“The Mine Test” – Wehrmacht Soldiers Force a Soviet Civilian to Test the Waters, Soviet Union; ca.1942
According to historian Christian Ingrao this technique was first used in Belarussia in 1943 by the infamous 36th SS division “Dirlewanger”, a penal SS unit composed of common law criminals, disgraced SS soldiers, poachers, feeble minded, sociopaths and pedophiles recruited among the inmates of concentration camps and used to hunt partisans in the East.
After they began losing men to mined roads, they took the habit of rounding up local villagers and make them march before them in staggered rows. The tactic was deemed very effective by SS Gruppenfuhrer for Central Russia Curt Von Gottberg who wrote a report on the practice in 1943 saying “The mines set on most road and paths necessitated the use of mine detectors, as per order. The mine detector developped by the Dirlewanger battalion successfully passed the test”. Soon after various non-penal units began using it too. Believe it or not it is far from the worst thing these guys did.
The archives of the 36th SS division stated that this practiced caused the death of about 3000 Belarussian civilians for year 1943 alone.
Original title from the back of the photograph is Die Minenprobe:
The moment before a MIG-29 exploded, after it crashed to the ground at the Paris Air Show – (the pilot can be seen ejecting before impact); June 8, 1989
Anatoly Kvochur was flying a single-seater Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum ‘Blue 303’, the latest fighter aircraft of the Soviet Union at the time. While executing a low-speed, high-angle attack portion of his routine, a bird was sucked into the turbofan of his right engine (a bird strike), causing the engine to burst into flames. Kvochur immediately turned the remaining engine to full afterburner. However his speed, at 180 kilometres per hour (110 mph), was too slow to maintain stability on one engine. Despite his efforts, the stricken aircraft went into a steep dive. Kvochur managed to steer the MiG away from the crowd and eject 2.5 seconds before impact. He landed 30 metres (98 ft) away from the fireball of the crashed plane. (Wikipedia)
Leon Trotsky in Mexico; ca. 1940
The Mexican president at the time was Lázaro Cárdenas, the most left-wing president in Mexican history, still very beloved by working class Mexicans for his nationalization of oil and agrarian reform programs. However, given his leftist policies at home and support for the Second Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War, Cárdenas was often under fire for being a puppet of Stalin’s Soviet Union. Well, what’s a good way to prove you’re not under Stalin’s control? Give asylum to Trotsky.
A bit of Chapter 6: The Break , from Trotsky’s autobiography, entitled “My Life“:
In 1894 Alexander III died. As was usual on such occasions, the liberal hopes sought support from the heir to the throne. He replied with a kick. At the audience granted to the Zemstvo leaders, the young Czar described their aspirations for a constitution as “nonsensical dreams.” This speech was published in the press. The word-of-mouth report was that the paper from which the Czar had read his speech said “groundless dreams,” but in his agitation the Czar had expressed himself more harshly than he intended. I was fifteen at the time. I was unreservedly on the side of the nonsensical dreams, and not on that of the Czar. Vaguely I believed in a gradual development which would bring backward Russia nearer to advanced Europe. Beyond that my political ideas did not go.
Commercial, multi-racial, loudly colored and noisy Odessa remained, to an extraordinary degree, far behind other centres in a political sense. In St. Petersburg, in Moscow, in Kiev, there were already in existence at that time numerous socialist circles in the educational institutions. Odessa had none. In 1895 Friedrich Engels died. Secret reports were read at meetings held in his memory by student groups in the various cities of Russia. I was then in my sixteenth year. But I did not know even the name of Engels, and could hardly say anything definite about Marx. As a matter of fact, I probably had never heard of him.
My political frame of mind while at school was vaguely oppositionist, but no more than that. In my day, revolutionary questions were still unknown among the students. It was whispered that certain groups met at the private gymnasium maintained by the Czech, Novak; that there had been arrests; that Novak, who was our instructor in athletics, had been dismissed and replaced by an army officer. In the environment surrounding the home of the Schpentzers there was dissatisfaction, but the regime was held to be unshakable. The boldest dreamed of a constitution as possible only after several decades. As for Yanovka, the subject was unmentionable there. When I returned to the village after my graduation from school, bringing with me dim democratic ideas, Father, immediately alert, remarked with hostility: “This will not come to pass even in three hundred years.” He was convinced of the futility of all reformists’ efforts and was apprehensive for his son. In 1921, when he came to me in the Kremlin, after having escaped the Red and White perils with his life, I jestingly asked: “Do you remember what you used to say that the Czarist order was good for another three hundred years?” The old man smiled slyly and replied in Ukrainian: “This time, let your truth prevail.”
I faced the first crossroads on my path, poorly equipped politically even for a seventeen-year-old boy of that period. Too many questions confronted me all at once, without the necessary sequence and order. Restlessly I cast about me. One thing is certain: even then life had stored within my consciousness a considerable load of social protest. What did it consist of? Sympathy for the down-trodden and indignation over injustice the latter was perhaps the stronger feeling. Beginning with my earliest childhood, in all the impressions of my daily life human inequality stood out in exceptionally coarse and stark forms. Injustice often assumed the character of impudent license; human dignity was under heel at every step. It is enough for me to recall the flogging of peasants. Even before I had any theories, all these things imprinted themselves deeply on me and piled up a store of impressions of great explosive force. It was perhaps because of this that I seemed to hesitate for a while before reaching the great conclusions which I was impelled to draw from the observations of the first period of my life.
His great great-granddaughter is interesting. Her family suffered from severe alcoholism due to the obvious stress from the assassination attempts on Trotsky, and she became an expert on addiction.
Here’s the 60 minutes piece on her:
Mugshot of Boris Nikolayevich Rozenfeld, a victim of the Great Purge; ca. 1935
From a series of Great Purge-era mugshots.
How the Russians conquered Siberia:
Prior to the Mongol invasions, the Novgorodians had penetrated past the Urals. The Russians used northern routes to enter Siberia by land and sea, and by the mid-sixteenth century they had reached the mouth of the Enisei.
In the sixteenth century, the Stroganov family developed large-scale industries, including salt and fur extraction, in North-Eastern European Russia the Ustiug area (a bit right of the red area in this photo):
After the conquest of Kazan (see here), the Stroganovs obtained large holdings in the upper Kama region, where they maintained garrisons and encouraged colonists to settle. In 1582, the Stroganovs sent an expedition against the Siberian Khanate, consisting of around 1500 cossacks and some volunteers, and lead by a Cossack, Ermak. The Russians were massively outnumbered, but made good use of organisation, firearms and that famous Russian bravery to overcome the Khanate, and they ultimately seized the headquarters of the Siberian Khan. Ivan the Terrible realised the prospects of this, as Siberia was well known for the opportunities for fur trading, and sent reinforcements. Ermak died in 1584 however (before reinforcements arrived), and although they actually had to conquer the Siberian Khanate again, they began to consolidate their holdings.
In order to subjugate the natives and collect tributes of fur (iasak), which the natives were expected to pay, a series of forts were built at the confluences of major rivers and streams and important portages. The first among these were Tyumen and Tobolsk — the former built in 1586 by Vasilii Sukin and Ivan Miasnoi, and the latter the following year by Danilo Chulkov. Tobolsk would become the nerve center of the conquest. Essentially, from here on out, the Russians began to subdue minor tribes and further expand these forts and outposts. Of these, Mangazeya was the most prominent, becoming a base for further exploration eastward. It was a highly profitable undertaking for the Muscovite state, due to the furs extraction.
Following the khan’s death and the dissolution of any organized Siberian resistance, the Russians advanced first towards Lake Baikal and then the Sea of Okhotsk and the Amur River. Between 1610 and 1640, the Russian military and the Cossacks moved three hundred miles further into the southern steppe, in continuous conflict with the Crimean Tartars and other nomads. However, when they first reached the Chinese border they encountered people that were equipped with artillery pieces and here they halted. The treaty of Nerchinsk (1689) outlined the borders between the two countries and lasted until 1858. A small band of Cossacks, lead by Ivan Moskvitianin, reached the Pacific Ocean in 1639. After the conquest of the Siberian Khanate (1598) the whole of northern Asia – an area much larger than the old khanate – became known as Siberia and by 1640 the eastern borders of Russia had expanded more than several million square kilometers. In a sense, the khanate lived on in the subsidiary title “Tsar of Siberia” which became part of the full imperial style of the Russian Autocrats.
The 140-kiloton Chagan nuclear test, Soviet Union; January 15, 1965
The 1965 Chagan nuclear explosion was part of Russia’s Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy program. The idea was to use nuclear explosions for peaceful civil engineering projects. The 140 kiloton explosion created a 100 metes (328 ft) deep lake and dammed a nearby river.
These are actually not colorized photographs, they’re color photographs by a man named Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky. He’s a Russian who really pioneered in, and made the field of color photography something worth funding. He was given funding by Tsar Nicholas II to take 2 trips through Russia photographing everything that came to mind. He went on 2 trips, one in 1909, and one a bit later in 1915.
Gorsky was one of the later photographers in this medium, but he certainly wasn’t someone who fades in comparison. The earlier individuals are people who were experimenting with different methods, cameras, exposures, and emulsions (The light-sensitive coating that was smeared on the glass plate to permanently imprint the image after the exposure). Individuals like Adolf Miethe (who was active in 1902 onwards), and Edward Raymond Turner (The Englishman who filmed the first color photographs in 1902) have one thing in common –They all used the same three-color process of photographing three individual glass plates in red, green, and blue, and then combining them in one channel.
The three-color process was first theorized by James Clerk Maxwell in 1855, and put in to practice by a man named Thomas Sutton in a photograph captured in 1861, a very famous one nonetheless! It was a simple tartan ribbon, but it reproduced permanent color. There’s been earlier examples of possible color photographs, like the Hillotypes (Named for the inventor, a minister by the name of Levi Hill), but this is an entirely different story altogether, and one with which I’m not familiar enough to comfortably answer.
All in all, after Maxwell’s successful ‘experiment’ conducted by Sutton, a man named Louis Ducos du Hauron caught an interest in the medium. Before 1877, he had patented several processes related to color photography, and finally in ’77, he took the first confirmed color photograph. There’s been rumors of this photograph being from 1869, but others put it at 1879. It’s currently disputed enough to really not make the running, I’m afraid. Nonetheless, Hauron is my favorite person of this era.
Moving along to the late 19th century, the Lumière brothers come in to play. Louis Lumière and Auguste Lumière (Lumière meaning Light in French!) held a little get together in 1895, screening early motion pictures. The 2 brothers also invented the dry-plate, which was necessary for commercially viable color photography, but that’s for later! They theorized that a plate, with a single exposure, could produce viable color photographs, instead of the previously tiring 3 exposures for a single photograph. So, they set about trying for the different ways of achieving this. They didn’t actually receive any success until 1903, when they filed the following patent for an Autochrome Lumière (A small excerpt):
- The colored particles are grains of starch, ferments, leavens, bacilli, pulverized enamels, or other pulberulent and transparent materials. They are colored by means of colors also transparent in orange, green, and violet, or else in red, yellow, and blue, or even in any number of colors, such that the grains of these different colors being mixed as intimately as possible in the state of dry powder and in suitable proportions and then applied to the glass they do not communicate to the surface of the plate any appreciate coloration.
So essentially, in 1907, they launched the Autochrome Lumière to great success. It was affordable (Not compared to B/W photography though!), it was simple, and it was user friendly. Pop in a plate, expose, color photography! Quite simple, really. However, Gorsky, used the three-color method to great success. He achieved unprecedented results and a stunning quality compared to his colleagues, mostly due to something called ‘digichromatography’. Gorsky’s camera is also unknown as he likely designed it himself, but a fun fact is he might’ve drawn inspiration from Adolf Miethe who he met while traveling through Germany, Miethe having had his camera designed by a cabinet maker while in Berlin.
In the later years, more pioneers entered the field. People with inventions that were brilliant, but not commercially viable, and inventions that were quite funky, but, well, ingenious. All in all, a quick wrap is easy.
Here’s a video covering this subject quite nicely, from the annals of the craft to the modern 20th century:
Why Stalin allowed Finland to remain independent after WWII:
Stalin overestimated the efficacy of the Finnish Communist Party and underestimated the canniness of Finnish politicians. Starting in leverage high grade military equipment from the Germans which allowed the Finnish forces to stage a fighting retreat from Karelia in 1944. Thus in mid-1944, the Finns and the Soviets were fighting in the same ground as the Winter War. Both the Kremlin and the Red Army’s leadership were much more interested in maintaining the drive into Eastern Europe than refighting what had been a dark chapter in Soviet military history.
Urho Kekkonen, a Finnish parliamentarian and later Prime Minister, said in a 1944 radio broadcast “the Soviet Union must stand to gain a bigger advantage from an independent Finland clinging to life than from a broken Finland doomed to a dependent existence.” The cornerstone of Soviet-Finnish relations was the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance signed with the USSR in April 1948. The Treaty guaranteed that Finland would aid the Soviets against “Germany or its allies” and fostered a series of networks and political connections between the Soviets and the Finns. The Soviets initially expected the Finnish Communist Party (SKP) to make electoral gains, but the existing Finnish political establishment adroitly managed to sideline them. The Treaty and the Finnish compliance with it did not give the SKP any major issues with which to attack the existing governments. Successive Soviet governments wanted the Treaty to be expanded and pull the Finns closer into the orbit of the Soviet sphere, but the Finns were able to strategically drag their feet. For example, the language “Germany or its allies” meant that Finns were able to justify not wanting to take defense steps against NATO Norway and Denmark. At the same time, the Finns also mastered the art of not appearing to be undermining the larger issue of Soviet security; they would give way over key debates like radar stations its early warning network.
The success of the Finns looks quite intelligent and unexpected from the vantage point of 2014, it’s important to keep in mind that during the Cold War the West was quite apprehensive the Finnish policies of accommodation. “Finlandization” became a pejorative term within Western Cold War discourse and a shorthand for making concessions to gain at best temporary freedoms from the USSR.
Jakobson, Max. Finnish Neutrality; A Study of Finnish Foreign Policy Since the Second World War. New York: Praeger, 1969.
Jussila, Osmo, Seppo Hentilä, and Jukka Nevakivi. From Grand Duchy to a Modern State: a Political History of Finland since 1809. London: Hurst & Company, 1999.
Luostarinen, Heikki. “Finnish Russophobia: The story of an enemy image.” Journal of Peace Research 26, no. 2 (1989): 123-137.
Rentola, Kimmo. “From half-adversary to half-ally: Finland in Soviet policy, 1953-58.” Cold War History 1, no. 1 (2000): 75-102.
Viktor Bulla’s Pioneers in Defense Drill; ca. 1937
“Viktor Bulla’s photograph of hundreds of children wearing gas masks was not meant to be ghoulish, a commentary on war or lost innocence, but rather exemplified a reason for pride—the country was blessed with well-trained, well-equipped and obviously courageous young fighters.”
(From “Propaganda and Dreams: Photographing the 1930s in the USSR and the US” by Leah Bendavid-Val)
Collapse of the Soviet Union:
While the USSR itself ceased to exist, many communist politicians either remained in power or continued to play an active role in their country’s politics. The revolutions were made possible not because of external forces (the US didn’t defeat communism, as it is often claimed) but because the communist party began to lose faith in itself.
Anti-communist and anti-party movements were not entirely uncommon in the USSR, but engaging in public demonstrations carried with it severe risks. In 1956, Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary to crush the opposition movement when it became clear that Imre Nagy, a communist himself, could no longer be trusted to rule the communist party. When he declared Hungary’s withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union mercilessly crushed the Hungarian dissidents. Mass bloodshed was avoided at Nagy’s insistence that the Hungarian people not fight their invaders, knowing perfectly well that there was little chance of victory. Similar events were to be repeated in Prague in 1968 when Alexander Dubček sought to relax party control over public life through democratic reforms including freedom of press. While more successful than the Hungarian revolution, the Prague Spring, ultimately met the same fate as the Warsaw Pact invaded in August. Similarly, bloodshed was spared only through the insistence by Dubček that Czechoslovaks not resist their invaders.
Although the revolutions in each country of Eastern Europe took on a different quality, there was one characteristic that defined them all: they were all non-violent. Beginning with the Polish workers’ union Solidarity and later emulated by Civic Forum (Czech) and Public Against Violence (Slovak) all communist opposition from then on took a strictly non-violent approach believing that, and with good reason, any violence committed by the opposition movements would only play into the communists’ party’s hands. On the other hand, any violent response to the democratic movements now sweeping Eastern Europe would only serve to discredit the communist parties further. Had the Soviets wanted to crush these democratic movements, there is little doubt as to whether they would be successful or not. The violent repression of the Prague Spring was still vivid in the minds of many.
There are two significant differences in the political climate within which the democratic movements of the 1980s were taking place and between those that took place before them and both had to do with the communist parties themselves. Faced with unprecedented protests and a call for democracy, communist officials simply did not understand how to address the protestors. That the revolutions were successful at all, ironically, can be attributed to a series of political and strategic blunders made by communist party officials. In Poland, for example, to address a series of devastating labour strikes, the Polish communist party, for the first time in the history of the USSR, formally recognized Solidarity (the Polish workers’ union mentioned earlier). In the span of just one year, Solidarity membership had reached 9.5 million members. Witnessing its popularity and fearing for its hold on power, the polish communist party attempted to outlaw Solidarity in the 1980s through the declaration of martial law. This would be characteristic of all revolutions in Eastern Europe: the communist party would relax their control over public life only to try and regain that same control later on through greater oppression which only served to discredit further still the communist regimes.
By the late 1980s it was clear in Poland and elsewhere that the communist party had no real sense of how to address their countries’ increasingly unsustainable economic situation or the growing public unrest. In 1989, the communist party having lost all credibility agreed to sit down with Solidarity to discuss the problems now facing Poland.
Among the agreements reached at the negotiations between the communist party and Solidarity was the creation of a new elected assembly. Elections were held just two months after the round-table talks between Solidarity and the party. Although the elections to the Parliamentary Assembly were rigged to retain a communist majority, the Senate elections were to untouched. Surprisingly, though in retrospect not unexpected, Solidarity won 99 of the 100 seats in the senate and all the seats it was allowed to the Parliamentary Assembly. The communist party itself was left in an impossible situation with the only options being to accept the vote and lose power, or to ignore the vote and resign. They chose the latter, at Gorbachev’s insistence, and communist rule in Poland officially ended.
That Gorbachev himself made clear that the Polish communist party had to accept the vote is significant. It was clear that Gorbachev had no intention of upholding the USSR’s official doctrine of quelling opposition through military intervention. Indeed, stating that the growing democratic movements in Eastern Europe were “a matter for the people themselves” signified to the protestors that Russia would not intervene. This minor and seemingly innocuous remark gave the democratic movements the confidence they needed to effectively bring communist rule to an end.
Judt, T. (2005). Postwar: A history of europe since 1945. London, England: Penguin Group.
Goldgeiger, J., & McFaul, M. (2003). Power and purpose: U.S. policy toward Russia after the cold war. Washington, D.C. : The Brookings Institution.
The Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army celebrating victory over the White armies in the Crimea; ca. 1920
With all the men fighting at the front, women of Moscow dig anti-tank trenches around Moscow, Battle of Moscow, Operation Barbarossa, World War II; ca. 1941
Bashkir switchman on the Trans-Siberian Railway near the town of Ust-Katav, Russian Empire; ca. 1910
Taken by color photography pioneer Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky. He had an interest in documenting early 20th Century Russia through photography, but also enjoyed photographing others as well.
(For more of his fantastic work, take a look at the Wikimedia Commons page about him.)