By Vladimir Medinsky, aide to the president of the Russian Federation
Amid the incessant attempts, within and outside Russia, to erase or reverse the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazi Germany, we must never forget who is to blame for every single one of the many millions lives we lost.
March 3, 1943 saw the city of Rzhev liberated from the Nazi occupation. Out of the 50,000 people who used to live there before the war, only about 300 survived. Two days before the city was recaptured, German troops gathered the survivors in an old church and rigged it with explosives. The doomed residents got extremely lucky; there was no explosion – the Red Army advance force got there in time to disarm the bombs. Few were as lucky as this.
Among the records of the Extraordinary State Commission for Investigation of Nazi War Crimes we find the following evidence: “During the German retreat from the village of Drachevo, Gzhatsk District, in March 1943, Lieutenant Boss, Assistant Chief of the German Field Gendarmerie, herded 200 village residents into the house of collective farmer Chistyakova, locked the door and set fire to the house. All of the 200 persons were burned to death.”
In the Leningrad Region, Nazi troops established a concentration camp for children in the village of Vyritsa. Children from the warzone were brought there. Why? The answer is, to serve as blood donors for the German troops. One survivor reported, “My sister, Elena, died there, in the infirmary. She was begging me, ‘Alexander, please take me away from here. I have no blood left, but they keep coming for more.’ She died the next day.”
These, as well as thousands of other cases of deliberate killings of the civilian population, including children, women and the elderly, were documented and presented by the Soviet Union during the Nuremberg trials hearings.
No one has ever doubted that an ultimate and clear understanding has been achieved on the subject of who was the perpetrator in World War II, and who the victim, as well as the liberator; and it seemed that nothing could ever change that. Alas. In the 21st century, the rehabilitation of Nazism has slinked back into our world. With a smiling face and a façade of tolerance, it has made nests and lain eggs throughout the swamp that is the World Wide Web. And now, those eggs are hatching, with a frightening regularity, into something.
For example, there was shouting about Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya allegedly acting on ‘criminal orders’. Is the implication then that German occupants who executed her actually helped ‘prevent the crime?’ Then there was the case of a once-popular TV presenter, a caricaturist, and others who don’t deserve to be named.
No matter how sophisticated their arguments may be in favor of their ‘alternative vision,’ the implication is always that Hitler and his cronies were not the ones to blame for starting a bloody war against the USSR 80 years ago – oh no! The USSR, Russia, Stalin and the Russian people were themselves to blame for the tremendous loss of life during the war against Nazism that came from Europe.
And we, the citizens of Russia, at some point just stopped paying attention to WHAT EXACTLY such people are saying.
We must put an end to this. It is time we stopped regarding public statements about the war as something that is only of interest to historians. Respecting the deeds of our ancestors means respecting the truth of the facts and documents, exact terminology and definitions.
If we are to have all the fallen Red Army soldiers and civilian victims remembered and respected, we need, finally, to announce the Soviet Union’s loss of life and material losses in WWII and have these numbers memorized by all. Back in the early 2000s I once asked my third-year students, ‘What were our country’s total military and civilian losses during WWII?’ I thought it was a simple question and any Soviet sixth-grade school student would know the answer. But unexpectedly, all I got was silence. There were no smartphones back in the day, so students couldn’t just look it up.
I had to make it easier for them. “OK, just give me the official number for the total loss of life.” And then all hell broke loose… Seven million! Twenty! Thirty! Fifty! I could not believe my ears; It sounded like some crazy auction, or as if the students were just making fun of me. But no, they weren’t. They just didn’t know. That was the result of the new truth narratives of the 1990s, Soros-sponsored textbooks and all the information junk floating around. They were just clueless.
The official number is 26.6 million people. Now, remember, kids, 26.6. It’s a result of complex calculations (and we’ll talk about it later), but it’s official, and it’s the most precise estimate we have today.
Then I decided to ask the students a trick question.
I said, OK, question number two. Our ally, the United Kingdom, fought the war against Hitler for two years longer than our country did, in total. During those two years the United Kingdom was fighting virtually alone.
So if the so called ‘price of victory’ (as the liberal commentators over at ‘Ekho Moskvy’ radio say) paid by the USSR totaled 26.6 million lives, then tell me, how many lives were given by our key ally the British?
The math seemed quite simple to my students.
“If over four years, fighting together with the US and the UK, we lost 26.6 million, then the British, with two more years alone, must have lost at least 40 million,” they said in unison.
Well, those who would like to know ‘the price of victory’ paid by our brothers-in-arms can read about it in this article (the article is in Russian and lists military losses suffered by the British Commonwealth at over 590,000 dead and MIA – editor).
And even though every life is priceless and there is nothing more repulsive than such statistics, these are numbers we need to know.
We must understand the math behind these numbers. Because today, it’s more than just statistics. Taking into account all the abominable attempts to revise both the cause and the outcome of WWII undertaken in the West, it’s a matter of big politics.
And these numbers must be official, well-researched, scientifically double-checked and proven.
So, 26.6 million
These days, historians keep using the numbers that were calculated in the late 1980s based on the total and age group population counts made for June 1941 and December 31, 1945. The time frame was widened beyond the end of the war to account for the soldiers who died in hospitals, as well as POWs and forced labor workers, such as Ostarbeiters, who returned home during that time, and others.
In order to calculate the USSR’s total population on June 22, 1941, the data from the most recent pre-war census dating back to January 1939 was adjusted to account for both new deaths and births, as well as for the new territories that joined the Soviet Union before the war broke out. As a result, the USSR’s total population was defined as 196.7 million people at the start of the war. You might recall that Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya said in 1942 to her torturers in the short story ‘Tanya’ by Peter Lidov: “You’ll hang me now, but I am not alone. You can’t hang us all. There are 200 million of us!”
A similar method was used to calculate the total population count by the end of 1945. Adjustments were made to the census carried out in 1959 which reported a total of 170.5 million people, including 159.5 million born before the war. Based on this data, the State Commission came to the conclusion that the country’s total population was reduced by 37.2 million people during the four years of the war. The aggressor is fully responsible for all these losses, regardless of whether these people were victims of extermination, fell on the frontline, or died behind the lines because their living standards dropped dramatically.
At some point, this number was revised to exclude those who could have died naturally (of any cause), regardless of the war, based on the average mortality rate in the USSR as recorded in 1940. Overall, these “natural cause” deaths were estimated at 11.9 million. The Commission also added to this statistic 1.3 million children who died shortly after they were born throughout the war because of the spike in child mortality. After all these calculations, experts arrived at the final figure of 26.6 million people (37.2 million – 11.9 million + 1.3 million). It is now regarded as official.
Historians also did a thorough count of how many Soviet civilians perished due to the sweeping extermination policy pursued by the Nazis. The official record stands at 13.7 million. It is based on the research of thousands of mass graves found on the formerly occupied territories, compounded by numerous witness accounts and calculations. It was proven that at least 7.4 million Soviet civilians were killed intentionally – shot dead, burned, buried alive. Another 2.2 million people taken to the Reich as Ostarbeiters lost their lives due to inhumane treatment and backbreaking labor. On top of that, over 4.1 million civilians died prematurely on the occupied territories because of disease, starvation, and overall poor living conditions.
The resulting number of 13.7 million is staggering. However, does that seem like a fair count? I don’t think so.
First of all, deducting “naturally occurring deaths” (11.9 million) from the overall count mentioned above leads to inconsistences if we try to compare the official figure of 26.6 million and individual casualty categories. Why? For example, the “natural deaths” concept leads to the assumption that some people in the besieged Leningrad could have died “of old age” between autumn 1941 and January 1944, while in reality, they died of extreme hunger, and were thus victims of a war crime. So, how should we do the calculation? If we apply this logic to the total count, then it only stands to reason to also apply it to the tragedies of Leningrad, Babiy Yar, and Khatyn. Yet, that would be absolutely absurd. We know for a fact that the people killed there were exterminated by the Nazis and didn’t die of old age or disease. Their “statistically natural” deaths were in reality anything but natural, they were violent and premature.
Besides violence and harsh living conditions on occupied territories, enormous numbers of Soviet civilians were killed in air raids and artillery shelling – the dry military term is “enemy fire” – in regions close to the frontline, besieged cities, and various settlements across the country.
Air raids on Sevastopol and Odessa, Kerch and Novorossiysk, Smolensk and Tula, Kharkov and Minsk, resulted in hundreds of thousands of lives lost. We no longer remember many tragedies of WWII, but we really should – take Murmansk, to this day the northernmost big city in the world. At first, the fascists tried to capture it with a land-based attack from the direction of Norway, sending their best troops – elite Wehrmacht divisions. These forces were perfectly equipped for winter combat and had all the latest weapons of the time, as well as hot food, warm clothes, and military hardware – and yet they failed to overpower “the northern guard”, the “thin red line” of frost-bitten soldiers of the Red Army and NKVD supported by local militia, and could not enter our last never-freezing port city. Then, they sent bombing raids horrible enough to overshadow those on the UK’s Coventry. Civilian casualties and destruction, adjusted for the population and number of houses in the city, were on par with what happened in Dresden, Frankfurt, and even Stalingrad!
In August 1942, in Stalingrad, before the counterattack, before the legendary battle began, between 40,000 and 70,000 civilians died in a single day (!) as the result of massive German bombing. One of the most beautiful and peaceful cities in the Soviet Union – a city that had pretty much no military bases, aviation or antiaircraft batteries – was ruthlessly destroyed and razed to the ground, all in one day.
Then, the attempt to starve Leningrad residents to death, which was the biggest war crime in history, claiming the lives of at least 800,000 people.
Moving on. Let’s take a look at the death toll of Soviet POWs, which technically qualifies as military casualties. According to the Ministry of Defense, 8.67 million Red Army servicemen were killed in the war, whereas if we take into consideration all causes of death (KIA, died from wounds and diseases, MIA and captured), this number goes up to 11.9 million. The difference of three million are the people who were drafted at the start of the war but never joined their assigned military units, those who were captured early on and liberated by the end of the war, those who ended up in Nazi-occupied territories and those MIA. Some of them lived; some of those who died are listed among military casualties, and some – among civilian casualties. Some still aren’t listed anywhere at all.
The problem is, there were many Soviet partisans or even just men of conscription age captured on occupied territory who ended up in POW camps. They were not officially military. And since we know that the Nazis deliberately killed around 3.1 million Soviet POWs (approximately 60 percent of all POWs), then that means that hundreds of thousands of them were actually civilians!
I am convinced that when we talk about the victims of genocide, we have every right to include POWs who were killed by Nazis, regardless of whether they were civilians or servicemen. Not in a single war, at least not since the dawn of Christianity, no state has ever annihilated almost 60 percent of POWs or caused their death through starvation and torture. And that is exactly what the Nazis did with Soviet POWs. Well, maybe back in the uncivilized days some barbaric chiefs or priests of barbaric tribes did something similar – I won’t vouch for that. But it in no way involved millions of people or a documented policy of a ‘civilized European’ country, which, let’s not forget, enjoyed the support of Protestant churches in all German states and even the Holy See.
Amazingly enough, if we take the Allies – the US, the UK and France – only three-four percent of their POWs taken by the Nazis died. See the difference? The difference between how the Nazis treated Russian/Soviet POWs and Europeans and Americans, who were also their enemy.
So any discussion about Soviet casualties in the war should start with 37.2 million people – the overall population loss, in demographers’ estimation. Then we need to analyze and adjust this number. It will be lower, but getting the exact figure will require a lot of further research by scientists, archivists and demographers. Let’s not forget that in addition to direct casualties, Nazi Germany’s aggression resulted in long-term demographic consequences. The “demographic echo” of the war was felt for two-three decades after it was over. Researchers believe that indirectly the Soviet Union lost 23 more million people: unborn children, people whose untimely deaths were caused by wounds and diseases, and – entirely undocumented – heart attacks triggered by death notifications for sons, husbands, and fathers.
70 years ago, the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide entered into force. Its author, Raphael Lemkin (by the way, a Russian citizen by birth) also coined the actual term. He called the killing of residents of Carthage destroyed by Rome in the middle of the 2nd century BC as one of the earliest examples of genocide in history. The bloody massacre during the Crusades, the annihilation of Indians in America, the extermination and deportation of Christian Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, the Holocaust – those were all genocide.
The Convention was adopted to prevent such events like the Holocaust by Nazis during World War II. The mass exterminations of Jews (6 million people), Roma (between 200,000 and 1.5 million), and Serbs (200,000 to 800,000) are internationally recognized as genocide.
The Third Reich elites had much bigger plans and intentions against the Soviet people than an aspiration to eliminate any particular “national, ethnic, racial or religious group” as defined by the Convention.
And it’s not just about the large numbers of murdered Soviet civilians – numbers that exceed the consequences of both the Holocaust and the genocide of Serbs and Roma by a great deal.
It’s about the principles of the Reich’s state policy that was repeatedly formulated in writing, and consistently carried out by Nazis across the USSR.
The point is the unprecedented nature of this crime.
In fact, for Nazis the “group” subject to elimination was the ENTIRE population of our country – regardless of their ethnic (racial) or religious belonging. Russians, Jews, Belarusians, Tatars, Ukrainians, Mordvins and Chuvashes were only guilty before Hitler because they were the citizens of the USSR poisoned by the “Communist idea,” and most importantly they simply resided on territories that were part of Hitler’s “ruthless Germanization” plan.
Today we are saying, it is our duty, in memory of our ancestors to ensure those “crimes without a statute of limitations” aren’t forgotten, but not only that. In modern times it is also important to use the right names for those events. Who would’ve thought 30 years ago of mockingly practicing rhetoric that likened Hitler's Germany to Stalin's Soviet Union, or equating the Nazi swastika with the Soviet red star? Yet today, it is already enshrined in the laws of some countries.
These days, the USSR gets excluded from the list of winners, and often not even mentioned, as if the country didn't even participate in WWII at all. The European Union goes even further to accuse the USSR of unleashing the war.Eastern Europe and the Baltic States officially declare at the government level that the USSR did not liberate those nations from Nazism, but rather occupied them and enslaved their people. Hold on a minute.
Does it mean that the verdict of the Nuremberg trials that determines the perpetrators of crimes against peace, namely, preparation for, and initiation of, WWII – doesn’t matter anymore?
It would never occur to anyone today to blame Jews, Roma, or Serbs for starting WWII. But why does it occur in regard to Russians and other ethnic groups of Soviet people, who were also victims of a classic genocide?
The only difference was that the Soviet people – who were the victim of aggression – were able to withstand and survive despite their unprecedented losses. They came out of the war not as another victim nation, but as a victorious one.
The incalculable price that the USSR paid in the fight against Nazism was not the “price of victory” as it’s sometimes referred to for some reason. That is wrong. It was rather the price of saving all the survivors, and saving the remaining “four fifths” of the Soviet citizens, saving the whole of Europe, and I am certain, the entire world, from the devil of Nazism.
As for us – children, grandchildren, heirs and successors of the victorious Soviet people, we must do whatever possible to maintain the truth about WWII, its heroes, victims, and criminals. And make sure a war like this never happens again.