Russia Opens Biggest WWII War
Cemetery - For German Soldiers
By Konstantin Trifonov
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 existence.
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 sent home.
``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, northern Russia.
He had been an inmate at the hospital since 1947.
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