Monthly Archives: October 2013

A City of Heroes

By October in 1942 the situation in Stalingrad was bleak. In the city named after the leader of the great Soviet nation the people were slowly being eradicated by the forces of General Von Paulus and the German Sixth Army. The invasion had started on September 7th, and in a grueling calculated push Paulus started to envelop the city. As the situation unfolded the situation only seemed to grow worse for the defenders of the city. In these times of great pain and loss a handful of heroes arose to the challenge of the oncoming Germans and inspired the everyday people to keep up the resistance.

The first of these heroes was a man by the name of Lt. Anton Kuzmich Dragan. On Sept. 15th he received orders from the General to undertake a near suicidal mission to hold Station No. 1 in downtown Stalingrad from the German onslaught. With less than 50 men in total and five days of ammunition Lt. Dragan would hold the station for over two weeks against a seemingly endless string of men, artillery, and tanks supplied by the Germans. After running out of ammunition Dragan and his five surviving men were said to have kept fighting with rocks and bayonets until night fell and they slipped through the German lines back to the Volga River.

Dragan 1942 A picture of Lt. Anton Dragan from his file.

Another great hero of this terrible battle was Vassili Zaitsev, the famed sniper. Vassili was a Seargent First class upon arrival in Stalingrad in 1942, and quickly gained a reputation for his accuracy. After being shown a German officer in a window 800 meters away, Vassili took him out with one shot from his optic-less Mosin nagant rifle. When two lower ranking officers showed up in the window to inspect their dead commander he took each of them out with a shot. Upon this success he received a “Sniper Rifle” (in the Soviet Army a “sniper rifle” was simply the common infantry rifle with a scope) and a medal for Courage. Following this happening Zaitsev was documented with 225 confirmed kills, and an estimated up to 500 total kills during the Battle of Stalingrad alone.

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These examples of Military excellence were used to inspire other soldiers in these grim times and also showed the resilience of the Soviets.

A Cacophony of Sound

In the mid 1930’s the works of a certain composer by the name of Dimitrii Shostakovitch continued to catch the eye and heart of the public with his opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. This opera was centered around a woman who has an affair, due to her loveless marriage, ends up causing the death of her husband and his father, and also was the turning point in Shostakovitch’s career. Due to the impressively high grossing nature of this controversial and musically diverse production he was viewed as “The premier Soviet composer” until one fateful day, when Stalin watched this production.

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After walking out of a performance of this show Stalin wrote an editorial entitled “Chaos Instead of Music” in which he basically said that Shostakovitch had not only not lived up to the Soviet standard of opera, but also musical production. Stalin went on to say that the works of Shostakovitch were “leftist” or followed in the works of Meyerhold,  which in a nutshell, accused him of being against the Soviet way of life, therefore endangered his life. It is recorded in Shostakovitch’s logs that he took up sleeping in the doorway of his apartment in case he was arrested in the night so that his children would not see. Even though the public and professional critics were enchanted by his modernist styles and creative writings, this condemnation by the most powerful man in the USSR caused his ample stream of funding to dry up almost instantaneously.

It is speculated that Stalin not only disliked his works, but also used him as an example to the other artistic producers of the nation. His message was clear, and rather definite. There would be no criticism, or anything remotely critical aimed at the government, or the Soviet way of life. Shostakovitch eventually found favor in the eyes of Stalin and the public once more with the production of his Fifth Symphony, and continued to write in this conservative style until the death of Stalin in 1953.