Kurt Reuber was a Protestant pastor, physician and painter. He was drafted into the Wehrmacht in October of 1939 and, as an army doctor, took part in the Battle of Stalingrad starting in November 1942. When the Red Army had encircled Stalingrad and the soldiers were fighting cold and hunger at Christmastime of 1942, Reuber drew the later famous “Madonna of Stalingrad” in charcoal on the back of a Soviet map for his comrades.
Reuber was taken prisoner by the Soviets in January of 1943. While being held in Yelabuga camp, he sympathized with the “Free Germany” movement. In an open Christmas Letter to a German Wife and Mother – Advent 1943, which was copied by a lettering artist and posted on the bulletin board as the Christmas issue of camp newspaper “Unsere Stimme” (Our Voice) (No. 1 of December 25, 1943), Reuber wrote a response to an article von General von Seydlitz:
The concatenation of guilt and fate has opened our eyes wide to the guilt. You know, perhaps we will be grateful at the end of our present difficult path yet once again that we will be granted true salvation and liberation of the individual and the nation by apparent disappointment of our “anticipation of Advent”, by all of the suffering of last year’s as well as this year’s Christmas. According to ancient tradition, the Advent season is simultaneously the season of self-reflection. So at the very end, facing ruin, in death’s grip – what a revaluation of values has taken place in us! We thus want to use this period of waiting as inner preparation for a meaningful new existence and enterprise in our family, in our vocation, in the nation. The Christmas light of joy is already shining in the midst of our Advent path of death as a celebration of the birth of a new age in which – as hard as it may also be – we want to prove ourselves worthy of the newly given life (quoted in Wiegand, p. 137). His letter on thin airmail paper included a second drawing of a mother and child backed with a piece of brown paper. It was later given the name of the “Prisoners’ Madonna”.
Reuber died of an infection on January 20, 1944 in Yelabuga prisoner of war camp. His two pictures of the Madonna and some 150 portraits reached Germany where the original of the “Madonna of Stalingrad” has been on display in Kaiser Wilhelm-Memorial Church since 1983. Copies of his picture of the Madonna are now displayed in numerous European churches as a symbol of reconciliation. The Church of the Resurrection in Kassel has had a copy of his charcoal drawing, the “Prisoners’ Madonna”, in since 2004.
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- © Photo: Lutherisches Verlagshaus, Hannover Copyrights: private