Archive for April 14th, 2009

I’ve discussed Operation Barbarossa on several different occasions, so regular readers of my musings have, at the least, a vague idea of how that massive campaign initially played out.  It was the Germans running roughshod over their Russian enemy until stalling “within sight of the spires of Moscow.”

On the way to Moscow was the city of Smolensk, which was captured in early August of 1941, and where more than a few Red Army soldiers were taken prisoner.  Among them was a young artillery officer named Yakov Dzhugashvili.  Yakov eventually ended up in Sachsenhausen, a German concentration camp…which is bit unusual given how Russian and German soldiers typically treated each other as prisoners (it usually involved bullets).  But we’ll get back to that.

Yakov Dzhugashvili was born in the modern-day Republic of Georgia.  He was raised by his aunt, which may have been because he and his dad couldn’t stand each other.  In fact, his dad often refused to acknowledge Yakov as his son.  But we’ll get back to that, too.

Dzhugashvili would spend a year and a half in German captivity.  And during that time, the Germans would race to Moscow only to be pushed back.  They would rise again, have a rapid advance the following summer, and falter again (for the last time) at the Volga River where it met a little city called Stalingrad.  There Field Marshall Paulus and more than 90,000 German soldiers met Yakov’s fate and were marched into captivity.

And then the Germans did something that, on the surface, seemed really bizarre.  They really wanted Paulus back, so they offered a prisoner exchange.  And then it got even crazier.  The prisoner they offered?…our Yakov.  An artillery lieutenant for a Field Marshall?!?  Yeah, it seems totally ridiculous until you know that Yakov’s dad, the man he couldn’t stand, was Joseph Stalin.  The Germans offered Stalin his son’s freedom for their Field Marshall.  Stalin’s response?  He told the Germans they held millions of his sons…to free one, they’d have to free them all.  Yakov (and Paulus) remained prisoners.

Things get a little vague from here.  On April 13, 1943, the Germans broadcast their discovery of the Katyn Forest massacres.  Thousands of Jewish officers, professors, musicians, and other intelligensia from Polish had been summarily executed back in 1941.  Yakov, still in prison and married to a Jewess, overheard the guards discussing the news.  And apparently, his extreme humiliation over his father’s action caused him to take action of his own the next day.

On April 14, 1943, Yakov Dzhugashvili, the son Stalin often refused to recognize, feigned escape and ran toward Sachsenhausen’s fences and was shot dead.  Joseph Stalin probably didn’t attend the funeral.

Recommended Reading: Best Little War Stories From World War II – This book, only a half-inch thick, is just full of great tidbits of information. If you don’t own it, you should.

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