Stalingrad, July 1942 to February 1943: The battle that turned back Hitler

Soviet soldier waving the red flag over the central plaza of Stalingrad in 1943.

Soviet soldier waving the red flag over the central plaza of Stalingrad in 1943.

Many dramatic events, fiercely fought battles and important victories finally led to the defeat of the Nazi fascists during World War II. But no single victory was more important than the Battle of Stalingrad, which ended in a decisive defeat for Hitler’s Wehrmacht forces exactly 70 years ago.

The entire world watched with bated breath as the battle to control this major city on the Volga River raged from July 17, 1942, until its conclusion on Feb. 2, 1943. The fate of humanity and the outcome of the war were decided there.

In the United States, neither the media nor the education system give more than scant mention to Stalingrad, but in the rest of the world it became a symbol of staunchness and determination, bravery and heroism, sacrifice and martyrdom.

While popular movies and books here give the impression that the U.S. defeated Hitler, it was in truth the Herculean military and civilian struggles undertaken by the Soviet peoples and their Red Army in defense of their homeland and their socialist society that turned the tide of the war in Europe.

It wasn’t until D-Day, June 6, 1944, that U.S. troops first landed in Europe to engage the German armies — a full 16 months after the invaders had been forced to retreat from Stalingrad by the heroic resistance of the Soviet people.

Stalingrad was the beginning of the end of Nazism — that monster, spawned by imperialism, whose ideological and political principles were white male supremacy, anti-Semitism, militarism and anti-communism. But before it was defeated, the Third Reich consumed 50 million lives — some 26 million in the Soviet Union.

‘Brick wall of resistance’

When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in June of 1941, they expected to quickly subdue any resistance. According to their racist worldview, white Aryans were superior to the untermenchen population of Slavs, Jews and Asian peoples who made up the USSR. Also, their anti-communism convinced them that a society, economy and state brought into being by a revolution of the workers and peasants would quickly collapse and disintegrate.

The fascist military commanders were shocked when, after an initial rapid advance, they ran into a brick wall of resistance. By the millions, the Soviet people took up arms, kept the factories going despite heavy bombardment, worked the farms to provide food and mobilized in civilian brigades to defend every inch of their native soil.

The Red Army and civilian militias first withstood the frenzied attacks of the enemy in defense of Moscow in the fall of 1941. By the next summer, at Stalingrad, they bravely executed the order “Not a step backward!,” defending every inch of the city in the sweltering summer heat, even though it was bombed into rubble by the Luftwaffe. By the time the icy winter winds began, the army and militias were able to go on the offensive and then surround the invaders, who eventually either died or surrendered. It was Hitler’s biggest defeat.

This year will also see the 150th anniversary of the simultaneous Union Army victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, which were like the Stalingrad of the U.S. Civil War. These devastating blows were the beginning of the end for the armies of the Confederacy and for chattel slavery, another system based on racism and white supremacy.

However, the struggle against racism continues today in the U.S., where mass incarceration has been called the new Jim Crow. And the struggle against capitalist wage slavery continues in the former Soviet Union. But this year, the Putin government had to temporarily restore the name of Stalingrad — which had been changed to Volgograd after capitalism was restored there. The people would not let the Russian authorities erase the memory of their great battle against imperialism and fascism.