How did the USSR feed itself in World War II

Stalingrad as a turning point in World War II

Actually, the industrial city on the Volga was only intended as a stage destination for the Wehrmacht to conquer the oil fields of the Caucasus. Because of the name, Stalingrad had a meaning for both Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin that went beyond the strategic.

Because of the very long supply routes, the German offensive of the 6th Army under General Friedrich Paulus on Stalingrad was risky from the start. It begins in mid-August 1942, a good year after the German attack on the Soviet Union. Hitler said at the time: "The Russians are at the end of their strength." That should prove to be a big mistake. Despite strong resistance, the Wehrmacht was able to take over most of the city until mid-November. At the same time, however, the Red Army began a pincer attack. By the end of November, the entire 6th Army and parts of the 4th Panzer Army that supported it were included, almost 300,000 men. But on Hitler's orders they must hold their positions. Similarly, Stalin had already issued the order "Don't step back" in July.

Soldiers unload a transport plane: the airlift was completely inadequate from the start

Because neither side recedes from its position, a kind of "cauldron" is created. In this cauldron, the situation is deteriorating rapidly. With a large-scale airlift, the soldiers are supplied for weeks. But at no point in time are the transports sufficient. With the advancing Red Army less and less arrives. In the course of winter it gets as cold as minus 30 degrees. As a result, most of the encircled soldiers die not from fighting but from malnutrition and hypothermia. The so-called "relief offensive" that has been promised over and over again fails.

Only at the very end does Paul resist

Nevertheless, General Paulus still adheres to Hitler's strict orders to hold out "to the last" and on January 8th rejects an offer of surrender from the Soviet Union. On January 29th - the situation is already completely hopeless - Paulus radioed Hitler: "On the anniversary of your takeover of power, the 6th Army greets its leader. The swastika flag is still waving over Stalingrad. May our struggle be an example of this for the living and future generations never to surrender, even in the most hopeless situation, then Germany will win. Heil my Führer! "

But Paul's faithfulness is not limitless. When the Red Army entered his headquarters in the basement of a department store on January 31, the commander was taken prisoner. He had also forbidden his officers to commit suicide because they were supposed to share the fate of the common soldiers. The German troops surrender. The boiler is now also divided. In a south and a north basin. At the end of January, the German soldiers in the south give up. On February 2nd also those in the north. The men are captured together by the Russian armed forces. Hitler is beside himself when he finds out.

Share the fate of the soldiers: General Paulus goes into captivity

Incredible blood toll

The result of the battle: more than half a million dead on the Soviet side, including numerous civilians. Stalin had long prevented an evacuation of the civilian population. The Red Army does not show any consideration for its own citizens either. In the first few days, more than 40,000 of them were killed in air raids. Of the roughly 75,000 who remain until the end of the fighting, many either starve or freeze to death. On the German side, the estimates of the fallen vary between 150,000 and 250,000. Of the almost 100,000 Germans who were taken prisoner by the Soviets, only around 6,000 survivors returned to Germany by 1956, including Paulus.

It was not even the most costly battle for the Wehrmacht, nor was it the most important battle in purely military terms, but "the psychological significance of Stalingrad is immense, and in this respect it was decisive for the war," says historian Jochen Hellbeck of Rutgers University in New Jersey , USA, also because "because the battle was declared a decisive battle from the outset by both sides". Hellbeck, who collected statements from German and Russian Stalingrad veterans on the website "facing Stalingrad", says that the Red Army then wanted to show the whole world "that it had defeated the best army in the world".

Military cemetery in Rossoschka: German and Russian military graves only divided by a small street

Stalingrad, renamed Volgograd in 1960, is still full of memories of the battle today. The Stalingrad Museum is one of the most visited exhibitions in Russia. The dispute in Russia over the British comedy "Stalin's Death" shows how severe the consequences of the battle are to this day. The dictator is held responsible for the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens. But it also stands for the victory over Nazi Germany. Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky has banned the film in Russian cinemas on the grounds: "Many people (...) will see it as an insulting mockery of the Soviet past (...)". And it is particularly inappropriate, according to Medinski, to show the film on the eve of the commemorations for the Battle of Stalingrad on February 2.

The willingness to make a 'Verdun' gesture is still lacking

Will there be reconciliation after 75 years? In the small, yes. More than 700,000 people - soldiers and civilians - died in the fighting. Corpses and entire mass graves are still found during construction work in the city and its surroundings. Of course, corpses of German soldiers too. Thanks to the cooperation between the Volksbund Deutscher Kriegsgräberfürsorge and the Russian authorities, the remains are being reburied in official military cemeteries such as Rossoshka outside Volgograd. Soldiers of the German Wehrmacht and members of the Red Army are buried here, separated from a street, but in a shared cemetery.

A historically almost unbelievable gesture: Mitterand (left) and Kohl in Verdun in 1984.

There is still a long way to go before a gesture of reconciliation similar to the handshake between German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President François Mitterand in 1984 on the former battlefields of Verdun. The historian Jochen Hellbeck misses the willingness on both sides to do so. There were still reservations in Russia. But even in Germany there is "no willingness and no feeling that corresponds to the feeling towards our western neighbors - the French, British or Americans". Hellbeck believes that you always have to acknowledge part of the memory of the other. "You cannot make Stalingrad, as a senseless mass slaughter, binding German-Russian memory." Because it was not pointless for the Russian side. But Hellbeck says: "I hope to see that a German statesman and a Russian president shake hands over the graves of Stalingrad."