23 December 2007
Stalingrad , Christmas 1942
"Christmas week has come and gone. It has been a week of watching and waiting, of deliberate resignation and confidence. The days were filled with the noise of battle and there were many wounded to be attended to. 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. When we opened the 'Christmas Door', as we used to do on other Christmases (only now it was the wooden door of our dug-out), my comrades stood spellbound and reverent, silent before the picture that hung on the clay wall. A lamp was burning on a board stuck into the clay beneath the picture. Our celebrations in the shelter were dominated by this picture, and it was with full hearts that my comrades read the words: light, life and love."
This is an extract of a letter by Kurt Rauber, a pastor and a medical officer with the Sixth Army in Stalingrad. It was his last letter from the city before his capture. He died in Soviet POW camp in 1944. The Madonna survived and is now on display in the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche in Berlin. There are also copies in Coventry cathedral and a Russian Orthodox church in Volgograd.
A small gesture can remind people of their humanity, even in the jaws of Hell. On this note I will take a short break for Christmas. I would like to thank my small but happy band of regular readers a happy Christmas. I promise that there will be lots more drivel in 2008.
The letter extract is from the Feldgrau website