Category Archives: Russia

Football Programmes of the Soviet Union (3)

Last time we were looking at Soviet football/soccer programmes for the top division, Division No 1. One or two more to look at. This  is “Спартак Москва” or Spartak Moscow, against “Зенит Ленинград” or “Zenit Leningrad”. Still a top team nowadays, “Spartak” was originally an international fitness and sports society and in Soviet times, was supported by the “Komsomol”. The latter was the “All-Union Leninist Young Communist League” or “Всесоюзный ленинский коммунистический союз молодёжи” abbreviated to” ВЛКСМ”. Despite all that, Spartak Moscow is today still considered to be “the people’s team:

This next programme has another famous team over the years in “Динамо Москва” or “Dynamo Moscow” who are playing “Спартак Орджоникидзе” or “Spartak Ordzhonikidze” on Saturday, April 25th 1970. The latter became “FC Spartak Vladikavkaz” in 1990 and then “Spartak-Alania Vladikavkaz” and then “Alania Vladikavkaz”. The club are still in Russia nowadays and they play in the North Ossetia–Alania region of the Caucasus:

They are based in Vladikavkaz, which in the days of the tsars was the frontier town of the Caucasus, a region which was very much the North West Frontier of the Russian Empire. All the dashing young officers would seek postings to Vladikavkaz, the one outpost of western ideas, surrounded by thousands of wild tribesmen:

Here are the team line ups and the team changes, written in by my friend, Oleg Soloviev, all those years ago, in a place as remote as you are likely to find. I presume he was there watching one of the teams before Zenit Leningrad had to play them, perhaps checking what their tactics were:

The Dynamo Moscow goalkeeper (No 1) was very famous. The Russian says “Лев Яшин” and the English is “Lev Yashin”. He always played dressed completely in black and was known as the “Black Octopus”. He was a legend in world football history and one evening, my Dad drove me to Leicester City to see them play Moscow Dynamo. Yashin didn’t play but they brought him out onto the pitch to wave at the crowd and he got a standing ovation. The Dynamo goalkeeper that night was the player below Yashin in the list. He was Vladimir Pilguy (Владимир Пильгуй).

My last top class Soviet programme is one that I actually bought myself on the day of the match in Leningrad. It was for Zenit Leningrad aka “Зенит Ленинград” against Nacional (Uruguay) aka “Насьональ (Уругвай)”, which was an international friendly match.  It was a beautiful sunny summer’s early evening, July 19th 1969, and Nacional won easily by 4-0. The Uruguayan national anthem was interminable, and when it finally finished, our school party thought both anthems had been played.

 

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Football Programmes of the Soviet Union (2)

The first programme today is another top football/soccer game, this time between “ЦСКА” and “Динамо Минск”. Don’t forget that the home team is always printed second on the front of the programme. It’s a politeness, a little like allowing a guest to go through the door first.

Many football fans will recognise the abbreviation above. bottom right,  as “CSKA”, which stands for the “Central Sports Club of the Army”. It’s rather like English clubs were often founded by a particular church or factory.

The opposition in this game was “Dynamo Minsk” a team which used to be in the USSR although the city is nowadays in Byelorussia and its club no longer plays top class football. A club founded, no doubt, by electricians, who are often a bunch of really bright sparks.

The Byelorussian Premier League is today so small that it contains even “СФК Слуцк” or “SFC Slutsk” whose ground can accommodate a mere 1,896 spectators. That’s the least of Minskian worries, though. Minsk has been invaded quite a few times. Indeed, one of the few bits of good news in the history of Minsk was that it somehow escaped the Golden Horde of Genghis Khan’s Mongols in 1237–1239.

Otherwise it took a battering from the troops of Tsar Alexei of Russia (1655), the army of Charles XII of Sweden (1708), the army of Peter the Great (1708), Napoleon (1812), the Red Army (1918), the Poles (1919), more Poles (1920), even more Poles (1920-1921) and the Germans (1941-1944). The latter barbarians took the population of Minsk from 300,000 down to 50,000.

Just up by the “ф” of “футбол” is a tiny diagram with a rather unclear picture, captioned “централный стадион”. I’ll leave you to work that one out, now you’re all mostly fluent with Russian letters. As a clue, the diagram looks pretty much like a “Central Stadium” to me.

The one thing that has always struck me about the few Russian football programmes I still have left  in my collection, fifty years after my friend, Oleg Soloviev, sent them to me, is that they speak of places so far away, so remote and so difficult to get to as to be beyond the reasonable expectations of most people. Many of them are from cities literally thousands of miles from where he lived in Leningrad (St Petersburg). This programme is from Tbilisi in Georgia, a mere 1400 miles from where Oleg lived:

The local team was Dynamo Tbilisi. The name is in the bottom left of the programme and is written “Динамо Тбилиси” with “Зенит Ленинград” in the bottom left corner, and also above the blue diagram of the two teams. In places like Georgia, everybody spoke Russian but the local language, Georgian, also appears. The top left, yellow rectangle has some good examples. In the bottom right is the diagram of the Tbilisi team with three interesting players. Number 6 is Khurtsilava, “Хурцилава”, and Number 8 is Metreveli, “Метревели”. Both of these two played in the Soviet Union team which came to England in 1966 for the World Cup and finished fourth in the world. At right back, No 2 is a famous Georgian name, “Дзодзуашвили”  or Dzodzuashvili, a man of complete and utter genius who ruled the USSR for 29 years, died, but still played First Division football a quarter of a century after his death. Still can’t place him? Well, here’s a clue.

This is another, more artistic, programme with the Georgian word for football or “футбол”.

Compared to the rest of the Russian programmes you have seen so far, this one is a riotous multicoloured festival of brightly coloured inks. Most of the rest of them have only four or five colours maximum. Still, at least you know the Georgian for “football”. The big question is, though, where in the blog post is the Georgian for “October” ?

 

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Football Programmes of the Soviet Union (1)

I wrote this blog post, and the others in this series, beginning on November 30th 2021. It does not indicate my favouring Russia over the Ukraine in the war currently being waged on the latter’s territory.

In any case, I have written about sport in the old Soviet Union in the late 1960s, not the situation today. Indeed, I would argue that Russia today is an infinitely worse country to deal with than the old Soviet Union used to be. The only situation I could compare present day Russia to would be the Germany of Hitler and Goebbels, where the population were hypnotised into believing what they were told to believe. Anyway, here we go…….

Three, perhaps four lifetimes ago, I was at school, at a country grammar school in west Leicestershire. From 13-17, I studied Russian there, a subject that I always loved. I was also a huge football/soccer fan, and accordingly, I had a collection of hundreds of football programmes. These are the little booklets that are on sale before the match with all the details of the teams, the fixtures to come, the top goalscorers in the league and so on.

Those two hobbies came together when I wrote a letter to a Russian First Division team who were then called Zenit Leningrad, asking them if anybody there would like to become my penfriend, and exchange football programmes with me. Here’s the team badge:

 

A little while later, I received a letter from a Russian gentleman who, just like me, was a lover of football and a programme collector. His name was Oleg Soloviev and his surname meant “nightingale” in Russian. The team used to play at what was then called the Kirov Stadium, a vast bowl with 100,000 seats.

I sent Oleg English and Scottish programmes and he sent me Soviet ones. I say “Soviet” because in those days many of the teams had Soviet names, as we shall see. Oleg was the man in charge of Zenit’s Youth Team and he travelled widely around the USSR in connection with his job. I still have some of the programmes he sent me, although only a small fraction. When I left home to go to my first job, my mother threw out my entire programme collection because I didn’t live there anymore. This type of action, which, incidentally, discarded well over a thousand pounds worth of footballing treasures, was by no means rare at this time and there were other young people I knew who suffered from it. It was all part of the “Bring ‘em up tough but with deeply rooted complexes” method of child care, so beautifully captured by Philip Larkin in this oh-so-true poem

One small difference from English programmes was that in the Soviet Union, the home team was always printed second. This is shown in this particular programme which is of a design used by Zenit Leningrad for a number of years. At the top is the word “футбол” or “football” and the next word is “стадион” which means “stadium”. Perhaps you can spot the name of the man that the stadium was named after, namely “Kirov” or “Кирова”.

Other recognisable things are the kick-off time at the bottom, namely 1600 hours and the day “21 июля” or “21 July” in the middle of the ball.

The teams are going to play a friendly match, the lower team is “Зенит Ленинград” aka “Zenit Leningrad” and the two word opponents are “Сборная” which is “international (team” and “Японин” or “Japan”.

The next programme concerns two teams which still exist nowadays. “Шахтëр Донетск” or “Shakhtyor Donetsk” versus “Зенит Ленинград” aka “Zenit Leningrad” . The game actually took place in the 27th year of the USSR Championship, 1965 (bottom), on April 21st (top right), at 1800 hours (bottom) .

Here are the two teams, both set out in a daring 4-2-4 formation. “Зенит“ obviously means “Zenith” and “Шахтëр” means a “coalminer”. Донетск /Donetsk is now in the Ukraine, in the Donbass region, famous for its coal and iron ore.

That same team of Shakhtyor Donetsk/”Donbass Coalminers” is the away team in the next encounter, against “СКА Ростов” which is “SKA Rostov” “SKA” stands for “Sports Klub of the Army”. Rostov is a very large city and the stadium hosted five games in the 2018 World Cup. This link will take you to some pictures of Rostov’s beautiful buildings.

The game kicked off at 1700 hours (bottom) on July 1st 1971 (middle left). The large yellow letters say “кубок СССР по футболу” which means “Cup of the USSR in football”. It is the 30th tournament (top left, with “30-й турнир”).  Underneath the big yellow letters it is revealed that the game is the “матч ¼ финал” or “quarter final match”.  Rostov, though, have never been a very successful cup team. Just under the right hand yellow pentagon it says “35-й кубковый матч СКА”. So, if this is Rostov’s 35th cup match, and the cup competition is now thirty years old, then they must have only ever won five cup ties.

 

 

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (6)

Last time I was looking at the relatively long list of motivations for the extreme violence used by the German army in World War Two. This list was supplied by Messrs Neitzel and Welzer in their book “Soldaten”. If you remember, Sönke Neitzel had discovered in the British National Archives that, during World War II, British Intelligence had recorded German prisoners of war in secret and then transcribed their conversations. This process had produced 50,000 pages of transcripts as they chatted, mainly at Trent Park near Cockfosters, but also at Latimer House near Amersham and at Wilton Park near Beaconsfield, which are both in Buckinghamshire:

All the reasons on the list of motivations for extreme violence came together from 1939 to 1945, as a maniac only five feet seven inches tall and who couldn’t grow a full moustache claimed that the Germans were the Master Race and had the right to wipe out completely from the face of the earth one of the oldest communities on the planet, the Jews. How you eliminated the Jewish men, women, children and babies was not important, so long as they all died, every single one of them:

The conversations taped at Trent Park, therefore, are frequently way beyond incredible. How could you be a member of the human race and say things and do things such as these people did ? How could anybody treat genocide as a sport? an entertainment?

First is SS Oberscharführer Fritz Swoboda:

“…there was a column of 500-600 men. They came in through the gate and went to the firing range. There, they were killed, six at a time, picked up and taken away and the next six would come. At first you said, great, better than doing normal duty, but after couple of days you would have preferred normal duty. It took a toll on your nerves. Then you just gritted your teeth and you just didn’t care. There were some of us who got weak in the knees when shooting women even though we had selected experienced front line soldiers. But orders were orders.”

Edwin, Graf von Rothkirch was recorded as saying:

“I was at Kutno. I wanted to take some photographs…that’s my only hobby…and I knew an SS-leader there quite well and I was talking to him when he said, “Would you like to photograph a shooting?”. I said, “No, the very idea is repugnant to me.” “Well, it makes no difference to us. They are always shot in the morning, but if you like, we still have some and we can shoot them in the afternoon sometime. You can’t imagine how these men have become completely brutalised.”

Kammeyr, a mechanic in the Kriegsmarine said:

“Nearly all the men there were interned in large camps. I met a fellow one evening and he said “Some of them are going to be shot tomorrow. Would you like to see it?” A lorry went there every day and he said “You can come too”.

The lorry arrived and stopped. In a sort of sandpit there was a trench about twenty metres long. I didn’t know what was happening until I saw the trench. They all had to get into it and were hurried into it with blows from rifle-butts and lined up face to face; the feldwebel had a tommy-gun. There were five of them, they shot them one after the other. Most of them fell like that with their eyeballs turned up. There was a woman among them. I saw that. It was in Libau.”

Luftwaffe Lieutenant–Colonel von Müller-Rienzburg said :

“The SS issued an invitation to go and shoot Jews. All the troops went along with rifles and shot them up. Each man could pick the one he wanted.”

First Sergeant von Bassus, rather incredulous,  asked :

“You mean to say that it was sent out like an invitation to a hunt?”

And von Müller-Rienzburg replied: “Yes.”

Lieutenant-Colonel August von der Heydte also reported in hearsay, second hand fashion, that executions resembled hunts.

Lieutenant–Colonel von der Heydte recounted how:

The SS-Führer Böselager was having dinner and after dinner he said: “Now we’ll go and have a look at..(place of execution).   They drove out in a car and shotguns were lying about, ordinary ones, and thirty Polish Jews were standing there. Each guest was given a gun; the Jews were driven past and every one was allowed to take a pot shot at a Jew. Subsequently they were given the coup de grâce.”And finally, Luftwaffe First Lieutenant Fried: “I was at Radom and an SS captain said : Would you like to come along for half an hour? Get a tommy gun and let’s go.. I had an hour to spare so I went, We went to a kind of barracks and slaughtered 1,500 Jews.  There were some twenty men with tommy guns. It only took a second and nobody thought anything of it.”:

Although the types of appalling behaviour that Neitzel and Welzer have detailed in their book “Soldaten” have happened with disgraceful frequency, it would be wrong to think that the problem is an insoluble one.

Firstly, before young people are even old enough to consider the armed forces they should be made abundantly aware in their schools that racism is completely unacceptable. Outside the schools, the concept of free speech must not become an excuse to allow race hatred. Otherwise, race hatred will end in the shocking events I have described above. Punishments for race hatred should involve custodial sentences, if only a few days. They should not include fines.

In the Armed Forces, old, experienced combat veterans should explain to new recruits what combat will be like, what emotions you can expect to feel and what is unacceptable behaviour. War crimes should not be tolerated and the guilty parties should always serve time in prison.

Hopefully, this would avoid a situation where civilians are just as frightened to see the arrival of the British, the Americans and the French as they would be with the arrival of any number of less disciplined and less well trained armed forces.

 

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (5)

Last time, we were looking at “Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer:

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The book relates how German prisoners of war were listened to by German speaking operators, usually Jews, who wrote down the horrific tales they told. Here are some Wehrmacht prisoners, crossing one of the Great Lakes on their way to a Prisoner of War camp:

And here is one of those listeners, back in England:

Towards the end of their book, “Soldaten”, Neitzel and Welzer provide a brief summary of what they have discovered:

“A lot of what appears horrible, lawless, and barbaric is part of the normal frame of reference in wartime. Stories about German cruelty don’t attract any more attention in World War II than they do in reports by US soldiers in Vietnam. Instances of cruelty rarely seem spectacular to the majority of soldiers. Such violence is instrumental in nature. It’s hardly any surprise that it occurs in war.”

To be honest, I’m not too sure that I agree with all of that. My perception is these horrific events were much more the norm with the German forces in World War Two than they were with either the British or the Americans in World War II or in other wars.

Having said that, the Germans did not carry out My Lai and the Germans were not present in the Korean War. My Dad’s friends in the RAF, not Germans, were the ones who sank two U-boats after VE-Day and, as a little boy, I remember a friend of mine telling me how his Dad, a soldier in India, Burma and Siam witnessed appalling incidents of violence, cruelty and murder in native villages, and he wasn’t in the Japanese army. He was in the British army.

During World War Two, though, the majority of the incidents of extraordinary cruelty and barbarity took place on the Eastern Front, committed by Germans on Russian victims. One of the tapes mentioned in Post No 1 was of a man whose surname was Graf. He was an ordinary Wehrmacht soldier:

“The Russian POWs had nothing to eat for three or four days, then the guard would hit one over the head and he was dead. The others set on him and cut him up and ate him as he was.”

Here are some Russian prisoners:

All of the various motivations for violence come together when the Final Solution is considered:

As far as the Final Solution is concerned, this type of violence is seen as one possibility in the list of possible social actions between communities. In this case, it was violence by more or less every German against every Jew they could find:

In Allport’s Scale, it is Stage Five of five, namely “the extermination or removal of the out-group”. Other examples include Cambodia, Rwanda and Armenia.

In the Second World War, say the authors, individuals tended to repeat their previous behaviour, especially if they had escaped punishment for it. One of the most frequent actions on the Eastern Front was the massacre of defenceless people as a reprisal for the death of a German soldier:

If people commit acts of violence and nobody is ever punished, we have “inhumanity with impunity”, which describes perfectly German behaviour in captured Poland and the Soviet Union. Killing young children was not a problem:

“Autotelic violence” is violence for its own sake, because the perpetrator finds it exciting and entertaining, whether it is the first killing or the thousandth:

Individual soldiers usually did what the group did. The group was their entire world and their standards of behaviour were considered the ones to follow.

If some of the group wanted to kill Jews and then throw them into a ditch, it soon became acceptable behaviour. So did the mechanised slaughter of the death camps :

One other, final, factor helping to trigger off the violence by the Germans in the Second World War was their desire for revenge after defeat in 1918. In German thinking, their defeat came about not because the Allied armies were victorious, but because the German army was betrayed by the people back home in Germany, such as the Communists, the Socialists and the Jews. (And most of the Communists and the Socialists were Jews anyway.)

The solution was easy. Kill them all. The Communists, the Socialists, the Jews, the Gays, the Gipsies, Black People, everybody who didn’t agree with you. That’s a long road to go down. And it’s marked with a corpse every few yards:

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Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (3)

About a year ago I bought a collection, on DVD, of what were,  supposedly,  some 12,000+  images of World War  2 . I was very surprised, and pleased, to see that most of them were not British or American but were in fact either Russian or German. I would like to share some of them with you because a number of them have great photographic merits as well as capturing a split second in history.

It is quite difficult to find a coherent story which will link together 12,000+ images, but I will give it a go. I’m going to start with the Red Army. Here are 11 Soviet soldiers, all well equipped for winter conditions:

The next few photographs will show some of the methods they used. First of all, they knew the conditions and were used to fighting in snow, especially the fierce Siberian troops:

They obviously had a few armoured trains left over from the Civil War and made use of them, although I would struggle to say exactly where:

The Soviet way was to make things that were tough and would stand up to use. They  were also not ashamed to use simple means of transport as opposed to complex tracked vehicles that might freeze up. Horses are tough and, if need be, you can eat them:

Machine guns were easily transported on special little trolleys:

There were huge problems, of course, especially in the early days. Members of the KGB would be positioned at the back of any Red Army advance  and would shoot down the men who ran away. This seems quite extraordinary but many engagements in the Civil War had been lost because the Soviet forces just took to their heels and fled. On more than one occasion the British forces had the benefit of this sudden loss of nerve.

The White Russians had to try extremely hard to lose that war, but they managed it!

Here recruits are trained to shoot straight. Note the unusual fastening for the bayonet onto the rifle barrel:

The troops’ confidence would grow enormously when these newly invented rocket weapons were used. They were known as “Stalin’s Organ” and made use of fourteen Katyusha rockets with a range of up to four miles:

The biggest difference between the Soviets and the other combatants was probably the use of women, not only in non-combat roles but as, for example, fighter pilots and snipers. Women made excellent snipers, apparently. They found it much easier to kill in cold blood than men did, and felt little or no guilt when they did so.

Lyudmila Mikhailovna Pavlichenko had a record 309 kills:

I think that this cheery young lady is also a sniper, judging by the telescopic sights on her rifle:

Some women, of course, worked at what were, by Western standards, more usual wartime occupations:

And, finally, waving the Red hordes on to Berlin. Notice the road sign on the right. It reads “Берлин” :

 

 

 

 

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (2)

Last time I wrote about “Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer. This is a book about the appalling attitudes and shocking behaviour of, primarily, the German armed forces during World War II. What makes the book so interesting though, is that the two authors range relatively far and wide in their search for an explanation for the Germans’ extreme violence:

“At Princeton University in 1973, a remarkable experiment was carried out. Forty Theology students were told to write a short essay about the Good Samaritan and then it would be recorded for radio at another building.”

Here’s a view of that beautiful university:

The students completed their essays about the Good Samaritan and waited for the word to leave. Eventually an obvious authority figure arrived and told them loudly:

“Come on!!! You’re all going to be late !!! Come on!!! GO !!  GO !!   GO !! “

When the Theology students got close to the building where they would record their essays for radio, they found a man lying on the pavement, eyes closed, coughing and moaning. It was impossible to miss him. He was clearly in a bad way:

Of the forty students, 24 ignored him completely and only 16 stopped to help. A number of the 24 lied that they had not seen him, which was completely impossible.  “Soldaten” argues that this proves, and it is rather difficult to contradict them, that:

“There is a vast gap between what people believe about their moral standards and their actual behaviour”.

Take that sliding scale to its logical end and we are faced with “Autotelic violence”. This is violence for its own sake, violence carried out because you like it, you enjoy it. My best example would be the German pilot over London who machine gunned the civilians as they walked peacefully along Downham Way and then bombed the seven and eight year old children waving to him in the playground of a school in Catford. You can read this appalling story here and, if you are still in any doubt, here.

If you have followed the links and read the two accounts, then let’s take a quick look at some of those transcripts made by British Intelligence. This is Lieutenant Pohl who flew a light bomber in the early part of the war when Germany invaded Poland:

“On the second day, I had to bomb a station at Posen. Eight of the bombs fell among houses. I did not like that.

On the third day I did not care a hoot and on the fourth day I was enjoying it. I chased single soldiers over the fields with machine gun fire, and people in the street… I was sorry for the horses.”

One valuable piece of advice from the two authors is that

“If we cease to define violence as an aberration, we learn more about our society and how it functions than if we persist in comfortable illusions about our own basically nonviolent nature. If we reclassify violence as part of the inventory of possible social actions among communities, we will see that such groups are always potential communities of annihilation.“

In other words, we are deluding ourselves if we think we have overcome our willingness to be violent. Our apparently civilised world is no different from anybody else’s world.

This is emphasised by the book’s detailed examination of the events lived through by Michael Bernhardt, which suggest very strongly that the behaviour of the group reinforces the behaviour of the individual. This idea we have already seen, to some extent, when discussing “inhumanity with impunity” in a previous post. Michael said:

“The only thing that counted was how people thought of you in the here and now…the unit was the entire world…what they thought was right, was right and what they thought was wrong, was wrong.”

Despite his name, Michael Bernhardt was not German but American. He served in Vietnam and, when the time came, he refused to take part in the My Lai massacre of 400-500 old men, women and children. You can read about these terrible events here, and here:

For this refusal to participate in a war crime, Michael Bernhardt was ostracised by every single one of his fellow soldiers, even though back in the USA he was to receive the New York Society for Ethical Culture’s 1970 Ethical Humanist Award.

In other words, in the world of Bernhardt’s fellow soldiers, “what (the unit) thought was right, was right and what (the unit) thought was wrong, was wrong.”

Can everybody use that excuse though? Even the SS ?

We will see next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (1)

“Soldaten”, which means “Soldiers” is a book about the many atrocities committed by the German armed forces during World War II, although the two young authors do not hesitate to include other conflicts if they wish to make a particular point. War crimes by American forces in both Vietnam and Iraq are therefore included:

The two young authors are both highly distinguished academics, Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer.

Harald Welzer (above) was born in Hannover in 1958 and he is a German social psychologist, having studied sociology, psychology and literature at the University of Hannover.

Born in 1968, Sönke Neitzel (above) studied at the University of Mainz and is Professor of Military History at the University of Potsdam. He has previously held professorships at the London School of Economics, the University of Karlsruhe, the University of Bern, the University of Glasgow and the University of Saarbrücken.

The two young men belong to a burgeoning group of modern German academics who are completely willing to study and to write about Hitler, Nazism and the conduct of the German people during World War II. They are not in the slightest bit biased towards the Germans and they do not try to defend the behaviour of the Nazis. Overall, in “Soldaten”, they treat the Nazi period, quite rightly, as if Hitler’s Germany was so far away in the past that it has become a foreign country. Things were done differently there:

I read “Soldaten” recently and I found it absolutely stunning. I even read the first fifty pages twice to make sure that I had understood it all fully.

The book is based on what was probably Sönke Neitzel’s luckiest day ever. He discovered that during World War II, British Intelligence had taped German prisoners of war in secret and had then transcribed their conversations. This process had produced 50,000 pages of transcripts, which he was able to locate and then to read. Neitzel later found that the National Archives in Washington DC had around 100,000 further pages of prisoners’ conversations. The transcripts from the German prisoners in England have produced a 400 page book which I am going to review in almost note form.

In the earliest pages, it is explained that:

“the brutality, harshness and absence of emotion are what is so disturbing for us, sixty years after the fact…..killing and the worse sorts of violence were part of everyday reality (back then).”

The book will seek to explain why these levels of violence came about, and whether they were unique to this period of the twentieth century.

One idea, mentioned as early as page four, is that when you have reacted once in a particular way to a certain situation, you will continue to apply the very same rules:

“In the Third Reich, people didn’t need to be anti-semitic to murder Jews, or altruistic to rescue them….it was enough to be in a social situation in which one or the other course of action seemed called for. After that, people tended to follow what they had already done…massacre or rescue.”

When the course of action chosen is massacre, the situation may also incorporate the idea of “inhumanity with impunity”. Clearly, if everybody commits acts of violence and nobody is ever punished for it, then this promotes situations where people can “follow what they had already done”. Here is an example from a conversation between German POWs which was taped by British Intelligence:

Soldier A : “Kharkiv was a delightful town. At Taganrog too, there were splendid cinemas and wonderful cafés.

Everywhere we saw Russian women doing compulsory service.

We drove past, pulled them into the armoured car, raped them and threw them out again. And did they curse!”

Where does “inhumanity with impunity” come from? Well, on page 25 of “Soldaten, an explanation is given:

“In psychological terms the inhabitants of the Third Reich were as normal as people in all other societies at all other times. The spectrum of perpetrators (of violence) was a cross section of normal society. No specific group proved immune to the temptation of “inhumanity with impunity”.

The Third Reich did not though, reduce the variations of individual personalities to absolute zero. But it showed them to be of comparatively slight, indeed often negligible, importance.

In other words, we are more or less all capable of carrying out dreadful acts, because our characters do not differ enormously from those of other people. And that is why those variations are of negligible importance. All of us, every single one, can do dreadful evil.

They were people just like any other, under that showy uniform………

 

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Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (2)

About a year ago I bought a collection, on CD, of what were,  supposedly,  some 12,000+ images of World War  2 . I was very surprised, and pleased, to see that most of them were not British or American but were in fact either Russian or German. I would like to share some of them with you because a number of them have great photographic merits as well as capturing a split second in history. They also reflect quite accurately how that massive struggle was unfolding.

We left the German invaders discovering just how cold the Soviet Union could get. The Germans still thought that they could win, though. Their racial theories said the Russians were “untermenschen” and the photographs they took and sent home seemed to prove it:

This man is living in the Western USSR but what race is he? :

And what about this one? He is far from the Aryan ideal. And by the rules used by the Germans, he may be killed for that offence against racial purity:

When they invaded Poland, the German troops were told that the Poles lived in filth, that they had a distinctive stink and that, with practice, you could smell the presence of any Poles nearby. Poles were Slavs and so were Russians. It wasn’t a huge leap to apply the same attributes to Russians. And the photographs you took would prove it. They were subhuman. Just look at them. Barefoot and unkempt. Where would you find the like in Germany?:

Many of them even lived underground:

And their children?  Like little animals. Dirty. Badly dressed and often bare footed:

And many of them are complete ragamuffins, with little evidence of knowing who their parents are:

And then the stupid, smelly Russkies stumbled their way to making what may well have been the finest tank of all time, the T-34 :

And before too long, the tables began to be turned. More and more prisoners were being captured by the useless, cretinous Soviets:

Events accelerated after that, from very bad to catastrophic. Soon it was Germans who were fleeing as refugees. Hitler had said that he would drive Bolshevism out of Europe, to the far side of the Urals. He was wrong. His incompetence had brought the Red Commie Tide westwards, and the Russians by 1945 were some 800 miles further into central Europe than they had been six years before. Run, run, run!:

And before long, they were giving German Grandads in Berlin newly invented superweapons and telling them to do their bit to chase those 2,300,000 Russkies out of the city. Don’t look so bewildered, Gramps! They’re easy to use, but unfortunately, they fire only one shot:

 

 

 

 

 

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Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (1)

About a year ago I bought a collection, on DVD, of what were,  supposedly,  some 12,000+  images of World War  2 . I was very surprised, and pleased, to see that most of them were not British or American but were in fact either Russian or German. I would like to share the best of these photographs with you because a good number of them have great photographic merits as well as capturing a split second in history. They also reflect quite accurately how that massive struggle was unfolding.

September 1st 1939. The Germans attacked Poland in some strength and soon, prisoners were being taken in large numbers:

On June 22nd 1941, came Operation Barbarossa. The Germans attacked the Soviet Union where lebensraum was almost limitless. Victories came easily. Cities were blown to bits:

Towns were destroyed:

And villages burned:

Russian prisoners were captured in their hundreds of thousands:

The Germans didn’t always feed the Russians. In years to come this would result in cannibalism in many of the camps. A German sentry would shoot a Russian prisoner, and the others, all starving, would then eat him:

For the advancing army, there were always meteorological problems, In the height of summer, it was dust:

But then it started to rain as autumn set in. Not too much to begin with. But then it got worse. The Russians call this time “распутица” (pronounced “rass-poot-eat-sa”) which means “the season of bad roads”.  The origin of the word is that “рас” (“rass”) means “in different directions” and “пут” (“poot”) means the road. And that’s exactly what happens as the road disappears into a sea of mud. It begins very gradually with this:

And it ends with this:

Traditionally, the weather starts to get colder and much more wintry on November 7th, the anniversary of the outbreak of the Russian Revolution. But the Germans did not know this, and they just woke up one day and there was a light dusting of snow, and the mud was all frozen. They preferred that. At least you could walk on frozen mud:

But then it snowed a little more, and a little more. At first it was very picturesque:

But then you find your tank is stuck in the frozen mud and the snowdrifts and it’s unusable. You expect to be given a winter uniform and winter equipment but it never comes. You start to feel cold. And it’s no fun playing stupid games in the snow any more:

 

 

 

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