Victory Day: Heroes of the Red Army celebrate 70 years since fall of Nazi Germany
Even now, within the serenity of old age, their eyes light up when they remember the Great Patriotic War, as World War II is called in Russia. On Saturday, veterans of the Red Army in West Hollywood celebrated 70 years since the Soviet Union conquered Berlin and ended the reign of Nazi Germany in Europe. It was a war that would cost the USSR 27 million lives, more than any other country involved in the conflict.
Hosted by West Hollywood's Russian Advisory Board and the Los Angeles Russian Jewish Network, the event entitled "The 70th Anniversary Of Victory In Europe Day," took place at Plummer Park's Fiesta Hall as local politicians, veterans and flag-waving members of the local Russian community sang songs, heard testimonials and reflected on the legacy of World War II.
One such veteran was Akvazad Rozalia, now in her early 90s, who smiled holding red roses, her vest decked with medals emblazoned with the hammer and sickle and the faces of Lenin and Stalin. During the war Rosalia operated a katyusha machine gun at the age of 16 when the Nazi invasion began.
And even if the beginnings of alzheimer's have slowed her steps, Rosalia's family make sure to keep her story alive. Translating for her, her niece Vina said "the lesson she wants everyone to take from the war is to have bravery, to have courage but to also be kind to others."
"She went to war because she believed in her country, because she was so patriotic," said Vina.
Inside the hall children performed dressed as soldiers and nurses, holding flowers, in a small drama about the war. To the sound of old radio broadcasts they marched to the national wartime song composed by Aleksandr Aleksandrov, "The Sacred War," which proclaimed Arise, vast country, arise for a fight to the death, against the dark fascist forces, against the cursed hordes.
Another veteran present who answered this call back in 1941 was 92-year-old Makvei who fought in Leningrad and worked gathering intelligence. Also decked in Soviet medals, he struggled to speak, but his eyes opened wide with a clear thought. "There should be no more war, only peace," he said with a frail voice. "Young people should always try to be honest," he added.
His niece Marina shared how Makvei was the youngest and therefore the last in their family to go fight in the war and now they are proud to see him respected and honored by younger generations at events like these. "People not even related to him are giving him flowers and saying 'thank you,'" said Marina.
"This feels great," said one veteran who declined to give his name because, as he put it, the confidential nature of his work in the Red Army during the war. His chest too was a gallery of medals and recognition. With a cheerful squint he said "but I remember everything everyday. The battles were hell."
For the next generation aged and still secretive man said "this generation should avoid war. Make it not happen."
Back inside special guests such as West Hollywood mayor Lindsey P. Horvath paid their respects to the heroes of the Red Army. "My grandfather fought in World War II in the U.S. Army, my family is a part of your family," she said.
SMC photography student Veronika Kacha from Kaliningrad, Russia, came to honor the veterans and memory of the war. "I didn't expect it to be this big. Even the younger generation is here to pay their respects," she said.
Kacha recounted what Victory Day is like in Russia itself. "It's a major major celebration in Russia. From like 7 A.M. all the streets are closed and people bring flowers to the memorials. There are a lot of fireworks. In Moscow there are a lot of soldiers everywhere," said Kacha. "It's the biggest celebration I've seen in my life."
Starting the day by watching the great military parade in Moscow via internet, Katcha was happy to see Russia's sacrifice commemorated in the United States. She said, "I'm grateful there is something like this going on in Los Angeles."