Lieutenant Charnosov's last letter  


On his observation post at the top of a shell-wrecked building from where he called down
artillery fire, Lieutenant Charnosov, an artillery observer from the 384th Artillery Regiment, 
wrote a letter to is wife :
Hello, Shura ! I send you kisses to our two little birds, Slavik and Lydusia. I'm in good health.
I have been wounded twice but these are just scratches and so I still manage to direct my 
battery all right. The time of hard fighting has come to the city of our beloved leader. (Stalin)
During these days of hard fighting I am avenging my beloved birthplace of Smolensk,
but at night I go down to the basement where two fair-haired children sit on my lap.
They remind me of Slavik and Lyda.
On his body was found his wife's previous letter :
I'm very happy that you are fighting so well, she had written, and that you have been 
awarded a medal. Fight to the last drop of your blood, and don't let them capture you,
because prison camp is worse then death.

This exhange of letters was seen as exemplary, and also as typical of the moment. They may 
well be genuine, but like many others, they revealed only a partial truth. When soldiers sat 
down in the corner of a trench or ill-lit cellar to write home, they often had trouble expressing
themselves. The single sheet, which would later be folded into a triangle, like a paperboat, 
because there were no envelopes, seemed both too large and too small for their purposes.
The letter stuck, as a result to three main themes : enquiries after the family at home, 
reassurance (I'm getting along all right - still alive), and preoccupation with the battle 
( we are constantly destroying their manpower and equipment. Day or night, we won't 
leave them in peace). Red Army soldiers in Stalingrad were well aware that the whole 
eyes were on them, but many must have tailored parts of their letters because they knew 
that the Special Departments censored mail carefully.

Even when they wanted to escape when writing to their wife or sweetheart, the battle
stayed with them always, partly because a man's worth was defined by the opinion of his
comrades and commander.

Mariya, wrote a certain Kolya, I think you will remember our last evening together.
Because now, this minute, it is exactly a year since we were parted.
And it was very difficult for me to say goodbye to you. It's very sad, but we had to be
part because it was the order of the Motherland. We are carrying out this order as well
as we can. The Motherland requires those of us who are defending this town to
resistto the end. And we are going to carry out that order.

The majority of Russian soldiers seem to have subsumed their personal feelings within 
the cause of the Great Patriotic War. They may have been more afraid of the censor 
than their German counterparts, they may have been more effectively brainwashed by 
the Stalinist regime, and  yet the concept of self-sacrifice comes across as much as more
than an ideologic slogan. It appears almost atavistic, a moral compulsion in the face 
of the invader. 

People might reproach me, wrote a Red Army lieutenant in Stalingrad to his bride of a
few weeks, if they read this letter about the reason why I'm fighting for you.
But I can't distinguish where you end, and where the Motherland begins.
You and it are the same for me.