Tuesday, December 20, 2016

I'll finish the carol first - O du fröhliche

I spent Christmas evening with the other doctors and the sick. The Commanding Officer had presented the letter with his last bottle of champagne. We raised our mugs and drank to those we love, but before we had had a chance to taste the wine we had to throw ourselves flat on the ground as a stick of bombs fell outside. I seized my doctor's bag and ran to the scene of the explosions, where there were dead and wounded. My shelter with its lovely Christmas decorations became a dressing station. One of the dying men had been hit in the head and there was nothing more I could do for him. He had been with us at our celebration, and had only that moment left to go on duty, but before he went he had said: "I'll finish the carol first, O du fröhliche!" A few moments later he was dead. There was plenty of hard and sad work to do in our Christmas shelter. It is late now, but it is Christmas night still. And so much sadness everywhere."
During the bitterly cold Christmas of 1942 the German army was trapped outside Stalingrad . Among the German troops was Kurt Reuber, who was a clergyman and doctor. Drawing on the back of a map of Russia he used a stick of charcoal to portray Mary holding the baby Jesus in her arms, and shielding Him with her arms. Kurt Reuber perished in a Soviet prisoner-of-war camp, and the extract above is from his last letter before he was captured.

Kurt Reuber's family chose the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin to display the Madonna of Stalingrad, and to pass on the message of light and love contained in this moving icon; a message that is tragically relevant this Christmas. Two copies of the Madonna were sent from Berlin as symbols of hope and reconciliation. One is in Coventry Cathedral which was destroyed by German bombs in 1940 and reconsecrated in 1962 with the first performance of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem; the other is in the Russian Orthodox Church in Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad).

First published On An Overgrown Path in 2005 - when will they ever learn? The full story of Kurt Reuber and the Madonna, from which the quotation above was taken, can be read via this link. Image credit - scanned from reproduction purchased in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

1 comment:

Pliable said...

Relevant to this post is the recording of organ improvisations inspired by Gregorian Chant performed by ensemble Virga Strata and Wolfgang Seifen on organ made in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCabS_ITC5BIGelUQODaxKyQ