The Price of Victory

Today, along with Russia and other former Soviet states, I am commemorating Victory Day and the capitulation of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union in 1945. The capitulation of May 9 ended four years of intense and ferocious fighting on the Eastern Front; fighting which claimed more lives than all the other theatres of World War II combined. As a writer and blogger, I’m a purveyor of words; but sometimes words are just inadequate. So today, I am sharing a collection of photos from the Eastern Front in order to perhaps give a glimpse of just what those involved in the Eastern Front endured, and thus what this victory meant to the Soviet people.

800px-Wehrmachtssoldaten_vor_Brand_1941

Soldiers of Army Group South in 1941 laugh as Russia burns. Image attributed to Josef Gierse, via Wikimedia Commons. CC-BY-SA 3.0

Russland, Festnahme von Partisanen

SS men stumble upon a partisan child in 1943. Hitler’s instructions meant that children were not always guaranteed immunity from execution. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101III-Niquille-067-24/Niquille/CC-BY-SA 3.0

Russland-Nord, Erschießung von Partisanen

A group of Germans executes a small number of partisans. Partisans were usually shot or hanged, but in some cases they were subjected to torture and humiliation as well. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-212-0221-06/Thiede/CC-BY-SA 3.0

Russland, Transport sowjetischer Kriegsgefangener in Güterwagen

Soviet POWs, considered “subhuman” by official German decree, are loaded like cattle into rail cars for transport. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-267-0124-20A/Vorpahl/CC-BY-SA 3.0

Scherl: Seit Beginn der Frühjahrskämpfe wurden an der Südostfront über eine Million gefangene Bolschewisten eingebracht. Riesig sind auch die Materialverluste der Sowjets. Wieder füllten sich die Gefangenenlager mit Tausenden von Bolschewisten und bedecken mit ihren wimmelnden Massen weiterhin das Gelände. PK-Aufnahme: Kriegsberichter Wahner 13.8.1942 [Herausgabedatum]

Such were the numbers captured by the Wehrmacht in the early months of war, that scenes like this were not unusual. POWs were kept in massive open-air enclosures until they could be transported to proper camps. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B21845/Wahner/CC-BY-SA 3.0

Bundesarchiv_N_1603_Bild-121,_Russland,_Sewastopol,_zerstörter_Hafen

Sevastopol, an important Soviet naval port, was all but destroyed by a German siege in 1941-42. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, N1603 Bild-121/Horst Grund/CC-BY-SA 3.0

800px-RIAN_archive_3500_Muscovites_building_fortifications

Everyone knew that Russia’s survival hinged on the fate of Moscow. In the autumn of 1941, with Germans fast approaching, young and old were mobilised to build defenses around the city. Attribution: RIA Novosti archive, image #3500/B. Vdovenko/CC-BY-SA 3.0

RIAN_archive_633408_Fighting_in_the_vicinities_of_Moscow

Due to the stakes, the fighting at Moscow was ferocious. Attribution: RIA Novosti archive, image #633408/Anatoliy Garanin/CC-BY-SA 3.0

800px-RIAN_archive_4406_An_attack_near_Moscow. (1)

Germans trudge through the snow to surrender at Moscow. The severe cold and staunch Soviet resistance gave them more trouble than they had expected. Attribution: RIA Novosti archive, image #4406/V. Kinelovskiy/CC-BY-SA 3.0

 

Georgi Zelma Stalingrad, c. 1942 [Soldiers taking cover in the ruins near a Factory

The ruins of the Red October Factory give shelter to its defenders at Stalingrad, one of the Eastern Front’s most bitter and costly battles. Attribution: Georgi Zelma, public domain

Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-W0506-316,_Russland,_Kampf_um_Stalingrad,_Siegesflagge

The Red banner flies triumphantly over a destroyed Stalingrad. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-W0506-316/Georgi Zelma/CC-BY-SA 3.0

Carri_armati_KV1

Although strategically a Soviet victory, the Battle of Kursk claimed over 6,000 Soviet tanks compared to just under 800 German ones. Here, KV-1 heavy tanks are inspected before the battle. Attribution: fotoreporter sovietico sconosciuto, public domain

Tanya_Savicheva_Diary

During the Siege of Leningrad, civilians died perhaps even quicker than their military comrades did. Pictured is the diary of a young Tanya Savicheva, who recorded the deaths of her family one by one until she was the only one left. Attribution: world-war.ru, public domain

RIAN_archive_907_Leningradians_queueing_up_for_water

Leningrad was cut off for over two years, and its citizens suffered appallingly from hunger. Belts were boiled and newspaper was shredded for food; and here, people queue to gather water from shell-holes in the street. Attribution: RIA Novosti archive, image #907/Boris Kudoyarov/CC-BY-SA 3.0

194407_abandoned_german_vehicles_belarus_(revised)

With Operation Bagration, the Soviet military began to take back ground. Now German vehicles lie burnt and abandoned near Babruysk, where Soviet ones had lain three years earlier. Attribution: 194407_abandoned_german_vehicles_belarus.jpg. public domain

ADN-ZB/Archiv 9.3.1945 II. Weltkrieg 1939-45 Deutsch-Sowjetische Front: Reichspropagandaminister Goebbels begrüßt in Lauban (Niederschlesien) den mit dem EK II ausgezeichneten 16jährigen Willi Hübner, der während der Kämpfe um die Stadt im März 1945 von den Faschisten in den Schützengraben geschickt wurde.

In 1945, Germany was running out of men, and instead turned to boys. 16-year old Willi Hübner was awarded the Iron Cross by Joseph Goebbels for his part in the defense of Lauban. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J31305, CC-BY-SA 3.0

ElbeDay1945_(NARA_ww2-121)

The war is won, and now east meets west. How long did this friendship last? Attribution: Pfc. William E. Poulson, from http://www.archives.gov/research/ww2/photos/images/ww2-121.jpg, public domain

Парад_в_честь_70-летия_Великой_Победы_-_27

These banners from Moscow’s 2015 Victory Day Parade honour each one of the fronts of the war. Attribution: Kremlin.ru, CC-BY-SA 4.0

Парад_в_честь_70-летия_Великой_Победы_-_68

Last year was special, being the 70th anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War. But the truth is that every Victory Day is special– every one is a chance to honour and remember what took place so long ago. Attribution: Government.ru, CC-BY-SA 4.0

Victory_Day_(2015-05-09)_66

Veterans of the Great Patriotic War are deeply respected in the former Soviet Union and enjoy something of a celebrity status. Here, a young woman poses for a photo with a female veteran at last year’s ceremonies. Attribution: Klausvienresh, CC-BY-SA 4.0

Памятник_на_могиле_Неизвестного_солдата_02

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin Wall. We don’t know who he is, but we will never forget him. Attribution: Kemal Kozbaev, CC-BY-SA 4.0

Victory always means the most when one knows what it’s like to fail; and the Soviet Union certainly knew failure and despair in the four years of the Great Patriotic War. Because of this, every Victory Day is a cause for celebration but also for a measure of sadness. It’s impossible to remember the victory without remembering its price, and all the horrors and sacrifice which defined it. In terms of sheer scale, there was perhaps no victory greater than this one; and I’m not alone in commemorating it even 71 years after it was won.

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4 thoughts on “The Price of Victory

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