Bury thy enemy

December 13th, 2005  

Topic: Bury thy enemy

How would you feel if you could see a cemetery of your enemies from your window? The people of Subbotino and Turitsyno, neighboring villages about 60 kilometers northwest of Moscow, have been living for decades next to a large common grave of hundreds of Germans killed in the battle for Moscow in the winter of 1941. Sergei Lvov, then 17, remembers how he buried enemy soldiers on the orders of German commanders. (Picture story)

Soviet troops paraded proudly in front of the Kremlin walls on Nov. 7, 1941 to commemorate the Bolshevik revolution before marching directly to the battlefront — Moscow was expected by Hitler to surrender quickly. On Oct. 2 he launched Operation Typhoon — a huge attack against the Soviet capital — that he believed would be the final battle of World War II . Enemy troops were moving rapidly from the West, fighting not only with partisans, but also with muddy roads and lack of winter experience.

“German troops — cavalry and infantry — entered our villages on Nov. 21,” 81-year-old Sergei says. “I cannot say, how many of them arrived, but all the road within view was crowded with troops. Too many, I guess. Me and some other boys, too young to go to war, but old enough to work hard, were digging trenches when we heard shots. We understood that the enemy was nearby. We rushed home, but saw Germans in our way. There was no way to escape their bullets except to hide in the unfinished trenches. One boy was wounded, fortunately just slightly, and was able to spend the night in our bomb shelter. We were only able to return home the next day, as the Germans changed their position.”

Upon their arrival the boys discovered that there was no trace of their old life. “They take you, make you lead them to your house, look for anything to eat — meat, flour, vegetables — and make you deliver everything to their camp,” Sergei remembers. Out of starvation, not out of revenge, local people cooked meals from the flesh of dead German horses after the enemy troops escaped. “What good strong horses they had! I have not seen any others like them in my life. And have not eaten them, either,” Sergei jokes.

Moreover, the Germans were so poorly equipped for the Russian winter that they took valenki (Russian winter footwear made from felt) and the padded jackets of the local Soviet men fighting their comrades at the front from their frightened wives. “Looking at them everyone could understand they were breathing their last,” Sergei says.

Moreover, hundreds of enemy soldiers were dying of their wounds. Upon their arrival at Turitsyno, the Germans organized a hospital there. But at the beginning of December it became clear to them them Soviets would soon put them to flight. And, like many divisions across Russia, they left the local people a burdensome legacy. “Once a German officer knocked at my door and explained with signs that I had to follow him. He led me and several young boys to the field between the villages and ordered us to dig a pit that turned out to be a common grave,” Sergei says. They worked for three days and made it two meters deep and 15 meters in diameter and threw in corpses, twisted up with blankets.

The work was finished just before a massive counter-attack against the German Army Group Centre launched by Soviet Western Front chief Georgy Zhukov on Dec. 5, 1941. At that time his troops were fresh and well-equipped, arriving in the Moscow region from Siberia and the Far East. The exhausted and freezing Germans were routed and driven back 100 to 250 km from Moscow by Jan. 7, 1942.

The Soviets came to Subbotino soon afterwards, forcing the Germans out of Solnechnogorsk on Dec. 12, 1941. They passed the place with lightning speed chasing the enemy. Only for a day local people heard an exchange of fire from their shelter — a tiny vegetable store that somehow hosted all the village population, about 100 women, children and the elderly. Except the men, who were at the front, only one youngster did not stay with them. He saddled up his horse and joined the Germans in their escape. Very young, without any knowledge of German, it is unclear whether he was forced to follow the enemy troops or went with them voluntary. But Sergei Lvov and his neighbors have never seen him since that winter day.

Many of those who saw the Germans bury their comrades and escape, including Sergei and Zinaida, who later became his wife, still live in Subbotino and Turitsyno. The Lvovs’ house is now used as a dacha, where Sergei grows fruit, vegetables, berries and flowers for fun and for sale; in the 1960s they moved to a flat in the nearby town of Solnechnogorsk. Asked whether he would like the descendants to come and take away the remains of their relatives, he says he has never asked himself such a question...either have the other villagers. They just do not think about the huge enemy grave, busy with their vegetable gardens in summer and abandoning the villages in winter.

They only thing that stirs interest is a rumor that former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s relative is buried there. No one knows who started the rumor. However, since workers started covering the road through the village with asphalt several months ago, people have been waiting for the prominent politician to visit them. Surprisingly, they do not pay much attention to a huge sign saying “This road is being built by MosAvtodor (Moscow Road Agency)”. It is common among Russians not to believe that a state enterprise can wish to repair a road itself and even put a plan into practice. Maybe, that is why the so-called “Kohl myth” is so popular in Subbotino and Turitsyno.

However, if it had been true, the workers would not have brushed aside and scattered about 80 cm of soil and bones with excavators. “Even when we plow this field and sow the grain after the war there we were more careful,” Sergei Lvov claims pointing at a human bone seen in the frozen soil. The old man himself does not believe the rumor and even dismisses the possibility that Germans may be interested in the remains of their fathers and grandfathers.

Remarkably, his father was the only Subbotino man to return from war, while many of his neighbors have no idea about the whereabouts of their relatives’ graves. The war affected the life of all the people his age. But he does not dare say that it only brought bad. On the one hand, he studied in school for only four years and spent five lean years from 1941 till 1945. On the other hand, when he turned 18, he was summoned for work at a plant, producing war equipment that freed him from the army. Moreover, he met his future wife, Zinaida, who lived in Turitsyno, during the war. They have spent 60 happy years together and are currently awaiting a $100 award from the Russian government that they will receive on the day of their anniversary.

“When we celebrated the 50th anniversary, we did not even know about the payments”, Zinaida claims. Like all pensioners today, they were stripped of their Soviet benefits by a change to the law, signed by President Vladimir Putin last year. Sergei, however, does not take it too hard. His title of Labor Veteran proves that he made a huge contribution to the 1945 allied victory over Nazi Germany. And that is enough for him.

How would you feel were a grave of your worst enemies always within sight of your home? A very interesting thought indeed.
December 13th, 2005  
I honestly wouldn't know. I didn't live the experience and I don't hate the German soldiers with a vengeance. Being of German decendance I have relatives strewn over different battle-fields and find it impossible to hate them. In short: I would not have a problem with that.
December 16th, 2005  
well i dont know about living besides a graveyard..

but about burying my enemies, well I for one, honor those worthy, I respect my foes and for some reason which I dont know how to explain, I do honor my enemies and those who I killed..
December 17th, 2005  
Originally Posted by MightyMacbeth
I do honor my enemies and those who I killed..
Mate, give me a break. You're what 18 and are not in uniform, not a veteran and talking complete bollocks. This isn't talking about a video game ffs.
December 17th, 2005  
Chief Bones

Topic: You've got to be joshing me

What does a 18 year old squirt like you know about honoring fallen foes?

When you make those kind of dumb statements in this forum of your military peers, expect to have your ears pinned back (you deserve it).

Your peers have earned the right to make those kinds of statements (often with their own blood).

When you get out of your breeches (didies), join the military (not the Boy Scouts), get out into "no-man's" land (battlefield) and go eye-to-eye with the enemy (kill), then (Junior), you too will have earned the right to make these kinds of statements.

Until then, I would strongly suggest that you think before you make another stupid statement like the one you just made which demonstrates just how young and immature you really are.
December 17th, 2005  
very well then. Until we meet