Women Drivers in Stalingrad August 22, 2010Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback
Beachcombing has already offered readers a series of his WIBT (‘wish I’d been there’) moments and couldn’t resist the following vignette that though unimportant in intention and outcome catches something of the Soviet Union in its worst years.
Stalingrad in late 1943. Nine months previously the most important battle of the Second World War had been fought and won by the Soviets there. Stalingrad itself had been the bait that was expertly reeled in by the Soviet High Command with Hitler’s Sixth Army on the hook. Two million combatants and civilians died but the myth of German invulnerability was destroyed for ever.
In this devastated city a woman – regrettably we do not know her name – got into her car: very probably it was a Nami or one of the other superannuated Soviet makes of the 1930s.
Driving was not easy with rubble and the wrecks of German and Soviet military equipment cast around: in places the city had been levelled.
The error in any case was not hers…
An armoured limousine appears from out of nowhere and driving too fast down the street ploughs into the woman’s vehicle.
Protocol for car drivers around the world is the same. If an idiot runs into you, you get out and you shout, you wave your arms around a bit or, at the very, very least, you simulate whiplash and call your lawyer.
However, this was the Soviet Union and though all were equal, some were more equal than others.
Imagine the pall of horror that came down on our hero as she saw the back door swing open and Comrade Stalin himself step out into the street. Stalin was on his way back to Moscow from the Allied conference at Tehran
Beachcombing’s English language source (MF 418) – Russian regrettably is not Beachcombing’s thing – claims that the driver ‘almost expired’ on seeing Big Brother in flesh and blood and then broke down in tears crying: ‘It’s my fault’.
By 1943 Stalin was only about four fifths of the way through his ‘10-20 million’ killed and so the lady driver’s reaction was entirely understandable.
The fact that she was in Stalingrad with a car in 1943 suggests that she was ‘someone’ in the local Communist Party. How easy it would have been to curse her to the high heavens and then give the nod to a secretary to trawl up or invent a ‘Trotskyist’ indiscretion. ‘… make sure that not one scum, not one scoundrel is left breathing!’
Instead, Stalin, with that unpredictability that puts him in a serial killing league all of his own, was tender.
‘Don’t cry. It’s not your fault. Blame the war. Our car’s armoured and didn’t suffer. You can repair yours.’
Then the car door slammed and Stalin was off to gloat over the remains of the headquarters of Paulus, the German general who had ruined Hitler’s iron dream.
Tenderness was not always a good sign with the Red Beast, but in this case the woman seems to have sunk back into welcome anonymity.
Beachcombing would be happy to be contradicted but he is guessing that Uncle Joe didn’t pay for the paintwork.
Beachcombing also sees in his mind’s eye a crowded high-rise tenement in Stalingrad in the 1970s. An old woman is screaming past midnight and a mother in the next door bedroom shushes her frightened child: ‘No need to worry, it is just grandma having that dream again’.
Simon Sebag Montefiore’s excellent Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar was the source for this story. If anyone can supply better references (preferably in a western European language…) and perhaps even a name Beachcombing would be eternally grateful. Drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com. All Hail the People’s Soviets!