“We’ll change a machine for a rifle…”: The Beginning of the Great Patriotic War

22 June 2019

June 22 is the Day of Memory and Sorrow, when the whole country remembers the victims of the Great Patriotic War – those, who were killed in battles, captives, who were tortured by fascists, those, who died of starvation ... The Presidential Library’s electronic collections spotlight the reaction of Russian people to the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, which broke out 78 years ago, on June 22, 1941 and became a watershed and a landmark event in the modern history of the world.

Most of the documents on the history of the war are accessible on the library's portal; they build up a special electronic collection “Memory of the Great Victory”, which is constantly growing.

Periodicals of that time – a real mirror of the epoch, occupy a special place in the collection. On June 22, 1941 Leningradskaya Pravda newspaper, which is available on the Presidential Library’s portal, published a radio address of Vyacheslav Molotov, People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs to citizens: “Today at 4 a.m., without any claims having been presented to the Soviet Union, without any declaration of war, German troops attacked our country, attacked our borders at many points and bombed from their airplanes our cities: Zhitomir, Kiev, Sevastopol, Kaunas and some others, killing and wounding over two hundred people. There were also enemy air raids and artillery shelling from Romanian and Finnish territory. This unheard-of attack upon our country is the perfidy unparalleled in the history of civilized nations”.

Peaceful life, which seemed secure, shook and collapsed overnight. Some print publications had no time to prepare new emergency issues, and therefore on the morning of June 22 there was not a single word about the war, not even a shadow of anxiety in many newspapers. You can look through the headlines of Kommunar newspaper’s articles to make sure: Taking more care about the summer holiday of workers, In a town of fishermen, An ancient Chinese building on the banks of the Yenisei

It was hard to believe that the war had broken out. Particularly the war against Germany. The Nonaggression Pact was concluded not long ago, relations with Berlin seemed to be built on mutual trust ... On that summer day no one could understand the reason why one civilized European country began to kill ordinary civilians of another country. Nazi politicians did not bother to explain. Molotov told about this in his address: “At 5:30 a.m. - that is, after the attack had already been perpetrated, Schulenburg, the German Ambassador in Moscow, on behalf of his government made a statement to me as People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs to the effect that the German Government had decided to launch war against the USSR in connection with the concentration of the Red Army units near the eastern German frontier”.

The People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union reported that, despite the sudden attack, from the very first hours our country was ready to fight back the enemy. It is important to note that even then there was a clear understanding: the terrible war was not started by the people of a particular country. It was a planned step of the treacherous fascist rulers of Germany. “This war has been forced upon us not by the German people, not by German workers, peasants and intellectuals, whose sufferings we understand, but by the clique of bloodthirsty fascist rulers of Germany, who have enslaved the French, the Czechs, the Poles, the Serbs, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Greece and other nations”, said Molotov.

The Presidential Library’s portal provides access to the collection of frontline reports of the Soviet Information Bureau (1944). The very first report of June 22, 1941 provides a detailed account of this terrible, but certainly a heroic day for our people.

“Ours is a righteous cause. The enemy will be defeated. Victory will be ours”, - said Molotov, and his words became a kind of a spell. The Soviet soldiers, like their glorious ancestors – fighters of the times of Alexander Nevsky, Dmitry Donskoy, Peter the Great - knew: at any price they had to defend their fatherland and continue to glorify the Russian arms. In between deadly fights with the enemy, our soldiers and sailors tirelessly honed their combat skills. You can read about this in an article by Lieutenant Lukashevich in the issue of Boyevaya Vakhta newspaper of September 20, 1941.

The collection of documents and materials under the title Leningrad During the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union, which is available on the Presidential Library’s portal, gives a chance to learn about the feat of the civilian population of the Soviet Union and Leningrad itself. In the shortest possible time national enterprises switched to round-the-clock working hours in order to provide the army and the navy with everything necessary.

The same collection contains the full texts of resolutions that the workers passed at rallies across the country. All of them testify that from the very beginning the Hitlerites were doomed to defeat, despite the military might, which surpassed the Soviet power during the first days of the war. They had nothing that could be compared with the courage of our man. The collective of the Zhdanov plant reported about the loyalty to the common glorious cause. “At the first call … we will change a machine for a rifle, join the Red Army that will inflict a devastating blow to the enemy and defeat him in his own territory.

The solidarity and unique unanimity of the Soviet people bore fruit: despite all the severe hardships, they managed to hold on and become heroes, whose feats inspired next generations.

On June 22, 1944, when the bloodiest war in the history of mankind was nearing its end, the Red Army newspaper Smert Fashizmu published materials, which spotlighted the beginning of this terrible disaster. It read not only about the unprecedented scale of the military operations in regard to the territory, but also about the great spirit of Russian soldiers.

... Every year on June 22, people of Russia and former Soviet republics bring flowers to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, remember their fathers and mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers — heroes, who gave their lives to defeat the enemy, and gave our peoples hope for a victory and a free life ...

In less than a year, on May 9, 2020, we will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Victory of the Soviet Union in the Great Patriotic War. Ahead of this date, the Presidential Library is launching a new project. In fact, it is transforming the “Siege-75” project, as part of which about 3,000 unique documents have entered the institution’s collections, into a new one, which is dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the Victory. As part of this project, the Presidential Library is planning to provide the wide coverage of the military history of different regions of Russia and former Soviet republics.