June 22

The day before yesterday was June 22. I hope every Russian knows the meaning of that date: on June 22, 1941, the War began.

It is not uncommon to read and here that our genetic stock is depleted; hence, we’re a nation of mediocrities. Indeed, the flight of the privileged after the 1917 revolution; Stalin’s great terror that destroyed, among others, the country’s academic and literary elites; the waves of emigration in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s took their toll on our human capital, depriving the nation of its best brains and often hearts.

But someone (Brecht?) also said it is the best who die in wars; the cowards always survive. If it is at least partly true, it’s enough to say that Russian went through WW1, the Civil War, and WW2 within a span of 31 years. Right after Molotov addressed the people on the radio on that black Sunday, acknowledging the German invasion, Russians started forming lines — not only in shops, hoping to buy a stock of necessities, but in military registration offices, seeking to get enlisted. (I actually mean Soviet when I say Russian, to include residents of at least 12 of the 16 republics.) Hundreds of thousands — in fact, millions of Russian men and women volunteered to join the army in WW2. Most were assigned to regular Army troops; of those who were unfit for service for reasons of health or age, a volunteer corps, or the People’s Militia, was formed (the Narodnoje Opolchenie in Russian).

The Militiamen were badly armed — many unarmed at all — and poorly clothed, but it was they who were sent to defend Moscow in the fall and winter of 1941 before fresh troops could arrive and substitute for them. There were 160 thousand volunteers from Moscow and the region alone, acting almost as a human shield. Talk about survival of the fittest.

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