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Arise Ye Russian People!

The Russians are celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany this weekend.  It is fair to say that in that defeat the Soviet Union did the lion’s share of the fighting, the Soviets suffering more than twenty million war dead.  For all their heroism and suffering , the Soviets were still enslaved to a tyranny just as bad as the Third Reich, with that system now extended throughout Eastern Europe.  This cold fact is why Churchill entitled the final volume in his World War II history:  Triumph and Tragedy.

The clip from the  film Alexander Nevsky at the beginning of this post underlines the tragedy for the Russian people of World War II.   A true work of genius by Sergei Eisenstein, who somehow pulled off the feat of making a film about an Orthodox Saint, an aristocratic Prince and pillar of the Church, and ladling it with Communist and anti-religious propaganda, and yet having the final result not be laughably absurd.  The film was among the first efforts of Stalin to rally traditional Russian patriotism against the looming threat of Nazi Germany.  Poor Eisenstein found himself in the doghouse soon after the release of the film due to the Nazi-Soviet pact.  After the onset of Operation Barbarossa, the film was once again released and played to packed houses throughout the war.  The Russian rallying song in the film was composed by Sergei Prokofiev.  The lyrics roughly translated are :

Arise, ye Russian people,
to glorious battle, to a battle to the death:
arise, ye free people,
to defend our beloved country!
All honour to the warriors who live,
and eternal glory to those slain!
For our native home, our Russian land,
arise, ye Russian people!

Needless to say talking about a free people in Stalinist Russia must have struck many of the listeners as an example of black humor.

However, Stalin was onto something.  Most Russians, not to mention Ukrainians and the other subject nationalities, were ready to greet as liberators virtually any invading army to free them from their Communist oppressors.  In one of the great tragedies of history they were invaded by an army all too eager to slaughter them as untermensch, fit only to be killed or to be slaves.  Appealing to traditional Russian patriotism, Stalin rallied the nation to fight.  Stalin understood this.  He remarked to a British diplomat while reviewing Russian troops marching off to the front.  “We are not so fond as to think they perform these miracles for us, but for Holy Mother Russia.”

That of course is why Stalin also enlisted the aid of the Russian Orthodox Church which he had done his best to obliterate.  He made a joint radio address with the Metropolitan of Moscow appealing for resistance to the invaders and reopened some of the churches the Communists had closed.   The Orthodox responded with enthusiasm, preaching a crusade against Nazi Germany and  raising funds to equip an armored division which fought under the Orthodox banner.  Russian grandmothers and mothers, from the start of the war, sent off their men to serve in an atheist army with crosses around their necks, even if the crosses consisted of two nails twisted together.  The irony of Stalin, a Communist Georgian atheist, being saved by traditional Russian patriotism and religious fervor is richly self-evident.  Here is a rendition of  the Arise Ye Russian People sans movie:

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

8 Comments

  1. The Russian people endured tremendous hardship to defeat nazism, and are
    right to be proud of their sacrifices and their accomplishment. They will never
    forget.

    What about here in America? At the national VE 70th anniversary celebrations
    held in DC yesterday, our president declined to attend, instead choosing to fund
    raise on the west coast and visit Nike headquarters. Vice-president Biden was
    also conspicuous in his absence. The administration did send a national
    security advisor as its representative, so I suppose we can’t say VE Day was
    completely blown off…

  2. I could write a thesis about this subject if I wanted to. To sum it up, the Russian people have, for many centuries,suffered greatly under the oppressive yoke of whoever was or is in charge in the Kremlin. Often overlooked is that the USSR instigated World War II in Europe as the ally of Nazi Germany. Stalin, not satisfied at having starved millions of Ukrainians to death in the Holodomor, jumped at the opportunity to exact revenge upon the Polish nation who humiliated him in the Polish Soviet War of 1920-21. Stalin supplied Hitler with raw materials and the USSR shared intelligence with the Nazis.

    Great Britain warned the Kremlin of a German invasion, advice ignored by Stalin-that almost cost the USSR its existence. Had Germany had capable leadership instead of the madman Hitler,the Germans would have finished the job instead of being beaten at Stalingrad.

    The Red Army and the Russian people did the most bleeding and dying in World War II because it was fine with Stalin that millions of Russians die so that Hitler would be destroyed AND so that Stalin could expand the Soviet empire. Let’s not forget that the USSR took the Baltic states in the Molotov-von Rippentrop Treaty and took Polish territory east of the Curzon Line (the Kresy) which Poland never got back. Poland did get some formerly German territory. Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, eastern Germany and Bulgaria became captive nations for 44 years.

    I won’t start about Katyn now.

    So, for all of their sacrifice and suffering, the Russian people got more of Stalin, then Khruschev, etc. and now Putin, who fashions himself as another Peter the Great.

    The real reason for victory in WWII was the United States of America. Russian troops fought Germany between Stalingrad and Berlin. American troops fought Germans in North Africa and Italy, led the invasion at Normandy on D-Day, hunted U-boats in the North Atlantic, rebuilt its Navy and fought in the Pacific as well as the China-Burma-India theater against a crazed Japanese military all at the same time. American factories and American workers built most of the war materiel used to win the war. Tanks, planes, Jeeps, bombs, ammunition and the Manhattan Project, which kept the USSR out of Japan. Great Britain fought longer and was almost bled white by WWII and its troops fought valiantly but the UK wasn’t going to beat Japan and Germany by itself.

    I did not know but I am unsurprised that King Putt didn’t bother to show up at any ceremony celebrating VE Day, I can deal with Barack Obama only by completely ignoring what he says and does.

  3. I have no sympathy at all for the Russians. As a person of Finnish descent on my mom’s side, and a student of Finnish history, I learned these people and their various governments can never be trusted. My Finnish grandfather always told my mother and her siblings never to trust the Russians. Apparently, Grandfather had some very bad experiences with the Rus. When he was filling out his alien registration form at the post office, somebody hear his surname, and asked him if he was Russian. Grandpa said “No, I hate the G**D*** Russians!” My grandsire was a very devout Lutheran, so what happened to him in Finland must have been terrible for him to swear like that!
    BTW, the major thing that bugs me about the Russians is their attitude toward the Non-Russians they used to lord it over. When they pulled out of the Baltic states, the Russians who moved into to those countries during the Soviet years became outraged at a demand the governments of those newly freed countries were making on them. To be a citizen of those countries, they had to learn the native tongue! Horrible!

  4. There was a facinating programs about the 10 most game-changing weapons of WWII on the History Channel. One of the weapons was the Studebaker Truck, made in South Bend, IN. The US shipped hundreds of thousands of them to the USSR, and because they made the Soviet army more mobile, enabling troops, supplies, and artillery to reach danger points in the line quickly, the Soviets were able for the first time to stop the blitzkrieg. This was what made Soviet victory possible, especially at Kursk and Stalingrad.
    I don’t remember who said it, but I agree with the statement: “Too bad they couldn’t both lose”.

  5. Two items in lend lease were most valuable for the Soviets: the trucks you mention and endless tins of spam that kept the Soviet troops fed. Also the Anglo-American bombing campaign caused the Germans after 43 to cede air superiority to the Soviets by drawing huge numbers of German fighters from the Eastern front to air defense duty in Germany.

  6. BPS, the quote “it’s a pity they both can’t lose” is from a comment Kissinger made
    regarding the Iran-Iraq war. And he was right.

  7. At the national VE 70th anniversary celebrations
    held in DC yesterday, our president declined to attend, instead choosing to fund
    raise on the west coast and visit Nike headquarters.

    ==
    I wouldn’t mind if he just doesn’t do ceremonial. The fundraiser is retch-inducing (and his signature). He and Biden remind you of our achievement of the classless society: no one has any class at all.

  8. “If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible, although I don’t want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances. Neither of them thinks anything of their pledged word.”

    Harry Truman, June 24, 1941

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