Martin Sieff

January 31, 2020
© Photo: Wikimedia

February 2 will mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the greatest, longest, most bloody battle in human history: It was a struggle that destroyed the previously invincible spearhead of the Nazi war machine which had conquered all of Europe in only three years and seemed about to conquer the world: Yet incredibly, so far the entire Western media, especially in the United States has completely ignored it.

The Battle of Stalingrad was the ultimate Hinge of Fate: It decided the outcome of World War II. The colossal scale of that amazing struggle was well recognized by Americans and Britons at the time, but it has been utterly forgotten since. The nations of the West have buried it deep in a Black Hole of forbidden memories that George Orwell would have recognized all too well.

Yet Stalingrad dwarfed every other battle of the war. It began in August 1942 as the apparent last stand of what seemed to be a doomed Red Army against a previously invincible Wehrmacht that had conquered the entire European continent from the northern tip of Norway to Crete and the Sahara Desert of Libya in less than three years. But at Stalingrad, all that changed.

“Beyond the Volga there is nothing!” went the Soviet rallying cry – and there wasn’t. Even today, looking east from the imposing heights of Mamayev Kurgan, it is eerie to see that on the other side of the great Volga, the embodiment of the soul of Russia, there literally is – nothing.

Mamayev Kurgan is a war memorial like no other on earth — for it is dominated by an angry goddess.

The most gigantic, impressive and eerie statue in the world — Rodina-Mat, the Mother Goddess of Russia — rises up 160 feet without any pedestal, 20 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty. She weighs 1,000 tons, more than 15 times the weight of the Statue of Liberty. But all that is the least of it.

Lady Liberty is at ease and serene in New York City, but Rodina-Mat is dynamic and furious. Her beautiful, surprisingly girlish, face conveys nightmarish shock, fury and rage.

Rodina-Mat’s arm is not relaxed and passively extended, carrying a torch like Lady Liberty. It is upraised carrying a 70-foot long sword that soars so high in the sky it has to have a red navigation light on its tip to alert low-flying aircraft.

Seen from afar, the sight is even more impressive, even terrifying. For Rodina-Mat is on the commanding height of the ridge skyline above the city at its most fought over point.

You can see her from anywhere you drive along the main arterial north-south roads along the Volga. She always appears in movement, alive, striking down the invaders with her amazing sword.

It is as if Athena or Aphrodite had stepped out of the pages of Homer’s Iliad and across time from the battlefields of Troy — or as if a gigantic astronaut-god visualized by Erich von Daniken again strode across the earth.

During the 200 days of the Battle of Stalingrad, Mamayev Kurgan was fought over for 130 of them. Today, it is the resting place for 35,000 Soviet soldiers.

Western military historians acknowledge that 1.1 million Soviet soldiers died in the Battle of Stalingrad – and that does not include at least 100,000 (and possibly three times as many civilian) inhabitants massacred by waves of indiscriminate Luftwaffe air attacks.

More than twice as many Russian civilians perished in the first week of air raids in Stalingrad as died in the Allied bombing of Dresden. When Soviet interrogators asked Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, the captured commander of the Sixth Army, why he had authorized such needless slaughter, he really did reply that he was only following orders.

Nazi losses were colossal too. According to Russian estimates, 1.5 million German and Axis soldiers lost their lives in the entire campaign, more than five times the entire U.S. combat dead for all of the war and more than twice the combined Union and Confederate dead of the entire U.S. Civil War.

None of the Axis remains that were found and identified were buried within the city. It is sacred soil to the Russian people. Only the heroic defenders of Stalingrad and the Motherland, or Rodina, are allowed the ultimate honor of resting there.

The entire German Sixth Army – 300,000 men – at the time regarded as the most invincible military force on earth, perished at Stalingrad. Just 90,000 of them survived to be taken prisoner when Paulus surrendered.

Paulus’ headquarters in the basement of Univermag, the central department store of the city became a museum too, one of the strangest on earth and a striking contrast to the primeval, heroic, epic grandeur of the statuary and memorials at Mamayev Kurgan.

Back in 2005 when I last visited it, Univermag was still a department store, very reminiscent of the kind you used to see across the U.S. Heartland in places like Sioux City or Iowa City that were built on the 1920s and that flourished until Wal-Mart swallowed them all up.

You would enter Univermag in Volgograd through the main entrance, you walked past children’s toys, turned left, navigated past lady’s pajamas and glassware – and without any warning, you were there.

The basement was filled with reconstructions of the Sixth Army’s last stand. Behind one door, models of two dying German soldiers lay in what really was an emergency operating room.

Behind another, an animatronic Paulus endlessly rose from behind his office desk to hear the latest news of catastrophe from another officer. Everywhere, the whine of the unforgiving winter steppe wind and merciless whroosh of the Soviet Katyusha — or “Little Katie” rocket mortars — sound their accompaniment.

Ilya Ehrenburg, greatest of all war correspondents, wrote that the soldiers in their basement and rubble strongholds clinging on to the banks of the Volga by mere feet and yards, loved those rocket mortars.

It was still true in 2005: The faces of 80-year-old highly decorated veterans of the battle lit up with boyish enthusiasm and joy when I asked them what their favorite weapon of the entire war was. “Katyusha!” those wonderful old men cried, jumping up and down, the years falling away from them by magic. “Katyusha!”

Seventy five years after Paulus surrendered and more than seven decades after the Third Reich was finally crushed the memories and scars of that struggle still define modern Russia.

Communism is dead. But Russian patriotism is not. And that is why, in this era of growing differences and alienation between Russia and the West, the extraordinary heroism and sacrifice of all those Red Army soldiers and the terrible price they paid to save the world needs to be remembered by Russia’s old allies and neighbors.

The wild, ferocious but utterly authentic emotions that play across the extraordinary face of the Rodina-Mat testify to the amazing sacrifices that were made on the banks of the Volga to destroy an ultimate evil. The leaders and peoples of the West need to remember again who destroyed that evil, the terrible price they paid and the gratitude we still owe them.