Home > Queensland Synod News > Russia to complete return of church windows seized as war booty

Russia to complete return of church windows seized as war booty

Protestant leaders in Germany have welcomed a vote by Russian lawmakers to return the final sections of a collection of valuable stained glass church windows, six decades after the Soviet army took the windows to Russia as war booty.

"This is an important symbolic gesture," Christoph Bruckhoff, a superintendent of the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg, told Ecumenical News International on 31 January.

Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of the country’s parliament, voted on 25 January to approve the transfer of the last of more than a hundred 14th century stained glass windows from Moscow’s Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts to St Mary’s Church in Frankfurt (Oder), a city on the German-Polish border.

The Soviet army removed several million mostly German artworks, manuscripts and archive collections from the territories it occupied at the end of the Second World War in compensation for war damage. In 1999, Moscow declared the works were Russian property.

A Protestant church spokesperson said an initial decision by Russia in 2002 to begin returning the windows had "caused a sensation" among Protestants in the German city, which Soviet troops captured in April 1945.

"A part of our post-war history is now clearly ending," Heike Krohn told ENI, "and we are grateful for this important contribution to East-West reconciliation."

Germany’s senior Protestant bishop, Wolfgang Huber, said that with the help of the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexei II, negotiations for the return of the windows had begun in the early 1990s after rebuilding work had taken place on the Frankfurt church.

The first batch of windows was handed over to the German government in 2002. In return for the windows, the German government has donated 1.3 million euros to cover repairs to a German-built symphony hall organ in St Petersburg.

Ecumenical News International