In 2016, the Russian foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier (now President of Germany – approx. “RG”) have agreed to give new impetus to the work on collecting materials about the Soviet and German prisoners of war and internees. Why in Germany this topic until was not considered too wide?
Wolfgang Shneiderman: As you know, for the Germans a vital culture of memory of the events of the Second world war. The subject of prisoners of war and the so-called “Ostarbeiters” – civilians, deported to forced labor in Nazi Germany, was permanently pushed to the “margins” of public memory. These people were subjected to terrible persecution in the camps and inhuman exploitation. They were well represented in German society during the war – almost in every town, in every enterprise. After 1945, they’ve tried to forget. Many have waited for compensation too late, or not wait at all. And only at the turn of the century, the fate of this category of victims has received in Germany the recognition and were better studied.
the Family of a war veteran from Omsk found in Novorossiysk the grave of his grandfather
as for those German prisoners of war, who in the 1950-ies returned from Soviet captivity to their homeland, they were left alone with his “military trauma,” and was largely isolated in the new Germany. On the 75th anniversary of the end of world war II, we believe that our most important humanitarian mission to clarify the fate of as many prisoners of war, to achieve the “return of names”, which said Steinmeier and Lavrov. And I am glad that our Union is involved in this project on behalf of the German guardian. But opening the archives is only half the battle. Important lessons that we can draw. With 2000-ies in Germany, a host of local initiatives and educational projects dedicated to perpetuating the memory of Soviet prisoners of war and internees. Young people in Germany, restore and document their biographies. The memorials on the territories of former stalags (camps of the army of the Reich for ordinary prisoners – approx. “RG”) appeared stele from the bricks with the names of the victims. And in the days of religious holidays members can even leave notes addressed to dead people.
In 2002 in Rzhev appeared memorial complex “Park of peace” buried there, both Soviet and German soldiers. His backstory, as he wrote, “RG”, was not easy. How many German war cemeteries created now on the territory of Russia? What do you think, could our people come to this reconciliation?
Wolfgang Shneiderman: In Russia has 22 of the German military cemetery. The largest – in Rossoshka Volgograd region (buried there about 64 thousand Germans), in Solohubivka near St. Petersburg, in the village Besedino at Kursk. Entrance on the German part of the memorial in Rzhev, which you mentioned, opens up an impressive sculptural composition “the mourning parents”. Around the joint care for the graves increased the mutual trust that became the Foundation of reconciliation. I want to emphasize that I do not consider it for granted. The fact that we can now together to remember the victims on both sides, a real miracle to me. This can not understand anyone who knows about how merciless was the war of extermination that the Germans were in Eastern Europe against soldiers, prisoners of war, civilian population. And the fact that we can now bury soldier here, remember them, well worth it.
a Handful of soil from the field fighting under Rgeom will give the Church in Belarus
Being the inspector General of the Bundeswehr, you once called it “the knight’s attitude to the fallen.”
Wolfgang Shneiderman: Yeah, I wore a uniform and was expressed in several soldierly. But really it’s about these friendly, symbolic gesture from the Russian side can only speak with gratitude. Reconciliation is not a one-off act but a process that must be constantly nurtured. When young Germans meet with the Soviet veterans, it makes a strong impression.
five Years ago, amid cooling between Russia and Germany, one of the German Newspapers tried to start the initiative with a call to remove the Soviet tanks from a world war I memorial in the Berlin Tiergarten. But she did not find support neither among politicians, nor in German society – why?
Wolfgang Shneiderman: There is a culture of memory, and there are current policies that we clearly share. And do not interfere internal political factors in the fundamental things connected with our duty to care for the monuments and graves of the red army. And I’ve never heard that our politicians urged them to carry, move or dismantle.
For the Germans a vital culture of memory of the events of the Second world war
Can citizens of the Russian Federation contact your Union, to clarify the fate of their loved ones?
Wolfgang Shneiderman: Yes, they can contact us, but we have available only information about the people whose names were entered in the cemetery registers of Germany. From experience, I can say that some of the names there. If the data is available to us, we seek help in the Department to perpetuate the memory of victims at protection of Fatherland the Russian Embassy in Berlin, in the German Federal archives. I can say that in recent years the Union could really help some families in their search for graves of their loved ones, including through cooperation with some organizations, for example, the “Saxon memorials”, and with the support of local communities.
Now, in Germany, buried about 640 thousand Soviet citizens, it was found 3,400 places where prisoners of war are buried or victims of forced labor. While it was possible to identify not more than a quarter of the victims. It is also unknown how many more dead still not buried. As told “RG”, last winter, in December, in the garden of the Potsdam Villa were accidentally found the remains, which belonged to the Soviet soldiers – is able to identify the fragments of their uniforms and ammunition. The remains were interred at the Soviet military cemetery in Lebus North-East from Berlin where we already found the last refuge of the fallen 4822. 3099 of them remain nameless. According to the National Union every year the Federal government allocates EUR 25 million for the care of graves of red army soldiers, of them one million euros designed to keep the largest memorials in Berlin Treptower Park, Tiergarten and Pankow. The German side is taking care of them in accordance with the bilateral agreement of 1992 and under the laws of Germany.