In August, the 70 anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Stalingrad - a brutal and ruthless siege, is celebrated, which eventually turned out to be the main point of psychological and military breakthrough in World War II.
Radio Liberty correspondent Koylin O'Connor speaks with a prominent British historian, the author of Stalingrad, Anthony Beevor.
RS: Do you think that books like yours played a role in correcting the bias in the presentation of facts about the Second World War, that is, before the 1970-ies. история The wars in the English-speaking world focused mainly on the Western Front, while the Eastern Front did not receive the deserved attention? Has the attitude of the West to this war changed at all?
Anthony Beevor: I believe that in a great degree yes. And this is not just a question of the Eastern Front, which, I believe, was shamefully abandoned by Western historians. It is also a matter of secrecy, which was maintained during the Cold War by the Soviet Union and the non-provision of Western historians for their access to archives.
RS: What place will you give to the Battle of Stalingrad in its influence on the course of WWII and its final result?
Beevor: The main thing in the Battle of Stalingrad was that psychologically it became the turning point of the war. Both for the Red Army and for the Wehrmacht, it became quite clear that the movement would now be to the West, and in the end Berlin would suffer the same fate as Stalingrad.
In my opinion, even today it is extremely significant that on the walls of the Reichstag you can see inscriptions of Russian soldiers with the words “Stalingrad-Berlin”. In their understanding, these two cities were very much connected.
I remember one thing that struck me most — how, after a victory, an elderly Russian colonel shouted at a column coming out of Stalingrad, screeching German prisoners of war with frostbitten legs, pointing at the ruins around: “This is Berlin!”
RS: Did the brutality and the atrocities of the fighting in Stalingrad have a significant relation to the fact that they, in fact, were the confrontation of two totalitarian armies, in other words, combat syndrome, surrender, etc. - simply were not such phenomena to which you can close your eyes?
Beevor: I don’t think any Western army would survive Stalingrad. In order for the troops to remain in their positions, truly ruthless forms of discipline were required, especially at the early stage of the battle, when in fact it seemed that everything was bursting at the seams.
It turned out that a total of about 13500 [Soviet soldiers] were executed by their own, the Red Army - during the battle, this was usually done by SMERSH or by special units of the NKVD. The troop detachments stood behind the troops to prevent them from withdrawing.
It was an extraordinary mixture of courage and coercion. There were terrifying reports about how soldiers were executed. Sometimes they were not even shot, as it should be, because the firing squad was partially intoxicated or something else. In such cases, they used to get out of the crater from the projectile, where their bodies were dumped, appeared outside, and they were shot again. So there were some really scary parties to this event.
But it is from this extraordinary contrast that it can never be generalized. It can not be said that the soldiers in Stalingrad held out only because of the harsh discipline. There was a very sincere idealism and the most genuine determination to fight on - and an amazing level of self-sacrifice. As I said, I don’t think that any Western army - British, French or American - would have survived in Stalingrad at all or kept there on the western bank of the Volga - unlike the Red Army, which did it.
PHOTO GALLERY: Battle of Stalingrad
The massive bombardment of Stalingrad from the air at the beginning of the battle in August turned many parts of the city into ruins.
This is how the main railway station of Stalingrad looked at the end of 1942.
However, the destruction of Stalingrad did not help the Germans to take the city, who were stuck in street fighting battling among the ruins of buildings
Russian nurse bandages a wounded soldier during a street skirmish in Stalingrad. During the siege, female doctors and nurses were often in the thick of battle
Commissioner Nikita Khrushchev (left) discusses tactical issues with the commander of the Southern (Stalingrad) Front of the Red Army, General Andrei Eremenko (second from left) and other officers
Simple, but terrifically effective Katyusha rocket launchers put fear into the German forces and undermined their morale.
Downed German fighter lies among the ruins of Stalingrad. During the siege, large-scale air battles flared up in the sky over the city.
The cruel conditions in which the battle was going on were aggravated by the harsh Russian winter.
In the end, the Soviet armed forces surrounded the Germans in Stalingrad, thereby predetermining the fate of Hitler's 6 Army
Many Germans have preferred to the Soviet captivity to fight to the bitter end
Soviet officers pass by German prisoners of war at the moment when the battle enters its final stage.
Under the conditions of exhaustion of provisions, the majority of Germans were exhausted and exhausted by the time of the end of hostilities.
Of the estimated 110 of thousands of German prisoners of war captured in Stalingrad, only 6 of thousands returned to Germany
Soviet soldier triumphantly raises the flag over Stalingrad in February 1943
RS: While reading your book about Stalingrad, I was surprised to find out that many Russians fought on the German side ...
Beevor: A total of about a million Russians or representatives of other Soviet nationalities served on the German side in one form or another. Then the majority of these people called "hiwi" - Hilfswilliger [him. “Willing to help”] - or auxiliary volunteers. In many cases, they were not real volunteers. They were more or less forcibly recruited prisoners of war in camps, because they suffered from hunger, and they were offered some kind of food. In fact, in many cases they were used as working cattle or for trenching.
After the Stalingrad cauldron was liquidated, some of them — knowing that they would be killed by their own — took weapon in the hands and often fought against their own. And, apparently, their fate is a question that is definitely not disclosed in the archives. I heard that many of them were not even shot subsequently, but that they were beaten to death on orders not to transfer cartridges to them. Someone, they said, was forced to lie on the road under walking Tanks.
Of course, revenge against them was really cruel. And it could not be attributed solely to the account of the Soviet authorities. That was the mood of the majority of the Red Army soldiers of the time. They saw in them the most disgusting traitors who could only be imagined. And that is why they would gladly take part in the khivi and Russian killings in German military uniforms.
RS: Taking into account the more or less complete destruction of the military industry of Stalingrad, as well as the fact that Germany, by 1942, already controlled the vast expanses of Soviet territory, what prompted the Germans to devote so much force to the capture of the city? Did it make any sense to militarily their desire to conquer Stalingrad?
Beevor: No, absolutely not [...] Only when Hitler began to have doubts about achieving his goal of capturing the oil fields of the Caucasus, he began to actively turn his attention to a symbol of victory, rather than purely military, in a fairly typical manner - if so please - the goal. And Stalingrad, since it bears the name of Stalin, could at least symbolize the form of victory.
Due to the fact that Stalingrad is located on the Volga, named after Stalin, Hitler was determined to take it at any cost. And it all continued ... I mean that the most disastrous moment, which actually predetermined the fate of the 6 Army, took place in November, when Hitler ordered Paulus to make the last attempt to capture Stalingrad and even ordered him to use tank crews as infantry " on my own two. " Yes, it was absolutely insane ...
RS: Did Hitler's Stalingrad break down psychologically?
Beevor: He was the point of psychological break for everyone, I think. It became noticeable how Nazi propaganda suddenly shifted from promises of a final victory to the actual intimidation of the Germans by the consequences of defeat. By what was done to the Soviet Union, it was quite understandable - the retribution would be terrible. So, for this reason, Germany could only fight to the last.
RS: Another aspect of Stalingrad that I thought was particularly interesting was the participation of women in the hostilities on the Soviet side, many of them right on the front line. Is it something completely unique to that battle?
Beevor: No, it was not unique to that battle. It is rather curious that in fact many more women served later in subsequent battles.
In Stalingrad, there were a large number of women who served with incredible courage. Mostly they were young girls - right from school, - who worked as nurses and literally pulled men from the firing line. Many of them died. For young women of their age, they displayed amazing courage.
Others fought pilots - the so-called "night witches", as the Germans christened them. These were young women, confined to a separate regiment, who controlled such small biplanes. They turned off their engines and planned over the German trenches, dropped bombs, turned on the engines again and immediately flew away.
There were also a certain number of women - in fact very small - who served in tanks.
But in Stalingrad there were no female snipers. I am afraid that the film “The Enemy at the Gates”, from which it follows that women worked as snipers, as in the case of Rachel Weiss, simply does not correspond to reality.
Female snipers appeared later. The first sniper school for women was organized in February 1943, just after the Battle of Stalingrad. And then there were a large number of female snipers who actually served on many fronts.
RS: You are not annoyed by how mass culture in recent years has appropriated Stalingrad, for example, films like “The Enemy at the Gates”, or the extremely popular computer game “Call of Duty“, the creators of which claim to have done everything possible to recreate the situation on the battlefield in Stalingrad? Do you think they distort the public perception of that battle? Or maybe they at least encourage interest in the subject ...
Beevor: Well, I think Stalingrad has become a very significant symbol. I do not like to use the word "cult", but its element is present, in part because it was one of the most desperate battles with street fighting in the very center of the city. It seems to me that it attracts with its cinematic potential, and with regard to popular culture, with this whole theme, snipers and the like.
Stalingrad turned into one huge myth. In general, Jean-Jacques Annaud, the director of Enemy at the Gates, told me somehow: “But Anthony, who can tell where the myth begins and the truth ends?” ... I don’t know if this is an excuse for play around with the story, or a variation of the sayings about the story, what the drawbar. I'm afraid this is one of the problems stemming from the fact that the demands of Hollywood and the entertainment industry are fundamentally completely incompatible with the needs of history.
RS: Are there any big differences between how Stalingrad is perceived in Russia and how it is seen in Germany and in other countries?
Beevor: Well, I think both sides will agree on the general scheme and circumstances of the incident, as well as specific dates. I do not think that there is any significant discrepancy. But it is obvious that there are huge differences in the analysis and approach to the moral state of their own troops, their mindsets and the like. Any country will inevitably look at one or another aspect of the Second War through the prism of its own, and not of any other views.
The main focus on the Soviet side will be on heroism. As for coercion, discipline, troopers and everything else - you will not find anything special about these issues in any Russian statement of the battle history.
On the German side, you will not find very much about what has been done in relation to the civilian population, as well as how Russian civilians captured on the German side of the front line were treated.
Therefore, there will definitely be pain points, let's say, that will not be noticed by each of the parties.
From the point of view of Russians, Stalingrad is the great personification of Russian heroism and the great Soviet contribution to the defeat of the fascist beast and everything that follows from this. In this sense, Russian propaganda in relation to this particular aspect is very slightly different from the Soviet ...
I suppose it was relevant for the German side to see in this a lot more tragic. In almost every German book on this subject, the word “tragedy” appears somewhere in the table of contents. And, of course, from the German point of view, it was a tragedy that Hitler brought on the German people with his stubbornness and obsessive ideas. And that it was a completely unnecessary defeat.
RS: Perhaps this is a rather superficial question, but what, in your opinion, is the legacy of Stalingrad that remains after 70 years after the events themselves?
Beevor: I do not think that the legacy, if you like, should certainly be highly instructive, since it has become a kind of symbol. Like many other historical parallels, they love to abuse. I mean that almost every newspaper in the country managed to contact me before the war in Iraq. It was amazing - one by one they were called and asked if I could not write an article about why the battle for Baghdad should become similar to the Stalingrad one. And I had to explain time after time that she would not be anything that would remind her. But I am afraid that this is how, and quite often, the legacy, oddly enough, turns into debt, because people become obsessed with the past and for some reason believe that history should repeat. History never repeats itself.
I think using the example of certain political leaders like George W. Bush, comparing September's 11 with Pearl Harbor, or Tony Blair trying to put Saddam Hussein and Hitler on a par with one another, we saw how the threat of World War II turned into such a dominant landmark that already became truly dangerous - not only in a political sense, as it influences strategic decisions, but also because they are inclined to be guided by the media.
It's amazing how newspapers like to think with simple, straightforward parallels, which can be enlightened by readers, but in practice they are always deceptive and, as a rule, very dangerous.