To all who celebrate, Happy Easter, and I hope that everyone is staying safe and well! This week I want to talk about how the Soviets managed to prevail during World War II, specifically focusing on the willpower and patriotism of the Soviet people.
The Soviet people were game changers during World War II, men, women, soldiers, and civilians were willing to sacrifice everything for the fight. “By the time the war was over 8.6 million Soviet troops and at least 17 million civilians had been killed. Twenty-five million survivors were homeless…The war had destroyed 1,700 towns, 70,000 villages, 30,000 factories, and 65,000 kilometres of railway” (Freeze 392). It’s hard for us now to imagine this level of absolute devastation and reading about this makes you wonder how a country could come out on the other side victorious and how the people were continuously willing to fight.
We can get a sense of this ‘how’ through memoirs of the Soviet people. Natalia Peshkova was a medic during World War II, and at one point her memoir details the shortage of food that her unit faced after her first battle. They dug up frost-bitten potatoes to eat, and one time after finding a broken truck, they discovered gasoline-soaked cookies – of which one of her friends ate out of hunger. Despite these conditions, and what is key here, is that Peshkova details the patriotism that was felt – stating “Patriotism was a real thing, not an exaggeration. Every one of us fought for our Motherland.”
Another memoir is that of Klavdia Kalugina. The war began when Kalugina was only 15, and she went to work at the “Respirator” munitions factory in Orekhovo-Zuevo. On days that she was off of work, she was required to attend classes for her secondary education. After she finished this secondary education, she volunteered to go to a sniper school at the age of 17 and was the youngest one who attended. While at the school, she became partners and friends with Marusia Chikvintseva, and they along with other girls were sent to the front lines on March 1, 1944. Throughout her memoir she details different battles she was a part of, how they usually slept on the ground, freezing, how they shot from the trenches, what their relations were like with the local people, and how the local people would sometimes invite them to dinner. What was so striking about Kalugina’s memoir, to me, was how she discussed her partner, Chikvintseva. Kalugina talks about how partners were always next to each other, at arm’s length, together all the time, so obviously you would form a strong bond with that partner. Unfortunately, Chikvintseva was killed while on watch, and Kalugina says, “I live for her now.” To me, this was so striking because it shows the camaraderie that was felt between the Soviet people fighting this war, and it illustrates the willpower that the Soviets had to have felt to continue on. They were fighting for each other and for their country.
The answer to these questions according to Freeze is, “Revulsion from the barbarism of the Nazis was certainly one motivation. On a deeper level, however, there was a sense that the war was a national struggle. For millions of people the war was for the survival of Russia…most of those who waged war did so not because they wanted to preserve the Soviet Union as it was, but in the hope that it would soon evolve into something better” (391-392). Both these memoirs and what is written in Freeze’s book illustrate how this war was truly won by the Soviet people. Through their willpower during hard-fought battles and the patriotism felt by all Soviet citizens, soldiers or civilians, the Soviets were able to prevail over the Nazis, and it wouldn’t have been possible without them.
До следующего раза,
14 Replies to “A Tribute to the Soviet People”
Nice post! I agree with you that the level of destruction that befell the Soviet Union is unimaginable to us today. Also something I find fascinating that few mention, is how fast the USSR rebuilt after this war and the fact that they were still able to rival the United States who was basically untouched during the war.
I enjoyed reading your post Lauren! I happened to come across Klavdia’s story in researching for my own post, and it really was heart wrenching reading the circumstances of her partner’s death. Such stories of female heroism from the Soviet Union are really inspiring, and the part that women played both on the home front and on the battlefield was truly astonishing. You did a great job of tying in the course materials, and I agree that the strong will of the Soviet people played a crucial role in the Allied victory.
I love the way you use the memoirs of fighting women to frame this post. It really helps me feel how visceral and determined the resistance to the Germans was, and how the invasion mobilized everyone around a commitment to victory at any price. And I’m struck by where you end up and the way you foreshadow a key dynamic of the postwar: (quoting Freeze): “For millions of people the war was for the survival of Russia…most of those who waged war did so not because they wanted to preserve the Soviet Union as it was, but in the hope that it would soon evolve into something better.”
This really resonates with me — the idea that ordinary people gave it their all, more than proving their loyalty to a regime that had not been especially solicitous of their needs before the war (understatement). In return, they expected, if not consciously, then at least tacitly, that peace would come with additional “rewards” in the form of political liberalization and concessions to popular desires.
Thank you De’Vonte! I find that fascinating too, and I think that it really showcases just how resilient the Soviet people really were – especially because they suffered the most out of anyone who fought in World War II.
Thanks Rory! For me, reading about what the Soviet Union had to endure was really tough in itself, but going through the memoirs and seeing the pictures of the women and hearing their actual stories of what they went through just makes it so much more personal. I also find the female heroism and the part that women played at home and on the battlefield very inspiring!
Thank you Professor Nelson! Like I mentioned in my comment back to Rory, even reading in Freeze’s book about how the Soviet people endured during World War II is difficult because I think that it’s humbling – like in a “How lucky are we to have never had to endure this” and “The strength of these people is incredible” kind of way. Reading through the memoirs and seeing the photos of the soldiers just made it so much more personal, because we read about these things in textbooks, but putting a face and a story to it makes it more real. I think that it is really telling of the character of the Soviet people to be so willing to give all for a regime that had given them so little.
I agree with you that the Soviet People should be commended for their efforts during World War II. Most people would have shut down and surrendered but not them. When you talked about how the rejection of Nazism was a motivation for the Soviet people, I see that as a combination of anger and fear. People would not want Nazism in their country for fear of being put in concentration camps or in anger because they do not want to lose their identity. Anger is a powerful motivator.
Hi Lauren! I really enjoyed your post, especially your use of memoirs from women who were deep in the fight as well. I loved reading the Freeze text for this unit because it really explained the perseverance and strength of the Soviet people. The willingness they had to fight for the hope of a better future is amazing, and without the unity of the Soviet people, I think winning the war would’ve been much harder.
I think “humbling” is a good word! It’s just tough to wrap your head around sacrifice and suffering on this scale. Thanks again for writing about this!
Lauren, I think your post does a great job of portraying the sheer patriotism and dedication of the Soviet soldiers. It’s hard to see how they could have made it through such horrendous conditions without the passion they had for their country. I think the story about eating gasoline-soaked cookies really illustrates the soldiers’ struggles against the elements.
Thanks for commenting! I totally see what you’re saying about anger and fear both being motivation for the Soviet people. Anger is a powerful motivator, and anyone would understandably be angry if someone tried to conquer their land. In terms of fear, I’m sure the idea of what the Nazis would do to the Soviet people was absolutely horrifying to the Soviets.
Hi Kendall! Thank you for commenting!! I loved reading the Freeze text for this section too because I think it gave a lot more details about how the Soviets truly won than other texts do – because a lot of what I’ve seen gives the victory to the winter. I agree with you, the willingness of the Soviets was amazing, especially when the odds might have appeared to not be in their favor.
Hi Ben! Thank you!! The story of the gasoline-soaked cookies was really incredible, especially because they almost killed the woman who ate them – it really shows just how desperate they were for food. The sacrifice and willpower of the Soviet people really is incredible.
The Soviet people were indeed very special in that they stood fast until the very end. What they put up with was so remarkable that is a shame that in America their sacrifices are often overlooked. We should hope to be so brave in a time of great crisis such as the Soviet people in WWII. Great post Lauren!