The Road to Victory – My Grand-Uncle’s Path from Moscow to Berlin

Exactly 74 years ago, on the 22nd of June 1941 at 4:00 in the morning, Nazi Germany attacked Soviet Union.

This article is a living tribute to my grand-uncle, who fought that war from the very first days and until the victorious end. Moreover, it’s a tribute to all 21 million Soviet citizens, who perished in that war, and tens of millions more, who suffered hardships and losses to bring the Victory. It is therefore, when the Western “leaders” refused to attend the Victory parade in Moscow on the 9th of May 2015, they effectively did a dance of glee on the bones of those 21 million perished people, and were perceived by all Russians (and here I use “Russian” in a broad sense, encompassing all 200+ nationalities that live in the Russian Federation, all the normal people of the former USSR, and all the foreigners, who sympathise with Russia) as modern-time Western heirs to Nazism. I previously translated an article, written by the President of the RF, V.V.Putin, describing his family’s struggle in the blockaded Leningrad. In this article here, I will touch upon my own family’s history.

This year the Russian Ministry of Defence launched a new web-site, consolidating, digitalising and geo-tagging all the newly-declassified information about those Soviet citizens, who fought (and died) in WWII, in the Great Patriotic War. The site is aptly called People’s Memory. A good English language article about it can be found at Russia Beyond the Headlines:

The new People’s Memory website, launched by the Russian Defence Ministry, is the largest of its kind in the world. The site, dedicated to those who served on the Eastern Front in World War II, allows users to locate the resting places of soldiers whose burial sites have remained unknown to their relatives until now, as well as acquire knowledge about their military careers.

Knowing my grand-uncle’s name, family name and patronymic, as well as his year of birth, I managed to locate him, and what I learnt, confirmed those disjointed memories I had of him from my childhood. I vaguely remember his face, and more his blazer, covered in orders and medals. He used to visit us in Moscow between 23rd of February and the 10th of May, celebrating Victory Day and meeting with the ever-thinning numbers of his brothers-in-arms. From the stories, re-told by my mother, I knew that he fought in the War as part of a tank division. That he was at one point surrounded, cut off from the main force for several months. That for some time he was presumed dead, until their company managed to reunite with the main force. That at another point he received a heavy concussion, but returned into the ranks. And that he finished the War in Berlin. But not much more. People’s Memory allowed me to go deeper and see his path and the deeds that lead to the awards.

There is memorial public initiative in Russia, The Immortal Legion, where people add photos and what information they remember of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers, lest it is forgotten. I have enlisted Grand-Uncle Georji into the legion, publishing what I found here at the authentic Immortal Legion’s official site.

Moiseev Georgij Mihajlovich, born in 1920 in Altai Krai in Siberia. At the age of 18, he was conscripted to the regular service as a tank mechanic. The regular service lasted at that time for 2 years, and in 1941 he would have been demobilised. But so came the War.

My grand-uncle’s given name – Georgij – is in itself fateful. It is connotative of Victory and courage. It is found in Saint George the Victorious (rus.: Georgji Pobedonosec), and in the St.George Ribbon (rus: Georgievskaja lentochka). The latter is the symbol of courage and self-sacrifice, established by Catherine the Great, and carrying the colours of the Russian coat of arms.

georg

According to the People’s Memory, his first battle happened on the 8th of November 1941 in the Orlov-Brjansk operation as part of the 1st Guard’s Tank Brigade. After that he participated in the Battle of Moscow, Battle of Kursk, Proskurovsk-Chernovick operation and liberation of Ukraine, Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive, Vistula–Oder Offensive, and the Battle of Berlin. Judging from the early history, leading to the formation of the 1st Guard’s Tank Brigade, my grand-uncle may have been one of the survivors of either the 15th or the 20th tank divisions, which largely perished during the first months of war and operated as infantry divisions.

The map can be seen below, as geo-tagged by People’s Memory project. The map is showing the path and the points where medals were awarded.
map_updated
Grand-uncle Georgij was awarded 3 Orders of the Red Star and 2 Orders of the Great Patriotic War II Class. People’s Memory allows one to view scans of the documents pertaining the awards, and the section detailing the act of heroism especially bring that time back to life. Read on for details about each award.

Орден Красной ЗвездыThe first Order of Red Star was awarded on the 1st of May 1943. The details about this order are not present in the People’s Memory database (yet?), but the information about it can be gleaned from the subsequent orders, as all preceding awards are always listed.

Орден Красной ЗвездыThe second Order of Red Star was awarded on the 22nd of July 1943. Here are the award list carrying grand-uncle Georgij’s name and the personal award sheet, pertaining to it:

Строка в наградном списке

Наградной лист

The section detailing personal battle merit, says:

Comrade Moiseev is a devoted son of the Party of Lenin-Stalin and of the Socialist Motherland. While participating in battles against the German usurpers he displayed bravery and courage. From the 6th until the 10th of July 1943, in the area of villages Jakovlevo and Dubrova, the brigade, where comrade Moiseev is a technical assistant, was conducting an unequal battle with quantitatively superior numbers of the enemy’s tanks. Despite the difficult conditions of the battle, comrade Moiseev took all possible measures to evacuate disabled tanks from the battlefield on to perform timely repairs. During the course of the battle, comrade Moiseev, disregarding any danger, evacuated 7 disabled tanks that were located at the front edge of the defence.
For the dispayed courage, bravery and self-sacrificing work, he is worthy of the Government award of the “Red Star” order.

Commander of the 2nd tank battalion,
Guard Major Vovchenko

Орден Отечественной войны II степениNext he was awarded the Order of the Great Patriotic War II Class. It happened on the 4th of October 1944, and was awarded for the battles near Poryck (today: Pavlovka in Western Ukraine). Here are the first page of the order, the award list carrying grand-uncle Georgij’s name, and the personal award sheet, pertaining to it:

Первая страница приказа или указа

Строка в наградном списке

Наградной лист

The section detailing personal battle merit, says:

Guard Petty Officer Moiseev, during the battalion’s battles in the period from the 14th until the 30th of July 1944 provided the battalion with spare parts for reconstruction and repairs of the damaged tanks, by dismantling them from disabled or burnt tanks on the battlefield. Timely delivery of spare parts ensured quick repair of the tanks and their return into service.

On the 17th of July 1944 in the northern part of town Poryck, 2 of our tanks were stuck in a marsh. One of the tank’s tracks were damaged by enemy fire. Comrade Moiseev, executing the order to retrieve those tanks and to repair the damaged one, crept to the tanks under enemy fire. After 2 hours, Moiseev – while using a manual winch – pulled those tanks out and repaired them. The tanks took part in the capture of the German stronghold, the town of Poryck.

On the 22nd of July 1944, during the crossing of river San, the enemy fire destroyed side blinders and a starter of one of our tanks, and the mechanic was wounded. Comrade Moiseev, taking a starter with him, managed to reach the machine and installed the starter under enemy fire. Then taking controls of the tank, he steered it from under enemy fire for further repairs.

For the excellent execution of the commander’s orders at the front of the fight against the German usurpers, and for display of courage and bravery, Guard Petty Officer Moiseev is worthy of the Government award – Order of the Great Patriotic War II degree.

Commander of the 2nd tank battalion,
Guards Captain Bochkovskij.

Орден Красной ЗвездыThe third Order of Red Star was awarded on the 15th of May 1945 for the Battle of Berlin. Here are the first page of the order, the award list carrying grand-uncle Georgij’s name, and the personal award sheet, pertaining to it:

Первая страница приказа или указа

Строка в наградном списке

Наградной лист

The section detailing personal battle merit, says:

Guard Lieutenant Engineer Moiseev has during a number of battles of 1945 provided the battalion with armour inventory, thus facilitating timely repairs of the disabled tanks and wheel-going vehicles.

Only during the latest assault battles from the 16th of April 1945, Guard Lieutenant Engineer Moiseev, provided repairs to 12 tanks of the battalion, ensuring their participation in the battles leading to the break-though of the fortifications and the approaches to Berlin and in the battles for the city.

Guard Lieutenant Engineer Moiseev, displaying initiative and personal courage and bravery, dismounted spare parts from the tanks on the battlefield, ensuring early rapiers the tanks.

On the 28th of April 1945, Guard Lieutenant Engineer Moiseev evacuated from the battlefield 2 disabled tanks and conducted early repairs.

For the timely provisioning of the battalion with spare parts during battles and for successful execution of the battle objectives encompassing evacuation of the tanks from the battlefield, Guard Lieutenant Engineer Moiseev is worthy of the Government award Order of the Red Star

Commander of the 2nd tank battalion,
Guard Captain Nechtajlo

Орден Отечественной войны II степениFrom the decorations on his photo, taken in 1999, I can see that he was awarded with another Order of the Great Patriotic War II Class. This event must have taken place on the final days of the War, after the Order of Red Star award above. The documents pertaining this last award are not (yet?) published…

Grand-uncle Georgij not only returned from the War, but lived a long and worthy life. But the shadow of War was always over him – my mother told me about him saying how he often had nightmares from those gruesome 4 years… He died in 2000.

And as post-scriptum, his sister – my grandmother, Elizaveta – also lived all her life, touched by the War. She was a civilian, working long 16 hour shifts, having little to eat. And ironically, the worst curse came from what was supposed to be help. The American Lend-Lease – a “help” that USSR paid through its nose for – brought a lot of dated food rations, which US Army could no longer use. These rations were distributed among civilians, and one such box of Spam ended up with my grandmother, giving her a severe poisoning. Her liver was damaged for life, and she lived since then on strict diets, being limited to what she could and could not eat…

“Life is such a simple, yet cruel thing”

This recollection of the war was written by the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and published in Russian Pioneer on the 30th of April 2015. Soviet Union lost 27 million people in that War, and almost every single family has a recollection of losses and hardships connected with it. And the family of the President of RF is no exception. Read on my unofficial translation from Russian below…


Frankly, father did not like even to touch the subject. Rather, it was like this: when adults were talking to each other and remembering something, I was just around. All the information about the war, about what happened with my family, came to me from those conversations between the adults. But sometimes they addressed me directly.

Father served in Sevastopol, in the detachment of submarines – he was a sailor. He was drafted in 1939. And then, after returning from service, he just worked at a factory, and they lived with my mother in Peterhof. I think they even built some house there.

He was working at a military enterprise when the war started, giving the so-called “reservation” that exempts one from conscription. But he wrote an application to join the party, and then another application – that he wants to go to the front. He was dispatched to the subversive detachment of the NKVD. It was a small detachment. He said that there were 28 people in it, and they were deployed into the near rear for carrying out acts of sabotage. The undermining of bridges, railway tracks… But they were almost immediately ambushed. Someone betrayed them. They came to a village, and then went out, and when after a while they returned, the Nazis were already waiting for them there. They were chased through the woods, and he survived, because he climbed into a swamp, and spent a few hours in that swamp, breathing through a reed. This I remember already from his own story. And he said that, while sitting in the swamp and breathing through the reed, he heard how the German soldiers were passing nearby, just a few steps away from him, how the dogs were yapping…

In addition, it was probably the beginning of autumn, in other words – already cold… I also remember well how he told me that the head of their group was a German. A Soviet citizen. But a German.

And here’s what’s curious: a couple of years ago, the archives of the Defence Ministry handed me the case of this group. There is a copy of the case in my home, in Novo-Ogaryovo. A list of the group, names, patronymics and brief descriptions. Yes, 28 people. And at the head – a German. Everything as it was told by my father.

Of the 28 people, only 4 crossed the front line back to ours. 24 were killed.

And then they were re-assigned into the active army, and sent on to the Nevsky Pyatachok. It was probably the hottest place during the whole of the Leningrad Blockade. Our troops held a small bridgehead. Four kilometres in width and some two kilometres in depth. It was supposed to be a springboard for the future breaking of the blockade. But it never got used for this purpose. They broke through the blockade elsewhere. Still the spot (Nevsky Pyatachok) was held, held for a long time, there was heavy fighting there. Very heavy. There are commanding heights above and all around it, it’s shot at throughout. The Germans were, of course, also aware that it’s there that a breakthrough may be attempted, and tried to simply erase the Nevsky Pyatachokto from the face of the earth. There is data about how much metal there is in each square meter of the land. There’s still metal all over the place there.

And the father told how he was wounded there. The wound was heavy. All his life he lived with shrapnel in his leg: not all fragments could be taken out. The leg ached. Foot didn’t bend since then. The medics preferred not to touch the small fragments so as not to shatter the bone. And, thank God, the leg was saved. They could, after all, amputate it. He got a good doctor. He had the second group disablement. As a disabled veteran, he was eventually given an apartment. It was our first separate apartment. A small two-room apartment. (Translators remark: Before that the Putins lived in a communal apartment, where several families share the facilities, corridor and kitchen, and sleep in separate rooms.) However, before that we lived in the centre and now we had to move. True, not quite to the outskirts, but to a new-built area. And it happened, of course, not immediately after the war, but when I already worked in the KGB. I was not given an apartment then, but my father finally got his. It was a great happiness. And here’s how he was wounded. He, together with a comrade, did a little sortie into the rear of the Germans, crawling, crawling… And then it becomes both funny and sad at the same time: they got to a German bunker, and, father said, out of it comes a man, a huge guy, and looks at them… and they could not get up because they were under the machine gun sight. “The man – he says – looked at us very carefully, then he took out a grenade, then another, and threw those grenades at us. Well… ” Life is such a simple, yet cruel thing.

What was the biggest problem when he woke up? The fact that it was already winter, Neva was icebound, and he had to somehow get to the other shore, to the skilled medical care. But he, of course, could not walk.

True, he still managed to get to ours on this side of the river. But there were few wanting to drag him to the other side, because Neva was in full view there and exposed to fire both from artillery and machine guns. Chances to reach the opposite bank were almost non-existent. But, by chance, his neighbour from Peterhof was nearby. And that neighbour pulled him over without hesitation. And managed to drag him to the hospital. Both crawled there alive. The neighbour waited for him at the hospital, made sure that he was operated, and said, “All right, now you’re going to live, and I am off to die.”

And he went back. I later asked my father: “Well, did he die?” And he returned several times to this story. It tormented him too very much. They lost contact, and father believed that his neighbour was killed. And somewhere in the 60s, I don’t remember the exact year, I was still very young then, but somewhere in the early 60’s, he suddenly came home, sat down and wept. He met his saviour. In a shop. In Leningrad. Accidentally. He went to the store for food and saw him. It is some coincidence that the two went at the same moment to the same store. One chance in a million… They later came to our home, met each other… And my mother told me how she visited father at the hospital where he lay after he was wounded. They had a small child, he was three years old. At this time there was blockade, hunger… My father gave her his hospital ration. Secretly from doctors and nurses. And she hid it, took it home and fed the child. And then he began to faint from hunger in the hospital, so doctors and nurses understood what was happening, and didn’t allow her to visit any more.

And then the child was taken away from her. It was done, as she later repeated, in a compulsory fashion in order to save small children from starvation. They were collected to the orphanages for further evacuation. Parents were not even asked.

He fell ill there – my mother said that it was with diphtheria – and didn’t survive. And they were not even told where he was buried. They have never learnt where. And then, last year, completely unfamiliar to me people worked on their own initiative through the archives and found documents about my brother. And that’s really my brother. Because I knew that they lived then, after fleeing from Peterhof from the advancing German troops, at their friends’ place – and I even knew the address. They lived, as we call it, on the Water Channel (Vodnyj Kanal). It would be better to call it a “Bypass channel” (Obvodnyj Kanal), but in Leningrad it’s called “Water Channel”. I know for sure that they had lived there. And not only the address, where he was taken from, coincided. Name, surname, patronymic, date of birth coincided as well. It was, of course, my brother. And there was stated the place of burial: Piskaryovskoye Cemetery. And even the specific area was given.

Parents were told nothing of this. Well, apparently, other things had higher priority back then.

So, everything that my parents told about the war, was true. Not a single word was invented. Not a single day was moved. And about my brother. And about the neighbour. And about the German, the commander of the group. Everything matches. And all this got later confirmed in an incredible way. And after the child was taken away, and mother was left alone, and my father was allowed to walk, he stood up on crutches and went home. And when he came to the house, he saw that the medics were carrying corpses out of the entrance. And he saw my mother. He came up, and it seemed to him that she was breathing. He told the medics: “She’s still alive!” – “She’ll pass away along the way – said the nurses. – She’ll not survive now.” He told that he pounced on them with crutches and forced them to lift her back into the apartment. They told him: “Well, we’ll do as you say, but know that we will not come here for another two or three or four weeks. You’ll have to sort it out yourself then.” And he nursed her back to life. She survived. And lived until 1999. While he died in late 1998.

After the lifting of the blockade, they moved to the homeland of their parents, in the Tver province, and lived there until the end of the war. Father’s family was quite large. He had, after all, six brothers, and five of them were killed in the war. This is a disaster for the family. And my mother’s relatives also died. And I was a late child. She gave birth to me when she was 41 years old.

And there was, after all, not a family where someone didn’t die. And, of course, grief, misfortune, a tragedy. But they had no hatred for the enemy, that’s what’s amazing. To be honest, I still can not fully understand this. My mother was a very gentle, kind person… And she said, “Well, what kind of hatred can one have toward these soldiers? They are simple people and also died in the war.” It’s amazing. We were brought up on Soviet books, movies… and hated. But she somehow did not have it in her. And I remember very well her words: “Well, what can you have against them? They are also hard workers, just like us. They were simply force-driven to the front.”

These are the words that I remember from the childhood.


Translator’s afterword

What I personally find sad in this story, is that Putin’s parents didn’t live long enough to know that their son became the President of the Russian Federation, and a worthy president at that. Just like his father nursed his mother back to life, so did Putin nurse Russia back to life after the Wild 90s, at a time, when most world leaders treated it like a still breathing corpse, ready to be carried out of the world arena. More about it can be gleaned from the newly-released documentary, “The President”. Lada Ray wrote a good summary and is posting links to the ongoing English translation of the documentary in her blog.

Ungrateful Europe.
What would have happened should we push Hitler back just to our borders

This is a translation from Russian of two historical articles, published in Argumenty i Fakty on the 3rd of April 2015.
The main article was written by Georgij Zotov. A subsequent expert opinion is presented by historian Rudolph Pihoj.


On the eve of the 70th anniversary of Victory “AiF” tried to imagine: what would the map of Europe look like, had USSR not given thousands of kilometres of territories as present to those countries that now call us occupiers. And if they would give up these lands now.

Wroclaw – one of the most touristic cities of Poland. Crowds with cameras are everywhere, there’s not a spare spot in the expensive restaurants, taxi drivers ask for ungodly prices. At the entrance to the marketplace there waves a banner saying “Wroclaw – a real Polish charm!”. All seems fine, but as early as in May 1945 Wroclaw was called Breslau and had not belonged to Poland for 600 consecutive(!) years before that. The Victory Day, now referred by Warsaw as “the beginning of the communist tyranny,” added to Poland the German Silesia, Pomerania, as well as 80% of East Prussia. No one mentions this now: in other words that was a tyranny, but we’d still grab that land. “AiF” observer decided to understand, what would the map of Europe look like now, if our former brothers in the East were left without the help of the “occupiers”?

Whole cities as gifts

– In 1945 Poland received the cities of Breslau, Gdansk, Zielona Gora, Legnica, Szczecin, – says Maciej Wisniewski, a Polish freelance journalist. – USSR also gave the territory of Bialystok; with the mediation of Stalin, we acquired a disputed with Czechoslovakia city Kłodzko. Nevertheless, they believe here: the partitioning of Poland by the Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact, when the Soviet Union took the Western Belarus and Western Ukraine, was unfair, but the transfer by Stalin to Poland of Silesia and Pomerania is absolutely fair, you can not dispute this. It is fashionable to say now that Russians did not liberate, but conquered. However, it turns into an interesting kind of occupation, when Poland got for free a quarter of Germany: and on top of it, hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers shed their blood for this land. Even the GDR resisted, not wanting to give Szczecin to the Poles – the dispute over the city was finally solved only in 1956, under pressure from the USSR.

Apart from the Poles, the Baltic States express a strong indignation by the “occupation”. Well, it’s worth remembering: the current capital – Vilnius – was also presented to Lithuania by the USSR; by the way, the Lithuanian population of Vilnius was then… barely 1%, with Polish being the majority. USSR returned to the Republic the city of Klaipeda – Prussian Memel, owned by Lithuanians in the 1923-1939, and annexed by the Third Reich. Already back in 1991 the Lithuanian leadership condemned the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, but no one returned neither Vilnius to Poland, nor Klaipeda to Germany.

Ukraine, which by the Prime Minister Yatsenyuk’s words, declared itself “a victim of Soviet aggression on a par with German,” is unlikely to give to the Poles its western part with Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil (these cities were included by the “aggressor” into the UkSSR in 1939), Chernivtsi region to Romania (ceded to the UkSSR on August 2, 1940), and Transcarpathia to Hungary or Slovakia – received on June 29, 1945. Romanian politicians do not stop discussions about the validity of the “annexation” of Moldova by the Soviet Union in 1940. Of course, it’s long forgotten that after the war, it was thanks to Soviets that Romanians got back the province of Transylvania, which Hitler took in favour of Hungary. Bulgaria, by the mediation of Stalin himself, kept South Dobrudja (formerly the possession of that very same Romania), something that was confirmed by the treaty of 1947. But now Romanian and Bulgarian newspapers do not say a single word about it.

They don’t say ‘Thank you’

– After 1991, Czech Republic removed the monuments to the Soviet soldiers, and announced that Victory Day marks the replacement of one dictatorship with another, – says Alexander Zeman, a Czech historian. – However, it was thanks to the insistence of the Soviet Union, that Sudetenland was returned to Czechoslovakia, with the cities of Karlovy Vary and Liberec, where 92% of the population were Germans. Recall that at the Munich Conference of 1938 the Western powers supported the annexation of the Sudetenland by Germany – only the Soviet Union protested. At the same time the Poles grabbed from Czechoslovakia the Cieszyn region and did not want to give it back after the war, insisting on a referendum. Under the pressure of the USSR on Poland, supporting the the Czechoslovak position, a treaty was signed – Tesín returned to the Czechs, secured by the agreement of 1958. No one says ‘Thank you’ to the Soviet Union for this help – apparently the Russians are in debt to us with the very fact of their existence.

In general, we gave away all the lands, not forgetting anyone – and for this they now spit in our faces. In addition, few people know about the pogroms, committed by the new government on “the returned areas” – 14 million Germans were expelled from Pomerania and the Sudetenland. While the residents of Königsberg (which became Soviet Kaliningrad) moved to the GDR over the period of 6 years (until 1951), Poland and Czechoslovakia giving 2-3 months, while many Germans were given only 24 hours to get ready, being allowed to take only a suitcase of things, and forced to walk on foot for hundreds of kilometres. “You know, it’s not worth mentioning it, – they timidly point out to me at City Hall of Szczecin. – Such things spoil our good relations with Germany.” Well, yes, we get poked in the face for every little thing, while it’s a sin to offend the Germans.

What interests me personally in this matter is the question of justice. Things have already reached schizophrenia: when a person in Eastern Europe says that the Soviet victory over the Nazis is the liberation, he is regarded as either a fool or a traitor. Guys, let’s be honest. If the consequences of May 9, 1945 are so bad, illegal and terrible, all the other actions of the USSR are similarly no better. How could the solution by those who brought tyranny into your land be good? Therefore Poland should give Silesia, Pomerania and Prussia back to the Germans, Ukraine should return their western part to the Poles, Chernovtsy to Romanians, Transcarpathia to Hungary, Lithuania should abandon Vilnius and Klaipeda, Romania should give up Transylvania, the Czech Republic – the Sudetenland and Tesin, Bulgaria – Dobrogea. And then everything will be completely honest. But what do we have? They slander us for all it’s worth, accuse us of all mortal sins, but at the same time clutch with a stranglehold onto the Stalin’s “gifts”. Sometimes I feel like imagining: I’m curious what would have happen should USSR push Hitler back exactly to its borders and not look further into Europe after that? What would have now been left of the territories of those countries, that today, before the 70th anniversary of the Victory, are calling their liberation by Soviet troops for “occupation”? The answer is, however, extremely simple – bits and pieces.


Europe after 1945
(The map of Europe, showing territories changing hands after 1945. Only the insets are translated, leaving to the reader the country and city names as an easy exercise in political geography. The original image can be found in the AiF article.)

How Europe was partitioned after 1945

Expert opinion by historian Rudolph Pihoj

– There is a half-legendary story that during Churchill’s visit to Moscow in 1944, he and Stalin drew the map of postwar partitioning of Europe during a dinner on plain napkin. Eyewitnesses claimed that the “document” contained a series of numbers, which (in percent) reflected the degree of the future influence of the Soviet Union and the West in different regions: Bulgaria and Romania – 90 to 10, Greece – 10 to 90, Yugoslavia – equally …

That napkin was not preserved, but in principle the issue of changing of the borders in Europe was settled by the “big three” – Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill – during the Tehran and Yalta conferences. USSR adhered to the concept that was developed already back in 1944 by the Deputy People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Ivan Maisky. It implied that the Soviet Union should establish such a configuration of borders, which would ensure the safety of the country for at least 25, and preferably 50 years.

In accordance with the concept developed by Maisky, USSR annexed the former German Memel, which became Lithuanian Klaipeda. The following cities became Soviet: Königsberg (Kaliningrad), Pillai (Baltijsk) and Tilsit (Soviet), which now constitute the Kaliningrad region of Russia. Also, the USSR secured the part of the territory of Finland, that was attached as a result of the “Winter War”. In general, the Soviet policy of those years was characterised by a surprising consistency in addressing regional issues. The only thing that could not be done – seizing the Black Sea straits, although this issue was discussed in Tehran and Yalta. While Port Arthur again, as in the early twentieth century, became an outpost of the country in the Far East, not to mention the southern part of Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands, which Russia lost as a result of the Russian-Japanese war.

WWII Veteran Stanislav Lapin: “I had my own score with Hitler”

The article below is my translation from Russian of an account of one of the participants of the Victory Parade of 1945, as published in “Argumenty i Fakty” on the 6th of March 2015.


As we locate the still-living participants of the Parade, “AIF” will print their memories. The first word to Stanislav Vasilyevich Lapin – a simple but heroic soldier of the 3rd Belorussian Front.

If not for the war

– I am a kid from Moscow. Year of birth: 1923. At 16 I went to the factory. Got the fourth grade (proficiency). Everything would have been fine if it were not for the war… The factory produced military products. Therefore, for my grade I was given a reservation and was to be to sent, along with the machine, to the Urals. When the equipment was loaded onto the platform, I said, I’ll go for a walk. I left and never returned. Simply put, ran to the front. I could not be worse than all the rest! The very next day I got myself right to fight! Took the oath on November 4, 1941 – and strait to the battle of Volokolamsk. I also took part in the Battle of Moscow. I needed it, because in addition to the general, I had a personal score with Hitler. Before the war I had a girl. I called her “my Sonia”. Her and I loved to go for a walk around Moscow on warm evenings. But we were young and… never kissed. Just sat there and sometimes gently pressed against each other. And then came the war.

I went to the front, and my Sonia went to nursing courses. Then, to the front as well. And once, after a battle I was sitting on a halt. I see a supply cart, and on it – my Sonia. As she saw me, she ran up to me and started kissing me as never before. Our soldiers were looking at us in both envy and joy. And suddenly… a shot – my Sonia shuddered and began to sag in my arms. I cried in fright, and the boys rushed into the forest, where the shot came from. And there they saw a German in Russian boots and fur coat. He tried to escape. One of ours caught up with him and stabbed him with a bayonet. Other Germans who were there, did not have time to react – they too were finished off. Such was the hatred of our guys. Only I just sat there and held my Sonia. And still felt the ghost of her kisses.

After the war I met her mother, who ran up to me and started kissing me as my Sonia back then… But I could not find the strength to tell her how it all happened. And she did not know – she kissed and cried that Sonia was killed. So during the Battler for Moscow I had a personal score with Hitler!

And one more thing… looking for water in a deserted village, we found… a well, jammed with children. Around them lay dead mothers. A child was nailed to the house door with a bayonet… How could have we treated Germans after all that we’ve seen?!

The main medal

I was first wounded near Rzhev in February 42nd. There were heavy battles, neither we could take the Germans, nor they us. It lasted for a long time, until ours prevailed.

In 1943 I was in the Orel-Kursk battle. Here again I was wounded, but lightly, so I quickly returned to the front. That’s infantry for you: to fight, heal the wounds and fight again. My first medal is for the Battle of Kursk. I fought in the infantry from 41st until to 43rd and know first-hand what it means to raise into the attack. When the command is issued, you have to get up and go forward under machine-gun fire, explosions and mortar shells. Next to you your comrades fall, but all the same you go ahead. Forward! It’s simple when told, but it is impossible to get used to. Each attack is a shock and an effort. Artillery helped, the Germans fled. And only then, when catching up with them, you feel you have won this battle, and there is an unexplainable feeling of victory!

Advancements usually occurred during the nights, while the Germans were asleep. We came out of the blue. We were killed, we killed, but we won! That’s the infantry for you. In the 43rd I was retrained and for the battles at Orel I became a mortar oprative. Although I was only a sergeant, I was entrusted to command the mortar platoon. We chose a place near some village, and took up a position, adjusted the mortars in advance, placed guards, and went to sleep. Well… By nature I used to get up early. And here I woke up even earlier, at about five o’clock – wanted to wash my head. Nearby there was a crane-well. It was summer. I pulled out some water, poured it into the helmet and only started to wash, when I heard the hum. Looked at the road, and there down the hill… a whole column of German cars! I threw down my helmet and to the mortars. Fired… And hit from the first shot! Straight into the hood of the front car.

It was correct that we adjusted the aim the previous evening, and did not put off until morning. The Germans did not expect us here. Panic. My guys woke up from my shot. And started firing from all mortars – no one was left! Many did not even have time get out of their cars. That’s where I got the first medal “For Courage”.

The third time I was wounded near Vitebsk in 1944 and until autumn… suffered in the hospital, because whatever you say, but it’s easier to wait for the end of the war at the front! There, at least ,something depends on you. Near Vitebsk the soldiers of the 3rd Belorussian Front did not spare themselves. Despite all German shooting, they still went forward, because as sometimes it happens, that there is no other way! Germans did not take it into account, so we drove them out of Vitebsk. That’s the second medal. I also have an Order, but I would not exchange the medal “For Courage” for any Order.

For my two medals “For Courage” I was awarded the right to participate in the first Victory Parade. My place in the parade is different from most other places. My companions and I were sitting in the back of the car ZIS-5. We were warned that, passing Mausoleum, we should not turn our heads. But how could we not turn them when there were Stalin and Zhukov?!

Repentance of Berlin.
After 70 years, the Germans have an unambiguous attitude towards the Soviet victory

Below is my translation of an article by Georgij Zotov, published in “Argumenty i Fakty” on the 6th of March 2015.


– Excuse me, but where is the monument to Soviet soldiers?

– Stay on the road. Walk a little further and you’ll immediately see the gates.

The memorial in Berlin’s Treptow Park is the largest outside the former Soviet Union, and one is immediately struck by its size. Police strolls by, watching order, cleaners gather fallen branches. People come here all the time – and, surprisingly, not only the residents of the former East Germany (GDR), but also quite the Westen Germans. I met a businessman from Hamburg, a 34-year-old Herbert Müller, who made a special trip to the monument – to lay flowers and pay tribute to the Soviet soldiers. A situation that is quite difficult to imagine in today’s Poland, Hungary or the Czech Republic.


Traffic controller Katya Spivak at the crossroads of Berlin. May 1945. Photo: RIA Novosti / Jacob Ryumkin

“The monstrous meat grinder”

– On the 9th of May I always think about the suffering of the German and Soviet soldiers, who were involved in a terrible slaughter, the bloodiest in human history – Herbert tells me. – Do you know what angers me the most right now? Politicians in Western Europe forgot about the Second World War and are aggressively pushing us for a showdown with Russia. They learned nothing from 50 million victims. How would supplies of modern weapons to Ukraine help to maintain truce in this country? We can not change anything in the last war, but we can prevent the next: that’s what we have to think about!

Herbert Mueller never saw his grandfather – he was killed near Moscow in December 1941. The same story, with a few exceptions, will be told by almost every German – grandfathers in the service in the army, the SS, the Gestapo, fighting in the Volkssturm. Some died at the front, some were captured, and some even hanged as war criminals: I got to talk to a woman, whose grandfather served in the Majdanek concentration camp. However, I heard nothing negative with regard to the Victory Day, in contrast to our former friends from Eastern Europe. Of course, for the Germans, the 8-9 May is not a national holiday, but rather an occasion for mourning for the dead relatives. Something that no one has forgotten, is the bombing of Berlin and other cities by the Anglo-American aviation. “40,000 civilians were killed in Hamburg in 1943, two years later in Dresden – 25,000. We can’t even put a memorial to them – the “allies” of Germany will misunderstand – says businessman Volker Heinecke, who in 1942, as a two-year child, was kidnapped by the Nazis from the USSR and placed in an SS child centre “Lebensborn”. – I was five years old, but I remember very well how residential neighbourhoods of Hamburg burned: the bombs fell nearby”.

“How many Russians died?”

At the same time, after having communicated with pupils and students in Berlin, I realized with sadness – the victims from the Soviet Union in World War II have become half-forgotten over the past 25 years. “How many Soviet citizens died? – A group of students at the Brandenburg Gate repeats the question. – Uh-uh … a million? No? Five million? I’m sorry, we have to look it up on the Internet”. Nowadays German schools teach the exact number of Jews and Gypsies put to death by the Nazis, but it is not known to the Germans about the three million Soviet POWs who died in captivity (falling under the definition of the Holocaust in a broad sense) – as well as about a million victims of the siege of Leningrad, and about thousands of burnt villages in USSR.

On the other hand, the guides in Berlin tell school groups about how many people were shot dead by GDR border guards while trying to scale the Berlin Wall, and, pointing at the Soviet flag (next to the checkpoint “Charlie” – the former checkpoint at the entrance to the American sector), explains: “Here began the territory of the Kremlin and ended with the territory of freedom.” Who said that the Cold War is over?

– I want to emphasize – the vast majority of Berliners do not question that the Soviet Union played a significant role in the collapse of National Socialism, – said in an interview to “AIF” Florian Schmidt, press officer of the Mayor of Berlin. – Although occasionally neo-Nazis try to desecrate the monument to the Soviet soldiers in Treptow Park, we are determined to prevent such actions. For us, this monument is the evidence of the end of a terrible war, a sign of liberation from Nazi dictatorship, and the 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazism is an important anniversary for the people of the united Germany. On the 8-9 May they plan in Berlin, at the state level, to hold a series of celebrations, organize exhibitions and public readings of novels about the war.


In the GDR at the monument to Soviet soldiers there were crowds of people. Today – much less. But still they come and bring fresh flowers. Photo: RIA Novosti (left), AIF / Georgy Zotov (right)

“We’re not stupid”

Only once (in 1992) the Senate of Berlin raised the question whether to remove the quotes of Stalin from the monument in Treptow Park. But it was immediately hushed: in Germany they behave differently than our neighbours in Eastern Europe, and understand that such things CAN NOT be touched. In Berlin I talked both with Western and Eastern Germans: so different in character, they often agree on one opinion – the Soviet Union had the right after the defeat of the Third Reich to remain on German soil. “And what were the options then? – A journalist of one of the leading newspapers in Germany asks me in surprise. – The Americans put their bases in the German west, Russians – in the east. Now in Eastern Europe they are trying to remove monuments to Soviet soldiers, but we do not imitate fools. We must keep in mind that for the Russians, the theme of the war is painful still – the Germans killed in the USSR more people than in any other country. Unfortunately, people start to forget about it…”

According to polls, 72% of young people from Eastern Germany were able to name the date of the end of World War II, on the other hand 68% of young from the Western part of the country failed to do so. Only 18% of the population of Germany know how huge were the human losses suffered by Soviet Union. “It is bad that modern Germans are not aware of the terrible fate of 15 million Soviet civilians killed by the Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe and the SS – sighs the businessman from Hamburg Volker Heinecke. – In my opinion, these people deserve a separate memorial complex in the heart of the German capital, in memory of their suffering. But neither the former Soviet government nor the current German thought of it…” However, at least one thing in Berlin remains unchanged. “We believe that Russians did not conquer, but liberate us – said to AiF the guitarist of the popular band “Rammstein”, Paul Landers. – And there is no other opinion about this among my friends.”

Prague Winter.
What is the Czechs’ attitude towards the coming 70th anniversary of the Victory?

Below is my translation of an article by Georgij Zotov, published in “Argumenty i Fakty” on the 27th of February 2015. The title is a play on concepts. “Prague Spring” was a period of political and cultural liberalisation of Czechoslovakia in 1968.


Over the last 25 years they repeatedly tried to rewrite history in the Czech Republic so as to show – Prague was liberated by whoever, but not by the Soviet troops. However, this period is now referred to by some citizens of the country as “madness”.

– When was Prague liberated? We celebrate the Victory Day on 8th of May. I do not know what happened there. It seems that the Americans wanted to help the Czechs, who revolted against the SS. But they were prevented by the Russians. Anyway, that’s what we were taught.

“They kissed hands of the Russians”

18-year-old student Vaclav does not know Russian, and standing on the Old Town Square in Prague, the guy is talking to me in English. He’d be happy to answer the question, but he’s not sure about the correct answer. Over 25 years too much has changed in the views of the end of World War II in the Czech Republic – and not for the better for our side. Although Soviet troops entered Prague on the morning of May 9, 1945, Liberation Day is celebrated here on May 8 – with the motivation: “If the whole of Western Europe celebrates on the eighth, so will we.” And the very fact of the liberation is questioned by the Czech press and politicians.

– Since 1990 we learned a lot of “new” from the articles of Czech newspapers and statements of historians, – says ex-employee of the TV Czechoslovakia Tatiana Ditrihova. – Especially about the uprising in Prague that erupted on May 5, 1945. For example, it was reported that the Russians did not allow the US Army to rescue the residents of Prague. Although it was the Americans themselves, who ignored calls for help, not wanting to get involved in heavy fighting. Other “experts” claimed – Vlasov’s fighters helped rebels more than the Soviet soldiers. Yes, hoping for amnesty, Russian units of the Wehrmacht joined the revolt, but already two days later they left Prague residents to fend for themselves by fleeing to the Americans. There were printed even such views as saying that on May 9 Russians entered the empty city, that armed Czechs liberated the capital on their own. This is nonsense. Prague Radio begged Marshal Konev: “An SS division moved out against Prague, we are being bombarded from the air, they press us out with tanks, we run out of ammo.” On the 8th of May, Nazi commandant of Prague, General Rudolf Toussaint, accepted the surrender of the guerrillas – the Germans crushed the uprising. When the Red Army entered Prague on the next morning, many Czechs were crying from happiness on the streets and kissed the hands of Soviet soldiers.


The joy of the people of Prague. Photo: RIA Novosti

How to uproot memory

The first to burst into Prague was the tank of 25-year-old Lieutenant Ivan Goncharenko. A fight broke out. On Manesov bridge T-34 was hit and Goncharenko died, becoming the first of the Soviet soldiers who died for the liberation of the capital of Czechoslovakia. On July 29, 1945, on ​​Stefanik square there was unveiled a monument to Goncharenko: tank “IS-2” raised on a pedestal. He has long been a symbol of the liberation of Prague, but now the tank is no longer there – coming to Stefanik (now called Kinsky Square), on the site of the monument I see a crudely made fountain. On April 28, 1991 an avant-garde artist David Black mockingly repainted the tank in pink. And so it began … the combat vehicle was deprived of the status of “cultural monument”, dismantled and its pedestal destroyed – they even destroyed the flower bed in the form of a five-pointed star. When I ask the Prague residents about the tank, they feel uncomfortable. “We have nothing to do with it – sighs an elderly passerby on the Kinsky square. – We were not asked, and I am ashamed of hysteria in relation to Russian. Why the monuments in Berlin and Vienna do not trouble anybody? The new authorities explained their actions as follows: like this tank now only represents the Soviet intervention during the Prague Spring.

Of course, the decision by Brezhnev in 1968 to suppress the rally of the Czech people is a “black page” in the history of the USSR; back then 108 citizens of Czechoslovakia were killed. However, in the six years of the Nazi occupation, there were killed 325,000 Czechs, Slovaks, Jews, Roma (90% of them – civilians). Only in 1943, 350,000 people were driven to work in Germany. Only in one day of the American bombing of Prague on the 14th of February 1945, 700 residents were burned alive. I want to ask Czechs what is more important to them – the memory of an idiotic act of Brezhnev, or respect for the people who, by giving their lives, saved millions of others? However, since 2011 they already hold discussions in the Czech press: Should the tank be returned to its place for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Prague? Alas, it doesn’t go further than mere talk.

Before
After
Stefanik Square in Prague before and after.
Photo: Commons.wikimedia.org / ŠJů; AIF / Georgy Zotov

End of insanity

– For me, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Prague, is of course a celebration – said to “AiF” Maria Dolezhalova-Shupikova, one of the few surviving residents of the village of Lidice that in 1942 was obliterated from the face of the earth by SS punishers. – I was sent to be raised in a German family, forbidden to speak Czech, I had almost forgotten my mother tongue. If the Soviet army didn’t come, I would not have returned home and would not have found my mother. Of course there are problems between the Russians and the Czechs, there are differences of opinion. But this is not a reason to forget about the events that took place in Prague seventy years ago.

On May 11, 1945 a war correspondent Boris Polevoy conveyed report from Prague to “Moskovskaya Pravda”: “Near an overturned truck there lay a body of a girl with such a beautiful face, which it seemed that even death could not change. Next to her, with arms spread, a mighty Red Army tanker lay on the ground on his back, killed by a stray bullet that hit him in the forehead just at the moment when he probably wanted to rush to the aid of the girl. They lay here, head to head, surrounded by a silent crowd, as a symbol of the brotherhood of Czechoslovak and Soviet people. Brotherhood designated by a bloody seal.” There is, perhaps, no more brotherhood – it disappeared with the collapse of the USSR and Czechoslovakia. But the memory remains the same: after the “short madness,” as the situation was aptly described by one of Prague citizens, respect for Soviet soldiers is returning. The graves of our soldiers on Olshansky cemetery in Prague are restored at the expense of the authorities, flowers are brought to the gravestones.

On the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the capital of the Czech Republic they plan celebrations, during which they promised to reflect the role of the Red Army in the rescue of the city. Is Prague winter finally over? I hope so. Oh yeah, I forgot. Avant-garde artist David Black, who in 1991 defaced the Soviet tank, did not respond to my request for an interview to the “AiF”. Perhaps he simply had nothing to say…

Blood and Vienna.
Even After 70 Years the Soviet Soldiers Are Respected in Austria

Below is my translation of an article by Georgij Zotov, published in “Argumenty i Fakty” on the 20th of February 2015. The title is a play on words. “Vienna” is written the same as the word “vein” in Russian.

In contrast to our former allies in Eastern Europe, it is well understood in Austria: in 1945 Soviet troops freed their country from the regime of Adolf Hitler.

A very old, completely grey-haired man tells me how to get to the ​​Schwarzenberg square. “You have an interesting accent. Are you Russian?” – “Yes.” He immediately switches over to my mother tongue, pronouncing some words with difficulty. “My name is Helmut Hurst, for two years I was with you as a … war-time-prisoner. Got mobilised to the Volkssturm straight from school in April forty-five, when your troops entered Vienna. No training, got handed a rifle with no bullets – and forward into the fray for the great Fuhrer. I’m not dead only thanks to the Russians, although I was captured with weapons in my hands. Thank you.”

USSR saved us

After the statements of the Republic of Poland and the Baltic states that the anniversary of Victory is not a liberation, but the beginning of a “new occupation”, you come to Austria as if to another planet. A completely different attitude. The press service of the capital gladly told me: for the 70th anniversary of the entry of the Red Army into Vienna, they plan to lay flowers at the monument to Soviet soldiers, conduct a memorial service at the site of the Mauthausen concentration camp, open the Museum of the liberation of Vienna, and even stage theatrical performances.

The Red Army entered the city on April 5th 1945, and already on April 13th the remnants of the Nazi army in the capital of Austria (then part of the Third Reich) surrendered. Soviet troops remained in Vienna for a little more than a decade – they left after the restoration of the sovereignty of Austria as an independent state.

– Austrians seriously differ from Eastern Europe in terms of the perception of the Second World War – explains historian and researcher Gerhard Zauner. – In 1945, Poland and Czechoslovakia met Russians with flowers, rejoicing and shouting “Hurrah!”, the girls hung on their necks of your soldiers. 70 years later the Poles and Czechs pretend that there was no liberation at all, that only “new occupants” came to them. It’s completely different in Austria. Brainwashed by Goebbels’ propaganda, people were waiting: that any moment bearded Cossacks will appear on the streets of Vienna and will devour the Austrian babies. Back then we did not consider ourselves to be victims of Nazism, because Austria welcomed Hitler and fought together with the Germans. However, after 70 years, many of our citizens are grateful to your people.

First, the USSR rescued a small nation from further destruction – hundreds of thousands of Austrians have already been killed and the Western and on the Eastern Fronts. Secondly, Vienna was not subjected to massive air strikes, and this is preserved the historical neighbourhoods. Third, at the demand of the USSR, Austria became a neutral state, and later our guys did not die in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Flowers on the graves

Austrian press has organized an opinion poll: “Do you want to dismantle the monument to Soviet soldiers?”. 91%(!) of Austrian voted against. And while our former friends in Eastern Europe are now publicly announcing May 9, 1945 as the beginning of the “Soviet tyranny”, for millions of people in Austria, this date is the liberation, and not a conquest. Austria finances maintenance of military cemeteries, where Soviet soldiers are buried (in the storming of Vienna 40,000 people were killed), and restoring monuments at their own expense. Driving through the eastern part of the country, I saw with my own eyes how the villagers (and not only the elderly ones) bring flowers to the graves of our soldiers. When I asked them why they do this, they were amazed by the question: “These are our liberators!”

But there is a fly in the ointment. For six consecutive years, on the eve of May 9th, hooligans poured paint on monument to Soviet soldiers on Schwarzenberg square: either black, or (on the last occasion) yellow-blue. The fence behind the monument, as well as containers for projectors are covered by graffiti. Attackers have not been found, although in Vienna City Hall assured me that now the perimeter is covered by video cameras: the crime is unlikely to happen again.


Foto: Aif, Georgij Zotov.

“Enough Christmas trees for all”

– First of all the suspicion falls on neo-Nazis – we have more and more problems with the radicals of the right-wing movements, – thinks the ex-worker of the Communist Party of Austria, Alexander Neumann. – There is a version that vandals are visitors from Poland or Ukraine. Although, of course, Austria is responsible for such incidents. But, you must agree, it’s a couple of cases – not a mass phenomenon. When the memorial on the square Schwarzenberg was spilled with paint last year, dozens of volunteers organized a vigil at the monument, and one of them vowed to “punch the face the Nazis are not respecting Russians.”

Austrian politicians are delicate in their comments on the topic og 70th anniversary of the appearance in Vienna of the Soviet troops. According to the press service of the Parliament, “different views are expressed: most people would say that this was a liberation, a minority – that a military defeat, but no one would call the entry of the Red Army in Vienna for and illegal occupation. In Austrian history school books, the point of view is clear: 1945 is a year of the liberation of Austria, and nothing else.”

“We must admit, all kinds of things happened, – says the former soldier of Volkssturm Helmut Hurst. – Soviet troops stayed with us for 10 years, there were love affairs, Austrians gave birth to children, and then classmates teased the poor kids as “ferfluhter russen” – “cursed Russians”. My neighbour did not like the Russians – a Soviet truck damaged his lawn. Another neighbour scolded bureaucracy: to move from one area of Vienna to another, you had to obtain five commandant seals of the USSR. However, after seventy years, we are grateful to the Russians for getting rid of Hitler. In captivity, I worked in a sawmill. Since then, if someone is talking about a possible war with Russia, I say, “No problem. Russians taught us to fell trees in the POW camps … there are a lot more Christmas trees there – enough for everyone!”

The Hungarian Amnesia

Below is my translation of an article by Georgij Zotov, published in “Argumenty i Fakty” on the 13th of February 2015:

Despite the fact that Hungary joined Hitler and attacked the USSR, the position of the local historians is often the same: in 1945 the country became a “victim of Soviet tyranny.” Is this true? An “AiF” observer is trying to make sense of the situation.

In number 3 of “AiF” we published a report from Poland “The Sorrow of a Warsaw Woman” (English translation here): why Polish politicians and the media ignored the memory of Soviet soldiers who liberated Warsaw. The article caused an unprecedented surge of responses and questions from readers: how do things stand with memory in other European countries? In this regard, commemorating the 70th anniversary of Victory, “AIF” begins a series of reports from European capitals that the Red Army occupied after Warsaw: on February 13, 1945 it liberated Budapest.

Soldier with PCA was removed

– Of course, we are absolutely not like Poles – a freelance journalist Laszlo Kovacs, who in 1981-1986 studied in the USSR, politely starts the conversation. – In Hungary, there is no general negative attitude towards Russia, our Prime Minister is in favour of the construction of the “South Stream” and the cessation of the EU’s anti-Russian sanctions. However, as in the rest of Eastern Europe, our media since 1989, hammered into people’s minds the same thing, that in 1945 the evil Russians came here and brought on tips of their bayonets the communist regime. We tend to forget that in fact it was Hungary that joined Hitler and declared war on the Soviet Union and sent to the Eastern Front hundreds of thousands of soldiers – during the Battle of Stalingrad a whole Hungarian army perished there. We took the land of the neighbours in Romania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia. In just one year the Hungarian police and SS together with the Germans destroyed 450,000 local Jews and 28,000 Gypsies. It’s just awful. The Red Army saved Hungarians from becoming a Nazi monsters.


Before and after: a monument to our soldiers completely anonymised. Photo: RIA Novosti, AIF / Georgy Zotov

And what is the gratitude for the salvation? Stepping carefully on the steep stairs, I climb Mount Gellert: in 1947 there was a monument to 80,000 Soviet soldiers killed in the battle for the capital of Hungary. You can see in my photos what’s left of it – a bronze figure of a soldier with the PCA has been removed, five-pointed star is removed, the names of all 146 who died in the battle for Gellert carefully erased from the marble stella – a monument was simply made impersonal. And not far from another obelisk to the soldiers of the USSR in the center of Budapest (at Freedom Square), there is even a monument to… an ally of Hitler – dictator Miklos Horthy. And even though this initiative is not coming from the government, but from the far-right party “Jobbik”, the closeness is quite disgusting.

– I want to emphasize – the installation of a bronze likeness of Horthy has caused a storm of protest in Budapest!, explains historian Istvan Hegedyush. – Yes, it should be recognized: Hungary acted badly when it comes to the monument on Gellert Hill – in the nineties the politicians were vying to portray themselves as fighters against “communist tyranny.” Hungarians then tempered… signed an agreement with the Government of the Russian Federation on the status of military graves: the graves of the soldiers are looked after, kept clean, fresh flowers are put there. Recently, we have restored the Soviet military cemetery Kerepesi Cemetery and invited relatives of soldiers buried there to visit Hungary without a visa. Hundreds of young people are involved in scouting forces, searching for the remains of the Red Army, so as to bury them with honour. But, of course, the attitude of the Hungarians to the Victory has strongly been influenced by the sense of offence, as a popular uprising in 1956 was drowned in the blood by your army. Then many viewed Russians not as liberators Russian from Nazism, but as occupiers.


Hungary’s capital in ruins. Restoration will be done at the expense of the USSR. Photo: RIA Novosti / I. Ozersky

The revolution, suppressed on Khrushchev’s orders, cost the Hungarian people 2652 killed citizens. The war on Hitler’s side claimed the lives of 300,000 Hungarian soldiers and 600,000 civilians – 10 percent (!) Of the total population. This is not to mention the following: the Soviet Union “shelved” the facts of Hungary’s participation in punitive operations in 1941-1944 in our country. Executions of women, burnt villages, the executions of the partisans, torture of prisoners of war – tens of thousands of victims. Documents are still kept in Russian archives: take only one case among many. On May 28, 1942 Hungarian soldiers shot 350 people in the village of Svetlov in Bryansk region “for helping the partisans”. Peasant woman gave E. Vedeshina gave testimony about it, the punishers killed her four children – 11, 8, 5 and 1 year(!) old. She miraculously survived, lying in a hole under the children’s corpses. Why am I saying this? Seems like we must forgive these kinds of atrocities, but our mistakes in Eastern Europe, no one at all forgets and is still reminding us about at every step.

“There’s nothing to thank for”

It can hardly be disputed, that after the Victory, Stalin established a regime, unpleasant for most Hungarians. However, in 1945 the Soviet Union didn’t treat Hungary as a country-aggressor (which it had the rights to do): reparations were symbolic, unlike Germany, the state was not dismembered, the government of the USSR financed the rise of the capital of Hungary from the ruins in 1950-1960s, rebuilt five bridges across the Danube. Maybe these facts should be remember too along with the “tyranny”? But no. Supporters of the label of “Soviet occupation” are ill with an interesting kind of amnesia: everything that the Soviet Union did wrong, they remember very well, but what was good, is forgotten.

After 70 years, Hungary views its liberation differently than Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic States: the war with the monuments has seized, and the former SS men have no respect. Although the theme of Victory remains difficult for the local community. Hungarian Embassy in Russia, once promising to help with the interview on the topic of February 13, 1945, didn’t find a single person(!) who wanted to comment on this event, and I had to look to the interlocutors. Often we hear such opinions: “It’s enough to reproach Russian for past, but also there’s nothing to thank Russia for”. Fortunately, there are enough people with a sense of gratitude living in Hungary – the descendants of the Jews saved from the concentration camps, veterans from among thousands of Hungarian military who switched to the side of the Red Army in 1945, the participants of the anti-fascist organizations. IT will be them, who will put flowers on the graves of Soviet soldiers on the anniversary of the liberation of Budapest. Only those who wish so themselves are ill with amnesia in Eastern Europe…

The Sorrow of a Warsaw Woman.
Why Poland is not happy to be liberated from fascism?

In a very strong post by Lada Ray, Wake Up, the Soldier of Ukraine!, a reader Paul commented the following:

You know, seeing how the Poles and Galicians view Russia, I would say that Russia’s attempts to sweep things under the rug with ideas of Slavic brotherhood and such were not wise. Even within the Ukraine, Eastern Ukrainians saying “We are brothers” while Western Ukrainians said “We are not brothers” didn’t work out so well. It might have been better to say “We are cousins; we don’t always agree, but let’s work together when we can.” A bit of an overgeneralization, but you get the idea. The point is that you have to stand up for yourself in this world, and get your position across, particularly when it seems like you are facing a bully.

One can make the case that the Soviet and Russian leadership wanted a huge Ukraine that contains too many groups and cultures as a way to prevent NATO or nationalism from gaining territory. The drawback is it really isn’t a normal country, and this made it easy for the West to take over with Bandera types.

I think that the reason Russia was not overly-concerned with brotherly nations forgetting the positive aspects of Russia, was because Russians themselves would not forget or deny the help that they receive and would not think it necessary to remind of such acts in return. In a way, reminding someone of the acts of kindness from you can be viewed as an insult. Turns out it was not so self-evident that reminders were not in order…

It looks like the common Poles still remember, though, as illustrated by the following article by Georgij Zotov, published in Argumenty i Fakty on the 15th of January. Translated to English below, by yours truly.

G. Zotov is a travelling journalists, living in various, often dangerous, parts of the world and getting to know the local people. His articles are always a revelation about the moods of the people “lower down”, often contrasting with what we hear from MSM from the “higher ups”.

The title is a refrain on the wartime march Farewell of a Slavic Woman.


The Sorrow of a Warsaw Woman. Why Poland is not happy to be liberated from fascism?

January 17, 1945, the Red Army entered Warsaw, throwing the Nazi troops further West. 70 years have passed since then – a round number, but today Polish authorities do not plan to conduct any celebrations. Maximum – formally lay wreaths at the cemetery mausoleum where Soviet soldiers are buried. Over the past few years both in the school textbooks, and at the level of parliament and the government of Poland it was repeatedly stated: nothing good came from liberation of Polish people from fascism, “just one tyranny was replaced by another.”

“The Poles would have disappeared completely”

– Such statements are an elementary nonsense, – says columnist for the weekly Nie! Maciej Wisniewski. – If it were not for Russians, the Polish people would have disappeared as a nation. Just over 6 years of occupation, the Nazis killed 6 million Poles. I do not argue, the Soviet army brought with it a system which some people did not want to take. But for me, something else is important: thanks to this event ovens and gas chambers of Auschwitz stopped working. Alas, it is now fashionable instead of gratitude, to reminded of the faults of the Soviet Union in the partition of Poland in 1939, the shooting of officers at Katyn and the establishment in our country of the communist regime. I would not be surprised if the politicians of Poland will soon assert that the Second World War was started by the USSR, and the Germans – cultural people, built schools and kindergartens, that they had a real order.

Indeed, with every passing every year, fewer and fewer people in Poland know about what happened on January the 17th, 1945. This is the result of a new historical policy of the Polish state – the liberation from the Nazis was called the “occupation.” Poland has a new “big brother” – the United States – and a new enemy – Russia. And you should speak badly about the enemies. Not September 1, 1939, the day of the German invasion of Poland, and the brutal bombing of Warsaw “gets” more attention on TV, but the 17th of September, when the Red Army took control of Western Belarus and Western Ukraine.

“Always blame the USSR”

The Soviet army is also blamed in the failure of the Warsaw Uprising in August – October 1944. “Bad Russians did not come to our aid, so 70% of the city was destroyed, killing 200 thousand of civilians.” The revolt was raised without warning and the urgent goal was to proclaim in Warsaw the power of the Government in Exile before the arrival of the Red Army – but who is interesting in knowing the truth? All that was bad in Poland, is from now on blamed on the USSR. Fortunately, not all Poles believe the propaganda. “You see these houses, decorated like in antiquity? – a 52-year-old teacher Kazimierz Marek asks me while walking with me in the centre of the Polish capital. – Warsaw lay in ruins, but the engineers, building materials, machinery, construction workers were sent here by the Soviet Union, and the whole city was erected anew with Russian hands. It’s a sin to forget such a thing.” In 2011, under the pretext of building a metro area, the monument to Soviet Army soldiers, known as the “Four sleeping ones”, was dismantled from the Vilnius square of Warsaw. On the eve of the 70th anniversary of the liberation the nationalists started to protest against the return of the monument – they dropped leaflets, held rallies. However, it should be noted, all’s right in the heads of the Warsaw citizens – according to opinion polls, the majority of residents were in favour of the return of the monument.

– 650 thousand Soviet soldiers laid their lives on the Polish soil, – says Cyprian Darchevsky, known journalist and political commentator. – We should look at them as ordinary people, young men who went to death not with a dream to install a tyranny, but with a sincere desire to free Poland from the Nazi invaders. Personally, I support the fact that the Poles should honour their memory, treat them with gratitude and respect. We now hear voices: we would have been able to throw Germans out of Warsaw ourselves, without the help of the Russians! … Well, well. Polish cinema is worth taking a look at to see what a “formidable” force we were: we had a spy Hans Kloss, and four tankers and a dog … Is it so difficult to simply say “thank you” to Russians?

Trams without “Untermensch”

During the Nazi occupation of Poland, it lost 21.4% of its population. During the period of 1939-1945, the country was dismembered: Western region attached to the Third Reich (by sending in two million German immigrants), and in the east there was established General Government of Reichsleiter Hans Frank. Colonists were given the best land and homes, confiscating them from the local residents, with hundreds of thousands being driven out. Poles were considered “Untermensch” second-class nation – they could not even go to the same tram with Aryans. The worst SS concentration camp in human history worked on Polish territory – Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek. The Germans destroyed nearly 40% of the buildings, a third of the population was homeless. Is it better than what happened later? Of course, the execution by the NKVD of thousands of Polish officers in Katyn is a heinous crime (and the Soviet Union and later Russia extended to the Polish people its formal apology). Yes, a regime was established for 45 years in Poland, which was not a sweet for us. But nobody destroyed Poles as a nation, their country was an independent state, even under the influence of “big brother” in Moscow. Republic has risen from the ruins in the shortest timespan possible with the Soviet money. But they prefer to simply turn a blind eye on this fact in modern Poland.

“Many aged people remember the stories of their parents about the 17th of January 1945, welcoming the Russian tanks with flowers – said Maciej Wisniewski. – Do not judge all Poles by our politicians and the press.” Arriving at the cemetery, mausoleum of Soviet soldiers, I met a old Warsaw woman. A sad woman of about 80 years old, leaning on her stick, went to the obelisk, and put cloves.

– Thank you, Mrs. – I said in Polish.

– No, it’s thanks to the Russians – she said, guessing at my accent.

Rolling up the sleeve of her coat, the woman showed me a flat scar above the wrist. I understood it all without words. This trail usually remained when, immediately after the war, people liberated from Auschwitz “erased” the tattooed camp number…