German Veterans Come for Church Dedication
Published: September 23, 2003 (Issue # 904)
About 500 German war veterans and relatives of those who died in the Second World War attended the handing over of a restored Orthodox church beside what is to become the largest German war cemetery in the world in the village of Sologubovka, 80 kilometers southeast of St. Petersburg, on Saturday.
Many grey-haired men and women, who traveled to Sologubovka all the way from Germany, could not hold back their tears when getting to the spot, which is intended to be a "unique symbol of Russian-German reconciliation."
For many Russians, the atrocities committed and suffering caused by the Germany army, which invaded Russia in 1941, before being smashed by the Red Army and pursued to defeat in Berlin, are unforgiveable.
The area around the city could be expected to be particularly hostile given the huge price in human lives paid during the 900-day siege of Leningrad that cost the lives of more than 700,000 people, many of whom died of starvation.
The Soviet Union did not bury many of its own soldiers, and made no provision for graves for German soldiers on its soil.
However, in 1992 the Russian government finally allowed the exhumation of German soldiers as part of putting the hostilities of wars behind it and the united Germany.
"This Russian church was restored using the donations of private German citizens, and we thought this project could serve for further German-Russian understanding and reconciliation," said Fritz Kirchmeier, spokesman for the German nongovernmental People's Commission of German War Graves.
"While preserving the memory of the victims of that war and its violence, we are making a contribution to the mutual understanding and reconciliation between our nations," said German ambassador to Russia Hans-Friedrich von Ploetz, who spoke at the ceremony.
The Sologubovka cemetery was opened in 2000 under the initiative of the commission. To date the remains of about 32,000 German soldiers have been buried in Sologubovka. The cemetery can take the remains of up to 80,000.
The area around Sologubovka, called the Sinyavin Heights, was the scene of some of the toughest battles of the Second World War.
"I had some of the worst times of my life here," said veteran Hans Mueller, holding back his tears. "In a matter of one day in September 1943, I lost a large number of my comrades here."Pages: