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 Posted Saturday, May 22, 1999

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London, May 14, 1999

Picket protest over cemetery for war dead

from ALAN HALL in Berlin

THE OPENING of a cemetery tomorrow will be seen by many as an affront to 22 million[*] soldiers and civilians who died resisting Hitler's might.

The cemetery in Russia is the first honouring German troops who died at Stalingrad in the greatest single battle of the Second World War.The graveyard contains the remains of 21,001 fallen Germans, but 56 years have done little to ease the pain for Russia of the enormous losses it sustained in the Great Patriotic War.

The slaughter of the German 6th Army under General Friedrich Paulus between the end of 1942 and January 1943 was the turning point of the war. Two hundred thousand Germans died at Stalingrad, and a further 90,000 PoWs captured there died in Stalin's labour camps. Hitler's army lost a quarter of its tanks, artillery and supplies.

For years the remains of the German dead remained stacked in barns and sheds around the battlefield, rotting with their Wehrmacht uniforms still on them. No-one would bury them, let alone honour them.

Years of intense negotiations between old soldiers' organisations, backed by Bonn, did little to thaw the hearts of Soviet politicians. Even when Stalin died and the city was renamed Volgagrad, the same refusal to honour the war dead was relayed time and again back to Germany.

Then came the collapse of Communism and it was decided that a patch of land at Rossoschka, 18 miles from the city centre, would be turned over for a cemetery for the German fallen.

Once General later Field Marshal Paulus used the spot as a command post. Now men he led to their slaughter after blindly obeying Hitler's no-surrender order are interred there.

Eternal peace is unlikely. The inauguration ceremony at Volgagrad's concert hall, to be attended by 1,000 "old comrades" from Germany and parliament president Wolfgang Thierse as the govermment representative, is scheduled to be picketed by those opposed to any honouring of the "Fascist invaders" Some 2.3 million German soldiers were killed in Russia all their grave markings destroyed on Stalin's orders at war's end. Restoring them is the next step for Germany, hopeful that the Rossoschka cemetery is the first step.

Galina Oreschinka, a teacher in Volgagrad who helps in her spare time to search for the remains of German dead, said: "I hope there will come a time when German and Russian soldiers can lie together at peace, side by side. "But the wounds of the war are still not staunched. Memory has to fade a lot more yet.

[* Website note: A 1945 British document shows the actual number was closer to five million].

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