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Seventy Years after the "Great Patriotic War:" "Let No One Forget, Let Nothing Be Forgotten"

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V-E Day, or Victory in Europe Day, is celebrated every May 8th in Western Europe and the United States, but is celebrated as Victory Day every May 9th in Russia. Why? Because the Soviet Union's representative had no authority to sign the German document of surrender at Reims, France, on 7 May 1945, but also because, on 8 May, Soviet forces were still shelling German units in Czechoslovakia that had refused to surrender. Thus, when the surrender ceremony was repeated in Berlin on 8 May, it already was 9 May in the Soviet Union.

Recently, the Ukrainian Prime Minister told German TV: "I will not allow the Russians to march across Ukraine and Germany, as they did in WWII." Putting aside the impossibility of the feeble and feckless government in Kiev doing any such thing, one needs to ask the Prime Minister whether he would have preferred the preservation of the Ukraine -- admittedly suffering under Nazi repression, but besmirched during World War II by so many Nazi sympathizers and collaborators -- and whether he would have preferred the preservation of the Third Reich?

Recently, three former U.S. Ambassadors to Ukraine, Steven Pifer, John Herbst, and William Taylor absurdly recommended that V-E Day be celebrated in Kiev. Such a recommendation indicates not only profound ignorance of the magnitude of Ukrainian collaboration with the Nazis, but also insufficient appreciation for the accomplishments of the Russians during World War II.

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For example, in the first year of the war, Nazi collaborators in Ukraine (a minority of who were Russian) "provided German forces on the Eastern Front with 80 percent of their bread, 83 percent of their meats, 77 percent of their sugar and 70 percent of their potatoes." (Oleg Zarubinsky, "Collaboration of the Population in Occupied Ukrainian Territory: Some Aspects of the Overall Picture," The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, June 1997, p. 147) Such Ukrainian collaboration helped to enable German forces to attack Russian civilians and largely Russian forces deep into western Russia.

Moreover, why would anyone except ideologues ignorant of the history of war on the Eastern Front celebrate in Kiev when there were no victories in Ukraine that turned the tide of the war. Celebration in Moscow is justified precisely because the victories that guaranteed Germany's defeat took place on Russian soil -- at Moscow, Stalingrad and Kursk. According to the esteemed expert on the war on the Eastern Front, John Erickson, "The portents of the outcome at Kursk were enormous. Demonstrably the Red Army could strike for Berlin "with no outside assistance," setting off alarm bells in the West. The "Second Front" was finally agreed in November. ( Journal of Military History, July 1998, p. 665).

Seventy years have passed since the last of some 10 million Soviet soldiers, collectively known as "Ivan," died in order to defeat Nazi Germany during the Great Patriotic War. (By comparison, American and British forces each suffered less than 420,000 deaths -- or less than the number of Red Army deaths suffered at Stalingrad alone.) Of the more than 30 million Soviet soldiers mobilized between 1939-1945, these 10 million made their ultimate sacrifice in order to avenge the invasion of Soviet territory and the racist war of extermination unleashed by Adolf Hitler's Ostheer (Eastern Army).

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Revenge was Ivan's primary motivation. As Jochen Hellbeck notes, in his newly published book, Stalingrad: The City that Defeated the Third Reich, (Public Affairs, 2015), "Soldiers received forms known as 'vengeance accounts' to record the number of opponents they killed and the number of weapons destroyed." (p. 35) But, in the process of taking revenge Ivan also rescued European civilization and, perhaps, the world, from the scourge of Nazism.

Obviously, Ivan did not earn his glory merely by dying -- or suffering wounds or illnesses as another 18 million Ivans did -- but by annihilating the "Fritz," as he called Nazi soldiers. And annihilate them he did, at least when compared with America's GI Joe and Great Britain's Tommy. Simply consider these numbers: The Nazis suffered approximately 13,488,000 total losses (deaths, wounds, captures and illnesses) during World War II. But, the fight with Ivan on the Eastern Front caused 10,758,000 of them (David M. Glantz & Jonathan House, When Titans Clashed, University of Kansas Press, 1995, p. 284).

Unfortunately, before rallying to ultimately defeat Hitler's Wehrmacht in Berlin, Ivan's army suffered numerous devastating setbacks inside the Soviet Union. In fact, Ivan's army nearly collapsed within weeks of the Nazi's 22 June 1941 invasion.

Even more unfortunate was the fate of the Jews left behind during Ivan's scorched-earth retreat. As Hitler's Einsatzgruppen (Order Police) filled in behind the advancing Ostheer they began the systematic murder of Jews. Approximately 63,000 were murdered by mid-August, but that was small change compared with the next four months, when "500,000 Jews would be shot in the Soviet Union." With the help of Ukrainian militia, more than 33,000 Jews were shot at Babi Yar in just two days in September. (David Stahel, The Battle for Moscow, Cambridge University Press, 2015, pp. 38-39) As Oleg Zarubinsky has shown, there was widespread collaboration between the Ukrainians and Nazis from 1941 through 1944.

The Battle of Smolensk (10 July -- 10 September) caused a staggering number of casualties. General G.K. Zhukov thought the Germans had been "severely mauled." But the Soviet Western Front suffered 309,959 irrecoverable losses out of 579,400 forces committed. Yet, for the first time, "Soviet troops had penetrated prepared German defenses and recaptured substantial chunks of territory" (Chris Bellamy, Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War, Knopf, 2007, p. 259 and pp. 247-248). It was a critical battle, insofar as it forced the Germans to redirect their attention away from Moscow and toward Leningrad and Ukraine. (Ibid)

In September, German forces largely succeeded in encircling Leningrad, today's beautiful St. Petersburg (and my favorite city in the world). The siege would last for nearly 900 days. "German senior officers reckoned that in the first war winter -- 1941-42 -- 'the city of Leningrad came close to extinction, one million civilians being starved or frozen to death. Even the Russian soldiers were inadequately fed and equipped and by the end of the winter half of them were dead'" (Bellamy, p. 381). Yet, even under the constant threat of German artillery bombardment, on 9 August 1942 the resilient Leningrad Philharmonic opened for a performance of Dmitry Shostakovich's new Seventh Leningrad Symphony. Soldiers and sailors showed up in uniform, but, "everyone else was in their best suit or silk dress" (Ibid, p. 389). The performance was broadcast to inspired audiences across the Soviet Union and relayed by short-wave radio across Europe and the United States.

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Ivan suffered terribly during the Battle of Kiev (7 July to 26 September 1941). More than 616,000 Soviet soldiers were killed or reported missing as the result of being trapped in an encirclement achieved by the Second and First Panzer Groups (Glantz & House, p. 293). On 7 October, at Viaz'ma, the Third and Fourth Panzer Groups encircled the Sixteenth, Nineteenth, Twentieth, Twenty-Fourth and part of the Thirty-Second Armies. (Bellamy, p. 273)

By October of 1941, Red Army defeats and retreats caused more than ninety million people to suffer Nazi occupation behind German lines. During that month "German radio and newspapers proclaimed the successful outcome of the war in the East, gloating that 'the enemy is broken and will never rise again'" (Bellamy, p. 276) Caught up in the premature, but widespread, self-congratulations, on 9 October 1941, Hitler told Reich Press Chief Dr. Otto Dietrich that "the Soviet Union was stricken and would never rise again." (David Stahel, The Battle for Moscow, Cambridge University Press, 2015, p. 21)

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Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San (more...)
 

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