War is an inferno to which man is led without his will, and it is a painful reality that imposes itself, and in which loss and blood are composed, and then after the dissolution of its darkness, many of those who remained alive realize how blind they were. They greet victory in amazement, with hands and clothes stained with blood, eyes red from the tears that I shed or held, or as someone says: “In our villages on Victory Day, people cry and do not rejoice. How terrible it was, I buried all my relatives and my family, I buried my soul in the war”.
More than 60 million people died in World War II. Among the dead were thousands of women conscripts from the Soviet Union who were sent to fight with men against the Germans. After the war, the soldiers who survived it revealed their exploits, were given medals and made heroes, while the lights were dimmed from the female soldiers who fought with them. Victory could not help them, did not turn to them, and did not invite them to his forums.
Years after the war ended, Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich, who won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, sought to knock on the doors of hundreds of these women, and immortalize their voices in her book “War Has No Female Face,” trying to answer a simple question: Why did that happen? Why were they silent and no one paid attention to them?
“Alekseevich” belongs to a generation that did not know the world without war. She was born in 1948 in Soviet Ukraine to a Belarusian-Ukrainian family, and was one of what she described as the “sons of victory”, the generation that had missed the horrors of the 1930s and 1940s. Nevertheless, the tales of war were never interrupted (1), as the writer spent her childhood in a women’s village where she does not remember hearing the voices of men, but the war books that were favorites of her peers did not win her admiration.
Her reading of “I’m from the Village of Fire” by Alice Adamovich, Yanke Brill and Vladimir Kolinsik marked a crossroads in her life, and she saw in Adamovich specifically as a teacher (2). The book contained the testimonies of hundreds of people who escaped death after the Nazi German army – during World War II – burned hundreds of Belarusian villages. These people found refuge in his polyphonic documentary.
Adamovich’s conviction was that “writing about the tragedies of the twentieth century in the traditional language and fiction is an underestimation of the suffering of the victims and a wound to their feelings, and that it is not permissible in this case to imagine or make up, but rather the truth should be expressed in an artistic way without mask or distortion” (3) ). Thus Adamovich was one of the pioneers of the non-fiction or documentary novel that Alexievich pursued in her writing. From here, from the alleys of her childhood and the ashes of her teacher’s villages, the idea for her first book “War has no female face” came out.
“I have to write a book about war, so that the reader will feel sick of it, so that the idea of war will become distasteful, and most importantly so that the generals themselves will feel sick.”
Alexievich’s book, then, is nothing more than a history of the soul, through all that is small and human, history through a discourse that most witnesses have not noticed. As she wrote, she does not write about war, but about man in war, about the history of emotions, soul and spirit. Alexievich believes that everything can become literature, but memories transcend history and literature, it is simply life as the painter’s hand has scattered and not cleaned it. Yes, there is stuff from talking, you just need to organize it into building blocks from all over the place.
By documenting the neglected accounts of humans, history can be evoked from forgotten, marginal angles, in which man is the protector of his story, and the master of the narrative, Alexievich aims to prove that man is greater than war, to answer Dostoevsky’s question: The human? How can this person defend his humanity?
The more Alexievich immerses herself in the world of war, the more she realizes the savagery of man, and the more she becomes convinced that our memory is not a perfect instrument, it is not only arbitrary, but moody. Memories as you see them, and describe them, are not an emotional retelling of the absent reality, but a rebirth of the past, in memories people may create as they recast their past lives. Here Alexievich must be at the ready (4), digging into the details, between farewell looks, whispered words, fervent prayers, broken hearts, and all that stirred a simple man.
“Where is my conflict with power? I have finally realized that the great idea needs a little man, and never needs a big one. For it the big man is redundant and uncomfortable, and difficult to manipulate and lure. And I am looking for the big little man: the humiliated, crushed, The humiliated, who passed through Stalin’s camps and treachery, and triumphed in spite of all this.”
For Alexievich, her interlocutors are not just witnesses, but above all actresses and creators. For her, it is impossible to approach the truth face-to-face, because between the truth and us lie emotions, and because she deals with female narrators, and each of those who spoke with her has her own narration. Thus, little by little, we learn about the struggles of women during and after the war; Their encounter with the harsh lifestyle of men ends with getting used to it, overcoming homesickness, fighting in the front lines and treating the wounded, the tendency to a feminine life, cutting roses and putting them in the gun, and the love with which some of them took shelter.
I listen attentively to pain, pain as evidence of past life. There is no other evidence and I do not trust other evidence, words have often diverted us from the truth. I contemplate pain as related to the secret of life, and all Russian literature is about this, the pages of suffering in Russian literature are more than love pages.
For this reason, Alexievich begins with a clear approach to her narrative, mentioning the concept of light in optics and the ability of the lens to better or better record the captured image. She expresses this by saying that the women’s memory of war is the greatest force of light, in terms of tension of feelings. The women’s war is more dreadful than the manly war.
Men hide behind history, behind facts, and their war captivates you in terms of action, confrontation and interaction of different interests. As for women, they are governed by emotions, so their war is of a scent and color, devoid of heroes and unbelievable martial feats, and in which not only people feel pain and suffering, but also the earth, birds, trees and everyone who lives with us on this planet. In their conversation you will find that they often touch on three things in a row: the first is that war for them is a crime first of all, and after that the cruel work that they had to do, and finally their ordinary life: singing, love and reeling of hair. (4)
“Can you imagine that a pregnant woman would go with me to the resistance? She was waiting for the birth of a child she loved and wanted to live. Of course she was afraid, but she went to the resistance, not for Stalin, but for her children, for their next life. She did not want to live on her knees, nor did she You want submission to the enemy. Perhaps we were blind and I won’t deny it, many things we did not know and did not understand, but we were blind and honest and pure at the same time. We were made up of two parts, of two lives, and you have to understand that.”
(Vera Sergeevna Romanoskavia, Nurse in the Resistance (novel))
What were their motives and ages, those who participated in the war when its flames ignited?! There were calls for combat, led by Stalin, and the loss of men was rapid and massive after Hitler’s invasion in 1941, when hundreds of thousands of soldiers and officers were captured, and the girls had been brought up on gender equality and defending the homeland, and many of them also believed in Soviet power, Everyone was starving and heard that in the war they were distributing food rations and tea with sugar, not to mention that many women had lost their loved ones, so they were filled with hatred and sought revenge.
All of these reasons were enough to push the girls to the front, most of the participants in the war were between the eighteenth to the mid-twenties, it is the age of study at university, they did not think that the war would be long, and they were not aware of the idea of war, one of them danced while she was waiting for the army train !
What do you carry with you to the war?
Caramel, a bag full of chocolate caramel.
This was the bag of one of the girls who took on the diverse professions of war, as a mine expert, health guide, machine gunner, sniper, anti-aircraft commander, even a washing machine or cook. , as about seven soldiers out of a hundred and more returned, and the washing machines remember the heavy clothes of the soldiers covered with blood, and what their hands suffered as a result of washing them, and how the soldiers looked at them with condescension, and the nurses expressed in the words of one of them about the war by saying: “Ask me what happiness? I answer; that Find among the dead a wounded person, a living person.”
But it does not continue in the same way throughout the story, because in order to survive the war, everything that is soft and feminine had to be abandoned, the hair braids were cut and the bangs remained, the women wore men’s clothes, some armed with hatred as it was stronger than fear.
One of the fighters recounts an interesting incident, when the Germans learned the location of the platoon to which she belonged in the forest, and their number was thirty, surrounded them from every direction, and they all hid in the swamps. One of them was a mother who had just given birth, the milk in her breasts had dried up from starvation, the baby was crying, and the sounds of German thugs resounded near them and their dogs barked louder. The faction members look at the mother, their faces white with fear. The platoon leader makes a terrifying decision, after which the mother embraces her child and brings him to the bottom of the swamp, keeping him at the bottom for a long time, until he stops screaming. In war, as they say: You are half human and half beast.
Here, Alexievich realized that man has two truths: the first is deep and buried, and the other is the truth that he shares openly and that is imbued with the spirit of the times and the smell of newspapers. The information published after glasnost, or the policy of openness and transparency, about the tragic Soviet past, met with the indignation of all readers of the Soviet Union, both women and men, who were not prepared to accept the non-heroic truths in the pages devoted to revealing the facts of the war.
One of the most famous examples here is the confession made by a female soldier decades later: “We didn’t shoot the prisoners, it was a very easy death for them; we hit them with cannons like pigs, we cut them to bits. Their eyes began to burst with pain!”
To maintain humanity in the midst of all that is painful and inhuman is really difficult, especially when hatred and pain cloud one’s eyes, especially when trials and murders are the fate of those who think for a moment to retreat. But in spite of all this, female soldiers happened to find themselves face to face with a wounded German. For a moment, they are no longer enemies but two people who suffer, sharing bread, helping each other, ideologies are no longer so important here.
One of the female soldiers remembers Stalingrad, where the fiercest battles took place: “Two wounded, and after I moved away from the battlefield and the vision became clearer, I discovered that I was drawing wounded from our tanks, and the last of Germany, and I was terrified. In the atmosphere of the battle and the smoke, I could not I recognize, I see a man in conflict, both wounded and turned black, there is no difference between them. There can be no two hearts, a heart for hate and a heart for love. A person has one heart, and I always think how to save my heart.”