Laila Akhmetova: ”Veterans’ children should keep war memory alive and pass it to grandchildren and great-grandchildren"
In the Soviet period, every schoolkid knew about the Panfilov Division that stopped the Nazi offensive near Moscow. In modern times, new details began to be revealed about the strength and armament of the fighters, and the disputes with the participation of both amateurs and historians began. On the eve of the 75th anniversary of the Victory, the Vestnik Kavkaza correspondent spoke with the author of the book ”Panfilov’s Men: Our Pride, Our Glory!”, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor of Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, Laila Akhmetova.
- Laila Seisembekovna, what does Victory Day mean to you? There is a feeling that the work that you are doing to study the Great Patriotic War has become not only a scientific but also a personal choice for you.
-First and foremost, it is a personal choice. I still belong to the generation born in the 1950s. We are the children of the victorious war veterans. This victory has been within me since the very childhood. My father, a soldier, was seriously wounded in February 1942 in the battle of Moscow and became disabled. It had a significant impact on me. Among his friends were only war veterans. In Soviet times, the veteran fraternity was strong. Now we admire the survivors.
Father and other veterans did not talk much about the war. However, the necessity to talk about those events was conveyed to me by my father, soldiers who I interviewed and wrote about. They always spoke not about themselves but recalled those who remained on the battlefields. I am very sorry that I did not speak much about the war with my father. Then it seemed to me that he would live forever. But he passed away in 1994, six months before the 50th anniversary of the Victory that he was waiting for as a child. Veterans’ children should keep Great Patriotic War memory alive and pass it to grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
- What was the national composition of the 316th Rifle Division?
- Maybe because I am a Soviet person, in my book I wanted to depict internationalism, although this word is not very popular today. Senior lieutenant Bauyrzhan Momyshuly said: "I serve in a division with people of 34 nationalities." The first composition of the Panfilov’s division regiment - 11347 people conscripted on August 18-19, 1941, on the railway stations Almaty-1 and Almaty-2. These people became famous for the defense of Moscow. All of them can be named.
I want to emphasize that there were many Cossacks among the soldiers, since in Semirechye, where the majority of fighters were conscripted, for two centuries there were villages of the Semirechensky Cossack Army. On the Internet and in various sources, we can find the percentage of nationalities in the Red Army’s 316th Rifle - 8th Guards Panfilov Division. But there is no reference to the source of this data. Now in the Panfilov Division group on Facebook, you can find the first composition. We continue the search, and upon completion of the work, we can say what was the percentage of nationalities in the first composition of the most famous division of the Great Patriotic War.
- Laila Seisembekovna, tell us about your book "Panfilov’s Men: Our Pride, Our Glory!"
- The book was published with the support of the Nursultan Nazarbayev Foundation, the organization of the first president of Kazakhstan. It is neither fiction nor scientific publication. I would call it popular science. Why? Because the first, scientific part, especially the first chapter, is the history of the division and the regimental headquarters. There are only documents in it. In the remaining chapters, there are stories about people. For example, Pavel Gundilovich, the company commander of 28 Panfilovites - there were absolutely no documents about him. He served as a border guard in the Far East. Then he was repressed and imprisoned, in 1940 he was released and left for Alma-Ata. The Belarusian historian writer Losevich, scrupulously collecting evidence of Gundilovich and other repressed and forgotten people wrote a book about them. With his permission, I took 20 pages about Gundilovich, shortened them and included in the book. As for the history of the regiment, headquarters, etc., this part comprises almost a third of the book. I provide a reference to any document, but if there was no official data, I wrote that it was just an assumption. Many things are published for the first time.
When the action "We are millions of Panfilovites" was launched in Russia, it turned out that each region found "its own" Panfilovites who served at different times. It should be so. With God’s help, when the isolation is over, I will come to Moscow to present the book. You will see everything with your own eyes.
- What archives did you work in?
- I worked in the Podolsk archive of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, but there were not many documents; in the wonderful archive of the Institute of Russian History, there are about thirty interviews from 1942-1946; in the Central State Archive of the Republic of Kazakhstan; in the Central State Archive of the Kyrgyz Republic. The copies of documents that were in Podolsk were preserved in our Almaty archive, but in Podolsk, they were not preserved. When the first information war began against the Panfilov’s Men in the late 1940s, to which many today refer, the military prosecutor’s office and the KGB seized documents from Podolsk and “forgot” to return it. Therefore, journalists cannot find them there.
Even during the war, the Moscow City Committee of the Communist Party ordered the Academy of Sciences, the Institute of History to do interviews with the most prominent soldiers from the guard divisions. The Commission, led by Academician Isaac Mintz, complied with this order. First of all, they were looking for Panfilovites, because at that time their fame was booming. Soviet writer Alexander Bek, who wrote the book ‘Volokolamskoye Shosse’, joined in the work. The book was published in 1943. It tells about the feat of the Soviet soldiers and commanders from the first battalion of 1073 Rifle regiment of the 316 Rifle Division under the command of senior lieutenant Bauyrzhan Momyshuly.
Bek recorded the stories of Momyshuly, a stern and tough man, and then confirmed with his signature the consent for publication. However, this сopy was lost. Knowing Momyshuly’s character, Beck hesitated for a long time before telling him about the loss of the written book. Nevertheless, the conversation took place, and he started his work once again. Of course, when you write a book for a second time, it turns out to be a bit different ...
In several countries, the Volokolamskoye Shosse book is on the military’s educational programs, while in China it is on the list for reading by members of the Chinese Communist Party.
- Laila Seisembekovna, you are a permanent participant of the Victors’ Forum. In your opinion, what role does this forum play in preserving the memory of the Victory?
- I express my deep gratitude to the government of the Russian Federation, which, together with social activists, is organizing the international forum "The Great Victory, Achieved through Unity." Representatives of all 15 former union republics gather annually. These are people who will stand for their fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers to the end. When you look into their eyes, a feeling of pride arises and eyes are filling up with tears. This is a gratitude for the feat of our fathers and the whole country, our common homeland. This is the most unforgettable experience. I would love that more of us gather with each passing year and that we would be worthy of our great ancestors.