What do our contemporaries remember about a sunny May day of 1945, the day the Great Patriotic War ended?
On May 9, 1945, at 2:10 am Moscow time, Yuri Levitan, the senior announcer, came on the air to read the German Instrument of Surrender and a decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet designating May 9 Victory Day.
The war caused considerable grief. Unaware of casualty statistics, Soviet citizens, however, knew for sure that every Soviet family, in fact, lost someone dear or saw them wounded. Still, on May 9, pain and sorrow gave way to joy to share with everyone, with the entire country… Airships carried a huge Victory banner. Triumphant Soviet soldiers were hugged, kissed, showered with flowers, lifted on to shoulders and tossed in the air. Despite lower living standards affected by the war, well-set tables groaned with food that day were seen and gramophone records were heard playing everywhere.
The Red Square and its surroundings were packed with people since early morning. Hardly any filmmaker would have managed to amass such a crowd. The USSR State Symphony Orchestra was performing at Manezhnaya Square; the Moscow Conservatory musicians were playing the piano at Mayakovsky Square (now Triumfalnaya Square), and Utesov’s jazz band was heard at Sverdlov Square (now Theatre Square or Teatralnaya Square).
At 9 pm, the street concerts stopped for several minutes. Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre stopped Borodin’s opera Prince Igor for a moment as Joseph Stalin delivered his radio address. “The great day of victory over Germany has arrived. Fascist Germany, forced to its knees by the Red Army and the troops of our Allies, has admitted defeat and has announced its unconditional surrender”, said Stalin. At the end of his Victory speech, the General Secretary commemorated those killed in the war exclaiming “Eternal glory to the heroes who fell fighting the enemy and who gave their lives for the freedom and happiness of our people!”
One minute’s silence to remember those who died has been observed since 1965. A decade later Soviet poet Vladimir Kharitonov, who had fought in the Great Patriotic War, composed the lyrics to the song Den Pobedy (Victory Day), in which he suggested a very accurate image of the Victory Day, “It’s joy with tears upon our eyes.” It is joy, albeit with tears.
The grandiose fireworks exploded over the capital at 10 pm on May 9, 1945, with a salvo from thousands of guns coloring the Moscow sky and the waltzing searchlights illuminating it. The long-awaited day of pure happiness finally came. That is what the day would be remembered for.
The Soviet army had proved to be invincible, unconquerable, and outstanding. It had defeated the Nazis, who had waged a war of extermination rather than merely tried to break the enemy’s resistance on the battlefields. Millions of people died on the occupied territories, in captivity, or in the siege. About 3 million Soviet citizens lost their lives in Hitler’s concentration camps. As updated data reveals, the death toll amounted to 26.6 million Soviet people. It was not only one country whose fate was at stake. It was a struggle for the future of mankind. But the feat of the Soviet people does not overshadow personal stories or family chronicles.
Several decades after the victory, the concept of “memory” came to the forefront and became the essence of the holiday.
Memory serves as a bridge connecting the past, the present, and the future. It linked the generation of victorious battlefront veterans to those who have succeeded them. Robert Rozhdestvensky’s poem reflects this mood very accurately. “Remember! Through the ages, through years, – do remember!” These lines are often cited on the airwaves and on TV throughout the country before a minute of silence.
And people do remember. Victory Day is definitely the main public holiday for the majority of Russians. It is not even necessary to conduct the relevant surveys as the clear evidence abounds. For several years now, people take to the streets in many Russian cities on May 9. They carry the portraits of their ancestors, veterans of the Great Patriotic War. The name of the Immortal Regiment procession fits the occasion extremely well. The generation of victors has deserved immortality. The march can be deemed a most sincere initiative of the citizens in Russia’s history. People raising pictures of those who defended their homeland in the roughest and saddest times and endured dreadful hardships do not demand anything. They simply feel that they are true heirs of the victory.