TWENTY - EIGHT PANFILOV HEROES
By Stephen Wilson
Moscow, Russia -- A new film has hit the Russian cinema based on the wartime legend of twenty eight heroes who died defending Moscow from a relentless and
remorseless German offensive aimed at capturing the city in
November 1941. The film comes just at a time when historians are passionately and angrily arguing over to what extent the legend was invented. It is as if the film was made to staunchly preserve the legend..
One of the film directors behind the film, Andrei Shalop claims the film represents : " Real Cinema about real heroes of our great nation.... From Childhood, like the majority of my contemporaries, I have loved war films. As a Russian, I think this is a fully worthy genre.The Great Patriotic War - this is the most significant event in our history. The most important point is we won.It seems to me that most film directors want to make such films about war.. In my family, two of my grandfathers and a grandmother fought in this war."
Before I set out to watch this film I was expecting another crass and crude patriotic war film with cliched dialogue , a lot of gory blood and
a film overwhelmed by special effects that it sounded like a computer
game. This was not the case ! In fact , the film uses real Panzer tanks,
dug out trenches and weaponry. The soldiers are not reminiscent of
marvel super heroes or gloriously dying with shrill last words. Instead,
the soldiers wait , smoke and and tell anecdotes tensely, as the Germans
thunderously bombard their positions. The bombardment scenes quickly
dispel romantic notions of war.
However, the dialogue is laced with patriotic lines often attributed to the heroes. For example we hear : " Not only the whole of Moscow is watching us with bated breath but the whole World because right here we have to defend Moscow." and of course the immortal last words of the commissar :" Russia is vast ! But there is no where to retreat !
For Moscow is behind us".
The soundtrack of the film reminded me of 'The Magnificent Seven' and thoughts of the Seven Samurai and the Brave 300 Spartans crossed my
mind. As a wartime genre the film passes as better than average. Or to put it another way , far worse war films have been made in recent years.
If you want a stirring fast moving action and entertainment, it is good.
But if you want facts , find a decent history book !
THE REAL TRUTH
Fresh Controversy about the legend was provoked by a decision of the head of Russian state archives to publish a 1948 state investigation into what actually happened near Dubosekovo where the 316th Rifle Division fought off invading German tanks . The publically reported version claims 28 soldiers , including Panfilov, heroically died defending the gateway to Moscow thus preventing the Germans breaking through to the city. The soldiers accomplished the feat of destroying 18 German tanks. At the
end of November, a journalist called Krivitski , in an article titled 'The Testimony of the Twenty Eight fallen Heroes , 'for Red Star, claimed that 28 men under Vasili Klochkov , in an anti-tank platoon from the 1075th regiment, repelled fifty German tanks.All the 28 soldiers died ! The paper claimed that Klochkov's last words were : " Russia is vast ! But there is no where to retreat ! For Moscow is behind us !'. Six months after this article the heroes were posthumously made heroes of the Soviet Union'.
There was one snag. The official 1948 investigation found that not all the 28 soldiers had died. In fact, six soldiers survived ! One soldier who was severely wounded later died in hospital. Two soldiers ended up as German prisoners of war while another two managed to escape captivity. Another
soldier returned to his native Ukraine where he worked for the local police and was later arrested for 'collaboration'. The latter case refers to Ivan Dobrobabin who after the battle was captured, then escaped and returned to his village to work as a local policeman . In 1943 he was arrested bythe Red Army , only to be freed by a later German counter offensive. He was finally arrested in 1947 for collaboration with the Germans. During his interrogation Dobrobabin offered his version about what happened during battle. He claimed that it was he himself who led the 28 heroes and not Klochkov.
This represents the most damning revelation which ,if accepted, punctures the grossly inflated legend.
In another case, one of the survivors, Ivan Shadrin , following the battle, was captured by the Germans .At the end of the war he led an uprising of prisoners against the Germans. When he returned back home to his local village he discovered that his wife , presuming him dead , had taken a new husband.
The current Minister of Culture ,Medinsky 'a historian', was enraged by the publication of those relevations. Medinsky fumed : "It is a sacred legend which is simply impossible to besmirch. Only scumbags try to do this".
Sergei Mironenko , the director of State Archives was promptly fired. The facts suggest that far less than 18 German tanks were destroyed and more men than 28 were involved in the defence.
WHAT IS HEROISM?
However, do those facts completely undermine the heroic feat of those 28 soldiers? Nobody doubts that there were thousands of brave heroes who died fighting the Germans. In fact, 28 fallen heroes is rather a grossunderestimate ! The Historical Journal Rodina, once wrote an article titled' 7000 Heroic Panfilovs ' . (See Rodina, September 2015 number 9)
Why do some people presume that just because some of the 28 did not die they were any less heroic ? Is it not a case that some people have myopic, misleading and childish notions of who can be regarded as a hero? Being taken as a prisoner of war does not mean the soldier ceases to be a hero.
For example, Ivan Shadrin organised an uprising against the German guards in his concentration camp. Heroism can't be simply reduced to martyrdom or self-sacrifice. It can assume many diverse forms. An every day heroine might be a single mother who carries on struggling to survive against persistent poverty and yet manages to retain her dignity against constant humiliation. One of the sad legacies of the Great Patriotic War was that a lot of heroism went unacknowledged and unrewarded. We should not be self-righteous about who qualifies as a hero and who does not. In fact, a person can begin the war as a coward and then become a hero ! Only a
society which thrives on an anti-philosophical culture meanly and dogmatically defines heroes . There are inexhaustible ways of being heroic!
There were far more than 28 Panfilov heroes!