Just days after the Germans surrendered at Stalingrad, legendary Red Army sniper Vasily Zaytsev described the horrors he witnessed during the five-month long conflict: “one sees the young girls, the children who hang from trees in the park... I have unsteady nerves and I'm constantly shaking.”
He was being interviewed, along with 214 other men and women—soldiers, officers, civilians, administrative staffers and others—amidst the rubble that remained of Stalingrad by members of Moscow's Historical Commission. Sent by the Kremlin, their aim was to record a comprehensive, historical documentary of the tremendous hardships overcome and heroic triumphs achieved during the battle.
20 soldiers of the 38th Rifle Division vividly recount how they stumbled upon the commander of the German troops, Field Marshal Friederich Paulus, defeated and hiding in a bed that reeked like a latrine. A lieutenant colonel remembers the brave 20 year-old adjutant who wrapped his arms around his commander's body to protect him from a flying grenade. Working around the clock, Nurse Vera Gurova describes a 24 hour period during which her hospital received over than 600 wounded men – equivalent to one every two and an half minutes. Countless soldiers endured shrapnel wounds and received blood transfusions in the trenches, but she can't forget the young amputee who begged her to avenge his suffering at Stalingrad.
This harrowing montage of distinct voices was so candid that the Kremlin forbade its publication and consigned the bulk of these documents to a Moscow archive where they remained forgotten for decades, until now. Jochen Hellbeck's Stalingrad is a definitive portrait of perhaps the greatest urban battle of the Second World War—a pivotal moment in the course of the war re-created with absolute candor and chilling veracity by the voices of the men and women who fought there.