Songs of Resistance - The Soviet people's resistance to Fascist aggression
The German-Soviet battles during the Second World War is collectively referred to as Velíkaya Otéchestvennaya voiná (The Great Patriotic War) in countries that constituted the former Soviet Union. The Soviet losses during the period have been estimated at nearly 26 million human lives. The Soviet resistance was the brave effort of a group of people who refused to be enslaved by the monstrosity of fascism. It is also an effort that has largely gone unappreciated outside Eastern Europe. If it was not for the Red Army, perhaps the history of the world would have been very different indeed. On the 30th of April, 1945, at 22:40 local time, Mikhail Minin of the Soviet Red Army raised the red banner of the USSR on the roof of the German Reichstag in Berlin. He fixed it atop the crown of the statue of Germania, the goddess who had symbolised Germany.
Later,on the 2nd of May 1945, the event would be staged for photographs. That image has since gone onto become symbolic- for it aptly captures the victory of the working class over the Nazi monster. The Great Patriotic War had ended. The Soviet people had won, but at a terrible price. The material damages inflicted by the war would seriously cripple the building of socialism in the USSR. The monstrosities of that war would convince the Soviet leadership that any price was reasonable inorder to avert a repetition of these events on Soviet territory.
Bodhi pays respects to the heroes of the Soviet resistance through the songs that symbolised it.
The Worker and the Peasant
To fight the Nazi juggernaut, the Soviet Union mobilised one of the largest armies in history. The Workers and Peasants Red Army, better known by its Russian acronym RKKA, comprised of ordinary Soviet citizens. Women and men joined the Red Army to defend their motherland against the fascist aggression. The strength of the Red Army varied with time throughout the Second World War. Although armed with unsophisticated weapons such as the Mosin-Nafant rifle, they marched for the defense of their freedom and eventually vanquished Hitler's Third Reich. Many of the soldiers were young citizens, full of life, full of hope. And hope was something very precious in those troubling times. Katyusha is a Soviet era folk song that captures this hope in all its essence. The song was written by Mikhail Isakovsky and tuned by Matvei Blanter, right before the outbreak of the Second World War. The song attained an almost cult status during the war and became a regular performance item of the Alexandrov Ensemble for soldiers on the warfront. The song talks about a young girl, Katyusha, who sings for her beloved from a cliff so that he may hear her on the battlefront and remember her and her love. The song was so popular among Soviet soldiers, that it lent its name to the famous Katyusha rocket launchers.
The citizens of Leningrad
The city of Leningrad, which was the symbolic capital of the Great October Socialist Revolution, refused to surrender to the Nazi aggressors and put up a heroic resistance. The Blockade of Leningrad was the brainchild of Hitler 'to dispose of their[Soviet] population which otherwise we shall have to feed during the winter'. The city of Leningrad was encircled by the German Third Reich and its Nazi allies. The civilian population of the city organised response groups. Cut off from the rest of the world, short of supplies, the city was constantly bombed and shelled; yet it refused to give up. Food rations soon dropped to 125 grams of bread per person per day. Supplies were brought when Lake Ladoga froze during the winter. Yet many of the city dwellers stayed on, the students continued their studies, government offices and institutions continued to function, life continued with a semblance of normalcy. Living a normal life in Leningrad was in itself a defiance of the Nazi monstrosity. More than 600,000 people perished during the period in the city. Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No.7 'Leningrad' was dedicated to the people of the city of Leningrad who bravely resisted the inhuman blockade for 872 days .Today it is seen as homage to all the victims of those troubling times.
The Soviet sniper
No mention about the Soviet actions in World War two will be complete without mentioning Stalingrad. Stalingrad was not just any Soviet city, it was Stalin's city; second in symbolic importance only to Moscow. Moreover, Stalingrad was strategically placed; it was the gateway to the oil rich Caucasus. And this fact was not lost, either on the Nazi aggressors or on the Soviet defenders. The Soviet Army resorted to close range combat against the Nazis. Every street, every corner, every inch of the city was fought for. And it is in these testing times that the snipers of the Red Army excelled. Lives were lost and heroes were born in Stalingrad. Lasting nearly 7 months, the battle for Stalingrad was perhaps the bloodiest battle in recorded history, with over two million causalities. But Stalingrad did not fall. It stood, proudly resisting the fascists. Men and women came from various parts of the USSR to defend the city. Many never went back, and were buried in Stalingrad.Tyemnaya Noch (The Dark Night) was written by N. Bogosolvsky and set to music by V. Agatov. The song echoes the emotions of a Soviet soldier fighting the Nazis in the steppes at night. The setting and the lyrics make it a fitting tribute to the snipers of the Red Army.
The Partisan and the Political officer
In order to disrupt the Nazi war machinery from the rear, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) aided the formation of partisan units in German occupied territories. The partisans were civilians with limited or no military experience who harassed the Nazis with guerilla operations in territories occupied by them. Communication lines and railroad transport were the primary targets. Specially chosen party activists, Red Army personnel and sportsmen were sent to motivate and assist the local population in acts of sabotage against the occupiers. Often the partisans also carried out assassinations of Nazi administrators and their local collaborators. The Nazis never considered the partisans to be regular soldiers and as a result they were victims of inhuman torture by the occupying force. Some partisans like Dmitry Medvedev (not to be confused with the Russian politician) went on to become Heroes of the Soviet Union.
There was another group of individuals whom Hitler ordered to be killed at sight so as to never grant them the privileges of POWs. This was the Red Army’s Political Officers. Hitler’s notorious ‘Commisar Directive’ of June 6th 1941 read: In the struggle against Bolshevism, we must not assume that the enemy's conduct will be based on principles of humanity or of international law. In particular, hate-inspired, cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners can be expected on the part of all grades of political commissars, who are the real leaders of resistance...To show consideration to these elements during this struggle, or to act in accordance with international rules of war, is wrong and endangers both our own security and the rapid pacification of conquered territory...Political commissars have initiated barbaric, Asiatic methods of warfare. Consequently, they will be dealt with immediately and with maximum severity. As a matter of principle, they will be shot at once, whether captured during operations or otherwise showing resistance.
Charged with the upkeep of troop morale and cohesion, the political officer was crucial to the Red Army’s onward march.The legendary photograph of the political officer of the 220th rifle regiment leading the troops into battle in the Ukraine leaves no doubt as to why the Nazis feared the political officer so much. Smuglyanka (The Dark girl) is a partisan song about love during the time of war. The song was written by Y. Shvedov and the music is the work of A. Novikov.
The Red Army Tankist
The Second World War also witnessed some of the most massive tank battles of all time. The brutality of tank warfare was on full display at Kharkov, Kiev and Kursk It was in the vast expanses of the Ukrainian steppes that the Third Reich collided headon with the Red Army. On one side were the technically advanced Panzers of the Nazi Wehrmacht. The machine was sophisticated, accurate and commanded by officers who were students of tank warfare veterans like Erwin Rommel and Heinz Guderian. Soviet tanks on the other hand followed a fundamental principle of Soviet weapons design- to keep weapons simple, crude but extremely effective. The Soviet T-34 tank was a textbook case in Soviet tank design. It followed a simple design suited for mass production. It was simple enough to be operated by the soldiers who had little time for effective training and had never seen a machine more complicated than the tractor. It was built for performance, not comfort or ease of use. Nevertheless, the Red Army tannkists fought bravely against their superior enemy. What the Red Army lacked in quality, they made up in quantity. The Red Army tankist was a hero in the fight against fascism. And so was the T-34. The song Na pole tanki grohotali (The tanks were thundering to the battlefield) is a tribute to the women, men and the machine that stopped the advance of the Nazi Panzer divisions in their tracks.
The Soviet Woman
The Soviet resistance was in all aspects a people’s resistance. The heroic role that the Soviet women played in this resistance is a testament to this fact. There were no men, no women; just human beings whose way of life had been threatened by an inhuman enemy. As more and more men left to fight at the front, the women performed their civilian duties. However, the Soviet woman was not one who could be content with driving the tractor or machining gun barrels for the war. Numerous women served at the battlefront with unsurpassed gallantry and performed the ultimate sacrifice.
This included Maria Oktyabrskaya who on learning of her husband’s death at the hands of Nazis, sold her possession to donate a tank to the Red Army. The donation came with a condition: that she be allowed to drive the tank, to avenge her beloved. Maria wrote a letter to none less than Joseph Stalin, expressing her desire and her condition. Stalin wrote back to Maria in the positive, and she graduated from the Omsk tank school. She excelled as a tank driver, silencing her harshest critics. Maria Oktyabrskaya was killed in action, during the course of the war. Marina Raskova and her all-woman 588th Night Bomber Regiment specialized in nighttime precision bombing of Nazi command and control structures. The regiment flew wood and canvas Polikarpov-2 biplanes originally designed for crop dusting. The aircraft was obsolete but very maneuverable. Even the best Nazi aces had a hard time shooting down such a slow flying aircraft. Perhaps the greatest tribute paid to her group was the nickname that the aces of the Nazi Luftwaffe gave them – Der Nachthexen (The Night Witches).
When the Nazis invaded the USSR, Lyudmila Pavlechenko was 24 and a master’s student of history. She rejected a chance to be a nurse and instead enlisted as one of the nearly 2,000 woman snipers who served in the Soviet Army. Her 309 confirmed kills makes her the most successful female snipers ever.
Proshchanye Slavyanki (Farewell to Slavianka), was originally written before the October Revolution to honour the Slavic woman, bidding farewell to her husband. Later the words were modified while the popular music was maintained. This is a tribute to the Soviet woman, who excelled in her social and military duties and kept the red banner of the people flying high above the reaches of the Nazi monster.