Soviet History: The Great Patriotic War
Lieutenant Liudmila Pavlichenko to the American People
From “Soviet Russia Today”; volume 11, number 6 (October 1942).
These simple, strong words of Liudmila Pavlichenko bring home to us in America the epic struggle that our great Russian allies are waging for us today. I wish you could hear them in Lieutenant Pavlichenko’s own ringing voice. I wish you could see that beautiful face with its warm brown eyes that glow with such love when she talks of her comrades that have fallen before Odessa and Sevastopol, that burn with such hatred when size talks about our enemies and their beastly deeds. I wish you could see hat sturdy, valiant figure—a figure that has been a shield to us. This girl has stood alone, in deadly danger, day after day from dawn till after dark, picking off our enemies—309 of them. Four times she has felt in her own flesh the steel of our enemy. Her wounds only stiffen her will. I wish you could feel the warm clasp of that firm hand whose unerring aim has meant so much to us. I wish you could see what happens when she pronounces the word Fritz.” Her whole being is filled with outrage against the monstrous crimes she has seen committed, and with the determination that unites her countrymen today in the flaming purpose to wipe the horrors that Hitlerism has brought on humanity forever from the earth.
Liudmila Pavlichenko knows that her visit here is a contribution to the winning of the war. But she does not feel very good about being safe and comfortable over here while her comrades keep on fighting. And I am afraid she does not feel very good about our part in the war. She knows it is our war. She knows that the heroic defenders of Stalingrad are fighting for us as well as for themselves, that their defeats are our defeats, their victories our victories. But she is not sure we know this. We must help to make her visit here worth while—these precious weeks she is spending away from the fighting front where she feels that she should be. We can do that first and foremost by multiplying n hundredfold our efforts toward the immediate opening of a Second Front—the only way we can discharge our debt to our allies, to ourselves, to the future. We can do it, each one of us, by multiplying a hundredfold our efforts in. whatever sphere of work we are making our contribution to the war. Not many of us are called upon for as difficult a task as Liudmila Pavhichenko’s. Let us dedicate ourselves to winning the war as wholly as she and her people have done.
We salute you, Liudmila Pavlichenko, for all that you have done and will do in our common cause. The strength and inspiration we draw from your presence among us will help each one of us to be a better fighter against the enemies of mankind. Your visit here, with your fellow—heroes, Lieutenant Pchelintsev and Lieutenant Krasavchenko, is a new link in the friendship between our two countries which is so essential to winning the war and building an enduring peace. To your victory—and ours!
You ask me first of all to say something about the urgency of the Second Front. Of course there is nothing more important. The opening of a Second Front is the only way we can be sure of a speedy victory over the enemy who threatens the freedom not only of my country, but of America, England, China—all the United Nations. There is much talk about a Second Front. Our people are still hoping and counting on it—but they are wondering when the talk will be translated into action. One thing must be clearly understood. We urge a Second Front not because we are weak, not because we lack confidence in our own strength, but because we want to bring this bloody war to an end more quickly. Think of how much blood has been shed, how much destruction and horror has been spread, how much cruelty and torture inflicted on innocent people— on old people and children. The sooner the monster fascism can be destroyed, the less blood will be shed—and that means your blood as well as ours.
Every day that passes without a Second Front increases the danger to you, increases the cost you will have to pay later for the defeat of Hitlerism. Remember that right now nine-tenths of all the armies of Hitler are engaged in our country—and not only the German armies. Hitler gathers his troops from all of Europe—from Hungary, Denmark, Italy, Rumania, Finland. Now, before our armies are further weakened, is the time to strike in Europe.
Stalingrad is a vital point for us and for you. I know our people are fighting and will keep on fighting as they did before Odessa, before Sevastopol, before Leningrad. Do not forget what each day of fighting means to our common cause. All the roads to all these cities were heaped with German corpses—the dead and the dying. The Germans do not rescue their wounded quickly from the battlefield, as we do. They advance over the bodies of their own wounded. It is that way at Stalingrad. It is important to you in America that we are killing so many of the enemy. Yes—we shall keep right on. But do not expect miracles of us. Our people are dying by the thousands too. The blow from the West must be coordinated with ours without any delay. Of course we have received help from your people, war supplies and medicines, for which we are very grateful. But the scale of the battles that are going on is very great history has never seen anything to compare with them. And the help we have received from outside is not enough. It is not only technical and material help that is important today. We need the help of people—of the armies of our allies fighting in the field.
I can’t help feeling that the American people are still too indifferent to the war and what it really means. I do not believe the American people as a whole entirely understand what war is like. Most of you so far only feel it as an inconvenience—doing without gasoline, being a little limited in the amount of sugar you use. You do not know what it is to have bombs falling all around you. You do not know what it is to see babies murdered, women and girls ravished by the Hitlerite beasts. You do not know what it is to find the charred bodies of your own comrades burned and tortured beyond recognition, to see rows of brave, fine people—people you knew—hanging along the roadside. You do not know what it is to walk into a home for old people won back from the Germans, as I did on the Sovkhoz Ilyichka, near Odessa. It was early morning, and the sun was just rising, and we went in to set the people there free. But what we found were the bodies of 108 old people, shot and tortured, slashed to pieces, blown up by grenades .
108 people, all of them old and ill. And so depraved are those Hitlerites that the old women had all been raped. Things like this could sometime happen to you if Hitler wins more victories.
And yet so many Americans still think of the war as something going on somewhere a long way off, where Russians and Germans are fighting each other. But we fight for your freedom too, we fight for the freedom of all the countries of Europe, of all the United Nations. And we are fighting alone.
Some people with whom I have talked seem to think the ocean is an obstacle of some kind. I think it is like a road—like your good American asphalt roads—perhaps better. You can go under it as well as over it. Look at all the submarines Hitler has sent to your shores. You have the great stretches of the ocean itself, you have the air above it to fly through, and the undersea passageway. I think you have a broad highway to a Second Front in Europe.
We have always admired you Americans for your great fighting qualities. You fought gloriously for freedom in your Revolution and Civil War. It is good to have such fighting traditions. But we feel that now also you must wish to fight for freedom as you fought in the past. Hitler threatens not only the USSR, he threatens you. I read your papers, and I do not see anything written there about the great danger to your country. It is all about the danger to Stalingrad. But that is your danger, too. How can we make the American people understand? It is not enough to write and talk—cry out at the top of your voice, tell about those children and old people, the millions of Hitler’s victims and what they have suffered.
And you must learn to hate the enemy as we did. Hatred did not come to us all at once. We are a peace—loving people, and we had to learn to hate. But fierce hatred rose within us after we saw with our own eyes what the Hitler beasts could do. Now we hate the enemy too much to fear him. When you are out there at your post you know that it is either you or your enemy who is killed. Our whole people know that today.
I have been asked often since I have been here how I feel when I kill a German. The feeling I have after killing a Nazi is the feeling of a hunter who has killed a beast of prey. Every time my bullet fells a Nazi I have the feeling that I have saved lives. Any people who have had Nazis trampling over their land know that. For the Nazis kill children, women, old men. To let a Nazi remain alive in your land is to abet the murder of your own people. Only the dead Nazi can be trusted to leave the innocent unharmed. Every Hitlerite killed is a step forward on the road to the liberation of mankind.
I have been asked to write something about my own life. If this will help in any way toward a better understanding of our people and our present struggle, I am glad to do this. Here is my story.
I am a Ukrainian. I was born twenty—six years ago in the town of Belaya Tserkov near Kiev. I have a younger sister, Valentina, who is now working in a munitions factory. I am proud to say she is reckoned as one of the best workers on the staff. My mother was a teacher. My father was a worker in a St. Petersburg factory when the revolution occurred. He took part in it and also in the Civil War. After we won and the country settled down, he was given an executive position which required traveling from place to place in the Ukraine. We all traveled with him. Every year of my early schooling was spent in a new school in a new city. But all this traveling around taught me a lot, and I finished school a year and a half ahead of the average. And this in spite of my being a tomboy and rather unruly in the class room. I’m afraid I was a trial to my teachers.
I was keen on sports of all kinds, and played all the boys’ games and would not allow myself to be outdone by boys in anything. That was how I turned to sharpshooting. When a neighbor’s boy boasted of his exploits at a shooting range I set out to show that a girl could do as well. So I practiced a lot.
When I was eighteen we finally settled down in Kiev. I had a choice of continuing my studies or going to work. I chose factory work and got a job in an arms plant, becoming a skilled turner. While at the factory, I continued my athletic activities and kept up my marksmanship. A funny incident occurred at this time, when my friends dragged me off to a nearby shooting gallery one day. Twelve prizes were offered. There were the usual stationary and moving targets. I bought fifteen bullets and won all the twelve prizes. The man who ran the place turned pale with alarm and astonishment as he unfastened one prize after another, and piled them up beside me. After letting him hand me the twelfth, I felt sorry for him and gave him back all the prizes.
After a few years in the factory, I was given an opportunity to enter the Military Engineering School. But war and military affairs were far from my thoughts in those days. I was interested in history and entered Kiev University in 1937. I dreamt of becoming a scholar, a teacher.
At the university I continued my athletic activities as before. I was a sprinter and a pole vaulter as well as a marksman. To perfect myself in shooting, I took courses at a sniper’s school.
I was in the city of Odessa when the war broke out. I had gone there to complete researches on my diploma thesis on Bogdan Khrnelnitsky, a great Ukrainian patriot and an important figure in the history of my country. At the very moment of the German invasion I was in a sanitarium where I had gone to recover from an illness. The moment I heard the news I stopped feeling ill. When I applied to the doctors of the sanitarium for a discharge, they refused. I didn’t feel that the time could be spared for arguments and appeals. I knew the war had done more to cure me than they could. So I took French leave.
They wouldn’t take girls in the army, so I had to resort to all kinds of tricks to get in. But I finally managed it. I served first with one of the volunteer detachments called “destroyer squads” organized in cities and districts close to the front, to dispose of German paratroopers. My detachment was later merged with a regular Red Army unit. I was a member of the 25th, the Chapayev Division.
Two Rumanian mercenaries of the Nazis helped me to become a sniper. To prove that I could qualify I was told to show my skill on a group of Rumanians. When I picked off the two I was accepted. They are not figured in my score total because they were test shots.
I have to admit I was scared in my first real baptism of fire. I was in range of hot German fire and I cried out to our machine gunners to cover me with return fire and save me. But I soon learned the steadiness and coolness required of our snipers. My sniper’s score began when I intercepted a German scouting party of three men. The Germans had laid down annihilating fire on a certain spot that they were determined to sweep bare. When they thought nothing there remained alive they sent out these scouts to reconnoiter to see if they could safely occupy the place. I spotted them and asked for the assignment to pick them off. Receiving permission I crawled to a spot from which I could cover them. I got two of the three. They started my score which now stands at 309.
Sniping is dangerous because we are hunted as well as hunters. The presence of a sniper can demoralize troops and everything is done to get rid of him with concentrated fire from all arms, even artillery, when his exact position is known; or by setting snipers of their own against him. A considerable part of my action has consisted of duels with enemy snipers.
It requires great endurance and willpower to be in exposed and difficult positions for fifteen or twenty hours at a stretch. And when you are in your position you must be under rigid self—control not to waste a shot or a movement. The slightest start may mean death. Your day begins before dawn, so that you can reach your position and build up your camouflage before there is light, and it ends after nightfall so that you can return under cover of darkness.
The Nazi hunters have often stalked me. One duel with a German sniper lasted three days. It was a hunt to the death. If either of us had a suspicion that the other had detected his position that position was shifted. That was one of the tensest experiences of my life. Finally he made one move too many.
Another time they assigned a squad of five Tommy gunners to get me. They camouflaged themselves and decided that they had set a clever trap for me on a road they thought I would pass on. They were right but I had my own way of using the road. I detected the trap, got into a position where their bullets couldn’t reach me and poured lead into what became a trap for them. I got three and when the two survivors ran for it, I got one of them. I searched the four bodies for the papers of the men and brought them back together with four tommyguns.
Once another sniper, Leonid Kitsenko, and I got quite a haul of Nazi officers. Following their communication wires to a dugout we took a position that commanded that particular field headquarters. Two officers came along to submit reports. Our shots dropped them. A man ran to their aid and we got him. An officer dashed out to see what the shooting was about and he joined them. The others fell into panic and for a while offered us perfect targets, as they milled around. Finally they concentrated protective fire around the spot while they abandoned the dugout, lugging out their files, and other equipment.
Our chief quarries were the enemy scouts. They and their snipers used many tricks to fool us or to get us to reveal ourselves. A German tin hat would appear, just a fraction of it, and we would think “I’ll get that Fritz !” Then the tin hat would waggle like the head of a toy elephant and disappear. We soon learned not to fall for this. One of their scouts whom I was hunting, after trying the helmet trick sent a cat out, either to distract me or to fool me into belief that nobody would be around where a cat could parade by so unconcernedly. Finally the scout tried his last trick. A dummy of a German soldier, in full uniform and even with a rifle in position, was raised and dangled before me. Then I knew that my man was there. I kept the spot covered but held my fire. The puppeteer now felt safe. He put his field glass to his eye. I shot at the flash of the lens. And that one had his last look at Soviet soil.
Yes, it is dangerous work, but things went better as I got used to the fire and German tactics. I have been wounded four times, twice rather heavily. I carry a scar, over the bridge of my nose, from the fourth wound, which I received during the evacuation of Sevastopol. In addition to the four wounds I suffered shell-shock which temporarily affected my hearing, but I was able to take treatments right on the front lines, and stayed in action.
Odessa and Sevastopol will remain in my memory forever. We defended Odessa till October. Then orders came to evacuate. We took positively everything with us aboard ship. The airmen took all the old airplane parts they could carry with them, and the cavalry took even old horseshoes. So we went aboard and started for Sevastopol.
Much has been written about Sevastopol. The history of wars can show nothing to compare with its defense. We were but one Russian to every ten Germans. Fifteen hundred planes flew over the long-suffering town every day. The air shook with incessant cannonading, exploding shells and bombs. The sun was blotted out by clouds of dust and earth. We hadn’t enough shells or food, but we hung on. The city had ceased to be—there was nothing save a heap of ruins—but still we hung on, battling from our stand on the ruins, shooting from behind every building, every elevation or mound.
Not a clod of Sevastopol ground was given up without a fierce fight not a step did we retreat without orders! We mowed down the Hitlerites like ripe grain. Drunk with blood as with ,vodka they swept headlong to death. Fresh German divisions were driven in to take the place of those fallen—there was no end to them! The Germans had to pay a high price —too high—for the heaps of brick and ash, the ruin that was once Sevastopol. Our 150 snipers alone accounted for a 1,080 of them. By that time I had trained a considerable number of snipers. Up to now I have trained eighty snipers and their combined score is well over the two thousand mark. By that time even the Germans knew of me. With their German stupidity they tried to bribe me. Their radios blared into our lines: “Liudmila Pavlichenko come over to us. We will give you plenty of chocolate and make you a German officer.” When they got no answer to that, they turned to threats. Their last message to me was: “Liudmila Pavlichenko, you will not escape us. When we catch you we will tear you in 309 pieces.” They even knew my score!
They might have known that they would not have that opportunity. Ten Germans managed to ambush a comrade of mine, Nikolai Koval. They didn’t get him alive. He blew himself up with a hand grenade and took six of the fascist beasts with him. Now I have come to America, the country which my people admire as one of the most advanced and democratic countries of the world. We are proud to be united with the American people in the fight against fascism.
Pavlichenko during her American tour, Washington, D.C., 1942.
There is a long tradition of friendship between our two countries. The United States and the Soviet Union have never fought against each other. This friendship must be deepened and strengthened after Hitlerism has been defeated by our common efforts. I think our country has understood America better than America has understood us. Our people have always been interested in the Americans, in studying their history and their life. I have studied quite a lot of American history myself, and I do not feel strange here.
I have come to your country as the representative of Soviet youth. I hope my visit may have some useful results. I am troubled to be idle now when everything and everyone is required by my country in the fight against the Hitlerites. I am impatient to be back. Later, when peace comes, I want to visit your beautiful country and see many things there is no time to see now—and enjoy myself a little and get to know your people better.
There isn’t time now. Perhaps then your people will get to know me better, too. Now I am looked upon a little as a curiosity, a subject for newspaper headlines, for anecdotes. In the Soviet Union I am looked upon as a citizen, as a fighter, as a soldier for my country. Yes, I am impatient to be back. I have 309 Hitlerites on my score. But the score is not finished, my work is not over.
In closing I have a special message for American women. I would like them to know first about our mothers. Soviet mothers love their children enormously. I know how much my mother loves me—and yet she writes to me: “I want to see you more than anything—but don’t come home until you come with victory.” And when their sons are killed our mothers do not stop to mourn—they work all the harder. Soviet mothers send their sons to the front, and if necessary their daughters too, without tears in their eyes. They know that it is necessary. While women are not regularly a part of our armed forces, many are fighting in one way or another. There are many, many cases where mothers whose sons are at the front become guerrilla fighters. Our women were on a basis of complete equality long before the war. From the first day of the Revolution full rights were granted the women of Soviet Russia. One of the most important things is that every woman has her own specialty. That is what actually makes them as independent as men. Soviet women have complete self-respect, because their dignity as human beings is fully recognized. Whatever we do, we are honored not just as women, but as individual personalities, as human beings. That is a very big word. Because we can be fully that, we feel no limitations because of our sex. That is why women have so naturally taken their places beside men in this war. We have a tradition, too, to live up to. There was Durova, the Russian woman guerrilla, who fought against Napoleon’s invading armies in 1812, and Dasha Sevastopolskaya who fought in the heroic defense of Sevastopol in 1854-55. So in today’s war our women have carried on these traditions—and added something. The names of many of them have already been immortalized Lisa Chaikina, Tanya (Zoya) Kosmodemianskaya, Maria Baida, Nina Onilova, Valya Phillipova—and scores of others. Our women have proved that we can master machines and technique as well as men can, that we can have as much will and determination as men can, that we can kill our enemies as well as men can. It seems strange to many Americans that women go into battle. They seem to think the war has changed them into some strange kind of creature between a man and a woman. But we are still feminine beings. We can still wear nice clothes and have polished fingernails in the proper time and place. We remain women and human beings as before. The war has made us tougher, that’s all.
Women behind the lines have almost entirely taken the place of men at machines. They are locksmiths, turners, locomotive engineers, miners. Now they do all the things that used to be men’s specialties—and they even manage to increase productivity 500 to 1,000 per cent. They know they are working as we are all working for our victory, for our army, for our freedom.
And on behalf of all these Russian women fighting in our common cause, I express the wish that American women should replace the men at the machines as our women do, that American women should understand as our women do that their sons and husbands at the front are fighting for universal freedom. That they should hurry and help defeat our common enemy—and do away with Hitlerism—and that such help can come only through opening the Second Front! American women must understand that if the Second Front is not opened now, the United States will face much greater suffering and losses later.