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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Another View of the Still-Relevant Past

I've written two books about American women and World War II, in which I've tried to make the point that Russian women (and men) contributed infinitely more than we to victory.  Yet I feel the need to provide this context again, as far too many people today have forgotten that Russia was our ally and Nazi Germany was our mutual enemy.  Indeed, we would not have won without Russia (or as it was then, the chief province of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics).  These Slavic-language peoples suffered tremendously more losses, both military and especially civilian, than we or our English-speaking allies. 


A quick review:  Germany attacked Poland in September 1939, and in the process, quickly overran the Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.  Keeping its treaty promise to Poland, Britain then declared war on Germany (which already had neutralized other nations in Europe's south and east).  Germany's Hitler expected Britain's declaration, and it did not slow down his machine.  When spring came, his troops took Scandinavia and the little countries leading to France.  Paris fell in June 1940, and Britain stood alone.


And then Hitler made his big mistake.  Bully and egomaniac that he was, he decided he could fight a two-front war, defeating the USSR in the east while still maintaining his occupation of the west.  He broke his non-aggression pact with Russia's Stalin in June 1941, thus stupidly putting his own nation in the geographic middle of the fight.  The US finally entered the global conflict in December 1941, after Hitler's ally, Japan, attacked Hawaii's Pearl Harbor.  Unlike the English-speaking allies – Britain, Canada, Australia, and the US – Germany left Japan to win the Pacific front on its own, while he (and his Italian ally, Mussolini) intended to control Europe.


But just as he under-estimated Britain as "a nation of shopkeepers," he under-estimated the Soviet Union.  It was true that some of its provinces, particularly Ukraine (where conflict still simmers), were not enthusiastic about Stalin and the USSR, but they responded in self-defense.  Every time I re-check the numbers on the eastern front, I am newly astounded.  While Americans suffered about a half-million fatalities on all fronts, defending the Motherland cost Russia somewhere between 22 and 26 million, including many millions of women and children.  Almost two million died in the siege of Stalingrad alone – deliberately starved to death by Nazis.


Another Way of Viewing


I'm offering this context because I want to tell you about a book that I just finished reading, Katusha, Girl Solider of the Great Patriotic War.  Published by Dead Reckoning, an imprint of the Naval Institute Press in Annapolis, it arrived on my doorstep without request – probably because I'd earlier reviewed a book for the NIP.  According to its cover, author Wayne Vansant "has been writing and illustrating comics and graphic novels on historic and military subjects" for more than three decades. 


I have to say that I'm really embarrassed to be very late to this party, as the first time I'd even heard of "graphic novels" was when I spoke in Poland in 2014.  It turned out that the educators in the audience seemed to think that everyone used comic books to teach history.  This might actually be a good idea, especially for kids who need a lot of booms and bombs to illustrate the ballooned words.  Despite the "comic" format, at 572 large pages, the book is full of detail on Katusha's wartime action – and those actions were entirely typical of women fighting for Russia.  I'm again going to quote from the cover, which uses the present tense:


"On Sunday, June 22, 1941, the morning after Katusha's graduation, the Germans invade the Soviet Union.  As enemy forces occupy Kiev [the biggest city in Ukraine], Katusha and her family learn that the Nazis are not there to liberate them from harsh communist rule, but to conquer.  They discover there is a special danger for the Jews, and in saving her friend Zhenya Gersteinfeld, Katusha finds her whole family in danger.  During the next four years, Katusha experiences war on the Eastern Front with all its ferocity and hardship:  first as a partisan, then as a Red Army tank driver and commander.  From…Babi Yar…to Berlin, [we] follow the footprints and tank tracks of Katusha's journey through a time of death, hopelessness, victory, and even love."


Among the things I learned:  "Ukraine" means "edge" or "borderland," which accounts for why, until recently, it often was called "The Ukraine."  The book didn't mention the province's origins, but that also is important:  It is equivalent to our Midwest in being flat, fertile land – and in the 1700s, Russian czarina Catherine the Great imported people from her native Germany who made Ukraine the breadbasket of Eastern Europe.  Most of the documents that I used in writing my Foreign and Female:  Immigrant Women in America, 1840-1920, referred to these people as Russian-Germans, not Ukrainians.


The book's title also is comment-worthy:  Note its usage of "Great Patriotic War," not "World War II."  That's because most Russians – certainly those of the 1940s -- viewed the first war as not really theirs.  Their czar forced them into this war against his German cousins, and ordinary Russians overthrew him and his royal allies in 1917, removing Russia as a factor in the 1918 armistice.  Both Slavic and Jewish families in the Russian empire long had endured conscription of their young men, and military maltreatment was so common that some cut off a foot or a hand to make themselves unfit.  In this war, the czarist regime sent some into combat armed only with broomsticks.  They were expected to take real weapons off of dead enemies.


It's important, too, to remember that ultimately German soldiers also suffered in both wars because they obeyed authoritarian leaders.  This was particularly true of the second war, when Germans chose to ignore Hitler's dangerous racism and fascism.  The image of Katusha on top of her tank at the liberation of Kiev, swearing that Berlin soon would look like Ukraine's ruined city, was very telling.  Two captions reminded readers of the risks one takes when one blindly follows a jingoistic leader.  They read: 


"The last German holdouts surrendered on February 3, 1943, barely recognizable as the sterling professionals who'd once taken Paris and Kiev.  There were only about 91,000 of them left, ragged and starving.  In the next few months, half of these men would die in a typhus epidemic.  The last of them would return to Germany in 1955 – only 6,000 strong."  Note that date:  1955 was ten years after World War II ended in 1945, and even after the Korean War ended without victory for either side. 


That is the point:  One war leads to another.  Remember that at election time, and remember that the greatest respect you can show for veterans is to prevent the deaths of their grandchildren.  Let me encourage you to check out an excellent website, VoteVets.  And you can find either the printed book or an e-book about Katusha at www.deadreckoning.org.  In its own terrifying way, it is a coming-of-age tale about a teenager who lost most of her loved ones, and reading it this summer will have a beneficial impact on any teenager you know.  And the most poignant part for me:  a couple much like Hubby and me who were hanged on suspicion of hiding their cow.




·      The biggest polling unanimity on current issues?  Regardless of political party, age, race, gender, or whatever:  Everyone wants to eliminate robocalls.

·      Nevada is the first state in the nation to have a majority of women in its legislature, and that makes a difference.  While other states (all in the South) are passing laws that put a pregnant woman at risk, its legislators passed the "Trust Nevada Women Act."  It aims to assure the state's women of access to responsible health care even if the federal government takes a different tack.

·      I've been wondering about how physicians feel about the endless ads from drug companies. This could be a good thing in educating patients to ask their physician for a new prescription – but somehow I doubt it.  The entire pharmaceutical industry has been so untrustworthy that I really would like to know what health experts think.  Most ads target retirees – and the drug companies assume that Medicare will add to their already outrageous profits.

·      Along those lines, we have lots of ads from lawyers who want to file a suit on your behalf, primarily against insurance companies.  The insurance industry also makes huge profits, often with policies that turn out to be worth much less than promised.  If I had to decide a fight between them, I'd probably go for the lawyers because at least sometimes, they represent poor people.  Yet I remember a time when it was illegal for lawyers to advertise.

·      At the same time that lawyers were barred from hawking their trade in any format, cigarette and liquor ads were ubiquitous, even on television and during hours when children were watching.  Times change, and generally in the right direction.

·      Sort of re that:  In an episode of "Father Brown," the clueless police inspector finds dozens of poisoning clues in seemingly innocent chemicals used in kitchens, bathrooms, and tool sheds.  It made me think of how rare murder by poisoning has become – and that's because government regulations don't allow people to get their hands on dangerous products.  Except for guns.



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