Russia's War, Blood Upon the Snow: The History of the Stalin Years
DVD | Box Set
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“There has never been as vivid or terrifying an account of the Soviet people’s ordeal.” -Newsday
Russia’s War is an important and in-depth account of the nation’s history throughout the period of Joseph Stalin’s rule (1924-53). Told in ten parts, this astonishing documentary reveals eyewitness stories, archival photography, documents and footage, and gives a remarkable insight what led to the death of sixty-five million Soviets during Stalin’s reign of terror.
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First, a few reviewers suggested that this series glorifies Marxism since it presents Stalin as a sadistic paranoid whose mental illness distorted "pure" Communism. At no time in this documentary was it stated or indicated that Stalin betrayed the true "intellectual" heroes of a Sovietized Russia. Yes, the documentary portrays Stalin as a ruthless manipulator whose ego, thirst for power and paranoia led to wholesale crimes against his own people. But that Stalin turned out to be a bloodthirsty tyrant is in no way an endorsement of the view that Stalin betrayed the "intellectual" purity of the Soviet system.
Though prior to his death, Lenin had written a dispatch detailing his misgivings about Stalin's leadership abilities, this information was chosen to be buried by the ranking members of the Politburo. Stalin was simply the beneficiary (and master manipulator) of the duplicitous and brutal political system that was implemented during Lenin's Sovietization of Russia.
The impression is clearly given in the documentary that Stalin's rise to power was a logical historical progression caused by the power vacuum that was created after Lenin's death. "Blood Upon The Snow" is in fact a chilling indictment of the political system that allowed such a socio-path as Stalin to gain unlimited dictatorial powers. Though Stalin's regime may have represented an extreme example of the brutish nature of the Soviet system, brutality and duplicity was indeed the proven path to power in the USSR. Stalin simply excelled at both.
As episode two, disc 1, of "Blood Upon The Snow" clearly illustrates, a young Nikita Khrushchev was a dutiful enforcer of Stalin's brutal ethnic pogroms against the Russian peasantry in the Ukraine. Krushchev bragged in a cable sent to Stalin in 1937: "I have sent you 18,000 enemies of the people...Loving you Nikita." That Khrushchev later directed the "de-Stalinization" effort after Khrushchev's eventual rise as Soviet Premier is merely an example of the duplicity and political manipulation which was inherent to the Soviet system.
As is documented by 1st person interviews in the video, many of the children orphaned by the great political and military purges of the 1930s became of age with no illusions about the brutality of Stalin's reign. Their hearts burned with hatred towards Stalin. Khrushchev's later "de-Stalinization" effort can therefore be seen as an act of political expediency, not the awakening of Khrushchev's political consciousness or any regret over his direct role in implementing Stalin's war upon the Russian people. Again, this is a searing indictment of the ruthless corruption of the Soviet Union itself, not merely an indictment of Stalinism.
In no way does this documentary stand as an apologia for the Soviet system nor does it indicate that Stalin's crimes against humanity were an ahistorical occurrence in the Soviet system. Such reviews are a complete mischaracterization of the editorial point of view clearly presented in this documentary.
Another complaint is that this documentary devotes too much time to WWII. Obviously a large part of the series is dedicated exclusively to WWII since the entirety of the war occurred during Stalin's reign. But the documentary also covers the rise of Stalin, Stalin's consolidation of power after Lenin's death, Stalin's use of forced famine as a political weapon, Stalin's unprecedented political and military purges of the 1930s, Stalin's political division of Eastern Europe in the post-War years, Stalin's brutal suppression of Ukrainian nationalists, Stalin's death and Stalin's ultimate political legacy.
This is a chilling and excruciating documentary of one the 20th Century's most brutal mass murderers. Highly recommended.
According to this series, Juliet was wrong. He wasn't a jerk at all. He knew exactly what he was doing and why -- except that almost every decision he made was ethically wrong.
Ditto for the Nazis. They "liberated" places like the Ukraine and were welcomed but they soon revealed their true nature by treating the inhabitants as slaves and executing all the Jews and other undesirables.
But the point of view here is not the Germans' but Stalin's. After the purges of the 1930s, which killed off most of his generals and, in fact, anyone who could be considered a rival for power, he went on killing others. They included Russian POWs who might have been tainted by fascist ideology. That included women and children who had been slave laborers under Hitler. Partisans with any popular appeal disappeared, although they had fought for the Motherland.
The generals who had won the war for him were afterwards sent to a symbolic Siberia, if they weren't executed. "Blocking units" of soldiers were ordered to shoot down penal battalions who refused to walk across mine fields and thus clear them.
It's an incredible story. Juliet was right in a moral sense. Few people could have been more of a "jerk." But, pragmatically, his personality was conflated with the winning of the Great Patriotic War. At his death, he was genuinely grieved.
The series is very well done, using revealing archival footage (both German and Soviet). Some reviewers have commented that the history is simplistic. I would disagree. A deep knowledge of Stalinism is useful, as the film points out pivotal examples of, for instance, Stalin's executions or Stalin's collective punishment of the Chechens. A knowledge of Soviet history is needed to fully appreciate the series. The documentary mentions Michael Koltsov, Soviet intellectual and journalist who was executed on orders from Stalin during the days of the Spanish Civil War. The film mentions Akhmatova as well, without really going into the details. This film is, despite its ten-hour scope, still limited on certain aspects of Stalinism. Not everything can be covered. Issues that are touched on without being explored deeply are the arts, collectivization, and the purges.
What one does get from the series is a deep sense of the disturbing ways in which Stalinism both crippled the populace while simultaneously making the Soviet Union a world power.
The series' most outstanding coverage deals with the Great Patriotic War. The series goes into great detail about all the critical battles- the battle of Moscow, the Siege of Leningrad, Stalingrad, Kursk, the Battle for Berlin. The series also illuminates new statistical information detailing the appalling casualties (1 million men were lost in the Battle for Moscow alone). These statistics were only made public in the 1990's. There is also a fantastic section called "The Fight from Within" about the partisan struggle behind enemy lines. You get a sense of how horrific the situation was for ordinary individuals caught in the horror of Nazi occupation.
Excellent series, and one of the most thorough examinations of WWII from the Russian perspective.
Highly recommended. Also, please note that the consolidated DVD version is about half the price of the original VHS version (long the only available version of this documentary).