World War 2 ended nearly six decades ago but the war continues to play a huge—and very emotional role—in the Russian arts, appearing in films and books about the wartime and post-war traumas of losing millions of soldiers and civilians, as well as the glory of Soviet military operations like the Battle of Kursk.
These audio clips highlight Russian poets and performers who were involved in World War 2, either on the military front or the home front. Olga Berggolts and Vera Inber both lived in Leningrad during the 900-day siege of 1941-1944, writing prose and poetry about the war and its human toll, and receiving medals for their service to the city. Berggolts’s “Submarine” poem (below), dedicated to a submarine captain, is decidedly military, and Inber’s prose, Leningrad Diary, and long poem, “The Pulkovo Meridian,” both describe the siege.
Film actress Tamara Makarova spent much of the blockade in Leningrad, too, and was also recognized for her service to the city: her contributions included nursing and helping organize the city’s defense. Makarova and her husband, director Sergei Gerasimov, worked on many movies together, including 1943’s Invincible, about the war. The popular comic actor Yury Nikulin fought in the war, getting his start as a performer during an R&R visit to Latvia.
Here are audio pieces from four artists whose lives and careers were shaped by World War 2.
Read Russia! Hear Russia!
- Russian text of “A Submarine Goes Out on Maneuvers”
- Jamie Olson, blogger at The Flaxen Wave, on Berggolts
- Russian text of Inber’s “To a Son Who Isn’t”
- History in An Hour about Inber’s Leningrad Diary
- Bio of Yury Nikulin
- Nikulin sings “Song about Rabbits” in the classic comedy film The Diamond Arm
Photo: Wall at Piskarevskoye Cemetery with Olga Berggolts's words. Photo from Volkov, via WIkipedia.
Olga Berggolts’s Submarine Poem
Olga Berggolts (Bergholz) reads her poem “A Submarine Goes Out on Maneuvers,” written in 1942 in Kronshtadt. Berggolts is known for her poems about Leningrad during the siege of 1941-1944 as well as her radio work during the blockade. Berggolts’s words—ending with the famous “Nobody is Forgotten and Nothing is Forgotten”—are engraved on a granite wall at the Piskarevskoye Cemetery, where hundreds of thousands who died during the war are buried.
Yury Nikulin’s Wartime Debut as a Performer
Comedian Yury Nikulin, one of Russia’s most beloved performers, speaks about the role of World War 2 in shaping him, first noting how strongly his generation wanted to join the army, then describing how he first began performing, during an R&R and regrouping visit to Latvia in 1944. Nikulin was given an assignment to organize a variety show—because he was jovial and knew a lot of jokes—then decided to take part himself, including in a popular clown number.
Night’s Soft Paws, from Vera Inber
Vera Inber reads her 1927 lullaby, “To a Son Who Isn’t,” which begins with “Night comes on soft paws, Breathing like a bear…” Inber lived in Leningrad during the blockade of 1941-1944 and wrote poetry and a diary about those years.
Tamara Makarova on Film and Society
Tamara Makarova, sometimes called a Russian Greta Garbo, speaks about film's role in society, saying she acted in pictures with moral messages and noting that young people often wrote letters, saying they wanted to be as brave as movie characters. Makarova was married to director Sergei Gerasimov and starred in many of his films. They remained in Leningrad for much of the siege: Makarova received awards for serving the city's defense.