Sunday, April 11, 2010

Liberation Day

I noticed the flags on my morning run (so called because when I do go running I start before noon), but I didn't realise the significance of the date until midday, when church bells started ringing and all the ships in the port sounded their horns simultaneously. April 10th 1944: the day the Red Army liberated Odessa.

The city had fallen on October 16th 1941. Even with help from the Wermacht, the Romanians needed seventy-three days, four attempts and 93,000 casualties before they could take it. Less than a week later the massacres began. A bomb exploded in the Romanian HQ on October 22nd, killing 67 people. In response, over 25,000 of the 80,000 Jews who remained in Odessa were shot or burned alive. The rest were forced into a ruined suburb and left to freeze. Many survived the winter only to be sent to the camps.

The armed resistance retreated to the catacombs, a two-thousand kilometre network of tunnels which provided the limestone used to build the city, where they largely waited out the Romanians' attempts to find them. In 1944 the Red Army swept back through Ukraine - the liberation of Odessa was the third of Stalin's ten blows (from the lifting of the siege at Leningrad to the capture of the Baltics), which pushed the Nazis back all the way into Poland.

These are the things you never forget.

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