Saturday marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the 200-day nightmare of the Battle of Stalingrad in World War II. This horrific battle was one of the bloodiest in the history of warfare.
If I were to ask a group of Russians what words come to mind when they hear the name Stalingrad, they would probably answer: courage, victory, sacrifice, heroism, persistence and other words describing exceptional valor and tenacity. But this battle also left a legacy of pain, suffering, alcoholism and shattered minds and spirits.
During my advanced classes, the participants share how World War II, which they call the Great Patriotic War, affected their families and the entire population of the Soviet Union.
When the battle for Stalingrad first started, the average life expectancy was 24 hours for a Soviet soldier and 3 days for an officer. According to government statistics, 478,741 military and civilian lives were sacrificed in the defense of the city named in honor of Josef Stalin. Other sources say the combined Soviet and German deaths reached nearly 2 million. To put this in perspective, the U.S. lost 418,500 men and women in all of World War II, both in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters — that is, less than the Red Army lost in this one battle.