At a time when two of the many monstrous regimes in human history were locked in a battle for each other’s destruction, hugely personalised by the natures of their highly similar leaders, those charged with supporting their aims relentlessly refused to abandon their humanity, as tends to be the case. In what the Soviets referred to as the Great Patriotic War and what the Nazis considered to be a war of extermination against the ‘Slavs’, there were other opposing remarkable similarities, instances on both sides of the affirmation of the individual.
One of those was the, ‘Madonna of Stalingrad’ now kept on display in one of the new parts of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church in Berlin, built beside the still-standing ruins of the original that has half its steeple left, as it was in 1945, half destroyed. Inside that is a cross made from the remains of ironwork from Coventry Cathedral.
Witness this, in person, if you witness nothing else on a visit to Berlin today. The Madonna was drawn on the back of a map, in charcoal, by Dr Kurt Reuber, a German Sixth Army physician and pastor at a time when, thankfully, the war became lost to the Nazis, however bad things were to remain for decades.
Its symbolism goes beyond the religious. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, formerly of the US army, has noted that most humans are not naturally inclined to kill each other – they have to be indoctrinated, trained to do it, and training now is very effective, more so than it was in Reuber’s time.
But it's not natural to us, most of us. Some of us can't. Sometimes we know we have to. We had to against the Nazis and those who fought for them, even if they were not Nazis. Still many couldn't. It is not human nature to kill each other. Most of us have to be trained out of what is our natural response which is to threaten and if that doesn't work - run.
But it is in the nature and the self-interest of those who rise to power to encourage us, to train us, to kill. Maybe now that so many of us know that, so many who no longer live in far away countries of which we know little, so many who can talk to each other across continents instantly, maybe now those who exhort us to kill each other will gradually lose their power. Maybe Kurt Reuber knew this.