This week we have something special, an insight into an important aspect of Russian culture, directly from the heart and mind of a citizen, close friend and very special individual. It concerns an especially emotive subject: the remembrance of Russians, former Soviet citizens and other allies lost to war.
Originally I’d planned to include it as a third part to the recent ‘March of the Immortals’ series, but it also stands strong enough in its own right. The text is largely in the author’s own words -though I’ve modified and edited the translation for English readers. I’ve also kept as close to the original tone and voice as possible.
“Why is so much attention paid to the remembrance of the Second World War, or as we call it:
The Great Patriotic War? Why do we need all these annual military parades and various actions of remembrance such as the Immortal Regiment? Maybe there are too many things dedicated to the subject of the military? Why also, does Russia need a strong army?
Such questions can often be heard from foreigners, representatives of Western countries, as well as from some liberal-minded Russians. All these questions can be answered in the words of a famous soviet writer, one who went through the whole war as a military reporter. He said, “Always remember the war, how terrible and inhuman it is, so that it never happens again.”
Both earlier and (especially) in recent years in the West, in many former Soviet republics there have been persistent attempts to devalue the role of the USSR and its contribution to the victory over global fascism.
Many interested political forces in the West (and even some people in Russia) are trying to distort history, and belittle the role of the Soviet people, to reframe the causes and results of the second world war. Sometimes these people can not even imagine the scale of the tragedy that struck the USSR in a quiet early Sunday morning on June 22, 1941.
Accounting for loss
It was the most brutal and destructive war in mankind’s history, but it was the USSR that was hardest hit. The Soviet people suffered unimaginably huge losses – about 27 million lives taken away! Approximately 10 million of those were killed at the front or died of wounds sustained there.
17 million civilians were killed by fascists, tortured in concentration camps or died as slaves in Germany. Some died of hunger and cold in besieged Leningrad and other ruined cities (eg: Stalingrad), or in villages raided and burned by the Nazis.
The greatest human losses and destruction were in the territories of Belarus, Ukraine, the Baltic republics and, of course, in Russia itself. There is practically no family that has not been affected by the war. Hence, so much pain and such a long memory!
The first two years of the second world war were the most terrible and difficult for the USSR, which was poorly prepared for such large-scale aggression and invasion. There were moments when it seemed that the Soviet army was close to defeat; when the government made ready to leave Moscow and evacuate to Samara – but this did not happen. From late 1942 to early 1943 there was a significant turning point in the progress of the war.
Awakening and determination
Principly, there was a critical shift in the consciousness of the population. Many Soviet people had already lost relatives or friends by this time and had seen newsreels from the front showing the terrible consequences of the Nazi presence in many areas of the country. They realised that war concerned everyone and that it was a fight for existence, for the very opportunity to stay alive!
The plans of Hitler and his regime involved the elimination of the greater part of the Slavic people and others living on USSR territory -with the transformation of the rest into slaves. When the Soviet people realised the extent of the threat and the approaching catastrophe, something inexplicable happened – an incredible spiritual uplift and consolidation.
The prime slogan of those years was: “Everything for the front, everything for the Victory!“. It’s message was implemented completely and practically throughout the whole territory of the Soviet Union. People went to work in factories, dedicated to the war effort, and even children were involved in heavy exhausting labor on the home front and in the defense of cities.
This is why home front workers are honored on a par with combatants -for their contribution to the defense of the country, and why their portraits can also be seen in the procession of the Immortal Regiment. Individuals, families, other groups, and even delegations from many former Soviet republics also take part in the march of remembrance; a demonstration that they also did not stand aside – but contributed similarly towards the common victory over fascism.
The documentary newsreel “Day of war” shot in 1942 depicts the Soviet Union’s united effort in this regard; and its effectiveness. A full description of the film in Russian and English, along with a short version of the production (shown in the UK in 1943) can be found here.”