Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Friday, December 30, 2016

Hey, Khren!

I want to share a passage from A Writer At War:  Vasily Grossman with the Red Army, 1941-1945, by Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova.  The book contains passages from Vasily Grossman's wartime writings, with copious explanatory text.  I'll share some other passages that are horrifying, but this one is fun.

By way of background, the Germans at this point have pushed the Soviet defenders of Stalingrad to a narrow strip of land along the Volga River.  The other bank of the river is under control of the Soviets, and they resupply the defenders with barges, but the crossing is very dangerous.  To supplement the supplies, and to harass the Germans, Soviet pilots using training planes (apparently called U-2s), which are unsuitable for combat, fly over the city at night, cutting their engines so that they fly silently.  For the Soviet soldiers, they bring food and ammunition.  For the Germans, bombs tumbling out of the sky with no warning (remember the planes were running silent), haunting their sleep.  By the way, most of these pilots are women, and I like to imagine the pilot in the following anecdote is a woman.

Here's Grossman:

During the night, U-2s drop food for our troops. We mark the front line with oil lamps (flat dishes), which the soldiers light on the bottom of trenches. Company Commander Khrennikov once forgot to do this, and suddenly he heard a hoarse voice coming from the dark sky above: 'Hey, Khren! Are you going to light those lamps or not?' That was the pilot. The engine had been switched off. Khrennikov says this made a terrifying impression on him: a voice from the sky calling his name.
Fun story, right?  It gets better.  Here is the editors' note on the passage:

'Khren' in Russian means horseradish, but it is also a euphemism for an insult similar to 'motherfucker'. So when the pilot shouted, 'Hey, motherfucker!' Khrennikov was astonished at hearing what he thought was his own name.
There are a million stories like this in the book.  However dire things got for the Soviets, they don't seem to have lost their sense of humor.

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