Stalingrad Madonna

A drawing of a German officer was recognized as an icon

"A small town of Yelabuga that is lost in the woods showed the whole world the most civilized and most humane perception of the International Convention for Human Rights." This is a line from baroness Sieglende Olhausen's letter, whose husband, baron Herg von Olhausen was a prisoner of the camp in Yelabuga.

In 1943 the town "greeted" fascist officers, who were taken prisoners during the Battle of Stalingrad. Their living in the camp was described in the book by officer Oggo Rhuele "My Recovery in Yelabuga." The officer wrote: "There were straw-stuffed mattresses on plank beds, woolen blankets and - I could not believe that – snow-white sheets. Everyday they gave us 750 grams of white bread. All sick prisoners were provided with necessary medicines." Tamara Grebenschekova, a camp's interpreter, said that it was really so, although it was the year 1943, and Yelabuga residents could enjoy only 400 grams of bread during a day.

Another book called "Stalingrad Madonna" by Martin Kruse, was based on the letters, which were written by another prisoner, officer and doctor Kurt Reuber. In December of 1942, on Christmas eve, he drew Madonna with a child on a Soviet map and hung the drawing in a bunker. It was written on the drawing: "Light, life, love, Christmas in a boiler, Fortress Stalingrad, 1942." Why did the German officer make that drawing at that period of the war? As it is known, the state of German troops left much to be desired by that time. Hitler's commands convinced Friedrich Paulus, the Commander of the 6th Army, not to capitulate, but to confide in the combatant value of German soldiers. Kurt Reuber: "But what was the combatant value of the 6th Army like until the beginning of 1943? Soldiers had only 25 cartridges a day for one person. Their daily ration was a piece of horse-flesh and 100 grams of bread." The newspaper Roter Stern wrote in 1943 that a German soldier died every seven seconds - either of hunger, exhaustion or cold.

The author of the book believes that Kurt Reuber was a Catholic priest, and it was his painting, which depicted Madonna with a child, that assisted in the capitulation of Paulus's army. That was a long-awaited event even for Germans themselves. Kurt Reuber died in the prisoner-of-war camp in Yelabuga on January of 1944. His Stalingrad Madonna drawing was recognized as an icon in 1990 in Great Britain. "Reconciliation and Forgiveness, Light and Life" - these are the words that are written on another variant of the drawing, which was made in 1943 on Christmas eve, in Yelabuga.

The book "Stalingrad Madonna" was published in Germany. A copy of the book arrived in Yelabuga as a gift for Tatiana Nechayeva, who worked as a chief doctor at the prisoners camp during 1943-1948. Baroness Olhausen wrote: "For compassion and kindness towards all German prisoners of war on behalf of all mothers and women of the world, to a kind woman Tatiana." The baroness called Tatiana the Stalingrad Madonna.

Tatiana Nechayeva graduated from the Kazan Medical Institute in 1941. She was a captain of the medical service. In 1952 she founded the anti-TB hospital in Yelabuga, where she worked until 1990. Tatiana is rewarded with the Red Flag Order and other medals, including a decoration "For the Victory Over Germany." Tatiana Nechayeva died in 1999.

She recollected: "Prisoners of war were brought to the camp in a horrible condition. They were dirty, exhausted, lousy, sick, they did not look like humans. It was hard to imagine that all those people felt conquerors just a few days ago." Doctors had to separate sick German soldiers from healthy ones, to wash and feed them, to cut their hair and give clean clothing to them. That was a very hard work to do, taking into consideration the fact that the camp experienced a strong lack of personnel. Doctors had to work 24 hours a day. In the beginning, German prisoners were rather cautious: they thought that they would be killed in the camp, so they did not want to go to a bathroom, sick officers did not allow doctors to make injections to them, they did not take drugs either. "Slowly but surely, but they changed their attitude to us. Doctors did not perceive them as prisoners of war, they perceived them as people, who needed help. In spite of the fact that we all suffered from the war, from Germans, we did not lose the feeling of humanity, we found strength in us to overcome the hostility against those, who caused so much trouble and grief to us," Tatiana remembered.

Prisoners chopped and prepared firewood to heat the camp in winter, they cleaned their rooms and cooked meals for the whole camp. "I do not remember, how much it cost for the USSR to maintain each prisoner. I can just say that prisoner's meals were a lot better in comparison with ours during the war. There was a committee at the camp, Liberated Germany, which was headed by anti-fascist Reichstag deputies Walter Ulbricht, Wilhelm Pik, and other German communists," Tatiana Nechayeva said.

"I am proud of living in Yelabuga," former prisoner of war German Rentsch said. Almost all prisoners were sent to their homeland in 1945-1946.

Gulnaz Ibragimova

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Author`s name Olga Savka