1942: Battle of Stalingrad, Remembered

1942: Battle of Stalingrad, Remembered

City on the Volga River, this Volgograd, Russia. City of tears, loss, resistance, and remembrance.

Bearing WitnessOnce named Stalingrad after the Soviet leader, Volgograd was the scene of perhaps the most brutal battle and decisive turning point in World War Two. In the summer of 1942, skirmishes broke out as Soviet troops fiercely resisted the Nazis’ advance to the strategic Caucasian oil fields in Baku.

On August 23, 1942 in what many historians mark as the beginning of the “Battle of Stalingrad,” the Nazis reached the suburbs of Stalingrad as German planes dropped tons of bombs on the city, killing thousands in the firestorm.

August 1942: Aftermath of a bombing raid on Stalingrad <br>Photo credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B0130-0050-004/CC by  SA

August 1942: Aftermath of a bombing raid on Stalingrad
Photo credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B0130-0050-004/CC by SA

A place of remembrance, as young join old at the "Memory of Generations" monument <br>Photo credit: John Seckel

A place of remembrance, as young join old at the “Memory of Generations” monument
Photo credit: John Seckel

Russian soldiers march along the Alley of Heroes in Volgograd, Russia <br>Photo credit: Bill Altaffer

Russian soldiers march along the Alley of Heroes in Volgograd, Russia
Photo credit: Bill Altaffer

The Soviets and Nazis fought for nearly half a year until Germany’s surrender on February 2, 1943; Stalingrad was all but destroyed. Combined losses of German and Soviet soldiers and Russian civilians were as many as two million – making it one of the bloodiest battles in the world.

Until this defeat, Germany’s Adolf Hitler had never lost a major battle. After Stalingrad and his heavy losses, Hitler won none. The stage was set for a Red Army counterattack and Germany’s eventual defeat in this Great Patriotic War, but at enormous cost to Russia, and to Stalingrad.

An eternal flame illuminates walls inscribed with names of 7200 defenders of Stalingrad <br>Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

An eternal flame illuminates walls inscribed with names of 7200 defenders of Stalingrad
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Never ForgetEven as I stand here, on the banks of the Volga River looking up at these sad monuments, I cannot begin to imagine such human loss and suffering. The city’s statues, monuments, ceremonies, survivors, and children of survivors all say the same thing: Never forget.

Step by step – 200 of them for the 200 days of the Battle of Stalingrad – I sense myself stepping into Soviet history as I climb upwards. Here, high on the hill overlooking Volgograd, Mamaev Kurgan still holds bone and metal fragments from those who fought during those five long months so long ago. At the crest of the hill stands a towering 279-foot statue, “Motherland Calls!” (Родина-мать зовёт!): Mother Russia is holding high her sword.

Visitors walk 200 steps to reach "Motherland Calls," one of the largest monuments in the world <br>Photo credit: John Seckel

Visitors walk 200 steps to reach “Motherland Calls,” one of the largest monuments in the world
Photo credit: Bill Altaffer

Nearby, the Square of Sorrow: so aptly named, with its statue of a grieving mother cradling her dead son in her arms, kneeling beside the Lake of Tears.

Visitors pay respects at the monument of an iconic sorrowful mother, a lake created from her tears <br>Photo credit: John Seckel

Visitors pay respects at the monument of an iconic sorrowful mother, a lake created from her tears
Photo credit: John Seckel

Monuments of MemoriesBack in town, as always I am jarred by the remains of the heavily shelled Flour Mill and Pavlov’s House, visual testaments to the city’s destruction, yet symbols of the city’s resistance and resilience in that war. A nearby museum showcases thousands of artifacts, with a panorama depicting the decisive battle more than 70 years ago.

The Flour Mill stands as a stark reminder of the city's destruction in the Battle of Stalingrad <br>Photo credit: John Seckel

The Flour Mill stands as a stark reminder of the city’s destruction in the Battle of Stalingrad
Photo credit: John Seckel

Painted on Russia's largest canvas, this panorama depicts Nazi troops defeated at Stalingrad <br>Photo credit: John Seckel

Painted on Russia’s largest canvas, this panorama depicts Nazi troops defeated at Stalingrad
Photo credit: John Seckel

The tree-lined Alley of Heroes invites us to remember soldiers and civilians who defended Stalingrad. And although cities usually have only one eternal flame, Volgograd has two. Hear the sound of goosestep-footsteps? It’s the eternal changing of the guard at one of those eternal flames.

Hushed silence as visitors watch – and hear – soldiers goose-stepping towards the eternal flame in Volgograd <br>Photo credit: John Seckel

Hushed silence as visitors watch – and hear – soldiers goose-stepping towards the eternal flame in Volgograd
Photo credit: John Seckel

Hero City, StalingradStalingrad is “Город-Герой – Hero City,” awarded the title in 1945 as one of 12 Soviet cities displaying the highest heroism in World War Two. Today, surrounded by these monuments of memories, I remember the men and women who fought, resisted, and defended their city to the death.

No, I will never forget. That is why I return to Volgograd – and Stalingrad, “Hero City” – again and again.

A new generation guards the memories of Stalingrad <br>Photo credit: Bill Altaffer

A new generation guards the memories of Stalingrad
Photo credit: Bill Altaffer

Travel to Volgograd with MIRYou can explore Volgograd and dig deep into its World War Two legacy on MIR tours to Russia, including ones that visit this region such as Russia’s Southern Steppe.

MIR has worked with many groups comprising military and history buffs, creating custom private journeys that focus on World War Two. Some brave the cold for anniversary observances that are typically held in February, when the Battle of Stalingrad ended. Such MIR custom journeys deeply explore Volgograd’s/Stalingrad’s past, with experts passing on to a new generation these stories of valor and victory in Volgograd. You can do the same.

(Top photo credit: Martin Klimenta – “Motherland Calls!” monument atop Mamaev Kurgan in Volgograd, Russia.) 

PUBLISHED: August 22, 2014

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