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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 21, May 15, 2010

On 65th Anniversary of Victory over Fascism in WW II

Friday 21 May 2010

(On May 9 this year the world marked the sixtyfifth anniversary of Victory over Fascism, the menace that threatened the entire globe in the forties of the last century. The event was befittingly observed with a spectacular military parade at Moscow’s Red Square on May 9 emphasising East-West military cooperation that helped defeat fascism in Europe—for the first time ever, serving US, British, French and Polish troops as well as servicemen from several former Soviet states joined over 10,000 Russian soldiers in the Red Square parade. This was the largest military parade in Russia’s post-Soviet history and opened with WWII-era T-34 tanks followed by some of the latest weapon systems in the country’s possession. Highlighting the importance of allout anti-fascist unity in WWII, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in a brief speech at the parade, declared: “It is only together can we counter present-day threats. It is only as good neighbours can we resolve problems of global security in order that the ideals of justice and good triumph in all of the world and that the lives of future generations will be free and happy.”

Remembering the superhuman anti-fascist struggle of the peoples of the world, and those of the former Soviet Union in particular (since the Soviets had suffered the maximum in trying to stem the tide of and defeating the Nazi hordes) in WWII and offering our sincere homage to the abiding memory of those who perished in that struggle, we are reproducing excerpts from one of the writings of Konstantin Simonov as well as one of his most popular war poems here. The subject of the Great Patriotic War (as WWII is known in Russia) was central to the work of Simonov (1915-1979). In 1959, his novel, The Living and the Dead, was published; he narrated therein the tragic first months of the War (excerpts from that novel are presented here). We are also carrying the English translation of his famous poem “Wait for Me” in full—written in 1941 it was published in Pravda in 1942 and instantly won the hearts of all. Simonov was not just an author or a poet, but took an active part in the fight on all fronts against Hitler’s forces—throughout WWII he was the correspondent of the Soviet Army newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star).

In July 1941

Konstantin Simonov

He had followed the sergeant-major’s eyes to a spot nearby where the yellow mound of a freshly-dug grave stood under an enormous pine-tree, bare to the very summit. The broad German sword with which they had cut the turf to lay round the grave had not yet been removed and was sticking up out of the ground like an unwanted cross.

A rough criss-cross, still oozing resin, had been slashed into the bark of the pine-tree over the grave. To the left and right of it were two more gashes, just as evil-looking, like a challenge to fate or a silent promise to return.

Serpilin went up to the grave and, removing his cap, looked long and silently at the ground, as if trying to stare through it at something no one would ever see again—the face of the man who had fouight his way from Brest, bringing to this forest by the Dnieper all that was left of his battalion: five men, a gun, and one last round of ammunition.

Serpilin had never seen him, but he felt that he knew just what sort of person he had been: the kind of man for whom soldiers will go through fire and water; the kind of man whose dead body is carried away from the battle by soldiers at the risk of their own lives; the kind of man whose orders are obeyed even after his death; the kind of man it took to rescue this gun and these soldiers.

But these men, whom he had brought out, were worthy of their commander. He had been what he had been because he had marched with them….

¨

“Comrade Brigade Commander!” said the little doctor, coming up from behind the soldiers. “The colonel wants you!”

“The colonel?” asked Serpilin. His mind was on Baranov, and it took him a moment to grasp which colonel was sending for him. “Of course, let’s go, let’s go,” he said, realising that the doctor meant Zaichikov.

“What’s happened? Why wasn’t I sent for?” exclaimed the doctor when she saw the soldiers gathered round the new grave.

“It’s alright. Let’s go. It was too late to send for you!” said Serpilin, and with rough gentleness he put his big hand on her shoulder, almost forcibly turned her round and, his hand still resting on her shoulder, went away with her.

“No faith, no honour, no conscience.” He was still thinking of Baranov as he walked beside the doctor. “As long as war seemed a long way off, he used to shout that it would be a walk-over when the time came. But now it’s arrived, and he’s been the first to run for it. If he’s scared, if he’s terrified, then he thinks it’s all up with us and we can’t win! The hell it does! Apart from yourself, there’s Captain Gusev, and his artillerymen, and us sinners, the living and the dead, and this little doctor here, who has to hold a revolver with both hands…”

Serpilin suddenly realized that his heavy hand was still resting on the doctor’s thin shoulder—was not just resting on it, but even using it for support. She carried on as if unaware, however, and was even deliberately giving him that support. She probably never even suspected that there were people like Baranov in this world.

“Sorry, I forgot my hand was on your shoulder,” he said to the doctor gently. And he removed it.

“I don’t mind. Lean on me if you’re tired,” she said. “I am pretty strong, you know.”

“Yes, you’re strong,” thought Serpilin. “We can’t lose with people like you, and that’s a fact!” He wanted to say something affectionate and confident to this little woman as an answer to his private thoughts about Baranov; but he couldn’t find the words, and so they continued in silence to where Zaichikov was lying.

“Comrade Colonel, I have brought him,” she said softly, going down on her knees and bending right down to Zaichikov’s face.

Serpilin kneeled beside her and she moved aside so as not to prevent him also bending closer.

“Is that you, Serpilin?” asked Zaichikov in a scarcely audible whisper.

“Yes.”

“Listen to what I’m going to tell you,” said Zaichikov even more quietly, and he fell silent.

Serpilin waited a minute, then two, then three; but he was not destined to know what the former commander had wanted to say in the last moment of his life to the new divisional CO.

“He’s gone,” said the doctor almost inaudibly.

Serpilin slowly removed his cap, remained bareheaded for a few moments on his knees, straightend them with an effort, stood up and, without saying a word, went back.

¨

The scouts returned with the information that there were German patrols on the highway and that there was traffic heading towards Chausy.

“So we’re going to have to fight our way through,” said Serpilin. “Rouse the men and form them up!”

Now that he knew that his suppositions had been confirmed and that they were unlikely to get across the road without a fight, he finally shook off the feeling of physical weariness that had dogged him since morning. He was full of determination to take these men, now getting up from their sleep with their rifles in their hands, where he was supposed to take them—to join up with the main Soviet forces! He was not even prepared to consider an alternative.

That night he did not, and would not, know the full value of what had already been achieved by the men of his regiment. And, like him and those under his command, the full value of what they had done and were doing was not yet known in thousands of other places to thousands of other men who were fighting to the death with a stubbornness never anticipated or envisaged by the Germans.

They did not, and could not, know that the Generals at the head of the German Army that was still advancing in triumph on Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev, would, in twenty years’ time, call that July of Forty-One the month of deceived hopes, of successes that did not culminate in victory.

They themselves could not have foreseen the enemy’s future bitter admissions; but almost each and every man at that time, in July, did everything humanly possible to ensure that things should happen exactly as they did.

Serpilin stood and listened to the subdued commands. The column was stirring raggedly in the darkness that had descended on the forest. A flat, ruddy moon was rising over the jagged tree-tops. The first day of encirclement was nearly at an end…

1959

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