суббота, 25 апреля 2009 г.

14 days till the Victory Day (9 of May)


During World War Two there were many Russians who had either run away from Nazi death camps or forced labor joining the Resistance movement. There were more than 5,000 such people fighting the Nazis in Europe, one of the most famous of them being Fyodor Poletayev, better known by his Italian guerrilla nickname Fyodor Poetan.

Fyodor Poletayev was born on May 14, 1909 in a small village outside Ryazan, an old city in Central Russia. A fair-haired Hercules, he eventually started working as a blacksmith and would have lived happily ever after had it not been for the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union on that fateful morning of June 22, 1941…

Like thousands of his peers, Fyodor Poletayev was drafted into the Red Army, still unaware of the trials and tribulations that awaited him as the war wore on… He heroically defended Moscow against the advancing Nazis in the winter of 1941 but it just so happened that after six month of no-stop combat his division got encircled by the enemy. Wounded in hand-to-hand combat, Poletayev was taken prisoner and spent two long years in Nazi POW camps, first in Poland and then in Yugoslavia and Italy…

In the summer of 1944 Fyodor Poletayev and his two friends finally managed to break out from a Nazi concentration camp in Liguria, Italy. The region’s capital, Genoa, was then the center of the Resistance movement in the Apennines where there were several guerrilla brigades fighting the Nazis. Poletayev and two other Russian POWs eventually joined the Oreste guerrilla brigade that was part of the Pinan Cichero Resistance division. Finding it hard to pronounce Fyodor’s last name, the Italians called him Poetan. Disciplined, daring and cold-blooded, Poletayev quickly became the darling of his Italian friends.

Early in 1945 the Germans decided to flush out the Ligurian guerrillas launching a major punitive operation that spanned the whole area. The guerrillas and the Nazis fought especially viciously near Cantalupo in a battle that could seal the fate of the Resistance movement in the whole region. A guerrilla unit led by Nino Franchi Fyodor Poletayev fought in ambushed the Nazi forces. Even though far outnumbered by the enemy, the partisans fought valiantly forcing the enemy to fall back and dig in, some over the bend of the snow-covered road and the rest to move into a nearby barn.

With the enemy reinforcements already on their way, the guerrillas just couldn’t afford losing time… All of a sudden, Fyodor Poletayev’s mighty bulk rose up tall from the roadside snow. Spraying the enemy with bullets from his submachine gun, he ran out on the road and speaking in a thunderous voice ordered to Germans to surrender. Just as the startled Nazis started putting their hands in the air, one of them pulled up his gun and put a bullet right though the heart of the man who had saved the guerrillas’ lives and sealed their surprise victory… Fyodor Poletayev was buried at Rochetta and his remains were later moved to the Stalieno cemetery in Genoa.

On April 25 of 1947 an Italian government representative handed the Russian Consul General in Genoa the bronze badge of the Garibaldi Guerrilla Brigade and a gold medal for valour, both intended for the family of the fallen Russian hero. The gold medal with the words “Fyodor Alexander Poetan” engraved on its reverse is a top military distinction in Italy and a very honorable award for onetime members of the Italian Resistance movement. Suffice it to say that in Italy even generals are always the first to salute even private-rank holders of this much-touted Gold Medal and Fyodor Poletayev is the only foreigner to become Italy’s national hero.

In Russia it took the authorities another 15 years to officially acknowledge Poletayev’s heroic act though and to lift the official stigma of traitor from everyone who happened to be taken prisoner during that war. Sergei Smirnov, a journalist, used photographs and documents to prove that it was actually the Russian blacksmith and Red Army soldier Fyodor Poletayev, whom the Italians had made their national hero. In 1962 Fyodor Poletayev was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Streets in Moscow and Ryazan now bear his name and there is also a monument erected to him in his hometown. The Italians, too, have put up several monuments commemorating the Russian hero and have even built an ocean-going liner bearing his name. A Russian hero to share a national hero’s status also in Italy… Another whim of fate…

Illustrations: V.Bashkov, A.Zhadnov, “Soldier Fyodor Poletayev”, Moscow, “Moskovskiy Rabochiy”, 1978

Source:The Voice of Russia

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