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What Is the Stalingrad Madonna?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 July 2014
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The Stalingrad Madonna is a famous charcoal drawing created by a German officer in 1942 during the Siege of Stalingrad. The original drawing hangs today in Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Cathedral in Berlin, and after the war, the German government sent copies to the governments of the United Kingdom and Russia as symbols of reconciliation. These copies of the Stalingrad Madonna are displayed in Coventry and Volgograd respectively.

Many people find the backstory of the Stalingrad Madonna quite fascinating. The man who painted the work, Dr. Kurt Reuber, was trapped in Stalingrad along with a large number of German troops during the Christmas of 1942. Troop morale was extremely low, as rations were minimal and the men were well aware that they did not have enough supplies to survive the siege. Dr. Reuber decided to make a drawing for the sick and injured men in his care, struggling to finish it in his cramped, dark quarters. Since he did not have any paper, he was forced to use the back of a map of Russia, and in a letter home, he described scrabbling after his pencils every time he dropped them in the mud.

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Because Dr. Reuber was a clergyman and it was Christmas, he made a drawing of the Madonna and Child. The drawing depicts the infant Christ cradled in Mary's arms, and the two are wrapped in a large cloak. The edges of the drawing have the inscription "licht, leben, liebe, weihnachten im Kessel 1942. Festung Stalingrad," or "light, life, love, Christmas in the cauldron 1942. Fortress Stalingrad." The German word kessel, which is often translated into English as "cauldron" or "boiler" refers to a situation in which one is surrounded by enemy forces.

Dr. Reuber described the Stalingrad Madonna in a letter he wrote home, and the Madonna managed to make it out of Stalingrad, now known as Volgograd, on one of the last German air transports out of the city. Dr. Reuber ended up in a Russian prisoner of war camp, where he ultimately died, while the Madonna and his letters made their way home to his family in Germany.

Reuber's family briefly kept the Stalingrad Madonna, but when his letters and a reproduction of the Stalingrad Madonna were published after the war, they gifted the drawing to the German government. The Stalingrad Madonna attracted a great deal of attention in post-war Germany, and came to be viewed as a symbol of hope and peace. In 1946, German poet Arno Pötzsch published a collection of poetry inspired by the drawing, and titled The Madonna of Stalingrad.

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