The Battle of Stalingrad during World War II between the Soviet Red Army and Nazi troops was long known to be bloody on both sides, but the extent of the horror was suppressed by the government — until now. German historian Jochen Hellbeck has published hidden interviews that were held for decades in the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow.
The U.K.’s Independent reported that the interviews were so graphic that the Kremlin only released a few after 1945. Hellbeck received a tip that led him to the thousands more stored in a vault.
Here are some of the choice memories from the more than 10,000 pages of interviews Hellbeck published in “Die Stalingrad-Protokolle” (or “The Stalingrad Protocols”), according to Spiegel Online:
- “He lay on the bed when I entered. He lay there in his coat, with his cap on. He had two-week-old beard stubble and seemed to have lost all courage.” – – Lieutenant Colonel Leonid Vinokur
- “The filth and human excrement and who knows what else was piled up waist-high. [...] It stank beyond belief. There were two toilets and signs above them both that read: ‘No Russians allowed’.” – Major Anatoly Zoldatov
- ”They could have easily shot themselves. They had no intention of dying — they were such cowards. They didn’t have the courage to die. – Major General Ivan Burmakov.
- “On Sept. 14, I shot the commander and commissar of a regiment, and shortly thereafter I shot two brigade commanders and commissars. They were all astonished.” – Lieutenant General Vasily Chuikov
- “One sees the young girls, the children, who hang from the trees in the park [...] this has a tremendous impact.” – sniper Vasily Zaytsev
- “I felt terrible. I had killed a human being. But then I thought of our people — and I started to mercilessly fire on them. I’ve become a barbaric person, I kill them. I hate them.” – sniper Anatoly Chechov said of killing Germans
- “These five months experienced in Stalingrad were the equivalent of five years in our subsequent lives [...] the earth in Stalingrad breathed fire for days.” – Aksyonov
The battle was one lasting several months where 60,000 Germans were killed and up to 1 million in the Red Army lost their lives, according to Spiegel. The battle ended in Jan. 31, 1943, when German commander Friedrich Paulus was found and surrendered.
Spiegel stated that the interviews were originally commissioned by historian Isaak Izrailevich for soldiers to share their experiences so others could learn. The interviews now also help reveal the extent to which this war was promoted to soldiers as the people’s war, driven by political passion. This and hatred toward Germans were morale boosters for the army.
So why were the interviews hidden for nearly 70 years? Spiegel reported:
These are things that the Communists simply didn’t want to hear after the war. An “informative, historic book written by the battle participants themselves,” as championed by the historian Mints, was never published. During Stalin’s anti-Semitic purges, Mints was even stripped of his professorship, allegedly for being a “rootless cosmopolitan.” It was only after the dictator’s death that he was rehabilitated. He hid the interview protocols.
The Daily Mail stated that the candid interviews didn’t support Communist ideals.
Hellbeck, who is a professor at Rutgers University, reportedly found the interviews with Russian colleagues.
Here’s a documentary on the battle from the Military Channel: