Sunday, July 13, 2014

Patriotic Wars!

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) - People predominantly hear only what they want to hear. This axiom applies not only to ordinary people, but politicians used to flattery, fear or acquiescence.

                So when a  poet wrote about the fiasco of the events of June the 22 1941, with the words, 'Damn you,year forty-one ', his lines were not published until 20 years later. And even almost 70 years after those events, people still don't want to hear the real truth of those events.

                Before June 22 1941, the Soviet government did not want to hear revelations, reports, or rumours of an imminent invasion. Official propaganda insisted there would be no war and that anyone who suggested otherwise were accused of warmongering, inciting panic or organising provocations. You could even be arrested and shot for claiming war would break out soon.

                So most prudent people maintained a tense brooding silence. However, even fear could not entirely contain all kinds of rumours, gossip and reports of an impending war .

                For instance, the late comedian, actor and veteran Yuri Nikulin was told by his commander as early as April 1941 'comrades, the world is in a rather shaken state. It is entirely possible, that we will go to war this year! I speak about this not as disclosed fact, but that I think war is unavoidable. Our number one enemy is Germany!' Nikulin stated that he and all his comrades         were surprised and did not trust the claim of their commander. After all, the Soviet Union had signed a non-aggression pact with Nazis Germany!

                The Soviet Union obtained many warnings of a planned German invasion. The problem was that nobody knew exactly when it would occur. Some reports claimed the invasion would come as early as April or June the 15, yet no invasion happened! The Russian state received 41 reports from Berlin over a period of 9 months before the war. Many of those reports seemed inaccurate, red-herrings and based on gossip. Yet at least two Russian spies sent the right date of the invasion. The reports were from the legendary spy  Sorge in Tokyo and 'Starshina' of the Luftwaffe. When Timoshenko and Zhukov presented evidence of a German invasion due on the 22 of June, Stalin angrily dismissed the claims. He answered 'Are you suggesting I should believe him too? ...This is not a source, but a disinformer.' When Zhukov and Timoshenko begged Stalin for permission to move frontier soldiers to more defensive positions, Stalin angrily retorted, 'We have a non-aggression pact with Germany. Germany is up to her ears with the war in the West and I am certain that Hitler will not start creating a second front by attacking the Soviet Union. Hitler is not such an idiot and understands that the Soviet Union is not Poland, not France and even England.'

                Two deserting German soldiers who swam over a river to warn the Russians of an invasion were summarily executed for 'provocations'.

                In hindsight, it is easy for us to condemn Stalin's attitude as sheer stupidity or incredulity. However, he was not the only one who thought that Hitler would not be stupid enough to attack Russia. Many British diplomats did not believe Hitler would attack Russia so soon. When German generals first heard what Hitler intended to do they could not believe it! The issue was not whether there would be a German invasion, but when and Stalin thought it would come only after Germany had eliminated the British threat. For the attack on 22 June 1941 did not make any long-term military sense and some German generals deemed it suicidal. Their suppositions were vindicated by subsequent events in 1945!

                Tumoshenko and Zhukov did their best to persuade Stalin to order all soldiers to be put on an all-alert answer. However, it was in vain. When Stalin declared, 'If you are going to provoke the Germans on the frontier by moving troops there without our permission, then heads will roll, mark me'.

                There were other signs of an imminent invasion adored by Folklorists. For example, a white swan died in Moscow Zoo on New year's eve, a village idiot in one town warned that there would be an invasion and people spoke of how ghosts had come up to them to inform them of the impending war. Some believed that it was no coincidence that the invasion came on Mid-summer day. This is the time when evil spirits come out to menace the living and the powers of darkness emerge out in the open. For once, what was seen as superstition assumed a grotesque reality. For when the Germans invaded Russia it must have appeared that the gates of hell had         crashed open and an awesome evil unleashed. For the scale of Operation Barbarossa was huge. As many as 3 million soldiers, almost 3000 tanks and 2000 planes were invading Russia!  The results of this invasion were horrendous! When I was a school boy I was told that 20 million Russians died. But now current estimates have reached 27 million!

                How did the Russians react to the news of the invasion ? Some historians suggest Stalin had a nervous breakdown. After chiding his men with the  words 'Lenin founded our state and we have fucked it up ' he retreated to his dacha. For days he did not answer telephone calls. It could well be true that he expected to be arrested and displaced from power. This never happened. Instead of arresting Stalin, his subordinates invited him to take the reins of power.

                The reactions to the outbreak of war encompassed a wide spectrum of emotions. War was not the first thing on peoples minds on the 22 of June.

                Some school students were more worried about exams, some went fishing and others went on a picnic. But it is fair to say many were stunned, shocked and excited by the news. One school student wished that the war had broken out at an earlier day because he had got a two for his final year exams. He said, 'If Hitler had started the war a bit earlier, perhaps the exams would have been cancelled. 'One female professor who felt sorry for all her boys who would be called up at the front that she burst into tears and gave them all excellent marks!

                I went into the First World war Memorial park to interview some people who may have witnessed the war. When I asked one kind old woman Natasha Nikolavitcha 'Do you remember how you felt when the war broke out on the 22 June 1941,' she answered, 'Yes , I do. I was only ten at the time and my family were living in Grozny. My older sister was singing a song when she was interrupted by an announcement on the radio where I heard that Kiev was being bombed. My family told my older sister to be       quiet so we could hear the news. I, with the rest of the children were evacuated to Moscow because everyone was afraid that the Germans would bomb the city because of its oil refineries.'

                Later, as I left the park I came across a small man wearing a modest medal who looked youthful for his age. I asked whether he remembered the outbreak of war and he told me 'Of course, but I was too young to serve at the front. My older brother was old enough to enlist and died in 1945 while liberating Poland. He was only 20. The village I grew up in came under German occupation. Only three people from one collective in the village came back alive from a figure of around 40. I was sent to study at a military academy where I grew up to become a general. I wanted to replace my lost brother! ' Sergi declined to give me his surname but showed me his passport with his uniform confirming he was a general.

                He had served in many countries around the world 'liberating people from British Imperialism'. He seemed to regret not being old enough to fight in the war.

                The outbreak of war was often met with disbelief. The late Comedian and actor Yuri Nikulin wrote  in his memoirs 'Seven Long Days ' that on June 22 'morning came,we calmly ate breakfast. It was Sunday so we took a three litre container and went to the Borano Station to get beer. A resident asked us 'is it true what they say, that war has broken out? ''It is the first time we have heard of this.' We calmly answered, 'There is no such war, you can see that we are going to get beer. What war is happening here,' we told   him and smiled. We walked on a little and again we were stopped. 'Is it certain that war has begun?' 'From where did you get this information? we said anxiously.

                'What is this, everyone is speaking about war and we are calmly going to get beer? At the station we saw people with worried faces standing about some electricity pylon and loudly speaking. They were listening to a speech by Molotov. Just as we arrived, the war began...

                'Later we returned and noticed Sergeant Krapivin smoking calmly and asking 'Where is the beer?'

                'What beer? War has begun!'

                'How?' asked Krapivin turning to take up the phone.

                 'Yes, in our home nobody knew anything about the war, neither soldiers nor civilians. We brought the news'.


                  Russia was vastly unprepared for this invasion! Stalin had not helped the situation by purging the Red Army of many of its best officers and thrusting them into prison. He had created such an atmosphere of fear that many officers were too scared to take the initiative. They spent much of the war waiting for orders. Stalin even ordered his soldiers not to retaliate against the invading German troops. He thought it might still be possible to sign a peace agreement with the Germans similar to the Brest Litovsk treaty of 1918.

                  Many of the soldiers were so poorly trained. They felt daunted by the thought of taking up positions. A famous novel by Boris Vasilev called 'All is Quiet on the Zori ' sums up the situation. The novel tells how a patrol of young female soldiers are sent on a reconnaissance mission to observe what German paratroopers are all up to. None of the young girls know much about drills, never mind how to use their weapons well. They just have to do training for war on the job with disastrous results. One soldier forgets how to walk over swamps with special wooden poles and drowns.

                   The rest are all shot dead by Germans leaving their lone sergeant to finish off the Germans. Many of those soldiers were ex-students unprepared or just not made for war. They were like many of the students enlisted and sent to die in the Battle of Moscow. They had inadequate and almost absent military preparation.

                   Kirill Berends was a student at the Aviation institute who was sitting an exam in higher mathematics when he heard the news of the outbreak of war. He enlisted in the artillery and later fought in the Battle of the Kursk.

                   After only a five month course he was given command of 15 men. 'I immediately felt my training as a commander was incomplete. ...We were children who did not understand anything.'

                   Kirill Berends is still a man with a mission. He has opened a museum to preserve the memory of the Great Patriotic war so that people don't forget their experience. This is important because not everyone wants to hear about the war. According to Rodric Braithwaite, who wrote a book on the Battle of Moscow, called 'Moscow 1941', discovered that school 110 which used to commemorate the deaths of one hundred pupils with an annual         ceremony, no longer holds such events. The teachers claimed the pupils got tired of hearing about the feats of their elders. The special sculpture to commemorate those who died had to be moved to a safer place to protect it from vandals. So it is not only extreme Ukrainian fascists and nationalists who disrespect and desecrate war memorials. Some young people don't understand or comprehend why they need to remember or pay homage to those who fell in 'The Great Patriotic war'.

                   The veteran Kirill Berends opened a museum to remind and re-educate the youth as to why the war must not be forgotten. He states, 'War - this is where people go to kill each other. I give myself this definition of war.

                   And my task is to tell about war so that it never happens again'.

                   Unfortunately, people have brief memories and at times, too much insensibility. As this article goes to press, a brutally senseless war is being waged partly because Russians dread a real revived threat of fascism. It is as if 1941 did not end in 1941! A war is being waged in Ukraine on the very same territory which the Germans advanced through. Scores of innocent civilians and journalists have already been killed  by indiscriminate sniper fire or mortars. As in 1941 thousands are fleeing the zone of conflict. If only people listened to Kirill Berends. Very few people learn the lessons of history. If you want to honour the dead, stop killing the living!

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