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Land of blood and honey

“For soldiers of the Sixth Army, the summer of 1942 offered the last idylls of war. In Don Cossack Country, the villages of whitewashed cottages with thatched roofs, surrounded by small cherry orchards, willows and horses in meadows provided an attractive contrast to the usual dilapidation of villages taken over by collective farms. Most of the civilians, who had stayed behind in defiance of Communist evacuation orders, were friendly. Many of the older men had fought the Bolsheviks in the Russian civil war. Only the previous spring, just a few weeks before the German invasion, Cossacks had risen up in revolt at Shakhty, north of Rostov, declaring an independent republic. This had been stamped out by NKVD troops with a rapid and predictable brutality. To the surprise of a company commander of the 384th [German] Infantry Division, Cossacks remained friendly even after looting by his soldiers. They handed over eggs, milk, salted cucmber and even a whole ham as a gift. He then arranged to purchase geese for two Reichsmarks a bird. ‘To be honest, people give you everything they have if you treat them correctly,’ he wrote in his diary. ‘I’ve never eaten so much as here. we eat honey with spoons until we’re sick, and in the evening we eat boiled ham.’ “ – Antony Beevor, Stalingrad

Published inAntony BeevorThe Second World War

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