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down, he would shoot all of us, and he really did shoot some. After that, we
never tried to lie down again.”208 Stalin and his deputy Lev Mekhlis, on their
part, used the threat of violence to encourage the newly instituted commissars
on 20 July 1941 charged with enforcing “with an iron ¬st . . . revolutionary
order” against “panic-mongers, cowards, defeatists, deserters.” “Remember
that the war commissars and the commanders carry complete responsibility
for instances of treason and betrayal in their unit.”209 A German summary
of experience gained “in the East” reported on the results: “The attacking
infantry leaves its positions in compact groups . . . shouting ˜Hooray!™ Of¬cers
and commissars follow, shooting at those who lag behind.”210 No wonder that
the kill ratio between the opponents was so uneven “ it took between two and
four dead Soviets to kill one German.211
Combat motivation, however, went well beyond sheer coercion. Soviet sol-
diers fought for a variety of reasons paralleling the wide variety of people who
made up the Red Army. These motivations often coexisted and reinforced each
other, or soldiers shifted from the one to the other. Some of them are not
speci¬cally Soviet. The German army “ and, following it later, the U.S. army as
well “ even made a tactical doctrine out of the knowledge that people kill more

On the civil war origin, see Erickson, “Red Army Battle¬eld Performance,” 242; A. A. Maslov,

“How Were Soviet Blocking Detachments Employed?” The Journal of Slavic Military Studies
9, no. 2 (1996): 427“35, here: 427. On their use before Stalin™s order see ibid., 428; Glantz,
Colossus Reborn, 580“1; and Merridale, “Culture, Ideology and Combat,” 318. The NKVD
had used blocking detachments from the beginning of the war, too. See Khaustov et al, eds.,
Lubianka: Stalin i NKVD-NKGB-GUKP “Smersh,” 317.
Stalin, O Velikoi Otechestvennoi voine, 53.

Chukhrai, Moia voina, 50“1.

Quoted in Glantz, Colossus Reborn, 585.

“Direktiva Narkoma oborony SSSR i zam. Narkoma oborony “ nachal™nika GLAVPU RKKA,

no. 090,” (20 July 1941), reprinted in Glavnye politicheskie organy vooruzhennykh sil SSSR,
48“51, here: 50.
German report, 14 January 1942, reprinted in Skrytaia pravda voiny, 226“7.

Compare “Personelle blutige Verluste des Feldheeres [im Osten] vom 22. Juni 1941 bis 20.

Marz 1945,” in “Unternehmen Barbarossa:” Der deutsche Uberfall auf die Sowjetunion 1941:
Berichte, Analysen, Dokumente, eds. Gerd R Ueberschar and Wolfram Wette (Paderborn:
Ferdinand Schonigh, 1984), 402, with G. F. Krivosheev, Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses
in the Twentieth Century, trans. Christine Barnard (London: Greenhill Books, 1997), 85; and
Ellman and Maksudov, “Soviet Deaths in the Great Patriotic War: A Note.”
Mark Edele and Michael Geyer

readily if motivated by a concrete social unit “ the famous “primary group.”212
The Red Army was no exception and the affective bonds to comrades in battle
are a staple of memoirs, novels, ¬lms, and poetry written for and by frontoviki.
The Soviet replacement system “ at least during the periods and the sections
of the army where rotation of forces was implemented “ was favorable to the
development of such ties, which easily transformed into hate once the object
of affection was killed, maimed, or captured.213
Losses were horrendous. In 1941 much of the existing army was annihilated
on the frontiers “ only 8 percent survived this ordeal. After mobilization and
horribly costly defense battles, the Red Army went on the offensive in the winter
of 1941“2, again producing heavy casualties, which were exacerbated by the
renewed defeats in the summer of 1942. A new buildup followed in 1943 which
created the army which would destroy “ again with much blood “ the German
Wehrmacht and ¬ght its way to Berlin.214 The focus on “irrecoverable losses”
(killed or missing in action, died of wounds or disease, POWs, noncombat
losses), moreover, obscures a much larger ¬‚uctuation of personnel in the armed
forces. While the years 1941 and 1942 account for nearly 57 percent of the
“irrecoverable” category, the vast majority of the “sick and wounded” (70
percent) fell into the years 1943, 1944, and 1945 “ making for a rather equal
distribution of total losses during all of the full years of war (1942, 1943,
1944).215 Soviet of¬cers, in particular of ri¬‚e and penal units, report “that
their regiments routinely suffered about 50 percent casualties in each and every
penetration operation they participated in, regardless of the year of the war.”216
The extraordinarily high casualty rates did not destroy emotional ties to
comrades, but “ similarly to the German case “ enhanced them. Under the con-
ditions of life-and-death struggle, it did not take long to connect to a comrade
in arms, and his or her injury or death was traumatic and provoked anger and
grief. “Frontline life makes people close very quickly,” as one soldier put it.
The constant destruction of people near and dear to the soldiers transformed

On the German tradition, see Omer Bartov, Hitler™s Army: Soldiers, Nazis, and War in the

Third Reich (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 30“1; Thomas Kuhne, ¨
“Der Soldat,” in Der Mensch des 20. Jahrhunderts, eds. Ute Frevert and Heinz-Gerhard
Haupt (Frankfurt am Main and New York: Campus, 1999), 344“83; Kuhne, Kameradschaft:
Die Soldaten des nationalsozialistischen Krieges und das 20. Jahrhundert. See also Edward
A. Shils and Morris Janowitz, “Cohesion and Disintegration in the Wehrmacht in World
War II,” The Public Opinion Quarterly 12, no. 2 (1948): 280“315; Omer Bartov, The Eastern
Front 1941“45, German Troops and the Barbarization of Warfare, 2nd ed. (London: Palgrave,
Joshua A. Sanborn, “Brothers under Fire: The Development of a Front-Line Culture in the

Red Army 1941“1943” (M.A. thesis, The University of Chicago, 1993); and Seniavskaia,
Frontovoe pokolenie, 85“6. For a skeptical view about the importance of small group bonding
see Merridale, Ivan™s War, 15“16, 78, 134. For movies, see Youngblood, Russian War Films.
On the replacement system see Erickson, “Red Army Battle¬eld Performance,” 239.
Erickson, “Red Army Battle¬eld Performance,” 237; Seniavskaia, Frontovoe pokolenie, 77.

Calculated from Krivosheev, Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses, 94.

Glantz, Colossus Reborn, 621.
States of Exception 389

the primary group into a more extensive, “imagined” community of warriors“
some of them still alive, the majority of them already dead, slaughtered by an
inhuman enemy. Moments of intense bonding before battle “ waiting for the
morning, sharing food and drink, and preparing to ¬ght “ resembled quasi-
religious experiences of collective effervescence among men and women, many
of whom would soon be dead. But even if soldiers were killed, the memory of
such hours lived on and gave the survivors a sense of belonging, purpose, and
reason to ¬ght, kill, and die. It was within this emotional conjuncture that the
symbolic representation of the Homeland (rodina) unfolded.217
Rage was also a powerful incentive to kill “ both on the ¬eld of battle and
between engagements. Revenge for fallen comrades went hand in hand with
vengeance for or on behalf of civilian loved ones. “You have asked me to bump
off two Germans for you,” wrote a soldier home. “Please be advised that your
request has been ful¬lled.” Hate propaganda allowed such sentiments to shift
from the concrete to the universal, from friends and loved ones to the country at
large. “My soul is full of hatred against the fascist monsters, and I have pledged
to take revenge for the atrocities they have committed against our people.”218
Such rage could lie dormant and break out suddenly when triggered by a
confrontation with enemy atrocities. Vladimir Tendriakov relates a disturbing
episode that illustrates how the benevolent feelings of soldiers toward a young
German captive could suddenly shift to aggression and cruelty when his unit
stumbled upon the remains of two of their scouts who had been covered with
water and frozen to death. The same soldiers who had shared food and drink
with the German the night before “ in a scene reminiscent of the bonding
between soldiers celebrated in much of wartime literature “ now mete out the
same punishment to this representative of the foreign “monsters.”219
Under the in¬‚uence of a constant barrage of hate propaganda “ which
distributed the news of German atrocities against civilians and linked it to the

Rass, Menschenmaterial: Deutsche Soldaten an Der Ostfront “ Innenansichten einer Infan-

teriedivision 1939“1945; Sanborn, “Brothers under Fire,” 51“2; Seniavskaia, Frontovoe
pokolenie, 85; Merridale, “Culture, Ideology and Combat,” 322; id., Ivan™s War, 134; Kon-
stantin Simonov, “Dom v Viaz™me” (1943), www.simonov.co.uk/domvvyazme.htm, accessed
7 June 2007; for a translation which manages to keep some of the ¬‚avor of the original see
www.simonov.co.uk/vyazma.htm. The poem is quoted and analyzed “ from a slightly different
perspective than the one chosen here “ in Elena Shulman, “˜That Night as We Prepared to
Die™: Frontline Journalists and Russian National Identity during WWII,” paper presented at
the National Convention 2006 of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic
Studies (Washington, DC: 2006).
Sabine Rosemarie Arnold, “˜Ich bin bisher noch lebendig und gesund™: Briefe von den

Fronten des sowjetischen ˜Grossen Vaterlandischen Krieges,™ in Andere Helme “ Andere
Menschen? Heimaterfahrung und Frontalltag im Zweiten Weltkrieg, ein internationaler Ver-
gleich, eds. Detlef Vogel and Wolfram Wette (Essen: Klartext, 1995), 148“9.
Vladimir Tendriakov, “Liudi ili neliudi,” Druzhba narodov, no. 2 (1989): 114“44; Mark Edele,

“Totalitarian War and Atrocity Process: Reconsidering Violence at the German-Soviet Front,
1941“1945,” paper presented at the Biannual Conference of the Australasian Association for
European History (AAEH) (Sydney: University of Sydney, 2007).
Mark Edele and Michael Geyer

barbarous nature of a dehumanized enemy“ such experiences of rage and grief
for fallen comrades blended over into the impulse to defend the loved ones from
the impending danger, which in turn gave way to a more generalized impulse
to defend women and children, home and hearth.220 These highly charged
emotions were shared not only with a close circle of frontline friends, but also
in organized meetings devoted to grieving atrocity and celebrating revenge.221
This was not merely or entirely a “cultural” or “imaginary” affair, either,
once soldiers could see with their own eyes what had happened on territory
they liberated from German occupation. “However much they write in the
papers about atrocities,” wrote an of¬cer to his wife, “the reality is much
worse.” Interactions with locals were crucial in motivating revenge. “They
took a cow and a duck from me, took away my chickens, and cleaned out
the trunks in my home. Damned robbers!” complained a sixty-six-year-old
woman to the soldiers who had liberated her town and added, “Kill them,
The result of this multifaceted process of learning about and from the
enemy was that Soviet soldiers quickly realized “that we weren™t dealing with
human beings but with foul beasts, drunk with blood.”223 A former infor-
mation of¬cer remembers this intermingling of propaganda and reality during
his own “learning curve.” At ¬rst, he naively expected the German work-
ing class to rise up against fascism in order to “defend the ¬rst Worker- and
Peasant-State.” The small number of German deserters and POWs during this
early phase came as a huge disappointment, followed by increasing rage in
response to reports of German conduct in the occupied territories. Once the
Red Army was on the offensive, this foundation of anger was massively rein-
forced as the real scale of barbarism and destruction became apparent. This
of¬cer remembered the deep impact of letters by Ostarbeiter, who asked for
Other letters were read as well. Already in 1941, the relentless counterat-
tacks of the Red Army sometimes led to temporary and small-scale victories,

Argyrios K. Pisiotis, “Images of Hate in the Art of War,” in Culture and Entertainment in

Wartime Russia, ed. Richard Stites (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press,
1995), 141“56; Lisa A. Kirschenbaum, “˜Our City, Our Hearths, Our Families™: Local Loyalties
and Private Life in Soviet World War II Propaganda,” Slavic Review 59, no. 4 (2000): 825“47.
On evidence for the defense of the own family as a primary motivating factor see Merridale,
“Culture, Ideology and Combat,” 312.
“Direktiva GlavPU RKKA, no. 16,” (30 March 1943), reprinted in Glavnye politicheskie

organy vooruzhennykh sil SSSR, 211“12.
Seniavskaia, Frontovoe pokolenie, 79, 86“7; Merridale, “Culture, Ideology and Combat,” 319;

I. Dzhenalaev, Pod Gvardeiskim Znamenem (Alma-Ata: Kazakhstan, 1970), 51, as quoted by
Sanborn, “Brothers under Fire,” 59.
Mikhail Sholokhov, “Hate,” in We Carry On (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House,

1942), 24, as quoted in Sanborn, “Brothers under Fire,” 16.
Michail Semirjaga, “Die Rote Armee in Deutschland im Jahre 1945,” in Erobern und Ver-

nichten: Der Krieg gegen die Sowjetunion 1941“1945, eds. Peter Jahn and Reinhard Rurup ¨
(Berlin: Aragon, 1991), 202“4.
States of Exception 391

which yielded not only enemy corpses, but also their letters and diaries.225
The propaganda apparatus selected some exemplars which displayed despair
or reports about hunger and cold (showing the enemy as weak), or those with
descriptions of war crimes and clear expressions of an arrogant, callous, and
racist Nazi worldview.226 This work continued throughout the con¬‚ict and
was recognized as a major tool to “stir up the hatred of the troops and the
population . . . towards the enemy.”227 It became an important means to fuse
the diverse human beings who made up the Red Army into a violent collec-
tivity. Wartime propaganda skillfully linked individual examples of victimized
women (with all of their connotations in a patriarchal society) with more gen-
eralized images of “Mother Russia” (or, more literally, “Mother Homeland” “
Rodina mat™) “ symbols which resonated with nationalism as well as with
religious iconography (the Holy Virgin, like Mother Russia, was traditionally
dressed in red).228 The similarities of this symbolic strategy to German wartime
propaganda are striking “ both tried to mobilize soldiers to ¬ght with appeals
to higher values and beliefs, civilization, and the defense of women and chil-
dren.229 Similar reasons might have been at work “ the knowledge that the
ideological commitment of rank-and-¬le soldiers to (National) Socialism was
uneven and often sketchy. Stalin admitted as much to a Western diplomat:
“The population won™t ¬ght for us Communists, but they will ¬ght for Mother
Russia.”230 Despite the massive recruitment effort at the front, the Party never
drew the majority of soldiers into its ranks. Only about one-quarter of the
personnel were “Communist” “ that is, either a Party member or a candidate
in 1944 “ a share which might have risen to around 30 percent by war™s end.
The more specialized the branch of arms and the higher the rank, the higher the
incidence of membership. As many as 80 percent of of¬cers were Communists
or Komsomol members; artillery, tank troops, engineers, and air force had up
to 40 percent Communists in their ranks “ with submariners topping the list
with 56 percent. By contrast, the vast majority of the footsoldiers “ 90 percent
as of 1944 “ were not in the Party.231

On the early interest of the propaganda apparatus in German personal documents see “Direk-


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