Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Stare Down public domain claimed

Greetings All:

I'm no fan of the former Soviet Union.  My Dad fought against it in '56 during the heroic yet ultimately doomed Hungarian Revolution.  I think Stalin was one of the most evil men who ever lived.  It's not very Christian of me, but I truly hope he's in the Pol Pot wing of Hell with Hitler, Mao, and the guy in glasses in the photo.

That guy would be Heinrich Himmler.  Himmler was about as evil as they come.  He ran the SS and was without remorse for how he did it.  Here's how the website, "Rare Historical Photos," cited above, described him"

"Heinrich Himmler was one of the chief architects of the holocaust, Hitler’s #1 right-hand man, chief of the Gestapo and oversaw all concentration camps, probably the most evil Nazi."

So back to the photo.  Here is some unknown Red Army soldier, a prisoner of war (POW)  locked in a staring match with Himmler.  You can see the outline of his ribs.  (Nazi Germany was not known for the cuisine of their POW camps, especially for those unfortunate enough to be captured wearing Soviet uniforms.)  This POW's survival rate was not great, actually, it was dismal.   There were about 5.7 million Soviet prisoners of war captured and held by Nazi Germany.  Of that number, more than 3.5 died in captivity.  Stalin had rejected the Geneva Convention and that was just fine with the Nazis.  Dumb move Joey, dumb, dumb...

I agree with the description in the link above that this POW engaged in an act of defiance, a calculated one.  He's up against the barbed wire, standing at attention, probably using more energy than I do when I run three miles.  Yet there he stands.  Did he know that he was locked in a stare down with such a high ranking Nazi?  Maybe.  From Himmler's entourage, it's clear he was a big shot.  Regardless of exactly who this POW thought Himmler was, it is obvious that he was one of the overlords, the victor, at least then.  The POW was clearly on the wrong side of the wire.
Life in a POW camp was no picnic.  Despite the comedic description in the 1960s T.V. show, Hogan's Heroes, it was a hard life.  One of the ironies of the war for American and other non-Soviet POWs is that the better the war got for the allies, the worse it got for the POWs.  Ned Handy was an American POW at the infamous Stalag 17.  His book, The Flame Keepers tells of daily life in the camp.  I listened to the audio version of it back in 2007 or 2008.  I recall how Handy described the macabre experience of watching through the wire the Soviet soldiers and their role call.  The Nazi guards would only look at the prisoners' feet, never in the face.  The reason was that at any time the faces belonged to the death.  That's right, the Soviets would bring out their dead at roll call for extra food rations.  As I recall, they kept this up until spring made such actions unbearable.  It baffles the mind (at least mine) that such things occurred.  But they did, and far worse in that war.

Here's a link to this book:
I wonder who this POW was.  Who knows, he might have been a straight-up Bolshevik, a fanatic communist and one who ratted out less-loyal soldiers to the political officer.  That is possible.  It is more likely he was one of the millions of peasant farmers or factory workers who had as much use for Marx as we do for blacksmiths.  In any event, in this moment, this POW is standing up to a bully.  For that, he's doing a solid and gets my appreciation.

Several years ago, I read the book, Ivan's War by Catherine Merridale.  She does a solid job of telling the story of how the average Red Army soldier, lived, fought, and often died in "The Great Patriotic War."  The POW in the photo is likely whom Merridale was writing about.  Here's a link to the book if you're interested: 

In war, there are winners and losers.  There are casualties.  Dead, wounded, scared and scarred, all have their place in war.  Then there are the prisoners.  Those who cannot fight anymore, at least not n the traditional sense.  Yet in this photo, this lowly POW stood his ground and locked eyes with the personification of evil.  In that moment, he was no longer a prisoner, he was free, he was victorious, and he won the stare down.

Be well my friends,

No comments:

Post a Comment