On 2nd February, 1943 the German 6th Army surrendered to Soviet forces in Stalingrad. Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941 dreaming of world domination. Hitler's hopes died in the city on the Volga river.
After the war the city of Stalingrad became a world-wide symbol of anti-fascist resistance but in 1961 the Khrushchev government changed the city’s name to Volgograd as part of the revisionist attack on the legacy of Joseph Stalin. But in 2013 the city council agreed to restore the name “Hero City Stalingrad” for the nine anti-fascist commemorations that are held annually throughout the year. This year Russian president Vladimir Putin took part in the ceremonies that marked the 75th anniversary of the epic battle on 2nd February 1943.
For over five months the Nazi legions had struggled to seize the strategic city of Stalingrad on the Volga river. The Nazis, whose legions had already overrun large parts of the Soviet Union, believed that the fall of Stalingrad would lead to the seizure of the Soviet oil-fields in the Caucasus and pave the way for a German advance into the Middle East.
But the Red Army put up a ferocious resistance in street battles that eventually broke the back of the German hordes.
On 31st January, 1943 Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus, the commander of the encircled German army. surrendered. By 2nd February all his men had laid down their arms. Over 130,000 Nazi troops were taken prisoner, some 100,000 had been killed in the fighting and a further 90,000 had died from disease and starvation. Two and a half years later Adolf Hitler was dead in his bunker and the Soviet flag was flying over Berlin.
The mighty Wehrmacht was taught a terrible lesson at Stalingrad – a lesson Von Paulus soon understood. He joined the National Committee for a Free Germany based in the Soviet Union and made broadcasts during the war urging German soldiers to surrender to the advancing Red Army. After the war he retired to the German Democratic Republic and died in Dresden in 1957.
Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong called Stalingrad the turning point in the war. Mao said: "Historically, all reactionary forces on the verge of extinction invariably conduct a last desperate struggle against the revolutionary forces, and some revolutionaries are apt to be deluded for a time by this phenomenon of outward strength but inner weakness, failing to grasp the essential fact that the enemy is nearing extinction while they themselves are approaching victory. The rise of the forces of fascism and the war of aggression they have been conducting for some years are precisely the expression of such a last desperate struggle, and in this present war the attack on Stalingrad is the expression of the last desperate struggle of fascism itself."
Military historians may argue about whether Stalingrad was the turning-point of the Second World War. Some say that Hitler’s fate was sealed when his legions failed in their bid to capture Moscow in October 1941 whereas others maintain that it was the defeat of Nazis at Kursk in 1943 that was the death-blow. What is undoubtedly true is that Soviet people of all nationalities rallied to the call to defend their socialist motherland. The flower of their youth sacrificed themselves in an epic struggle to defeat the brutal Nazi war-machine – a struggle that ended in victory over Hitler’s Third Reich and Hirohito’s Japanese Empire in 1945.
The alternative was unthinkable. Kim Philby, an anti-fascist student who joined Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean to work for Soviet intelligence in the cause of peace, said: “It is a sobering thought that, but for the power of the Soviet Union and the Communist idea, the Old World, if not the whole world, would now be ruled by Hitler and Hirohito. It is a matter of great pride to me that I was invited, at so early an age, to play my infinitesimal part in building up that power.”