By Melissa Moskowitz
Every seat was full Monday night at Hale House when Europa House, the Russian and Eastern European Culture Club and the Russian Department of Modern Languages threw a celebration in honor of Russian Victory Day in Europe.
The events guests included a variety of students, faculty, and administration, as well as veterans from the Red Army and Russian members of the community.
A traditional Russian meal comprised of beets, veal dumplings, breaded chicken, and toast with fish eggs was offered. Students, especially those studying Russian, were encouraged to speak with the veterans and ask about their stories.
[pullquote]“The Red Army went from catastrophe to catastrophe.”
Stephen BerkProfessor of History[/pullquote]
Some veterans offered gruesome insight on the brutalities of war. Many of them told their stories out loud and several of them required English translation. One man spoke to the entire room, telling his story as a 17-year-old worker in Stalingrad. He told the room about the hunger and depravation of the civilian population, how as a worker his ration of food was a pound of bread a day. The most gruesome part of his story recounted a time he dropped his bread in a pool of blood and made the decision to not eat it despite his rapacious hunger.
The event began with a lecture given by history professor Stephen Berk, a World War II specialist. He regaled the crowd with a lecture detailing the importance of the Red Army to defeating Nazi Germany. Because Stalingrad was a success, the Allied Troops were able to invade Normandy. He illuminated the vital role that members of the Red Army played and the brutal losses they suffered.
He stressed the mass inequality of the deaths suffered on the side of the Red Army: 8.5 million soldiers and 17 million civilians. More Red Army soldiers had been lost in WWII than a combination of American troops from both world wars.
Berk said when he addressed the ambiguity of Stalin’s role in the war. He concluded that although Stalin’s industrialized five-year plan helped to sustain the weapons production, the great purges were more deleterious to the country.
Berk’s final statement rang true to many of the veterans sitting in that crowd: “Whatever you think about Joseph Stalin, the men and women of the Red Army and the Soviet Union liberated Europe and for that humanity will owe them eternal gratitude.”
The event concluded joyously with Professor Arndt playing the guitar and the whole crowd joined in to sing Russian victory songs from the Second World War. For many non-Russian speakers learning the songs proved to be a challenge, but the preponderance of people seemed to have a wonderful time celebrating an important victory and sharing a special moment in history.