- SOLOGUBOVKA, Russia (Reuters)
- Hundreds of German and Russian war veterans flocked to this remote village
on Saturday for the opening of Russia's largest war cemetery, which is
set to house the remains of up to 80,000 German soldiers.
- Sologubovka lies about 45 miles northeast of Russia's
second city St Petersburg, the former Leningrad, which withstood a 900-day
siege by German forces during World War Two.
- The veterans and their relatives, most of them elderly
and frail, made their way under a dark, brooding sky to the new cemetery,
which covers five hectares and is owned by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Old Russian women clutched bouquets of flowers.
- The event's organizers said the remains of the German
soldiers had been collected from battle sites and smaller cemeteries dotted
across the Leningrad region.
- They shrugged off suggestions that Russians, who lost
more than 20 million people during World War Two -- including nearly half
a million Leningraders during the 1941-44 blockade -- might feel uneasy
about such a large cemetery for the former enemy.
- ``The local population is positive about the establishment
of a German cemetery,'' said the general director of the Russian War Memorial
Association, Alexander Bystritsky.
- Russians Philosophical
- Some of the Russian veterans struck a philosophical note.
- ``Future generations will assess our reconciliation.
The future always assesses the present better,'' said veteran Vladimir
Spindler, his chest resplendent with medals.
- But an elderly woman with him also sporting war decorations
declined to comment and was clearly less than happy about the cemetery's
- Earlier, the German veterans had visited a nearby Soviet
military cemetery, laying wreaths to the memory of the men they had once
fought before heading to the new graveyard to honor their own comrades.
- The remains of about 20,000 German soldiers have already
been buried at the new cemetery, financed by an organization which looks
after German military cemeteries abroad.
- The German organization will also pay for the restoration
of a 19th century Orthodox Church at the site which was shut down by Soviet
dictator Josef Stalin. During the war, the church's basement served as
a hospital for wounded German soldiers.
- It will now house an exhibition documenting the names
of the soldiers killed in the Leningrad region during World War Two.
- In a similar project, a cemetery is now being built in
the Voronezh region of central Russia which will house the remains of some
70,000 Hungarian soldiers who fought on the German side.
- Many Foreign Cemeteries
- Russia has a total of 89 cemeteries for foreign soldiers,
containing the remains of an estimated 400,000 people. Germany alone lost
up to five million on Soviet soil during World War Two.
- Bystritsky said some 3.5 million foreigners were taken
prisoner at the end of the war, but the majority of them were eventually
- ``The very last were sent home in 1956. Officially, none
remained here,'' he told Reuters.
- But some are believed to have stayed on here and to have
become russified over the decades.
- The fate of prisoners of war still living in the former
Soviet Union came into sharp focus earlier this year when an elderly Hungarian
man was discovered living quietly at a psychiatric hospital in Kotelnich,
- He had been an inmate at the hospital since 1947.
Site Served by TheHostPros