[From The Wire]
For us Indians, August 9, 1942, will forever remain a date to look back to with awe and pride. On that day, with the launch of the Quit India movement, India’s colonial masters were served their final notice: get out or get shoved out.
August 9 was supposed to have been a very important date in the Third Reich’s calendar as well, perhaps the most important date. In the end, it may well have been that, but in not quite the manner Adolf Hitler would have liked. Indeed, in some sense, the day proved to be the tipping point for the Nazi campaign for world domination. Hereafter, it would only be a journey downhill, to disaster (though it did not necessarily look like that at the time).
This may sound somewhat far-fetched – after all, the Stalingrad offensive did not even start before August 22 that year, while the epic tank battle in the Kursk salient was nearly a year away yet – and so the story of that day bears retelling.
Shadows lengthen across the Soviet Union
When Operation Barbarossa burst upon the Soviet Union like a screaming tornado in June 1941, the city of St Petersburg featured very prominently on Hitler’s list of most prized targets. One reason, of course, was that it was Russia’s second largest city, arguably still her most important city in many ways, though it had ceded to Moscow as the country’s capital in 1918.
But what mattered even more to Hitler was its name – Leningrad (as it was known then, after the man who had led the October Revolution) – as well as the fact that Leningrad, and not Moscow, had been the cradle of the Revolution. In Hitler’s eye, Bolshevism/Leninism (together with Jews everywhere) were the worst scourge of the great ‘Aryan’ civilisation, and his visceral hatred of Vladimir Lenin (who had been dead for 17 years in 1941) prompted him to make a dash for Leningrad even before he grasped at Moscow.
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