I am in your living room, yet you know not of the horrors I have witnessed.
Tula, 1940… the month is not important, because my production was unrushed. Aside from the recent Winter War with Finland, my need was that of a tool for maintaining the tenuous peace provided by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with the fascists of Germany. The mood I experienced in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia was far from the serene images portrayed in the propaganda of the Party, however. Accusations of conspiracy against Stalin and the Soviet people provided the justification for invasion, and the people of these Baltic countries chose a stifling cooperation over force.
1941 started in misery. The teachings and speeches of the politruks did little to sate the hunger of the poorly-trained soldiers. I was carried along by one of these aspiring political officers until false words resulted in him being disarmed and sent to a penal battalion. His naïve devotion to his ideology proved only that the latter will crush the former, if the lie was even close to belief.
Soon thereafter, somewhere near Smolensk, I was an accessory used to dispatch several hundred of the four thousand Polish officers interned by the Soviets. The reason was as unclear then as it is now, but paranoia gripped the hands of the soldiers who carried me as tightly as their hands clutched at my stock. I was fired at shadows, at fellow Soviets lacking in proper enthusiasm, at livestock for sustenance… and when there were no livestock, dogs and rats.
When the fascists finally did cast aside any restraints, they did so quickly. My division – the 56th Rifle – existed only as an empty number soon after the first shots were fired. I changed hands in fear and panic. When I wasn’t passed around, I rested in the cold puddles of mud that seeped eastward. Steadily east. Men with only a handful of cartridges would find me, heat me with their anger and terror, and cast me off either intentionally or inability to cling to anything, including life. Then, I would be picked up once again. From the forests to nearly the shadows of the domes of St. Basil’s, the cycle repeated itself incessantly. The sounds of artillery… Katyushas… hasty coarse orders… and silence only in the ears of the dead.
Winter brought in ’42 with snow stained blood. Frozen blood often jammed my mechanisms, and every so often, I received the proper maintenance with makeshift tools and sparingly small amounts of vodka and thawed oil. My home, Tula, had been stripped of industry to be relocated in a less dangerous area, but I was not as fortunate. “Everything for the front, everything for victory” was printed everywhere, there, and I was “everything”.
Order Number 227 from Stalin declared “not one step back”. Those that did were met with gunfire from the direction of retreat. I was on both ends several times. It did not matter whether the order came from Stalin, Hitler, Halder, or Kuznetsov nor did it matter if the victim was from Moscow, Berlin, Kiel or Kiev – lives were cut short because of orders. Kiev… I ended up there in marshes, from Moscow in the snow. We moved fast, we moved far, and we usually moved on foot… because we had to.
1943. I was a prop for Nazi commandos. Collected from the dead on the banks of the Don by Brandenburgers, I accentuated the appearance of NKVD soldiers and toured Maikop. Later, the defenders of that town were convinced that the Germans were attacking and fled at the urgings of these counterfeit political police. This was the farthest the Germans managed, however, and progress westward began – only to be bogged down in Stalingrad.
The namesake for the Supreme Soviet, Stalingrad could have been called a meatgrinder to be more appropriate. Again, the days and nights blurred as did the hands that held me. Only the strobe of artillery or my own muzzle flash provided the grisly clarity of the desperate violence of those months. Scenery of blasted out factories… burned out houses… rubble… ditches… All decorated with the nationless dead – male and female, young and old. Never was my bayonet removed. Cleaning was rushed, and often interrupted for hasty reassembly and engagement. Gunpowder, dust, and blood.
Progress west in ’44 was swift, but no less terrible. Missing Kursk, the encirclement, and subsequent obliteration of the fascists there, west I went. Blood of Nazis, Communists, civilians and partisans followed me. From Dnipropetrovsk… Oleksandriya… Zhytomyr… Lviv… and onto Kraków, Poland where we paused on the banks of the Vistula. Briefly, I entered service with the 1st Polish Army – controlled by Communists – in an attempt to regain control of Warsaw during the uprising, but “controlled by” and “assisted by” are feeble terms when it comes to the fidelity of Soviets.
Onward. Ownership shifted as quickly as alliances in the Balkans. My bolt was worked by Soviets, partisans, members of the 1st Proletarian Corps, random fascists… all thirsting for vengeance, and few halting for conscience. Romanian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Yugoslav… the hands, like the scenery shifted in a rapid haze of advance.
1945. Faster now as the twilight of the “1000-year Reich” accelerated in its implosion slowly crushed by iron from the east and west. Across the Oder in trucks into Budapest… Across the Danube on foot and into Vienna. The memories of the atrocities committed by the Nazis in Russia are replayed by the Soviets on into Germany proper. The hands that raised me in jubilation in the streets of Berlin on the 7th of May belonged to a former farmer – unable to read print, but able to read the battlefield. We had reached the headwaters of the river of blood that had flowed freely for the last five years.
After the fall of Berlin, my necessity was far from vital. My brothers and I trained to fight the new enemy, our former allies during the Great Patriotic War. Slowly, we were replaced by the newer SKS and later, the AK-47. We were kept in reserve, and some continued to fight. Korea. Vietnam. Cambodia. Angola. Egypt. Afghanistan. Syria. Refurbished at Ukrainian arsenals, we all waited for the next call. Those not chosen to be commodified into regional conflicts ended up as commerce of history. Created under Communism and shipped to be bought and sold by Capitalists, we were crated, shipped, and stored… until the author of the next chapter in our existence came along.
Now, I am in your living room. You don’t know my story, nor do you really want to – regardless of how much you think you do… because people don’t kill people…
I kill people.