Almost 70 years after the bloody battle that sent millions to their graves, the true horrors of the Battle of Stalingrad are being heard through the voices of ordinary Russian soldiers who have been silenced for decades.
"The filth and human excrement and who knows what else was piled up waist high," recalled Major Anatoly Zoldatov on January 31, 1943, when the Soviet Red Army opened the underground warren in which Adolf Hitler's Nazi commanders were hiding. "It stank beyond belief. There were two toilets and signs above them both read 'No Russians allowed.'"
This and many other frightful and graphic memories have been compiled in a new book of letters called The Stalingrad Protocols by German historian Jochen Hellbeck, and many hope that it will change the way the world views the six month Volga river battle, which claimed the lives of 60,000 German troops and between half a million and a million Red Army soldiers between August 23, 1942, to February 2, 1943.
According to the Independent.co.uk, the never-before-seen accounts were originally intended as a record of the Soviet Union's "Great Patriotic War" but are so candid and disturbingly graphic that the Kremlin only published a small portion of them after 1945, preferring to opt for more orthodox Stalinist propaganda instead.
Many of the documents suggest that the Red Army's ferocious counter-offensive was spurred greatly by Germany's brutal occupation of the Soviet Union, such as the recollection from Major Pyotr Zayonchovsky upon finding the body of a dead Russian comrade who had been tortured.
"The skin and fingernails on his right hand had been completely torn off. The eye had been burnt out and he had a wound on his left temple made by a red-hot piece of iron," he wrote. "The right half of his face had been covered with a flammable liquid and ignited."
Much of the urban battle took place in house-to-house street fighting, within some cases the Red Army occupying one floor of a house and the Germans another. "Hand grenades, machine guns, bayonets, knives and spades are used," wrote Lieutenant General Chuikov. "They face each other and flail at each other. The Germans can't take it."
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The latest revelations hold great historical value as they question the claims made by the Nazis and later by the Soviet Union's Cold War opponents that the Red Army's soldiers only fought so resolutely because they would otherwise have been executed by the Soviet secret police.
It has been estimated by British historian Anthony Beevor that 13,000 Russians were executed by their own side, but the protocols suggest there were fewer than 300 executions by mid October of 1942.
It is still under debate as to whether some of the interviews with the soldiers were done for Soviet propaganda purposes to inspire them to fight.
Hellbeck revealed in his research that the number of card-carrying Communist party members rose from 28,500 to 53,500 between August and October 1942 and that the Red Army saw itself as politically and morally superior to its Nazi opponent.
The Battle of Stalingrad has gone down in the history as one of the bloodiest ever, with the combined casualties amounting to two million.
It is considered to be a major turning point in World War II and after its bloody conclusion the German forces never recovered their earlier strength or gained any further strategic victories in the East.