9th May…

Like millions of other British kids whose parents had survived the Second World War, I grew up knowing that ‘8th May 1945’ was the day that Nazi Germany’s impending surrender was announced, and that what then became ‘V-E Day’ — ‘Victory in Europe Day’ — lived on in the minds of everyone who remembered what they felt and saw and did during those 24 hours.

Not until many years later did I hear anything similar about the day after. In the UK, of course, that day — 9th May 1945 — would have been ‘Hangover Day’; ‘”What Was Your Name, Again…?” Day’; possibly even ‘”Look, Let’s Not Be Hasty About This, Chum — I Mean, We’re All Adults, Aren’t We?” Day’. In the Soviet Union, on the other hand, 9th May was, as it were, 8th May: time zones being what they are — and Russia extending across so many of them! — the announcement of Germany’s unconditional capitulation took place at a time that was actually after midnight, ‘Moscow Time’. Thus, it was 9th May that was celebrated as ‘Victory Day’ among the various Soviet republics and other Eastern countries — and, in many cases, still is.

The reason that, all those years ago, I never heard anything about 9th May in this context was, naturally, the so-called ‘Cold War’: the annual mass displays of soldiers and weaponry in Moscow’s Red Square appeared in our media, not as celebrations of hard-won victory over appalling evil, but as threatening and frightening realities in their own right (all the better to force the Western masses to hate the system that their capitalist overlords feared like hell). And, at the same time, the massive — in fact, decisive — role played by the Soviets in defeating the Nazis was downplayed to the point of actual invisibility (all the better to convince the Western masses that it was the United States that had been the Saviour of the World — and that Uncle Sam therefore deserved our loving, grateful obedience for ever after…).

And when I say ‘decisive’, I’m not kidding. Hitler’s Germany lost several million men — three million, four million, maybe even more — in WW2 … and something like 75% of those were killed fighting the Soviet Union. I’ve spent years watching historians argue over the casualty statistics for this war (and quite a few other wars besides). I don’t have a totally convincing set of final figures (any more than you do); but if you are one of those people who likes to pretend that the US military, or the forces of ‘the British Empire’, or some clever abstraction like ‘allied code-breaking’ were the ‘decisive’ factors in defeating Hitler, then just take a moment to consider what would have happened if North Africa and the area between Normandy and Berlin and the area between Sicily and Berlin, had each contained an additional one million German soldiers… Yes. Exactly.

Needless to say, of course, when I was growing up, this topic was simply not discussed — any more than was the staggering scale (25 million people and more…) of the Soviet losses, civilian and military combined. In fact, if an alien from space had surveyed the West’s corporate-owned mass-entertainment products in an attempt to work out who it was in WW2 who fought most courageously; killed the most Germans; and sent the Wehrmacht into retreat, they’d probably have concluded that it was Audie Murphy

The reality, of course, is that it was the Soviet Union that broke the back of Hitler’s evil horde: it was the Soviets who liberated the extermination camps; it was the Soviets who reached Berlin first; and it was the Soviets whose pounding artillery Hitler heard as he killed himself (after testing a cyanide capsule on his poor, innocent dog, like the worthless bastard that he was).

Anyway, here are some clips from a 1950 Soviet film which depicts that very juncture in history — and don’t you dare call it ‘propaganda’: however ‘fictionalised’ and ‘sentimentalised’ the representation of, say, the capture of the Reichstag, the fact is that this is what the Soviet army actually did

[[Insert: Can you watch this film without pondering how its contents — including a Hitler shown facing the utter shipwreck of all his paranoid narcissist plans! — must have impacted upon millions of ordinary Russians who had survived ‘Operation Barbarossa’ and its four-year aftermath? I can’t — and that fact makes it, in parts, intensely moving…]]

(The score, by the way, is by Shostakovich — though I can’t vouch for that celebratory accordion dance music.)

Here’s another clip from that scene — which overlaps slightly, as well it might…

And here is our final movie clip — in which Stalin (played by Mikheil Gelovani [1892-1956]) makes a triumphant visit to the ruins of Berlin to address his victorious troops and to meet a few of our film’s central characters. This did not in fact occur — none of it did: the film’s entire ‘Berlin airport’ sequence is an utter fabrication. But what the hell: the Soviets have beaten the crap out of the Nazis, and Shostakovich has written the music — very obviously with a scene from Boris Godunov in mind — and that’s good enough for me!

All right: now the finale. In 1945, Prokofiev composed his ‘Ode for the End of the War’, Op. 105. He scored it for the remarkable combination of eight harps, four pianos, winds, percussion, and double-basses…

And here it is…

[[Same moment; different angle…]]

In short and in sum: if you know any Russians, thank them. Tell them that you know how their forebears across the Soviet Union — that includes Armenia,  Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldavia, Tajikistan, Turkmenia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan (and I’m sure I’ve left someone out…) — were heroes who suffered and struggled in their ultimately victorious fight against the Nazis … and that you reject the decrepit West’s current, desperate attempts to paint modern Russia as some kind of evil monster that needs to be insulted, beaten and humbled. Trust me when I say that Russians are sick to death of being painted as the ‘bad guys’ by a UK whose ongoing history of murderous neoimperial aggression and servile devotion to Israel and Saudi Arabia — the two most brutal sectarian states on the planet — shows that it could take lessons in decency from Adolf Eichmann…

MD

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3 thoughts on “9th May…

  1. Another way to look at the Soviet contribution is to check out German deployment during such famous Western Front battles as D-Day or the Battle of the Bulge and see how many divisions are pointing west compared to how many are pointing east. It’s like the Germans were in the fight of their lives against a bear while an annoying little dog was snapping at their heels.

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  2. Another huge and invidious myth bites the dust and my world view slowly updates itself to accommodate the new information. It might take a while, but I am very grateful for the impetus to feel gratitude and common cause with the Russian people. Thank you.
    I’ll try and stretch that to include sympathy for Americans who think they won the war – I’ll really try.

    When Trump visits London, he should be invited to join a “March of Thanks” to the Russian people for winning the war and giving us our freedom.

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