British government insults World War II veterans

This video from Britain is called Arctic Convoys commemoration 22.08.11.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

WWII convoy veterans banned from receiving Russian bravery medal

Monday 14 January 2013

Heartless ministers today banned thousands of WWII veterans from receiving Russian bravery medals for their service on Arctic convoys.

Three thousand British servicemen provided vital supplies to the Soviet Union to aid their fight against nazi Germany on the eastern front.

The Russian government has recognised the men’s bravery on what Winston Churchill called “the worst journey in the world” and offered them Ushakov medals.

But the Foreign Office says the veterans can’t accept them because they are in line to receive a British medal for their service and because it was more than five years ago.

Veteran Fred Henley said the government’s decision was “insulting.”

Russian diplomats say they can’t award the medals because of “British red tape.”

From Associated Press:

Britain says no to UK arctic convoy veterans accepting Russian medal for bravery in WWII

By Gregory Katz, The Associated Press January 14, 2013 11:50 AM

LONDON – Reay Clarke, who risked his life on World War II Arctic convoys, doesn’t understand why the British government wants him and other elderly veterans to turn down a medal for bravery offered by the Russian government.

“I honestly feel sore about it,” said Clarke, 89. “I think it’s disgraceful that we can’t just say yes to the Russians and tell them to go ahead and issue the medal. I think they are kind and thoughtful to remember what we did. We should just say, ‘Thank you very much.’”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said Friday that British sailors cannot accept the Ushakov Medal because they are in line to get a medal from the British government, and also because the events took place more than five years ago.

It is not surprising that the Russian government wants to honour — again — the sailors who participated in the convoys, which helped bring vital equipment to Soviet troops fighting a desperate battle against Hitler’s troops on the eastern front.

The weapons they delivered, including more than 7,500 fighter planes and 5,000 anti-tank guns, helped turn back Hitler’s invading forces, altering the course of the war, said Jacky Brookes, a manager of the Russia Arctic Convoy Museum Project, which plans to build a museum at the spot in northwest Scotland where the convoys were based.

“There were some 3,000 casualties,” she said. “Winston Churchill called it the worst journey in the world. Hitler was keen to sink as many of them as he could. It was an awful experience — they were attacked by U-boats, and ships, and from the air as well. Plus the weather was atrocious. A lot of people just perished from the cold.”

Brookes also feels the government should have allowed the men to receive the Ushakov Medal. She said about 400 are still alive.

“We think they should be allowed to wear it,” she said. “We support any recognition for these brave men, they fought so hard, and many gave the ultimate sacrifice.”

She said the Russian government had periodically honoured the Arctic convoy veterans from Britain and other nations.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced last month a medal will be created and awarded to veterans who were active on the convoys.

But Clarke frets that many veterans will pass away while the details are worked out.

“He’s taken an awful long time,” he said. “There aren’t many of us left.”

Hitler’s holocaust in the Soviet Union, photos

From TIME magazine in the USA:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

By Simon Shuster

World War II Through Soviet Jewish Eyes

Grief, Kerch, Crimea, January 1942

Grief, Kerch, Crimea, January 1942

One of the earliest Holocaust liberation photographs, Grief was originally a news photograph that circulated widely in the Soviet press throughout 1942. At the time it was taken, the photographer, Dmitrii Baltermants, was documenting Nazi atrocities for a traumatized Soviet population. Soviet wire services sent the image around the world, but few news outlets picked it up, fearing that the photograph was Soviet propaganda. The image re-appeared in the 1960s, when the Soviet Union began remembering World War II, or the Great Patriotic War as it was known there, as the great triumph of Communism.

In 2003, a young American historian named David Shneer was conducting 
research in Moscow when he heard about an exhibition of photographs called Women at War. At the time, displaying photography on gallery walls was still a fairly novel concept for Russia, and the exhibit was
 not meant to be a blockbuster. To get inside, Shneer found that he had 
to ring a doorbell at a nondescript building, at which point a raspy 
voice came over the intercom and demanded: “Who are you? What do you 
want?” But the images inside astounded him.

Not only had they been taken with incredible skill—arranging light
 and form in a way that would put to shame many of today’s war 
photographers—but they were from the Soviet battlefields of World
 War II, which made the surnames of their authors seem all the more
 strange. About four out of five of them, Shneer noticed, were Jewish
 surnames. “How is it possible,” he thought, “that a bunch of Jews, who
 are supposed to be oppressed by the Soviet Union, are the ones charged 
with photographing the war?”

As delicately as he could, Shneer put the question to one of the curators, who in typical Moscow style had a glass of wine in one hand
 and a cigarette in the other. “She looked at me like I’m an idiot and 
said, ‘Yes, the photographers were all Jewish.’” It turned out she was 
the granddaughter of one of them, Arkady Shaykhet, and their 
conversation that day is what led to the exhibit that opened on
 Nov. 16 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. It has the
 same title as the book Shneer wrote from his research—Through
 Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War and the Holocaust.

The show explores the way World War II was covered in the pages of
 Soviet newspapers such as Pravda, casting light on a side of the Holocaust that often gets short shrift in western history books. The 
genocide against the Jews, usually associated with images of Nazi 
death camps and gas chambers, was also perpetrated through mass 
shootings across Eastern Europe. Later termed the “Holocaust by 
Bullets,” it took more Jewish lives than the concentration camps, says Shneer, and it was documented most poignantly by the Jewish 
photographers of the Soviet press.

Although none of them are still alive to tell their story, Shneer spent the better part of a decade tracking down their relatives in 
Moscow and collecting nearly 200 works from their family archives. The
 prints were often no bigger than a pack of cigarettes, taken with 
beat-up cameras and two roles of film allotted for each battle. There
 are more faceless soldiers in these frames than intimate portraits of victims, and the most common theme is emptiness, at once bleak and monumental. But given their historical context, what seems most 
striking is the duality that runs through the lives and works of these 
photographers. On the one hand, these are works of Soviet propaganda,
 glorifying the Red Army in the tradition of socialist realism. “They 
needed photos of nurses doing good work on the home front, patriotic
 soldiers conquering territory,” says Shneer. “And their Jewishness rarely appears in that kind of material.”

But it does appear when they go off assignment to explore the Jewish
 ghettos in places like Ukraine and Hungary. There they found survivors 
living among the ruins of Europe, the yellow Stars of David on their 
overcoats still marking them for death. In the Budapest ghetto, the photographer Evgenii Khaldei found the corpses of his fellow Jews strewn about the floor of a gutted shop, a scrap of butcher paper covering the face of a man whose body lies in the doorway. Images like
 this did not appear in the mainstream Soviet press, but they were
 published in Eynikayt, or Unity, the Yiddish-language newspaper of the USSR. “We have this image in our heads that Jewishness was completely suppressed in the Soviet Union,” says Shneer. “But that’s really a
 post-war image of the country.”

Pudovkin’s Storm over Asia, on Mongolia

This video is from the movie Storm over Asia by Pudovkin.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Pioneering Pudovkin

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Warren Davies

The current Russian Film Pioneers season at the British Film Institute (BFI) in London includes Vsevolod Pudovkin‘s 1928 film Storm over Asia, considered an overlooked masterpiece by some. If like me you don’t live in the capital you can buy the film for less than the price of a pint in a cheap DVD release which is readily available and which even has a surprisingly atmospheric original soundtrack.

It’s one to save up for the next time Labour let us down and fail to effectively oppose the Con-Dem’s latest assault on public services because it’s a movie which reaffirms trust in the values of common people, whatever their leaders and rulers may do and it’s captured by Pudovkin in one joyous moment of filmmaking.

Liberate a friend or relative’s “big- screen-multi-whatever-home cinema system for the screening – it’ll do them good to share it and you’ll be better able to join with hero Bair and his thousand Mongolian riders against the occupiers of their land. And this is why the film is special. Pudovkin wants you to be thrilled and his vision is fabulous, epic and action-packed. Bair’s is a frontier adventure story wrapped up in a storm-wracked fable.

As the first film to be shot in Mongolia, Pudovkin and screenwriter Osip Brik produced a study of colonialism and national liberation which stands as a corrective to a Eurocentric view of the Russian revolution.

Set during the Civil War, Pudovkin and Brik took the decision to recast the occupation of Mongolia as a British rather than the historically accurate White Russian invasion under Baron von Ungern-Sternberg. The film’s screening, incidentally, coincides with the 90th anniversary of his terror regime’s defeat by Red Army and Mongol forces. Is this typecasting or a salutary reminder that it is the British ruling class who are, even in those regions untouched by the Union flag, still most closely identified in folk memory with Imperialism?

It is a dramatic device fully exploited by Pudovkin in 1928. Frontier capitalism arrives on the end of a British bayonet and it is Bair the herdsman’s relationship to this that provides the central narrative.

Unsurprisingly, the British Board Of Film Censors banned and sought to stop the movie being shown outside the USSR. Storm… was an insurrectionary challenge to Western imperial bourgeois culture, a celebration of Bolshevism and revolution amongst racially inferior Asiatic hordes insolently depicted as agents of their own destiny who expel Westerners. Ilya Ehrenburg is quoted as having summed up the official response to the film in the West as: “Mongols chasing white men? Where’s the justice in that?”

Through Bair, Pudovkin and Brik tell a story for all people resisting colonisation and oppression. Valeri Inkishnov, magnetic in the lead role, uses the silence of the medium to intensify the quiet stoicism of his character. He is victim of chance and circumstance until the point at which he is resurrected by the science of his enemies.

Bair’s silence is transformed as his captors nurse him back to health with the intention of setting him up a puppet ruler. Inkishov captures Bair’s frustration and seeming impotence to oppose his enemies – alone he lifts himself from his throne, staggers and falls into a fish tank, where he lies amongst the asphyxiated fish. He continues to silently observe, watching to discover the nature of his enemies, caged in his tailor’s measurements, a novelty oriental, dressed for dinner, fascinating and exciting the imperialist’s daughters. When local chiefs are presented to the new Khan, swearing the allegiance of 40,000 riders, it takes one more brutal murder for Bair, who came only seeking a fair price for his pelts, to lead the revolution as the heir of the great Khan.

For contemporary audiences this was an exotic movie. The restored version to be shown shown at the BFI allows a modern audience to appreciate its quality as travelogue. Shot in a land steeped in the mythology of the “Golden Horde”, Pudovkin’s masterpiece is also a semi-documentary record of the Moscow film crew’s own expedition.

For Valeri Inkishinov making the film was an opportunity to discover his own family’s heritage and the actor had his own father cast as Bair’s for the opening scene and learnt to ride “Mongolian” style for the critical final montage.

The footage of the film crew’s convoy crossing the tundra is transformed into the British delegation travelling to the Grand Lama. Commissar Ashirov, who acted as guide, was heavily responsible for this dimension of the film. He dealt with the customs and folktales, explained them to Pudovkin and Brik and took them to where landscape could best be exploited for the action scenes or to establish mood. It would be fair to deduce that it was Ashirov who negotiated the Grand Lama’s concession of allowing the team to film in Lamasery of Tomchinsk and so captured for posterity the annual ceremonial dance there.

Pudovkin’s editing faithfully records this custom while simultaneously generating a montage juxtaposing the ritual dance, the negotiations between the British and the Lamasery and the partisan ambush of the British stealing the herdsmen’s cattle.

Pudovkin’s equally studied approach of British imperial ritual encourages speculation that he had studied newsreels produced for British audiences bringing their Empire into the high street. Pudovkin’s point is well made – elite imperial culture is as strange, alien and separated from the everyday lives of the audience who’d watch the film in 1928 or the new 2011 version as the ceremonies of Tomchinsk Lamasery.

But this is not a simple propaganda film. It has a political and ethnographic core contained within a genuine action-adventure movie and it is also a study in emotion.

The energy and visual audacity of Pudovkin’s final montage is overwhelming as he juxtaposes the realism of his documentary style with the fabled “storm over Asia. As it breaks the occupiers, their flags, drums and bayonets are caught up in the visual maelstrom which carries the revolutionary “red horde” to victory.

This isn’t the dominant moment in Pudovkin’s masterpiece. What remains in the mind is the memory of a British Tommy, desolate and sickened by the prison of his uniform hanging off him as it drags through the mud, who has no pride left as he returns from the crime he has committed in his name.

Moments as richly suggestive as this run through the film and that’s why the BFI are to be congratulated on bringing its merits back to public attention.