Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The bonefields of Volvograd

The story of the Volvograd bonefields horrifies me. I say story, because its mere existence is still debated to this day. The claims first emerged in a book called  "Aftermath: The Remnants of War", where the author claims to have visited a field near Volograd (nee Stalingrad). There, he found a vast area containing the bones of German soldiers still lying on the ground. Walter Seledec describes the horror as quoted on the quikmaneuvers website:
"There you are, standing beside an open field, and you are confronted with things you cannot believe, things you have never seen in your life, things you would not think possible in this day and age. There in the open fields, all the way to the horizon, are the skeletons of human beings, just lying there in the open fields. I dont mean a few. There are hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands...Human remains lying in the fields. Human skeletons as far as the eye can see."
The many photographs that Seledec took have preserved the horror for all time. In those photographs, "...(to) the distant horizon...(the) surface is littered with the remains of human skeletons--arms, legs, pelvic bones, skulls, an occasional rib... large piles of bones...fragments, shell cases, and an undetonated projectile; a rusted machine gun; a battered metal container...Skulls...hundreds of them, thousands of them, Just lying around out there in the open fields...Skulls lie in helmets, decayed bones still stand in boots, on the spines hang the identity tags...No cross. No wreath. This unknown soldier never made it into a mass grave. Today, he lies on the steppe outside Volgograd exactly as he fell fifty years ago. His shirt and uniform buttons still lie between his ribs."
Evidence of these fields are sparse. Apparently the photographs have never come to light, and the Russians deny all knowledge. They do admit to having buried many bodies since the 1990's, but the number and scale of these burials is unknown.

What is definite is that vast numbers of German and Russian soldiers must have died in the area. The fact that such a bone field could have existed is horrifying enough, whether it existed or not. People are not debating its existence because it was impossible; after all,at Stalingrad the Germans lost an estimated 750,000 killed, missing or wounded, and the Russians 478,000 killed or missing.

Just pause to think about those numbers, of the hopes and dreams that the (mostly young) men would have had. Of the wives, sweethearts and children left behind. So much human potential wiped out. Stalin once famously said: "One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic". It is important for everyone to ensure that a million deaths is seen as a million individual tragedies; one million grieving mothers, one million grieving sweethearts.

The vast majority of these men would have been innocent; they had no choice but to fight for one of the murderous tyrants Stalin and Hitler were different sides of the same coin, and neither side believed in the concept of the conscientious objector.

We should never forget that war, whilst sometimes necessary, is always horrific.

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