As many of you know, this weekend marks the 7oth anniversary of the German surrender at Stalingrad. It is, in itself, a battle of huge significance worthy of study and report. As the most famous text on the topic – Antony Beevor’s 2007 Stalingrad – states, “The battle for Stalingrad became the focus of Hitler and Stalin’s determination to win the gruesome, vicious war on the eastern front. The citizens of Stalingrad endured unimaginable hardship; the battle, with fierce hand-to-hand fighting in each room of each building, was brutally destructive to both armies. But the eventual victory of the Red Army, and the failure of Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa, was the first defeat of Hitler’s territorial ambitions in Europe, and the start of his decline.” I have a copy which I am happy to lend to you if you are interested.
It is thought up to 1.2 million people died in this key battle, and it is perhaps this scale that has led to some excellent journalism to mark the date. A good place to start might be the BBC’s news report here and their picture slideshow here. If you really want to understand what happened then episode 9 of the World at War series is pretty definitive (and again I have a copy if you want to borrow it).
However for us as A Level historians it is the this report from the Independent that is most useful. It raises two pertinent questions.
1. It addresses the point that Dani made last lesson about why (and to what extent) Stalin is still popular (even loved ?) in Russia.
“Behind the Mother Russia memorial (shown in the image above) is a museum dedicated to the wartime leader. No Soviet hangover, it was opened just six years ago by a local businessman (who was later shot in a contract killing), and features biographical data and a life-size waxwork of Stalin. On sale in the shop are Stalin calendars with soft-focus photographs of the Generalissimus in various modes: pensive, jovial, warrior-like. “Don’t believe what people tell you about the cult of personality,” guide Irina Rubayeva told a class of 30 schoolchildren touring the museum earlier this week. “Yes there was a cult, but oh, what a personality there was too! ”
2. It considers Russian criticism of Beevor’s work.
“They challenge two dominant clichés in Western scholarship about the Red Army: firstly, that the soldiers were simple peasants with no real loyalty to the Soviet state; and secondly, that they were coerced into battle at gunpoint, and that is the only way that the Soviets got them to fight.”
Perhaps these two arguments overlap. See what you think.