Morale: Nazi War Heroes In Russia

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April 25, 2010:  In Russia, a publisher had to quickly recall a calendar recently, issued to celebrate the Russian victory in World War II, when it was discovered four of the photographs that were supposed to be showing Soviet soldiers, actually showed German troops. The publisher admitted that they did not know what German soldiers looked like during World War II. The publisher had sent copies of the calendar layout to a veterans organization for checking, but the elderly veteran who looked at the photos had very poor eyesight, and could not clearly see what the images were, and just assumed that the publishers knew what they were doing. The publisher pled ignorance, pointing out that the war was long past, and that most young Russians these days are generally unfamiliar with it.

For older Russians, who lived through the war, or in the decade after it, the conflict was not World War II, but the "Great Patriotic War." The conflict killed 18 percent of the population, a figure that was a state secret until the Cold War (and the Soviet Union) ended in 1991. Before that, the Soviet government downplayed their wartime losses, which were about twice what the Soviets would admit to. The war was a catastrophe for Russia, destroying much of the economy, in addition to causing widespread hunger and privation. It took decades to repair most of the damage, and the annual May 9th victory celebration was a big deal. It still is, at least in theory.

But by the 1970s, older Russians were beginning to complain that memories were starting to fade. Younger Russians were put off by the forced celebrations and constant propaganda extolling the efforts of the Communist Party in defeating the German invaders. When the Cold War ended, the annual parades continued, but without the forced attendance. The veterans were now dying off. The surviving ones were still shown respect, but not as much as before. And the younger generation wanted to put the Soviet past behind them. That included all the iconography of the Great Patriotic War. It got to the point where educated men, publishers of calendars commemorating the war, could not tell German from Russian soldiers. But the veterans could, and they raised their voices in protest. But soon, all the veterans will be gone, and there will be few left to complain.

 

 


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