Alexander Werth was a Russian born British journalist working in Soviet Russia. His ability to speak Russian got him an unusual degree of access to many different areas of life.
On December 19, following the joint statement by the Allied Governments on the persecution of the Jews throughout Europe, the Soviet Foreign Office published a long statement on the systematic extennination by gas, machine-guns, and in other ways, of the entire Jewish population of Europe. But it was all so monstrous that even in Russia many felt these things had first to be seen to be believed.
The ‘incredible’ nature of the news was a problem in the west. But there was an additional issue with the Soviet regime’s reports, with its existing reputation for propaganda.
Werth was not just interested in reporting the war. No foreign journalists were allowed near Stalingrad at this time anyway. He saw the sudden upsurge in confidence among the general population following the encirclement of Stalingrad.
Russia’s mind was focused on Stalingrad. When the offensive got into its stride, a deep feeling of gratitude and relief swept the country. This expressed itself in all kinds of ways: in extra hours worked in factories “for Stalingrad,” and also in that curious movement the origin of which is obscure, and which took the form of large money gifts to the Defence Fund.
On the 19th December the press published a letter from Ferapont Golovaty addressed to Stalin
Dear Joseph Vissarionovich.
In seeing off my two sons to the front, I gave them this fatherly command: Smash the German invader. In return I promised them to do my utmost for the country. Having read your letter to the Saratov kolkhozniks, I decided to give all my savings for the purchase of an aeroplane.
The Soviet regime helped me to become a rich kolkhoznik, and now that the country is in danger, I decided to help as best I could. I have paid all my honestly earned savings-100,000 roubles-into the Red Army Fund to buy a plane which would add to the defeat of the German invaders.
May it sow death among those who have injured and insulted our brothers and sisters …. If the kalkhazniks got together and paid for hundreds of squadrons, it would greatly help the Red Army to clear the enemy out of our sacred land.
Ferapont Golovaty was immediately famous, Werth reported:
He received a letter of thanks from Stalin-printed at the top of every paper in enormous type-and became famous overnight. The Press played him up:
Golovaty‘s sons may be proud of their father …. Soon there will rise into the skies a plane marked “Ferapont Golovaty.” … In 1812, the peasants also rose like one man to help our army
For a month or more, sometimes half or nearly half of every newspaper was filled with letters to Stalin and short notes of thanks from Stalin;
There were cynics of course but Werth believed that this was not just an upsurge in patriotic fervour but a new confidence and determination to throw the Germans out. See
Alexander Werth: The Year of Stalingrad.
Images courtesy of RIAN – Russian International News Agency (RIA Novosti).