"The diaries of fritzes and the letters of gretchens": Personal writings from the German-Soviet war and their readers

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ON 12 JUNE 1941, TEN DAYS before the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Vitalii Stekol'shchikov, a 19-year-old graduate of the Riazan' artillery school, was deployed from Riazan' to western Ukraine. In letters to his girlfriend Anna ("Ania," "An'ka," "Annushka") Panfilova, he reported on his trip, which took him through the capital ("Hello, my snub-nose! Ardent lieutenant greetings from Moscow!" [12 June]) and Kiev ("We are sitting in a restaurant, having a little beer. With nothing to do, we are remembering Riazan', and I'm all with you, my dear" [14 June]) to Zhitomir, from where he reported on 18 June that "everyone" was "ready for action." Yet "where, for what purpose, and for how long" they were being mobilized was not clear to him at all. Vitalii also wrote to Anna that he was carrying all her letters to him (presumably from the time of his studies at the artillery school): "I know them almost entirely by heart." His next, undated letter to her found him in the midst of the horrors of the German invasion that started on 22 June, annihilating entire Red Army divisions and forcing others into retreat: "Along the way we were followed all the time by enemy tanks, and the bandits were firing at us. Somehow we were still able to get away, and we saved the colors of the regiment. Several times I was within a hair's-breadth of death. But I managed to survive somehow. Yet all my belongings, which were in two suitcases, I had to leave them behind, including all the photos and the kerchiefs that you had given to me as presents." Th e lieutenant's description of the losses borne by his unit was terse: "Many commanders and soldiers are gone. All in all, we got roughed up quite a bit." Vitalii kept writing to Anna, even though he did not hear back from her ("Th is is already the fourth month that I have had no letters from you"). Only in his eleventh letter to her did he report hearing his first news from her.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationFascination and Enmity
Subtitle of host publicationRussia and Germany as Entangled Histories, 1914-1945
PublisherUniversity of Pittsburgh Press
Number of pages31
ISBN (Print)9780822962076
StatePublished - 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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