Translation: Christmas in the Cauldron (German term for Fortress Stalingrad).Light, Life, Love.
At the darkest hour, the soldiers walked into a small underground chamber to pay homage to a picture drawn by Lieutenant Kurt Reuber, Protestant Pastor, artist, staff physician, and Panzer division commander, a friend of Albert Schweitzer who was conscripted into the German Army.
The image, 3 feet by 4 feet, of the Madonna and Child, entranced the soldiers
One of the only 6000 Sixth Army soldiers who survived later wrote this, For me that Christmas was heavenly. I felt there was a bridge that stretched over the entire earth, the starry sky and the moon, the same moon that my family could see in Germany.”
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Kurt Reuber wrote: I wondered for a long while what I should paint, and in the end I decided on a Madonna, or mother and child. I have turned my hole in the frozen mud into a studio. The space is too small for me to be able to see the picture properly, so I climb on to a stool and look down at it from above, to get the perspective right. Everything is repeatedly knocked over, and my pencils vanish into the mud. There is nothing to lean my big picture of the madonna against, except a sloping, home-made table, past which I can just manage to squeeze. There are no proper materials and I have used a Russian map for paper. But I wish I could tell you how absorbed I have been painting my madonna, and how much it means to me.”
“The picture looks like this: the mother’s head and the child’s lean toward each other, and a large cloak enfolds them both. It is intended to symbolize ‘security’ and ‘mother love.’ I remembered the words of St.John: light, life, and love. What more can I add? I wanted to suggest these three things in the homely and common vision of a mother with her child and the security that they represent.
He added I went to all the bunkers, brought my drawing to the men, and chatted with them. How they sat there! Like being in their dear homes with mother for the holiday.
Later, Reuber hung the drawing in his bunker,
When according to ancient custom I opened the Christmas door, the slatted door of our bunker, and the comrades went in, they stood as if entranced, devout and too moved to speak in front of the picture on the clay wall…The entire celebration took place under the influence of the picture, and they thoughtfully read the words: light, life, love…Whether commander or simple soldier, the Madonna was always an object of outward and inward contemplation.
The Madonna was flown out of Stalingrad by a battalion commander who was one of the last soldiers of the encircled German Sixth Army to be evacuated.
Reuber was taken prisoner, and died of typhus in a Soviet prisoner of war camp in 1944. Of the 95,000 German prisoners of war taken at Stalingrad, only 6000 survived, and returned to Germany.
The Caucasian oilfields of Russia were Hitler’s target, rich and tempting. But it did not make sense to leave a major Russian city unconquered, especially one named after Stalin, whom Hitler despised.
And so Hitler attacked Stalingrad, and, like Napoleon, was defeated by the Russian winter.
Moral: be careful when it comes to attacking others, no matter how much you despise them. Never try to destroy their Stalingrad. Be content with your own oilfields and your own cities, big or little.
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And what when others cast an envious eye on your Stalingrad, and move in to destroy and conquer it?
If you are a follower of Jesus, He has told you what to do. Do not waste time in resistance. “Do not resist one who is evil. If they take your cloak, give them your cloak.”
If they conquer Stalingrad, let them. Do not resist. Do your work elsewhere.
God will not permit evil to prosper for long. Eventually, winter will come. The aggressors will be frozen out and leave.
Normalcy will return, and you will eat the hidden cabbage still fresh beneath the snow in your garden, and go to your secret cellars, to the concealed beets and potatoes, and drink borscht all winter.
And meanwhile, you will have kept doing your work.
I am awed by this description of an artist/doctor who brought many soldiers a sense of peace and hope in the midst of dire circumstances. It is ironic that the artist did not survive but the memories and the painting did. Such a simple image impacted the spirit of men who needed this symbolic image. May we also turn to the symbolic images of a infant born in desperate times who brought to the world the reality of God’s enduring love.
Anita Mathias says
Kathy, thank you, and Happy Christmas!