Stalingrad Part 1 – A Conversation with a Pretty Book Doctor. (A travelogue with a heart to mother Russia)
Posted by intellisg on July 24, 2007
“There is more here than just lands at stake here, this a rassenkampf (race war), where only one can survive! We the German people are the undeniable master race. It is not enough, I tell you to just preserve our Nordic way of life! We must be able to replenish the Aryan, and pursue our policy of racial purity by eradicating the inferiors! Do not believe for one moment we are ordinary people! Ordinary people cannot accomplish our miraculous feats which speak of a great people with a greater destiny! In this short time, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Holland and France have all fallen and so will the city in East, far from here. The city that is the red menace of Bolshevikism that even bears the name of their corrupt leader, Stalingrad! We shall seize it in the name of the 1,000 year Reich!”
Adolf Hitler (1941)
No where else in Russia does one hear the word ‘history’ spoken with such verve as Stalingrad – I mean Volgograd. For political reasons Stalingrad reflects the name of a controversial brutal dictator Josef Stalin, so they changed it during the 50’s. But everyone here calls it Stalingrad. I know you have all seen the stomach churning meat grinding violence of Saving Private Ryan along with the band of brothers – we know the narrative by heart – the West defeated the Nazis. Right? Nothing can be further from the truth, though historians may differ on who dealt the mortal blow that packed off Adolf Hitler and his uber Aryans to the rubbish heap of history, no one disputes, where it all happened – the beginning of the end – and in this bar South of the city, where old soldiers hang out with their medals strewn out like coins, Stalingrad will forever be the place where the tide was first turned against the invincible army of Hitler in WW II.
Its hard to imagine these days amid the sea of people, just sauntering along – mothers pushing their prams – fathers reading newspapers in parks – kids poking at carp with twigs in the central square in Volgograd – this was once the same place that saw the fiercest fighting and heroic struggles in human history. From time to time, a monument juts out proclaiming, “this was where we stood our ground!” – “enough is enough!” – “for the motherland! Urrah!” Despite the way these stone motifs regularly impose their message on the traveler’s consciousness. No where else in the world do they pale in comparison to the narrative these people hold in their hearts whenever they speak about the epic battle of Stalingrad. The mood is climatic and it’s everywhere leaching into the street, oozing out of wall papers, ever present even in the ordinariness of life. Even the hotel receptionist, a matronly type who looked as if she just retired from some KGB run gulag in Siberia – someone that has as much emotional quotient as stuffed grizzly bear is able to turn to me one evening starring with intense watery eyes intoning, “When you write about Russia, you will write about the things you ate, about and the things you saw with your eyes and hear with your ears, but this is the only corner of Russia where you can never read, taste or hear about. You cannot see, hear or taste pain, only feel it. You don’t need this.” She looked dismissively at my Leica camera. The exchange lasted only seconds, yet it was profound enough leaving me reeling why history had etched itself so deeply into this corner of the world? That even strangers feel the need to speak about their past as if they wear it on their sleeves. One rarely hears about those sort personal dioramas in New York, Paris or even in Singapore. There everyone is bubbled, shrink wrapped and distanced from the moral turpitude, violence and decadence of the past, but never in Stalingrad –everyone is a historian.
The traveler is always reminded of the duality between two narratives —past and present – shuttling like back and forth like a train, the story of people as they turn the wheel of life everyday and the story of their past that has every right, to reach out, coloring every moment of the present – every knows their history.
Even by today’s standards, it’s impossible to imagine the scale of loss and suffering this city once witnessed – the war reduced Stalingrad’s population from 600,000 to only 18,000 – 94% of the buildings were flattened – every square foot was bombed to re-scape the city at least 6 times over! A hell that even the invading Germans referred too as ‘Rattemkrieg’ (rat warfare) where close-quarter combat in ruined buildings, bunkers, cellars and sewers possessed a savage intimacy which appalled even the most seasoned soldiers.
I don’t even have a datum to scale those terrifying losses but my Lada driving taxi driver says, someone he knows does. He fought in Stalingrad, he says, “mama can take the pain away” – standing East of the Volga River that runs through the city from North to South – the statue called Mahyearh Koorghan – Mother Russia stands like a great beacon. She towers 164 ft tall and is listed in the Guiness book of Records as the tallest free standing monument. The locals, all refer to her as ‘mama’ she is not simply a memorial, but a sort of wailing wall of Jerusalem that every Russian is expect to make the pilgrimage to try to entomb their hurts and pain. Every Russian knows of someone whose father, brother, uncle, relative died in a Stalingrad. Mama is like some great Oprah Winfrey, the great embracer, patron to those who have loved and loss and looking at her, its hard for any Russian not to believe – it was all worth it, even dying of honorable dysentery is elevated to Byzantine glory when juxtaposed against the super bowl tits of mama Russia.
She’s a mother of a mama alright!
End of part 1, to be continued tomorrow when our debonair traveler meets the pretty book doctor – Martha. Find out what their respective histories holds for them.
(The Brotherhood Press 2007 – EP 2309035 – Travelogue Series / [the identity of the author has been withheld for security reasons so as not to compromise our gaming interest with our on-going war with the Tirianians in the Kilmaron Galaxy / as a sign of respect for the sixth anniversary of the Tirianian Legislative Council / a 930 parsec (2 earth days /48 hour) truce will be observed and we will be broadcasting this article to even the Tirianians for their reading enjoyment. We wish the Tirianians and all our frontline troops in the Ostfront – happy reading – the brotherhood wishes the Tirianians happy anniversary.] – 2007. EP)
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