Every word in the name of the country’s main memorial, unveiled precisely half a century ago in the Alexander Garden at the Kremlin Wall, is written in capitals. This is a sign of deep respect for those who died in defence of liberty and independence of our country.
The question of building a monument to the unknown soldiers killed in the Great Patriotic War in Moscow was raised as early as under Nikita Khrushchev. It was already a long-felt need. Tombs of the Unknown Soldier had appeared in European capitals much earlier: when the memorial at the Kremlin War was unveiled, similar monuments had already existed in Paris, Rome, Belgrade. Actually, all Soviet leaders’ overseas trips began with visiting these memorials.
But there had been no such a memorial in Moscow yet even though the number of unmarked graves scattered over the battlegrounds as well as the number of those gone missing in the war were extremely high.
But one should not think that there were no monuments to the fallen in wars at all: here and there they unveiled monuments to famous war heroes and in 1959 the construction of “The Motherland calls” statue was launched in Volgograd.
In this context, unveiling of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on May 8, 1967 should be examined taking into account the general change in the war memorialization policy of the state that occurred in mid-1960s.
Today it is hard to beleive that Victory Day was first really marked only 20 years after the Victory itself. The Decree of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of April 26, 1965 said: “The Supreme Soviet of the USSR declares that May 9, a holiday of the victory of Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, is now a day-off”.
It was the first fruit. On May 9, 1965 for the first time many veterans wearing their honors got out on the streets of the Soviet cities. Many of them were not so old, the youngest participant of the Great Patriotic War was just slightly over 40. The holiday used to be a working day before (since 1948) and veterans had been wearing only medal ribbons.
On May 9, 1965 for the first time after a long break the Red Square military parade took place in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War. This was a great event for the country and it demonstrated close attention of state and society to the examination of the results of the war.
And the day before, on May 8th, Moscow, Leningrad and some other cities were awarded the title “Hero City”. Since then Victory Day has been celebrated with festivities and at 10 p.m. Moscow, Leningrad and the capitals of the Soviet Republics have been able to witness great fireworks usually of 30 volleys.
The Alexander Garden was chosen for construction of the country’s main memorial. First, at that time it was one of the few green spaces in downtown Moscow. Second, the Alexander Garden is a symbolic place. It was settled soon after the victory over Napoleon near the Moscow Manege that had been built in commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the Patriotic War of 1812. The emblems of that time can be found on the Garden’s gates. So, two patriotic wars are intertwining there.
After that it was time of a crucial stage – it was necessary to find the remains of the unknown soldiers. The 25th anniversary of the overthrow of German army near Moscow was approaching, so it was logical to search for the remains in the area where fierce fighting for the capital took place. When Zelenograd was being built, a mass grave was found not far from the legendary village Kryukovo. The remains were discovered there: military uniform in good preservation and, what is more important, a belt. The belt meant that these were not the remains of a deserter who was trying to leave the battlefield and was shot in sight (in such cases belts were confiscated). No documents were found. He was an unknown Soviet soldier.
On December 3, 1966 the remains of the unknown soldiers were solemnly relocated from Zelenograd to Moscow on a weapon cradle.
It was decided to light the Eternal Flame – the flame of glory – from the Eternal Flame from the Field of Mars in Leningrad where the victims of the Revolution were buried. The Flame was solemnly transported to Moscow, although it already had its own Eternal Flame burning – it was lit at the Preobrazhenskoye Cemetery in memory of those who had been killed in battles and had died from wounds in hospitals.
The scale of casualties suffered by Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War can be assessed by the blocks, located to the right of the tomb, with incapsulated soils from the hero cities. The soils were transported from the battlefields. First, there were only six blocks – with soils from Leningrad, Kiev, Volgograd, Odessa, Sevastopol hero cities and Brest hero fortress.
When some more cities were awarded this title in 1970s, four more blocks were added – with soils from Minsk, Kerch, Novorossiysk and Tula. And in 1986 – from Murmansk and Smolensk.
Recently, in 2010, as a result of the extensive restoration a granite stele with cities of military glory was added to the architectural composition of the memorial.
For half a century now the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has been the main memorial of our country, a symbol of commemoration and grief for all killed during the Great Patriotic War. The stream of people ends neither in winter nor in summer: they come there on memorable dates, holidays and weekdays. And the relocation of the Guard of Honor to the Eternal Flame that took place 20 years ago was more than a just decision.