“75 years of Stalingrad” – an exhibition on this subject was opened in the Carthusian Church in Cologne on 28 June, following the German-Russian City Partnership Conference in Aachen and Düren from 25 to 28 June.
The exhibition documents the Battle of Stalingrad on approximately 15 panels including photos, maps and explanatory texts and puts it into historical context. The photos show pictures of destruction, soldiers in action – and in captivity. They show officers signing documents and they show some documents and maps regarding the course of military actions. The texts provide a detailed explanation of these events – to the point that during and after captivity German General Paulus committed himself to a peaceful coexistence in line of the Soviet side.
The exhibition has already been shown in various European cities (Paris, Rome, Izmir, Berlin, Moscow) in 2018. It originated in the city of Volgograd. The Cologne exhibition was initiated by the Cologne-Volgograd City Partnership Association. Mathias Bonhoeffer, pastor of the Carthusian Church, happily opened his church to show the exhibition to the Cologne public.
On 28 June, Eva Aras, Chairwoman of the Cologne-Volgograd City Partnership Association, and Father Bonhoeffer welcomed around 100 guests including a few from Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) to the opening of the exhibition. Invites included Andrej Kosolapov, Chairman of the Volgograd City Parliament and Jurij Starovatych, former Lord Mayor of Volgograd. 31 years ago, Starovatych together with the former Lord Mayor of Cologne, Burger, founded the city partnership between Cologne and Volgograd. Also present were the Mayor of Cologne, Ms. Scho-Antwerpes, the former Lord Mayor of Cologne, Jürgen Roters, the Deputy Chairman of the City Council of Coventry, Abdul Kahn, and the former Chairman of the Cologne-Volgograd City Partnership Association, Werner Völker.
Ms Scho-Antwerpes reminded us that the Battle of Stalingrad is a symbol and memorial of the terrible that must not happen again. It is perceived by the Cologne-Volgograd City Partnership Association that actively shaping the town twinning supports this remembrance.
Andrej Kosolapov from Volgograd expressed his deep gratitude to all who made this exhibition possible in Cologne. The exibition is a necessary reminder of the threats emanating from National Socialism, which are still or once again relevant today. Thereby, the Germans were the first victims of National Socialism. In the aftermath of the Second World War, however, people also developed positive initiatives, such as the founding of the UN and many civil society initiatives such as the town twinning movement. He would like the exhibition to be distributed in libraries, schools and other places.
The speeches were musically accompanied by the trio “Siresa”, three music students from Cologne who played pieces by Max Bruch and Ludwig van Beethoven.
Dr Ekaterina Makhotina, research associate at the University of Bonn, gave an interesting lecture on how differently Stalingrad was perceived by the Russians and the Germans, and how it is still perceived to some extent. In Russia this was the beginning of the Red Army’s victory over Nazi Germany, and the heroism of the soldiers was celebrated above all. From the literature she states novels by Nekrasov and Grossmann, the latter of which was still forbidden under Stalin, because he not only depicted the heroism, but also the terrible sides of the war. He also connected it with the hope of a renewal of the Soviet state. It was not until the Gorbachev period that his book was published in Russia. In Germany, defeat was also reinterpreted as a cult of heroes under the Nazis: the German soldier fought to the end. After the war the German soldiers were portrayed as pointless victims of the Nazi dictatorship, but the broad trail of blood they left in Russia was almost completely ignored. With the exhibition on the crimes of the Wehrmacht organised by Jan-Philipp Reemtsma after 1989, a different but still controversial perception began. Meanwhile, both sides, Germany and Russia, are striving for a common view with a common will: Never again war!
After another musical interlude, there was a panel discussion and an opportunity for the participants to take part in the discussion.
The Russian initiator of the city partnership, Juri Starovatych, reported a personal experience: As a child in the middle of a battle he fled the Volga on a ferry with his mother. He couldn’t understand why they were attacked and asked his mother the question: “Why do they want to kill us?” This question is still unanswered today.
Jürgen Roters, former Lord Mayor of Cologne, is himself involved in the Deutsch-Russisches Forum and has visited Russia several times. He was always surprised and moved by the friendship and cordiality with which the Russians met him and the Germans, despite all the Russians had to suffer from the German Wehrmacht.
During the panel discussion Andrej Kosolapov reminded once again of the danger of neo-fascism, which is currently growing again in various European countries.
Several citizens from the audience took the floor. A former ARD correspondent was impressed by the way the German war graves are maintained in Russia.
Several engaged comments reminded that meanwhile Russia is seen by the West as an enemy and threatened again, even though after the end of the Cold War another development would have been possible and right. The great sacrifices the Russian people made for the victory over Nazi Germany were unfortunately hardly remembered here. Instead, there is rearmament, and a peace movement is quieter than it has been for a long time, while it has every reason to be loud. These clear voices from the audience were also not impressed when someone briefly tried to reinterpret today’s military operations as peace operations. In their statements and reactions, those present were unanimous in their rejection of today’s military activities of the West, which they understand above all as the encirclement of Russia.
Afterwards, there was the opportunity to visit the exhibition and to continue talking to each other in the churchyard in wonderful sunshine, with pretzels and drinks. •
“Several engaged comments reminded that meanwhile Russia is seen by the West as an enemy and threatened again, even though after the end of the Cold War another development would have been possible and right.”
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