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'World War II Through Russian Eyes' Hits San Diego

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 23, 1999 – World War II history buffs can now get a glimpse of what the Russians referred to as "The Great Patriotic War".

An exhibit entitled "World War II Through Russian Eyes," is on display through Sept. 30 at San Diego's Balboa Park Exhibit Hall. Sponsored by the city of San Diego, the Central Armed Forces Museum of Moscow and the Historical Achievements Museum of Florida, the show features World War II from the former Soviet Union's perspective.

Understanding the Russian's view of World War II is central to understanding the country today, said Talisman. The war still prompts emotional responses "as if these memories have been engraved upon their eyes as a screen through which every Russian views and judges events past, present and future," he wrote. Talisman, who also serves as vice chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and Museum in Washington, said 27 million Soviet citizens died during the war. He said people walk away from the exhibit with an impression of how vicious the fighting was on the Eastern Front. "That's part of the reason for staging this exhibition," he said during an interview. "The feeling in Russia is that the West doesn't know anything about what they went through during the war. And it's true, we don't know history very well."

Talisman and others teach classes on World War II through Russian Eyes at local San Diego high schools and at Camp Pendleton Marine base. The classes feature talks by some of the many Russian veterans who now call San Diego home. "Even some of the most hard-bitten Marines are amazed at the loss of life in Russia," Talisman said. "They stay after the classes speaking to these Russian vets."

The recent popularity of books and films about World War II make this a perfect time for Americans to learn about the Soviet contribution to victory, Talisman said. "American media gives the impression that the Normandy invasion was the turning point in the war," he said. "[U.S. Army Gen. Dwight D.] Eisenhower said at the time, if the Russians had not tied down 5 million Germans on the Russian Front, it's problematic when D-Day could have happened, if at all."

The exhibition marks the first time many of the artifacts have been shown outside the former Soviet Union. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's great coat and personal 7.62mm Nagent revolver are displayed as well as Hitler's personal standard, coat, hat, boots, walking stick and a globe from the Fuhrer's bunker. Hundreds of paintings, photos and propaganda posters detail what life was like for the Soviets.

Soviet dictator Josef Stalin had hoped the non-aggression pact he had signed with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in 1939 would hold. That pact divided Poland between Russia and Nazi Germany. On September 3, 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland precipitating World War II. Yet almost as soon as Hitler had subdued Western Europe, he began planning the offensive against the Soviet Union.

On June 22, 1941, the German Wehrmacht began Operation Barbarossa. German forces soon laid siege to Leningrad -- the Soviet Union's second largest city -- and entered the western suburbs of Moscow. German troops were within sight of the Kremlin when Soviet forces rebuffed the attack.

The exhibit strives to show the suffering the Soviet people endured, including the German slaughter of thousands of Ukrainian Jews from Kiev at Babi Yar. The display also credits the more than a million Soviet partisans who fought behind German lines, killing nearly 500,000 German troops. The partisans were instrumental in breaking Nazi supply lines and tying down soldiers who could have been at the front.

The exhibit highlights one of the crucial battles of history -- the Battle for Stalingrad. This industrial city on the banks of the Volga River became the objective of the German 6th Army. About 330,000 German troops stormed the city in August 1942. One Luftwaffe attack alone killed 40,000 civilians in the city. Yet the Soviets dug in and countered the German offensive, stalking the Germans in the city's rubble. By January 1943, a mere 12,000 Germans lived to surrender to Soviet forces.

Other highlights include the Soviet's victory during the largest tank battle in history -- the July 12, 1943, Battle of Kursk that involved a total of 1,200 tanks.

Overall, the exhibit traces the path of the Red army and air force across Eastern Europe and the culminating battle for Berlin. By World War II's end, in addition to the dead, German forces had decimated most of the industrialized portion of the largest country in the world. Nazi troops had destroyed whole villages and thousands of miles of railways.

Talisman said people seem most affected by the portion dealing with the Siege of Leningrad, today called St. Petersburg. The Nazi's invested the city early in the war. "Few people in the West knows about the pain the city went through," he said. Before the Soviets broke the siege after 900 days, 800,000 had died. "Leningrad truly shows the grit of the Russian Soviet people," he said.

The exhibition travels to Tokyo following its run in San Diego, and plans are underway for its display in other major cities. For information check out the exhibit web site at: www.wwiithroughrussianeyes.com. [link no longer available]

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