During the First World War, a large prisoner of war camp was built in Gronenfelde near Frankfurt (Oder), in which exactly 22,986 men were interned at the end of the war. By far the largest group, with well over 17,000 people, were prisoners of war of the Russian multinational army. In addition, the British, French, Belgians, Romanians, Serbs and Italians were held in the camp. The only structural evidence of this camp that still exists today is the Heilandskapelle on the nearby Eichenweg. It was built from 1915 in a simple wooden construction as the cultural center of the camp and was only consecrated to an Evangelical church in 1928. Theater performances, concerts, church services and readings for prisoners of war were held here. The prisoners designed the interior of the hall themselves,
Serious illnesses and the consequences of poor nutrition led to the death of several hundred prisoners. In the summer of 1915 a separate cemetery was set up near the camp where the dead were buried according to the ceremonies of their religion. The cemetery administration systematically registered the deceased, so that today there is an orderly register of 581 names along with brief biographical information.
The cemetery was conceived as a regular arrangement of burial grounds, in the center of which was a large wooden cross on a stone base. The individual tombs were made from simple wood as crosses, steles and panels, the symbols of the religion of the dead and their names were engraved on them. After the end of the war, the deceased prisoners of the Western Allies were relocated, the graves of the men who had served in the imperial Russian army remained. They were cared for by German state authorities, which fulfilled their obligations under international law until 1944.
A new civil cemetery had existed in the immediate vicinity of the war graves since 1920, in which the deceased were buried in the settlement that was built on the former camp site after the end of the war. When Frankfurt (Oder) was declared a fortress shortly before the end of the Second World War, the Wehrmacht built shelters, fragments and trenches in the vicinity of the cemetery grounds. In the last weeks of the war and in need of the first post-war period, the wooden remains of the tombs were burned. Nobody cared about the devastated cemetery, the site was forgotten.
In 1992, a citizens' initiative began to bring the overgrown prisoner of war cemetery back into the consciousness of the people of Frankfurt. A first step was to collect the data from the death lists created in the First World War. A large number of the deceased were given back their names and identities. During this time, historical awareness also changed in the successor states of the Soviet Union: the First World War increasingly became part of its own national history. Since then, the long-ignored history of this war has had to be reappraised, and its testimonies secured and researched. The cemetery, which has been neglected for decades, has now also become the focus of interested Russian private individuals and initiatives, the embassy of the Russian Federation soon devoted itself to this topic. In a joint effort by many private and public participants, the war graveyard cemetery was restored in November 2018 and made accessible to the public again. The lists of names of the dead are kept in the Heilandskapelle, where they can also be researched into the fate of the deceased. More information including the original cemetery registers can be seen at https://www.kuwi.europa-uni.de/de/lehrstuhl/kg/KGMOE/forschung/Gronenfelde/index.html