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11/16/2017 5:37 am  #1

For Russians, 75 Years Later, Stalingrad Is a Battle to Remember

For Russians, 75 Years Later, Stalingrad Is a Battle to Remember

VOLGOGRAD, Russia — Like every Russian schoolchild, I grew up learning about Hitler’s murderous advance into Russia during World War II, and how it was halted at the Battle of Stalingrad — a critical turning point in the war.

The fight raged for 200 days, and the city was reduced to ruins. Civilians who couldn’t evacuate starved, some eating rats and clay. Resistance to the German onslaught was fierce as the defending army had no choice but to fend off the attack or die standing, following Stalin’s order: “Not one step back.”

At the end, a population that had been half a million was just 35,000.

Since the war, the city has been completely rebuilt, and in 1961 was renamed Volgograd, an effort to erase Stalin’s legacy. But memories of the fighting, 75 years ago this year, are strong. Volgograders walking the streets or going to work pass by many kinds of memorials to those who sacrificed their lives.

The main memorial is the Mamayev Kurgan complex, over which towers “The Motherland Calls,” a statue that symbolizes the common mother of all Russians leading them to engage in battle. Visible from almost every vantage point in the city, the statue is a powerful reminder of the price that Soviet people paid to defeat Nazism.

I have worked as a conflict photographer for more than 10 years. Once, when visiting Homs, Syria, in 2014, I found myself comparing the destruction I saw with that of Stalingrad. When I visit Volgograd now — modern, reconstructed — I wonder if Homs and other cities destroyed by war will ever look and feel like this.

When the Germans sent in tanks, Mikhail Panikakha was fighting in a trench. He had already thrown his grenades and had just two Molotov cocktails left. He was raising one bottle to throw when a bullet smashed it, setting him on fire. He took the remaining bottle, jumped out of the trench and hit the nearest German tank, setting it on fire. The other tanks withdrew.

After the fighting, all that remained of the village of Rossoshka, 35 kilometers (about 22 miles) from Volgograd, were ruins of buildings, ashes, shell craters and thousands of corpses. Today, two cemeteries stand at the site; 60,000 German soldiers are buried in one, 20,000 Soviet fighters in the other.

Each summer, groups of volunteers look for the remains of soldiers in fields and under city streets. In 2017, the bodies of 800 soldiers were discovered.

One day this summer, searchers unearthed the body of a Soviet fighter at the bottom of a pit a meter deep, his arms folded and legs bent.

During the war, the industrial part of the city was a station for tractors and tanks. Now, the yearly rock festival Volgorock is held there. This year, groups of young people danced between old metal constructions, above which hangs a billboard emblazoned with the word “Stalingrad.”

On the waterfront each summer, an orchestra plays popular songs from Soviet times.

“I was about 5 years old when the Germans began to bomb Stalingrad,” recalled Anatoly Savin, who is 80-something and was dancing with his wife, Irina. “I was playing in the street when the rumble of planes and explosions began.”

Vladimir Turov, 97, is a war veteran. He said that every day, his battalion had forced back tank offensives, the bombs from the German air raids falling from the sky. On Sept. 12, 1942, his battalion was almost completely surrounded by Germans. But he refused to leave his wounded friend, fighting off the advancing forces with his machine gun. There was a huge explosion. His head spun and his eyes saw stars. He woke up in a hospital.

In the German cemetery in Rossoshka, one name stands out for a visiting German couple and their Russian guide, a historian.

“My wife’s grandfather is buried here,” said Werner Eschenbach, explaining that for years the family knew only that their relative was missing at Stalingrad. This year, Mr. Eschenbach said, they learned that he had been killed in the nearby village.

“While we were here, we met a man who suggested that we look for the name of our relative in this cemetery,” he said. “We did not have much hope. But we found it. ”

Continued, with photos at:

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 

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