beginning of the war, he is drafted into the army and deployed as a doctor and army chaplain in the war on the Eastern Front. In December 1942, the Sixth German Army (300,000 men) is completely trapped in Stalingrad. This battle is decisive for the further course of the Second World War. There is no longer any supply of food or weapons. Day and night there is a deafening noise of shelling. Death is everywhere, and meanwhile people are trying to take care of the wounded as best they can. It is incredibly cold and dark. At night it freezes more than 30 degrees.

As Christmas approaches in 1942, Reuber wants to hold a church service despite this wartime hell and make his comrades feel what Christmas means. For this he uses his talent as an artist. He makes a charcoal drawing on the back of a Russian map. In a letter to his wife, he writes: ‘I have thought long and hard about what I want to paint for my friends. I have come across a Madonna, a mother with child’. By this he shows that there is safety, in spite of all dangers and miseries. The faces of mother and child form a heart, the sign of love, enclosed in a cloth. On the left is the word Weihnachten 1942, the letters are written from top to bottom.

In one of the last flights to Germany, there is a wounded comrade of Kurt Reuber. He takes the drawing to Reuber’s wife. She hangs the drawing in the rectory. She later learns that her husband has died in Russian captivity, aged 38. About ten years later, this drawing gets a place in the new Gedächtniskirche in Berlin. Just when everything is dark and the bodies are everywhere, while there are hand-to-hand fights around every street and every house, Reuber draws the essence of Christmas. He draws the exact opposite of what he experiences at the time. Christmas is about:

light. People seek the light. We see light everywhere, in the houses and on facades. Lights are on in gardens and in streets.

Living. Christmas is about new life: the birth of a child. We expect a new future. And hope for better times.

Love. At Christmas, all people yearn for (restoration of) love. We strengthen family or friendship ties.

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