"Memories of War. Fragments from the book by Nikolai Nikulin
The second year of Russia's aggressive war against Ukraine is underway. In some Russian cities, the traditional military parades and "Immortal Regiments" in honor of May 9 have been cancelled. Victory Day has been turned by the state into a day of war. We thought it appropriate today to recall the words of a man who went through that war, from 1941 to 1945, and left us, today, a parting message.
Nikolai Nikulin went to the front as a volunteer after graduating from school in 1941 and found himself near Volkhovstroy. He participated in battles near Kirishi, Pogostya, in Pogostya sack, in breaking through the blockade of Leningrad, in Mginsk operation, in battles for Medved station, cities of Pskov, Tartu and Libava. In 1945, as a part of the 48th Artillery Brigade he fought at Warsaw and Danzig. He finished the war in Berlin. He was four times wounded, was contused. He was awarded many prizes for the shown courage.
"Nikolai Nikulin's Memoirs of the War is a tough memoir describing the trenchant truth of the Great Patriotic War. There is no poster pathos, everything is honest here. Here is what Nikulin himself says about his book:
"These notes are a child of the thaw of the sixties, when the armor that clenched our souls began to crack. These notes were a timid expression of thoughts and feelings that had long accumulated in my mind. Written not for the reader, but for myself, they were a kind of inner exile, a protest against the then prevailing and now preserved uran-patriotic image of the war... For almost three decades I did not show this manuscript to anyone, considering it my personal business. Recently I carelessly let an acquaintance read it and it was a fatal mistake: the manuscript took on a life of its own - it passed into my hands. I had no choice but to allow its publication.
We have selected quotations from Nikolai Nikulin's book with the author's reflections on victory and historical memory.
"No one is seriously engaged in commemorating the dead. Life goes on, it has new problems, new concerns, new tasks and goals.
Where does such indifference to the memory of our fathers come from? Where does such blatant callousness come from? Indifference to the memory of the dead is the result of the general beastliness of the nation. The political arrests of many years, camps, collectivization, and famine not only destroyed millions of people, but also killed faith in goodness, justice, and mercy. Cruelty to their own people in the war, the millions of victims easily sacrificed on the battlefields, are phenomena of the same order.
"The war, which was conducted by the methods of concentration camps and collectivization, was not conducive to the development of humanity. Soldiers' lives were not valued. And according to the conception invented by the political commissars, our army is the best in the world, fighting without losses. Millions of people who died on the battlefields didn't fit this scheme. They were not to be talked about, they were not to be noticed. They were piled like carrion in pits and covered with earth by funeral teams, or simply rotting where they died. It was dangerous to talk about it, they could have been lined up against the wall "for defeatism". And to this day this official concept lives on, it is firmly ingrained in the minds of our people. They announced the figure of 20 million, taken from the ceiling, and the archives, lists, burial plans and all documentation is strict secrecy.
"No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten!" - this crackling phrase looks like a mockery. Amateur searches by pioneers and individual enthusiasts are a drop in the ocean. The official monuments and memorials were created not to commemorate the victims, but to perpetuate our slogans: "We are the best!", "We are invincible!","Long live communism!" Stone, or, more often, concrete flags, fanfares, standard Mother Homeland, frozen in a picture of sorrow in which one does not believe - cold, cruel, soulless, alien to true sorrow, sculptures.
To be more precise. The existing memorials are not monuments to the dead, but the concept of the invincibility of our system embodied in concrete.
"Our victory in the war has been turned into political capital, meant to reinforce and justify the status quo in the country. The sacrifices contradict the official interpretation of victory. The war must be portrayed in major colors. Hooray! Victory! And losses are immaterial! Winners are not judged.
What can we really do now, under conditions of general indifference, lack of funds and materials? I think we should create memorial zones on the territory of the former front line, preserve what remains there in its unchanged form... Put memorial signs, however modest and cheap, indicating the dead regiments and divisions. After all, neither Pogostye, nor Gaitolovo, nor Tortolovo, nor Korbusel, nor dozens of other places are marked in any way! And to collect bones... And it is high time to put churches or chapels on the places of battles".
"In observing the veterans of my unit, as well as all the others I have encountered, I have found that most of them are extremely conservative. There are several reasons for this. First, the survivors were mostly rear and officers, not those who were sent to attack, but those who were sent. And the political workers. The latter are Stalinists in essence and by upbringing. They are not able to perceive the war objectively. Their stupidity, amplified by sclerosis, had become impenetrable.
Those who think about something and experience what happened (and there are quite a few of them) are permanently traumatized by fear, don't talk too much and keep their mouths shut. I find the same ineradicable fear in myself. There is an automatic limiter in my head that does not allow me to go beyond certain limits. And these lines are written with the usual secret fear: I'll be in trouble for them!
"It's ironic! I had always been afraid of loud noises, had no patience for bangles and crackers as a child, and ended up in the heavy artillery! But it was a happy fate, for in the infantry one stays alive for an average of a week during active operations. Then he is sure to be wounded or killed. In heavy artillery this period extends to three or four months."
"I remember Vaska from the 6th Marine Brigade. The whole brigade went down in the forty-first, but Vaska survived but lost both his legs. He built a box on four bearings and collected alms by putting on his naval cap. Sincere passers-by quickly filled it with rubles and three cents. Then Vaska would get drunk and crash into the crowd with a roar, a hiss and a whistle, turning back and forth as he went...
I was sad and ashamed. When I went to the pharmacy, I heard the pharmacist, a beautiful and young woman, calling the police to remove the troublemaker. Could she not understand that Vaska had laid down his young life for her, that she had not burned in the ghetto only because Vaska had not spared his legs and those who were with him their heads?
Then Vaska disappeared... In those years, the good Motherland gathered her sons, the disabled heroes who had given their health in the name of the victory, and sent them to reservations on distant islands, so as not to disturb the beauty of the capitals. They all died quietly there."
"No monuments and memorials are capable of conveying the enormity of war losses, of truly immortalizing the myriad senseless victims. The best memory for them is the truth about the war, a truthful account of what happened, the disclosure of archives, the publication of the names of those responsible for the outrages...
The grief of loved ones, no matter how unbearable, lasts only a generation. And if we remember history, wars have always turned people into manure, fertilizer for the future. The dead were forgotten immediately, they were always just heavy ballast for the memory. (Eh, if only I could forget all that!) The battles and victories were remembered only in the interests of today.
"War is the dirtiest and most disgusting phenomenon of human activity, raising all the basest from the depths of our subconscious. In war we are rewarded, not punished, for killing a man. We can and should destroy with impunity the values created by mankind for centuries, to burn, to cut, to blow up. War turns man into a vicious animal and kills, kills, kills...
The worst thing is that people can't live without war. When they finish one, they immediately start preparing the next one. For centuries mankind has been sitting on a powder keg, and now it's moved to the atomic bomb. It is frightening to think what will come of it. One thing is clear, there will be no one to write the memoirs...".