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Coventry's stories of peace and reconciliation

Coventry twinned with Volgograd

As Coventry still lay in ruins, our Civic and Faith leaders reached out to other bombed cities across Europe and, as a result, we are one of the most twinned cities in the UK.

One city is Volgograd – formerly Stalingrad. Here is just one example of how we work together.

We use works of art to tell our stories of peace and reconciliation. Once such piece is the ‘Stalingrad Madonna’ – the battle of Stalingrad was the traumatic turning point of the Second World War. Dr Kurt Reuber was a German army surgeon during the long winter siege that nearly destroyed the city. The death toll was huge. At Christmas 1942, deep in a dug out, Kurt Reuber, who was also a Lutheran pastor, invited some of the surviving soldiers to celebrate the birth of Jesus. To enliven that bitterly cold, bleak place, he drew a Russian mother and her child, a reflection of his love for the Russian people, so cruelly treated by his nation. This drawing came to be called the Stalingrad Madonna, surrounded by the words ‘LICHT, LEBEN, LIEBE Weichnachten 1942’ (Light, Love, Life, Christmas 1942). The surgeon, artist and pastor went into Soviet imprisonment together with 9,000 German survivors of the siege. Like most of the others, he did not survive for long. Providentially, the Stalingrad Madonna did survive, flown out of the siege on the last plane to Germany.

The Stalingrad Madonna became a significant icon in post-war German church life and found its place in West Berlin’s Cross of Nails Centre, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a ruin preserved as in Coventry, with a significant modern church beside it, which in effect became West Berlin’s Cathedral. Kurt Soppa, the church’s pastor, presented a replica of Kurt Reuber’s Madonna to Coventry Cathedral at John Petty’s installation. It forms the Altar piece of the Cathedral’s only new chapel, which was dedicated on the 50th anniversary of the Blitz by the Bishops of Coventry and Berlin and the Archbishop of Volgograd – Anglican, Lutheran and Russian Orthodox, truly international and ecumenical and a profound symbol of love in the midst of hatred.

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