The German War Cemetery in Sologubovka
In the village of Sologubovka, beside the river Neva and the Soviet war cemetery on Sinyavinsky Heights, rest the German Wehrmacht soldiers that died during the siege of Leningrad, in the Second World War. [i] The old Russian Orthodox church in the village was used during the war by the Wehrmacht as a hospital; the fatalities were buried next to the church. During the war, the cemetery contained over 3,000 soldiers buried in individual graves with their names marked on crosses. By 1994, the names had been removed, and the graves were barely visible. After the German-Russian War Grave Agreement in 1992, the Volksbund, on behalf of the German federal government, began its search for the fallen and missing soldiers. The Volksbund started an investigation in the region around Leningrad to locate a suitable site for a larger cemetery. The village of Sologubovka offered enough space and proximity to transportation infrastructure for future visitors. The former German military cemetery in Sologubovka’s churchyard was used as the starting point for additional burials. A Russian architect, Alexander Kim, and the Volksbund redesigned this site, and began reburying exhumed Germans starting in1996. This project cost 1.9 million Deutsche Mark (DM).[ii] Today 54,247 German soldiers[iii] lie over 5 hectares of land in Sologubovka, in single graves, covered by a lawn and a few symbolic crosses. There is with space for 80,000 more remaining. A simple grey cross marks the center of the cemetery. Grey granite steles show the names of the buried soldiers, and stand on the main walkway beside the road.[iv] Even though every soldier is buried in an individual grave, the graves are not marked with individual crosses. Instead, the names of the buried are written on granite steles beside the walkway. The precise location of each grave is possible to find with a measuring tape (every corpse is buried approx. 50 cm from the next), and information provided by the Volksbund office. In some cases, private plaques, pictures or flowers from family members lie beside a soldier’s name or individual grave.
The cemetery is embedded into a whole unique memorial complex, which also contains a Peace Park and a Russian Orthodox church.[v] The Peace Park is connected to the cemetery, constructed with paths winding around trees and a watercourse. The highest, most dominant part of the memorial complex is the Russian Orthodox church, Assumption of Mary. The church was built in 1851, looted in the 1920s, and closed in 1937 after the priest was arrested and murdered by the Stalinist regime. During The Second World War, the German Wehrmacht occupied the little village of Sologubovka, used the church as a hospital, and buried their dead nearby. The church remained intact during the war; the Wehrmacht only removed the church’s tower because its height provided an easy target for the Soviet artillery.[vi]After the war, the church fell into disrepair and was used as a cinema and as a storehouse. The orthodox community continued to use the intact parts of the church for worship. In exchange for receiving territory in Sologubovka, the Volksbund agreed to rebuild the church. The Volksbund decided to include the church in the slogan “Reconciliation over the Graves” by renaming it the “Church of Reconciliation: Construction for the Future.”[vii] The Volksbund and donations financed the reconstruction. The complex was inaugurated in 2000, after almost five years,.
The combination of the cemetery and the orthodox church[viii] reinforces the message of the Peace Park. The whole complex was designed from a Christian perspective, particularly with the presence of the cemetery and church on the territory. The War Grave Agreement, the permission to build the war cemetery, and the close contact with the regional authorities made giving the soldiers of the Wehrmacht a resting place on Russian soil possible.[ix]
[i] In Russia, the Volksbund supervises today five large collective cemeteries in Russia, and since 1993 the staff has exhumed and reburied 380,000 dead. Sologubovka is one of five larger collective German war cemeteries in Russia, www.volksbund.de/kriegsgaeberstaetten (accessed 22 August 2016).
[ii] Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge e.V., Board Meeting, 20 November 1999, Volksbund Archives Kassel.
[iii] www.volksbund.de/kriegsgraeberstaetten/sologubowka.html (accessed 24 August 2016).
[iv] Steles were used instead of single gravestones due to the high number of losses and costs, Nils Köhler, “Der Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge e.V. Versöhnung über den Gräbern: Arbeit für den Frieden,” in Verständigung und Versöhnung nach dem “Zivilisationsbruch”? Deutschland in Europa nach 1945, ed. Corine Defrance et al. (Brussels, 2016), 431.
[v] “Sologubovka,” in Deutsche Kriegsgräberstätten in der Russischen Föderation, Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge e.V. and www.volksbund.de/kriegsgraeberstaetten/sologubowka.html (accessed 22 August 2016).
[vi] www.gedenkenundfrieden.de/stiftungsarbeit/projekt-solugobowka.html (accessed 24 August 2016).
[vii] Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge e.V., Board Meeting, 20 November 1999, Volksbund Archives Kassel.
[viii] In the catacombs of the church an exhibition of the Volksbund shows the construction process of the cemetery, documents the blockade and the tragedy of Leningrad. The catacombs contain a room of remembrance for families of the soldiers, and books with names of all missing German soldiers on Russian territories.
[ix] The planning and constructing process was accompanied with difficulties and misunderstandings. For the case of Sologubovka and the memory practice of the Volksbund in Russia, see Nina Janz, Reconciliation over Graves? A German War Cemetery in Russia (online-publication by AIGCS/Johns Hopkins University, November 2016).