The first blow

Russian-German wartime phrasebookHow is this station called?
Where is the telegraph?
Lead me there.
Give over every telegram to him.
Break the transmission or else I shoot.
Where is telephone?

Not long after I dedicated a post to the Russian-Estonian wartime phrasebook of 1940, another volume of the same series fell into my hands: a Russian-German wartime phrasebook which is hardly known even in Russia.

Russian-German wartime phrasebook
This booklet was published one year after its Russian-Estonian counterpart, in 1941, the year when, on June 22, the German army overrun the Soviet Union. In a couple of weeks all Ukraine got into German hands, Kiev and Smolensk fell, forty-four Soviet divisions were annihilated, one third of Soviet tanks were lost, one and half million of Soviet soldiers were taken prisoners. The Red Army could recover only by the beginning of 1943 so that they would turn the fate of the war at Stalingrad and start a counterattack.

Russian-German wartime phrasebookWhere is the power station?
Where is the factory?
What is it like?
How many workers?
Where is the market place?
Where are the shops?
When did the German soldiers go away?
Where did they go? (direction, place name)

In this context it is very strange that this phrasebook gives instructions only for speech situations that are proper to a victorious Soviet advance on German soil. It is remarkable that while in the Estonian phrasebook a special chapter was dedicated to partisans, in this German one no mention is made about such a possibility, only about the German units fleeing from the Red Army. And even the captured soldiers and officers are not interrogated about the direction of the German attack, but of the German retreat. Considering the situation of the Soviet army in 1941, this booklet reveals extraordinary self-confidence and optimism.

Russian-German wartime phrasebook
And with all reason. Because, according to the colophon, the printing of the book was approved on May 29, 1941, when there was not even the slightest suspect of a German attack. Germany and the Soviet Union were allies, and stood in the most friendly relations. They were over the distribution of Poland and the other border states, and were supplying row materials and military technology to each other. In these circumstances what was the reason of establishing such a phrasebook for all the staff – для бойца и младшего командира, for the privates and corporals – of which they could have taken use only in case of an invasion of Germany?

Russian-German wartime phrasebookDoes someone speak Russian? Ukrainian?
Tell him to come here!
Lead me to him!
How many houses?
How many inhabitants?
How many wells?
Where is water?

The most obvious answer would be that perhaps the Red Army was really about to invade Germany. But we learned that this was out of the question, and what is more, the German attack found the Soviet Union absolutely unprepared. “Stalin chose to ignore the warnings of his own intelligence services, and he did not want to provoke Hitler. His generals were likely to tell him only what he wanted to hear, so that he believed that the position of the Soviet Union in early 1941 was much stronger than it actually was. Besides, he also had an ill-founded confidence in the Molotov-Ribbentropp pact which had been signed just two years before. He also suspected the British of trying to spread false rumours in order to trigger a war between Germany and the USSR.” In lack of my old schoolbooks I am quoting the Wikipedia, but I would be curious to see what modern schoolbooks write about this.

Russian-German wartime phrasebookWhere does this road (street) lead to?
Where is another road?
How can one get to …?
Show me on the map, please.

However, in recent years several historians – Mikhail Meltyukov (2000), Valeriy Danilov (1993), Vladimir Nevezhin (1999) and others – consider it probable that both empires were preparing to attack the other, but Stalin – as he himself expounded it in a public speech on May 5, 1941 – wanted to gain time for adequate preparations until 1942. As the Hungarian historian Krisztián Ungváry writes it in his study “Stalin and the war”:

The mechanized and blinded troops were grouped directly at the border, at its most exposed and salient angles. The rear defense positions were reduced. The air forces and the divisions of the first strategic echelon were installed right at the Western border, while the troops of the second echelon immediately behind the border, together with all the depositories and logistics. In a hurry they built new roads, bridges and barracks, and all this in a period when the deployment of the Germans to the border had not even started. All this reveals that (also) the Soviet Union had offensive plans. This deployment was only useful in case of an immediate attack. It was absolutely useless for defense. This is also understandable, for the military regulations of the Soviet army explicitly renounced of any defense, asserting that the Soviet army “is the most offensive army of the world”.

Russian-German wartime phrasebookRiver-crossing.
Which road leads to the river?
Can one cross the bridge with a van?
The depth of the river?
The width of the river?
Where are other crossings?

Among the historians emphasizing the offensive intentions of the Soviet Union there is Viktor Suvorov or in his civil name Vladimir Rezun, the Soviet intelligence agent who in 1978 emigrated to Britain. In his works the Soviet preparations for the invasion assume gigantic measures. In his view, Stalin had been prepared to attack Germany since as soon as the early 30s. On August 19, 1939 he issued a secret general mobilization order, and in the following two years he converted the country’s complete industry to military production. And Hitler not simply overrun the Soviet Union, but this policy effectively “constrained him to a preventive war” just two weeks before the planned date of the Soviet attack, the “M-day” on July 6, 1941. The works of Suvorov written in a sensation-hunting style, where he puts even the smallest data in the service of his theory, deservedly triggered the assault fire of the critics both in Russia and abroad. A large number of books and forums have been specialized to refute him in details, and thanks to the author’s rather free and high-handed usage of his data, it is not a hard job to do so. However, we can find plenty of wheat among the refuse. So for example in chapter 15.6. of the Последняя республика (The Last Republic) where he writes exactly about this Russian-German wartime phrasebook:

The phrasebook was composed by Major General N. N. Bijazi, and edited by A. V. Lyubarski. It was printed in a number of copies to be envied even by the most successful bestseller. And nevertheless this booklet disappeared within a short time after its publishing. I only found a copy at the military academy of diplomacy of the Soviet army. … Its content roused my interest. It contained not a single word about defense. Everything was connected with attack. … This booklet was written for German circumstances, and it was usable only in German territory. Why would anyone ask in German in Propoysk, where is the town hall and where is the mayor hiding? … If they really planned to overrun Europe in 1942, Major General Bijazi would not have dared to make obvious the plans of Stalin already a year before that to its several millions of executioners. … But if they planned to attack on July 6, 1941, then the booklet was sent to print in the right time: one month before that, not earlier and not later.

Russian-German wartime phrasebookIs it drinkable?
Drink first you!
Give me a bucket!
Where is the drinking place?
Where is hay?
Where is straw?
Where is firewood?
How many cows?
How many horses?
How many charts?

It is not known how the things would have developed if Stalin managed to attack first. If the Red Army managed to turn the fate of the war at Stalingrad even after such losses, they would have been surely a tough nut to crack for Hitler if they attacked first. We cannot say what would have been the ultimate target of such a successful attack. In November 1940 Molotov required of Germany, at that time at the top of its power, the Soviet control above the whole Balkan (including Hungary), the Dardanellas and the Persian Bay. What would have they required (or simply taken) of the loser? In the course of the 1941 attack of Hitler and of the man-wasting strategy of Stalin in the thereafter following years, the best part of the Red Army was lost. Nevertheless, even the rest of it was enough to occupy the complete Eastern Europe before the allies. To which borders would have arrived a victorious Soviet army, prepared for attack? The ways of God are unfathomable.

A Russian priest and a German officer at the beginning of the BlitzkriegA Russian priest and a German officer at the beginning of the Blitzkrieg. Source:

Continuation: In a different way

6 comentarios:

Julia dijo...

No tengo nada memorable para decir, sólo contarte cómo estamos disfrutando estas miradas sobre Rusia en nuestra familia últimamente dominada por la "russerie".

Studiolum dijo...

Y ¿qué dicen los rusófilos (y las rusas) sobre estas miradas?

Julia dijo...

Bueno, en realidad las comentamos entre los que quedamos acá, en Argentina. Para nosotros, es puro placer, interés y descubrimiento... (Brave new world!)
El rusófilo propiamente dicho no comenta nada (por más que le remití varias entradas). Y a su novia, la rusa, no se lo hemos preguntado. Es un encanto, pero uno nunca sabe cómo reacciona la gente cuando se habla de su país...
De todas formas, ya iremos averiguando sus pareceres (y te contaremos).

Lo cierto es que conocíamos poco y no teníamos mucha idea formada sobre los rusos. De modo que tus miradas son unos de los caminos por los que los vamos descubriendo.

Otro tema: ¿para cuándo la firma diferenciada en el simbionte digital "studiolum"? ;-)

Studiolum dijo...

Someone, apparently from Ukraine (and possibly called Xerf) has just made a comment to this post, but we will not publish it in its present form. Its content was interesting and informative (although formulated in a somewhat confuse manner, so the point was not completely clear), but its tone was vulgar. And in this blog – in contrast to the majority of other forums – we firmly keep ourselves to the good manners, thus honoring both our Readers and ourselves.

You are supposed to believe that the authors of this blog write with goodwill whatever they write, and you are expected to formulate your comments with the same goodwill. This is the only possible starting point of any conversation and any mutual understanding and appreciation, says Confucius. And this is the only way of avoiding to sink down from the level of humans to that of barking dogs, adds Hafez.

If you prefer to comment in Russian, please do so. We perfectly understand it, as the above post (and some more ones) may attest it. We ask for your pardon in advance that even in this case we would answer in English – or in one of the major Western European languages, to your preference – simply because, in spite of all our respect and devotion to Russian language and culture, they are easier for us to express ourselves in such a clear and exact way as your technical questions may require.

francesca dijo...

Sto leggendo Carnets de l'interprète de guerre di Elena Rjevskaïa (così come la traslitterano in francese) tradotta da Macha Zonina e Aurore Touya. L'ho appena iniziato, ma ti segnalo lo stesso - nell'improbabile caso che tu non lo conosca già - che l'autrice esprime il rammarico di aver perso la prima edizione originale di un dizionario tedesco-russo di Auerbach (svizzero, di origine), al quale avevano affidato il compito di redarre un lessico delle parolacce perché si potessero insultare i tedeschi a scopo intimidatorio. Ne ho trovato traccia in rete.

Studiolum dijo...

Grazie per l’informazione! Io ho letto il libro più di venti anni fa in ungherese (è stato pubblicato in una rivista degli operai provinciale, quasi per prova come lo accetta il popolo lavoratore, ma i censori apparentemente lo hanno giudicato troppo realistico in confronto all’immagine ufficiale ed idealizzata dell’Armata Rossa, così non è stato mai pubblicato in libro), ma non mi ricordavo già di questo (e molti altri) dettaglio. Ora lo rileggerò, perché sicuramente conterrà molto altro materiale da usare al filo dei dizionari della guerra.