Russia marks Day of Remembrance and Sorrow on 22 June. The Great Patriotic War began exactly 80 years ago. People who survived the first day of the war cannot speak about it calmly.
You might recall the lines from Konstantin Simonov’s poem:
“The very same midsummer day
With sunshine and blue skies
Brought us four long years of dismay
And woes, and demise.”
Poet Alexei Surkov, the author of the famous song ‘In the Dugout,’ described the state of the country thus:
“For more than a year the war tortured us, Soviet people, with iron and blood, the pain of losses and the humiliation of retreats...”
Just a handful of the fighters who clashed with the experienced enemy back then have survived to see the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War. One can judge what the country had to go through by the stories of WWII veterans, their relatives and children of the war, as they are called today. Unfortunately, their numbers decrease with each passing year. They suffered great losses because of the war, but for some reason, this topic is persistently avoided by Russian “servants of the people” when it comes to giving benefits to everyone affected by the war. Their real-life stories, which I had a chance to hear, are a tribute to the memory the current generation needs in order to understand the scale of the nation's losses for the sake of the very Victory, whose fruits we enjoy today. Read these stories.
Orphan from Kazan
Georgy SADOVNIKOV, a writer, whose story ‘Going to People’ made the basis for the popular Big School-Break TV series:
“Actually, I am indeed an orphan from Kazan, who lost his parents in the war. I remember the first day of the war very clearly. My father, a battery commander, took me to the camp of his artillery regiment. I saw young commanders visiting him at that time. The word “commander” was used instead “officer” because the latter was considered an insult. They were talking about the war, of course. They expected it to be over very fast and did not want to idle their time away and miss the taking of Berlin. They said that their regiment was unlucky to wait for the order while others were fighting and that the war would have ended by the time they got these orders. I can imagine today the harsh truth of the long war those guys had to face later on and the shock they experienced. I remember discussing this episode as the plot of the story with my colleague Grigory Baklanov, a writer who had fought in the war. That generation assumed that they would mostly fight in a foreign land. There was even a motto: “Do not give a single inch of our land to the enemy,” but the reality turned out to be quite different.
The future writer Sadovnikov led a life of hardships during the war. His mother died in 1943. The boy was fostered out, until his father, coming on a short leave, enrolled him in the Suvorov Military School. Sadovnikov never saw his father again. After graduating from the school, he joined the Odessa Infantry School, but the war had ended by that time.
“Troops were put on alert as early as June 21”
Prof. Vladimir ZAKHAROV who holds a doctoral degree in Physical and Mathematical Sciences is a son of Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the USSR, twice Hero of the Soviet Union Matvey Zakharov.
Two days before the attack of Hitler's Germany on the Soviet Union, his father set up the Odessa Military District headquarters. This move enabled Major-General Zakharov to put the troops on red alert in advance and successfully resist Germany army units in the first days of the war inflicting heavy damage on them.
“He described the first ten days of the war in his book ‘General Staff in Prewar years,’ published 18 years after his death,” said Vladimir Zakharov. “He mentioned how he had alerted the troops and what instructions he gave as early as June 21.
On those days, the Odessa District was to conduct a scheduled command and staff exercise. Based on intelligence data, my father concluded that the enemy invasion would be preceded by a strike at the airfields. So, he convinced the district commander Yakov Cherevichenko to cancel the exercise, and reported it to Chief of the General Staff Zhukov. On June 20, my father went to Tiraspol where a command center had been set up. He decided to withdraw all troops from the barracks and move them closer to the border. The aircraft were redeployed to alternative airfields. My father even had to draw up a written order for the urgent relocation of the planes.
Overnight to June 22, Moscow ordered him not to make hasty moves. However, my father did not countermand his order. Air Marshal Ivan Pstygo mentioned in his memoirs that my father had risked his neck, but if he had obeyed the order from Moscow, he would have risked the fate of the soldiers of the military district he had been entrusted with.
In the morning of June 22, 1941, the German bombs were dropped on empty places. Did my father risk disobeying Stalin's order? Yes, he did, but the winner is always right.
"This will always be with me..."
Vasily LANOVOI, an actor of stage and screen, People's Artist of the USSR
On June 20, 1941,Vasily, 7 and his two sisters got on a train in Moscow to travel to their grandmother who lived in the Ukrainian village of Strimba, 180 km from Odessa. His parents Semyon and Agafia had to join them in a couple of weeks. The boy faced the horrors of war as he got off the train on June 22. Overhead, planes with bar crosses on their wings were flying to bomb Odessa.
“Never in my life had I seen so many steel birds in the sky. It was a terrible sight,” Lanovoy said.
My parents did not come to the village in two weeks as they had planned, nor in a year or three. There was no way to find out what happened to the children in that terrible time. So people constantly expected the worst. And it happened to my parents. Working at a chemical plant on the second day of the war, they poured out by hand a caustic and toxic liquid for anti-tank grenades. The equipment for their automatic filling was expected to be launched any day.
A few days later none of them was able to turn up for work. The chemicals caused complete paralysis of the nervous system in their arms and legs. So, Lanovoy’s parents became disabled overnight. His mother was assessed with first degree disability and his father with second degree.
Recalling those days, Lanovoy even brushed away a tear. Memories of those times are too painful.
"I read absolutely monumental conclusions about military conflicts in Karamzin's ‘History of the Russian State’. One stuck in my memory for the rest of my life: "Children of war grow up faster. They learn the difference between good and evil faster. That was my generation, the war generation, which saw unprecedented suffering and anguish …and absolutely amazing things that are impossible to see in ordinary life. I have never seen anywhere else such strong friendship as in the war, such brotherhood and such care for each other. I did not realize it immediately. That is why half of my eighty films are war films. These emotions and feelings will always be with me.”
"God forbid we should go through this again..."
Anatoly Tikhonov, a popular Russian balalaika player, soloist of the N.P.Osipov National Academic Folk Instruments Orchestra of Russia, People's Artist of Russia.
Seeing a German plane was the most striking and terrifying experience for the 9-year-old boy. It was in the countryside, where he was staying at his grandparents’ for his summer school vacations.
“We were gathering potatoes in the field helping the collective farm,” he said. “I got carried away and did not notice that I had gone far away from the others. Suddenly, I heard a rumble in the sky. I looked up to see a low-flying airplane. I could clearly see the crosses on its body, and even the face of the helmeted pilot. I had the impression that the pilot was obviously looking for some target on the ground. It seemed to me at the time that I even caught his sharp look. I also remember that I felt completely insecure. I was so scared that I flattened myself against the ground. Running away was clearly useless. The fear disappeared together with the rumble of the plane flying away. I thought that the pilot could have easily pulled the trigger to reduce me to powder.
“I can't forget my dreaded state during enemy air raids against the city: the terrible wailing of sirens, the frantic dance of the searchlight beams in the sky, the rumble of anti-aircraft guns and the crumbling walls of houses. God forbid we should go through this again... During the interrogation Vice-Admiral Hans-Erich Voss, a witness of Hitler's last days, recalled what Hitler had told him then: "If I could have foreseen what was going to happen, I would never have attacked the USSR!"
Moreover, he acknowledged Stalin's talent: “I never thought that over the short time that the Bolsheviks were in power, they would be able to reeducate the people to that extent.”
He should not have invaded our territory!