Little did they know at the time, but their dour faces would fit the occasion perfectly: 74 years later and still counting. With every step, these portraits dip and shift gently as if their subjects were present instead, marching in a swathe across Red Square; a vast, snaking parade pouring in as lost blood from arterial Tverskaya Street.
It is the descendants who are here today; strangers united in the ritual of commemoration and remembrance, as a softer, quieter counterpoint to the steely, unyielding technologies of Moscow’s Victory Day parade.
This annual march of the Immortal Regiment shares the May 9th date and has emerged from the shadow of it’s companion event with participation growing from the efforts of 3 Siberian friends to include tens of thousands, then hundreds, then over a million in Moscow alone -and with 10 million sharing the occasion in cities worldwide.
We cannot help but be drawn from these faces frozen in history to their bearers; holding aloft placards, framed photographs, printed images restored via modern technology – or just names alone, written on boards and whispering, “remember me”, with the same quiet strength of those dark-eyed icons, but here, the faces have been lost to time.
Perhaps our minds insist upon confirming a familial resemblance – or perhaps it’s really there: passed as a gift, two or three generations later as the surviving link to those who have already left, but are still present through their lineage alone.
A colleague in Moscow kindly wrote to me about the Immortal Regiment; it’s origin and rationale. Here’s the text itself, although slightly edited:-
Words from a guest
“It is noteworthy that despite the fact that this movement has become popular relatively recently
(the idea was born in Tyumen in 2007 and the first Immortal Regiment march took place in Tomsk in 2012), the idea of such an event has very deep and ancient roots. This modern incarnation reflects and develops the Russian Orthodox tradition of the Cross Procession during the great Church feasts and other significant events. Also, many people took part in Religious processions in times of severe trials, such as wars, Tatar invasions, natural disasters, epidemics and more.
Thus, during the Cross Procession, led by priests, people carry icons of saints or burning candles. During the Immortal Regiment’s march through the streets, people carry portraits of their relatives who died in battle or later as a result of their wounds, or those who served and recently passed away. All those who took part in the defense of the country are remembered, including those who worked hard in the rear to provide the army with food, ammunition, and military equipment.
Also there may be photographs of those who were killed in concentration camps, burned by the Nazis in their villages, who fought against fascism openly and in guerrilla groups.
The Procession, and the memorial event as a whole, unites families and strangers alike, allowing participants to feel the connection to times and generations past, to realise their common history, common tragedy, and the common joy of victory.
The authorities have embraced the event and strive to organize the procession in large and small cities across Russia – while assisting in many major cities of the world where there are Russian communities who seek to participate.
Devotees still join this annual procession quite voluntarily, however; feeling the need for spiritual unity with their ancestors and fellow native people.”
Photo by Dmitry Karyshev