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Stalingrad

Today I watched the movie Stalingrad.

Stalingrad is a movie made in Germany in 1993, depicting a company of German soldiers during World War II during the attack on Stalingrad in southern Russia. It's an epic, and a terrible, horrifying movie; it tells the story of the actual events on the eastern front during the war.

After the successes of the German army in 1941, with entire Ukraine and large portions of Russia falling into German hands, the forces had come to a standstill. With Moscow just barely denied the attacking troops, Hitler and his Oberkommando der Wehrmacht is searching for a new target to engage in his Blitzkrieg tactics. The eyes fall upon Stalingrad, a major industrial center of the Soviet Union.

In June 1942, the German elite 6th Army and 4th Panzer Army, making up the bulk of the spearhead of Army Group South, moves towards Caucasus to capture the oil fields and the city of Stalingrad in an offensive move called Fall Blau (Operation Blue). Moving in late because portions of the offense were held up at Sevastopol for a few weeks, the initial offensive is marked with great success notwithstanding; and presses forward until the 6th Army practically stands at Volga with over 90% of Stalingrad in their hands.

And then things go wrong. Stalin's general of the Russian defense, General Zjukov, refuses to let go. While supplies and reinforcements desperately move over Volga to protect the final pieces of the city, much of the entire Red Army reserves move in towards the region. And the counter-offensive soon takes place: with Hitler's eyes focus only on the city, the left and right flanks are protected by the ill-equipped 3rd and 4th Romanian Armies, respectively. The 19th of November, Zjukov attacks with over three complete armies against the flanks, and in less than one week, they meet up outside of Kalach and most of the 6th Army and one corps of the 4th Panzer Army become trapped in Stalingrad: 250.000 men.

Then winter sets in. Göring directs the Luftwaffe to supply the cut-off army by air, but the planes have to run a gauntlet through the Soviet anti-air batteries and only less than 10% of the needed supplies come through. Hunger, frostbite and desperation sets in; when the final two airports are lost and the German forces retreat into the destroyed ruins of the city, no more supplies come through. As General Friedrich Paulus, newly appointed to Generalfeldmarschall, surrenders February 2nd against the will of his Führer, only 91.000 men are still alive. Out of these, only 5.000 would eventually return to Germany.

Over one million people died during the 200 days of the Battle of Stalingrad. It marked the end of the expansion in the east, and coupled with the defeat at Kursk, the German armies were dealt a blow from which they never recovered.

I keep trying to understand what it means when one million people die in one single battle. People just like me. And every single one of these has their unique story to tell. The German infantryman who got shot by a Russian machine gun, burned alive inside their tank or ripped to pieces by artillery or hand grenades; or innocent civilians struggling for dear life to hang on and survive until they starve or freeze to death ... or brutally murdered by an SS soldier.

One million people.

I wonder what the Father in heaven thought about all this. The cry of the innocent must have been awful. I wonder what the angels felt, if they were there. Two dictatorships facing each other and throwing innumerable young boys at each other, fueling the fires of war and butchering each other with terrible instruments of destruction.

The thing that haunts me apart from this is the enormous wound that was torn up in the soul of the nations involved. The Germans and the Russians will forever remember each other. Both sides must have looked over the border for decades to come, with feelings of shame, hatred and pain. Fellow human beings divided against each other by fear and hatred because of the actions of a psychotic dictatorship no-one stopped in time. And the memories linger behind, and eventually make their way into the cultural history that shapes the nations.

I don't think there is anyone who can understand the fullness of the vile tradegy that took place in those winter months of 1942 and 1943. It is probably best summed up in the words of one of the characters in the movie: "It is too cold to cry."


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