Every German attempt to relieve the trapped Sixth Army failed. Herman Goering boasted that the Luftwaffe could supply the Stalingrad pocket. It couldn't. House by house, Russian infantrymen won a close-in battle of grenades and submachine guns. The Russians paid for their victory: 750,000 casualties in the city, 1.1 million in the region.
So far, this column has avoided mentioning the Soviet Union. The USSR no longer exists. Stalingrad no longer exists by name. Thanks to de-Stalinization, today the city goes by Volgograd. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin began WWII as Hitler's ally. The Soviets took eastern Poland and occupied the Baltic states. National Socialist and Marxist Socialist (aka communist) potentates cooperated for almost two years, until Hitler decided Eastern Europe had room for only one socialist totalitarian.
As the Red Army fled the Nazi offensive, Stalin didn't appeal to proletarian solidarity. He called on Russian nationalists to stop another German invasion.
Russian nationalism figured prominently in ceremonies commemorating Stalingrad, held in Volgograd on Feb. 2, 2013.
Former KGB agent and current Russian President Vladimir Putin, a man in whom czar and commissar mix seamlessly, showed up. "Stalingrad," Putin said, "will forever remain a symbol of unity and invincibility of our people, a symbol of genuine patriotism, a symbol of the greatest victory of the Soviet liberator soldier. And as long as we are devoted to Russia, our language, culture, roots and national memory, Russia will be invincible." Putin portrays himself as the heroic embodiment of Russian nationalism.
Several Stalingrad vets, men in their late 80s and early 90s, attended. They won't be around for 80th anniversary ceremonies. These men were, apparently, the real heroes recognized at the commemoration. And well they should have been.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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