Great Patriotic War – in movies and in real life
Text by Marina Lukanina
On May 9th and the week before and after that date, there are always plenty of films and programs on TV devoted to war themes. Many of them are shown every year. Among the most popular are the generic TV series: Seventeen Moments of Spring and films such as: The Cranes are Flying and The Dawns are Quiet Here.
Seventeen Moments of Spring is a twelve-part serial released in 1973 and directed by Tatyana Liozonova. The serial has something of a cult following amongst older Russians at least, and its status in the younger generation of a prime example of black and white, high contrast Soviet TV, ensures that the series is re-broadcast at least once a year, making it one of the most popular series ever - anywhere. The story takes place in February-March 1945. The main character, the Soviet spy Shtirlitz, has to identify who of the Reich leadership is engaged in separate negotiations with the West. The movie has an original, suspense soundtrack composed by Mikael Tarivediev. The series was one of the fi rst productions to indicate that members of the German command were actually human beings and was given the Soviet State Award in 1976.
The Cranes are Flying (1957), a film usually screened during the May 9 holidays directed by Mikhail Kalatozov, takes place in Moscow before and during the war. The plot starts with a love story between Boris and Veronica who are separated by the war. Boris is killed by a stray bullet and the viewer is witness to very real, traumatic episodes of Veronica’s war-time life. The most famous scene is of Boris’s death and his last look up at the sky – at the birches and cranes. The movie won numerous prizes, including the Golden Palm Award.
Boris Vasilyev’s story, And the Dawns are Quiet Here, was first published in 1969 in Youth magazine. It immediately became one of the most popular books about the Great Patriotic War. In 1971, Stanislav Rostotskiy, a Russian classical director, made a movie of the film. The action takes place in 1942 and tells the story of a group of young women who together with their sergeant fight against a German saboteur group. At the cost of their lives they managed to thwart the Germans. This movie was the most popular film of 1973 – over 60 million people watched it and it has been talked about in terms of one of the best. Russian films ever made. It’s a film that penetrates deep inside one’s soul.
Seventeen Moments Of Spring was one of the first series on Soviet TV and one of the most successful.
Those of us who were born after the war look at these films differently than those who actually saw action. Passport talked about war life reality with one veteran of the Great Patriotic War, an artillerist and guard colonel, Efim Efremovich Vendrov.
Efim Efremovich Vendrov
What was your attitude towards War Movies?
I did see most of them. Even though I am not a big fan, they seemed to depict the war episodes quite accurately. Of course, I can only comment on the accuracy of the episodes that I took part in, such as battles, reconnaissance, life in the trenches, the hospitals, etc. I cannot tell whether the movies correctly portray high-level meetings between commanders, or, for example, dialogues between Stalin and Zhukov (Soviet military commander).
Where were you when the war began?
I was a cadet at the Leningrad Artillery School near Luga [a town in the Leningradsky region].
What are your memories of the first days of war?
During the first days of the war when I was still in Luga, a German plane flew over our camp. The plane must have dropped all of its bombs elsewhere, as it was out of munitions – so the pilot just threw all kinds of garbage on us. And then the plane fl ew closer to the ground and the pilot shook his fist at us.
War movies are usually full of songs and we owe the war for this fl ourishing military folklore. Did you have any exposure to that?
I did, when I was sent to the Sverdlovsk Hospital #354 with an arm wound. In that hospital we had a hall that we used as a place for dating. We used to gather in that hall and lock the door. That came to the attention of the hospital commissioner, and I was sent to explain to him why we locked the doors. I could not think of a better explanation other than to say that we were preparing a surprise concert for the Great October Revolution Anniversary. The commissioner was very pleased. So we had to prepare this concert, where I directed the choir and also I had to play Hitler in one of the sketches. We organized various amateur talent shows while staying in this hospital and even toured other hospitals with our shows.
Were there any odd episodes during the war?
One episode I remember was when the infantry complained to their commanders that the artillery was not providing enough support. Our artillery commander ordered us to fire all the shells we had so that there would be no more accusations. I was in charge of an artillery division headquarters back then. Later that night, I got a call from Lieutenant Olesinov. Apparently, the artillery commander told Olesinov that he was to be executed, because, contrary to the orders, he still had some shells leftover. However, the commander was a bit drunk at that point and he fell asleep. I told Olesinov to stay put. In the morning the Germans attacked, and no one except for Olesinov had any shells left. He repelled the attack and received the Order of the Red Star.
Is it true that there were “Hurray machines” used to strengthen the cheering during the battles?
In 1945 during the Oder Attack, throughout the front line there were loudspeakers called “Hurray machines” that broadcasted during attacks various shouts, such as “Hurray, for the Motherland, for Stalin!” Loudspeakers were commonly used for propaganda – both from the German and Russian sides. Eavesdropping was common and widely-used; at times the Germans, from their trenches, would broadcast congratulations to our commanding officers with various awards or new ranks.
The Dawns Are Quiet Her was been seen by over 60 million people in 1973
Did you celebrate holidays during the War?
Yes, we did. For example, we most defi nitely celebrated the New Year. I will tell you more – during the war people fell in love, got jealous, played pranks on each other, etc. So there was a whole separate life going on apart from the battles.
How did you celebrate V-Day?
I was in Germany. The first time that we heard about Germany’s surrender was on March 8th so we cheered for that. Then we were told it was a mistake. The following day – the same thing happened and we cheered again.
It was later decided to make May 9th an official holiday. We weren’t celebrating specifically May 9th of 1945 – we were celebrating the victory and Germany’s capitulation and that is the important thing.