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  • Video Review: The Dawns Here Are Quiet

    Posted by David Foster on May 17th, 2020 (All posts by )

    This is both a 2015 Russian WWII TV series and a 1972 Russian movie, both based on the same novel.  The original movie is apparently considered a classic in Russia; so much so that making a new version was viewed as almost blasphemous by some.

    Sergeant Vaskov is in charge of an antiaircraft battery in a (so far) quiet area.  His troops have been a drunken and quarrelsome lot, and when they are swapped out and sent to the front, he asks for replacements who will not drink and carouse with the local women so excessively.  He is surprised and initially dismayed when the replacements show up and they are all women…girls, really, just out of AA gunner’s training.

    The movie starts out with a rather light tone, but quickly darkens.  Two German paratroopers—apparently saboteurs targeting a vital transportation junction—are spotted in the woods, and Vaskov takes five of his women and goes out after them.  It turns out that there are actually a lot more of the enemy than two…sixteen, in fact…and stopping them will be practically a mission impossible for Vaskov and his five newly-minted AA gunners.

    I first watched the recent TV series, which has excellent cinematography and some really striking scenery. The backstories of the women and of their male commander are shown via a series of flashbacks. Lisa Britschkina, a shy girl, was sent to Siberia with her family on grounds of being Kulaks, yet she seemingly feels no conflicts about fighting for the Soviet state.  Another of the five ‘volunteers’, Sonia Gurvich, was an excellent student and loves to read poetry aloud. Her husband was killed on the first day of the war–she has a son, who is living with Sonia’s mother. Vaskov when we meet him is a rather troubled person:  his wife has left him for another man, he was wounded on his first day of battle and has guilt feelings about now being assigned to this relatively-safe backwater in the midst of a war for national survival.

    I don’t want to include any spoilers in this review: suffice it to say that this isn’t a strong-and-independent-female-superhero movie. The women accomplish remarkable things, but they and Vaskov are a true team.  Some of the scenes and events seem improbable, but the story draws you in and the characters will not be easily forgotten.

    I was curious as to how the 1972 movie would compare with the more recent series…watched it, and was pleasantly surprised–I was expecting a lot more heavy-handed Soviet propaganda than was in it.  The use of color in this film is interesting: most of it is in black & white, but the flashbacks…most of which refer to the time before the war..are in color. The story is pretty close to that in the 2015 series; the portrayal of the characters, particularly the women, is pretty different–for one thing, those in the 1972 movie seem even younger, and act (at least initially) rather girlier.  One backstory is notably different in this version–that of Lisa Britschkina–the part about her family having been sent to Siberia isn’t there.  (I’m not sure if it was in the original novel, but based on when it was published (1969) I’m guessing not.)  In both versions, some of the women smart off toward Vaskov in a way which they seem unlikely to have been gotten away with in the 1940s or for that matter today, even with a leader as fundamentally kindly as he is portrayed as being.

    One objection some Russians have to the recent video is that it is “too Hollywood-ized”…this is a fair criticism of the action scenes near the end, but not, I think, of the whole thing.  Both versions are worth seeing.

    I’m preaching largely to the converted here, but–we should always keep in mind, when watching Russian WWII films or reading books on the same subject, that the great heroism demonstrated by so many Russians, and the fact that they were allied with America, do not negate the extreme evil of the Soviet regime.

     

     

     

    25 Responses to “Video Review: The Dawns Here Are Quiet

    1. Gringo Says:

      I’m preaching largely to the converted here, but–we should always keep in mind, when watching Russian WWII films or reading books on the same subject, that the great heroism demonstrated by so many Russians, and the fact that they were allied with America, do not negate the extreme evil of the Soviet regime.

      I have read that at the beginning, Soviet civilians treated Germans as liberators. Had German troops treated Russians/Ukrainians/etc. halfway decently, they would have had a lot more Russians/Ukrainians etc. fighting on their side. But treating them decently went against the Nazi view of Russians as underlings/untermenschen.

    2. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

      @ Gringo – Part of their intent was killing 30,000,000 Slavs of all sorts if they could. Just rounding them up and letting them starve by denying exit, 100K at a time was one idea.

      It’s hard not to immediately think of “And Quiet Flows The Dawn,” though Dawn/Don wouldn’t be the homophones in Russian.

    3. David Foster Says:

      Gringo…”I have read that at the beginning, Soviet civilians treated Germans as liberators.” I think this depended on *where* in the Soviet Union, and what the previous experiences of the particular individuals had been.

      In the memoirs of Soviet pilot Anna Egorova, she speaks of a real sense of optimism and hope for the future among young people of her circle (students even volunteering…real volunteers) to work on the Moscow subway without pay…not surprising many were eager to sign up for the military when the war began Quite different, I’m sure, among people in areas subjected to Stalin’s starvation tactics, or national minorities whose identities were brutally suppressed.

      Also, there seems to be a natural human tendency to defend the entity to which one belongs, even sometimes when one’s prior experience with that entity has not been very positive. For example, I’ve read that when the American Civil War began, some American Indians were quick to sign up with the Union Army, despite the fact that few of them had any real cause to love the Federal government.

    4. MCS Says:

      To get to Russia, the Germans had to go through the Western Republics that had borne the brunt of the purges and terrors from 1917 on. There would have been many survivors that would have welcomed the Germans if given a chance. Many were ethnic Germans (one of the reasons they were considered unreliable). The Germans didn’t give them a chance and weren’t interested in them as anything except possible slave laborers. Their race policies considered them as barely above Jews, in need of extermination to free up territory for the expanded Reich.

      I watched the series on Amazon a few years ago and was impressed too.

    5. Kirk Says:

      I remember thinking once that there were ways that the Germans could have won WWII, or at least, done a hell of a lot better than they did.

      Thing is, they’d have had to been something other than German Nazis to make most of it happen.

      One of the weird dynamics that I’ve never seen explored in any counterfactual histories is the fact that the Nazis initially wanted to ally with the Poles in order to get at the Soviets. They got turned down fairly flatly, and that played into a lot of the Nazi attitudes towards the Poles, later on.

      The question I’ve always wondered about, in terms of “What would have happened…” is if Poland had actually gone in with the Nazis, and allowed them to either use their territory to attack, or joined in with them as allies in the same way that the Finns did. The outcome of the war might have been the same, but getting from 1939 to 1945 would have been along an entirely different track.

      In some ways, Hitler and the Nazis were seriously tone-deaf to the way their plans and actions played in other countries. Had they been a bit more, shall we say, “circumspect” about things, they could have built their “Thousand-year Reich” and at a much lower cost. All they had to do was shut up about the whole racial superiority thing, and bide their time until later on to enact those genocidal policies. Hell, if they’d have had brains, they’d have come in as liberators, armed up the Ukraine and everyone else that hated the Soviets/ethnic Russians, and then used those poor bastards as cannon fodder against the Soviets, literally killing two birds with one stone. With a little judicious planning, most of the manhood of the Ukraine and Byelorussia could have been used up in attrition campaigns against the Soviets, and then it would be a simple matter in the post-war era to casually lose most of the rest of the population in all the confusion and disruption. Having to resort to mass murder was just sloppy sociopathy.

      When you get down to it, Hitler was a parvenu; someone like one of the more Machiavellian Roman Emperors would have managed the conquest and integration of those territories so seamlessly as to look inevitable. Done right, the Germans could have made themselves look like humanitarian liberators fighting the Godless Communists, and still gotten their Lebensraum free of Slavic imprint.

      Psychopathic incompetents, the lot of them. For the Germans to win, they’d need not to be German or Nazi.

    6. MCS Says:

      After they were liberated by the Red Army, the survivors were subjected to many reprisals and purges, especially the resistance. Stalin’s reasoning, to the extent he needed a reason to murder or enslave people, was that by failing to die in defense of the Soviet, the people had displayed disloyalty and that the resistance, some of which actually did switch from attacking the Germans to the Russians were an intolerable security risk. Stalin eventually sent many of the soldiers that fought their way back as well as most of the few surviving POWs to the Gulag because they were witness to the initial failure and had had an even infinitesimal taste of life in the West.

      After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there was a good reason that a lot of the ethnic Russians hi tailed it back to the Mother Land.

    7. David Foster Says:

      MCS…the attack pilot Anna Egorova, whose memoirs I linked a few comments up, was finally shot down and held as a POW by the Germans. When she was liberated by advancing Soviet forces, she was turned over to SMERSH, interrogated, called a Fascist Bitch, and so forth. Eventually she was released, but the Soviet State demanded repayment of the pension that had been paid to her mother when it was believed that she had been killed.

    8. Gavin Longmuir Says:

      Thank you for the recommendation, Mr. F. I will be sure to check it out.

      Kirk: “… the Nazis initially wanted to ally with the Poles in order to get at the Soviets. They got turned down fairly flatly …”

      At the instruction of Congress, the Library of Congress in 1945 printed a chronological history, 1931-1945 titled “Events Leading Up To World War II”, relying heavily on diplomatic documents. This history shows that a major motivation for Germany was the unification of all the German-speaking people, including eventually the German population of the Free City of Danzig (Gdansk). The Polish government repeatedly rejected proposals from Germany for land swops — perhaps emboldened by English & French promises of support.

      President Hoover in his anti-FDR book “Freedom Betrayed” lambasted the English & French decision to start World War II by declaring war on Germany when it invaded Poland. This was followed by the English & French cosmic hypocrisy of looking the other way when the USSR also invaded Poland a few days later. No matter how hard Anglophiles try to justify their angels dancing on the heads of pins, that failure to hold the USSR and Germany to the same standard was morally repugnant.

      Arguably, Germany almost matched the English level of stupidity when Germany declared war on the US after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. If there ever was a time for a duplicitous abandonment of an ally, that was it! Germany could have renounced the alliance with Japan and kept the US out of the European war. As Victor Davis Hanson concludes in his book “The Second World Wars”, when Germany & Japan took on the USA, the USSR, and what was left of the British Empire, the outcome was inevitable — they were simply out-manned, out-manufactured, out-resourced.

      In retrospect, Germany definitely had over-estimated its own capabilities and under-estimated its opponents. As Sun Tzu advised long ago, the key to winning is: “know your enemy, know yourself”. I fear that today too many of us are similarly under-estimating China.

    9. David Foster Says:

      Gavin…”This history shows that a major motivation for Germany was the unification of all the German-speaking people, including eventually the German population of the Free City of Danzig (Gdansk). The Polish government repeatedly rejected proposals from Germany for land swops — perhaps emboldened by English & French promises of support.”

      I can imagine that an earlier German regime…Kaiser Wilhelm I plus Bismarck or even Kaiser Wilhelm II plus his various flunkies…would have been satisfied with such a deal, but it’s hard to imagine that the Nazi regime, with their racial obsessions, would have been willing to say, “OK, then, now we can have peace.”

    10. Kingsnake Says:

      The goal of all totalitarians / dictators is first obtaining power. Second, retaining power. Third, increasing power. Literally nothing else matters. Thus, when Iraq got thrashed in the Gulf War I, and everyone laughed that “Saddam lost”, I was like nope: He won. He was still in power. (Obviously, that changed 12 years later when Gulf War II kicked off and he found himself dangling. Of course, power more so than nature abhores a vacuum, and Saddam was merely replaced by more of his ilk, who now have the same three imperatives I outlined above.

    11. Grurray Says:

      Hell, if they’d have had brains, they’d have come in as liberators

      I agree with this, and it’s something that doesn’t get a lot of attention in the modern politically correct environment. The Germans were well on their way to seizing the oil fields of Azerbaijan, and they had made contact with the indigenous rebel movements that seem to be a permanent fixture in the Caucasus region. This would’ve not only opened up more supply lines to the stalled Russia campaign, but it might have also relieved the pressure on Rommel in North Africa. Assuming things fell into place and the Wehrmacht could continue to absorb local forces, then an encirclement and conquest of the Mediterranean would not have been out the question before Americans ever made it to Casablanca. We know that they had the Arabs on their side, for obvious reasons.

      In addition to that, the northern flank held the most hope for sustained success. The Russians had already been routed by the Finns, allies of the Germans, in the Winter War. The German fighting retreat in the Baltics, such as with the Battle of Narva, showed that the Russians couldn’t easily attack the craggy terrain (ahem, attention NATO) and that the Russians had trouble operating outside of the steppes and without precious British intelligence. Conceding the flat middle ground and flanking them turns the Russian traditional defense-in-depth advantage against them.

      Instead Hitler was too dumb or too crazy or both to consider non-Aryans to be anything other than slave labor or cannon fodder, and he was too fixated on Soviet cities. He steered his army into the teeth of the Russians, forever cementing himself as the most infamous madman in history. Not that I’m lamenting this fact. It goes without saying that I’m glad he lost. We definitely made our share of blunders too, so we needed all that help. I suppose it was too bound up with the concept of Lebensraum and the Nazi movement in the first place, but I do believe Germany had a good chance of winning early had they not been a racist state.

    12. Kirk Says:

      When you look at a lot of the German decisions under the Nazis, there is so much that’s illogical and counterproductive that it becomes easier to pick out the things they did that made sense…

      In a macro sense, much of the “Nazi problem” had much to owe to Hitler’s apparently instinctive “Divide and conquer” methodology of running the state: If there was a way to set up competing authorities in an area, the Nazis opted for it. While this is a great way to prevent the rise of competing power centers internally, it leads to a lot of duplicative and useless effort when dealing with outside threats. No little part of the eventual German defeat can be ascribed to the multitude of competing inefficiencies the Nazis encouraged.

      Then, there are the other things like the V-weapons. You have to wonder at the essential insanity of the V-2 program, where you’re taking up equivalently more of the economy and war effort than the US did with the B-29, and flinging it into what amounts to a disposable system that costs the equivalent of a B-17, and is a one-use deployment system for a 1-ton warhead. How someone could have sat through a briefing on that thing and not gone “Hey, I’m just working out some numbers on a napkin, here, but…”, I will never know. The only way the V-2 program even begins to make sense is if there’s a WMD warhead to stack on top of that thing, or you are planning on missile gnomes to be building them for you for free…

      The Nazis were essentially insane, and almost nothing of their vaunted “Thousand-year Reich” was ever going to work. There’s a monograph out there that analyzes the economics behind what the Nazis wanted to do in Eastern Europe, in terms of the agricultural colonies of ethnic Germans, and in it, the author runs the numbers and predicts bankruptcy sometime in the late 1950s, even if everything the Germans had planned worked out perfectly. There was just no way to get enough out of those Lebensraum colonies to get them to support themselves, especially once you ran through all the free slave labor from the Slavs they planned on working to death.

      Much like Communism, Nazism simply doesn’t work.

    13. Tom Holsinger Says:

      The invading Nazis were initially welcomed in the Ukraine and Baltic states, and later in Moslem areas. I’m not aware of them ever being welcomed in the Russian Soviet Republic.

      See _The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food_, by Lizzie Collingham, for why the Germans were nasty from the beginning. They intended to wipe out the Soviet urban population (everywhere) so those didn’t have to be fed. This was in addition to their plans to eventually kill or drive out all the Slavs in the areas they conquered.

      The Poles wouldn’t agree to anything the Nazis wanted because they knew those were all ruses for the Germans to conquer Poland entirely. The Poles resolved to die on their feet rather than their knees. This had major effects in the 1950’s and 1980’s when the Soviets considered re-invading Poland to crush local resistance to Soviet rule – the Soviets knew the Poles would fight suicidally.

    14. Kingsnake Says:

      Tom, armed Polish resistance to the Russian lasted at least into the 1950s …

    15. Mike K Says:

      Quite different, I’m sure, among people in areas subjected to Stalin’s starvation tactics, or national minorities whose identities were brutally suppressed.

      I remember being taught in the 40s that the Ukrainians welcomed the Germans at first.

    16. Gavin Longmuir Says:

      Kirk: “You have to wonder at the essential insanity of the V-2 program …”

      The standard explanation is that Germany’s capacity to manufacture materiel exceeded its capacity to train pilots. As functioning radar was developed during WWII, the loss rate of German pilots on bombing missions became unsustainable. In the context of a Germany which was by that point losing the war, using its remaining manufacturing capacity to build usable missiles may have made more sense than building aircraft which would sit on the ground for lack of pilots.

      Whether that standard explanation makes any sense, I cannot say.

    17. miguel cervantes Says:

      same with the oun who are the ancestors of the Swoboda faction, which held three ministries in the poroshenko, they worship, stepan bandera, who had a checkered history with the germans, he was hiding out till 1957 in munich, when stashinsky shot him,

    18. Kirk Says:

      Gavin,

      The whole program, when you look at the impact on everything, just made no sense at all. The amount of agricultural input into it, in terms of producing alcohol alone…?

      The Nazis simply couldn’t do math very well, I suspect. Either that, or they ignored the implications of it all when they worked the equations. If they bothered…

      It’s difficult to work out, with all the assumptions you have to make about the value of the slave labor expended, but I believe the V-2 program probably cost the German economy about what the US spent on the B-29 and a considerable chunk of the Manhattan Project, which was actually less expensive than the B-29.

      No matter how you slice it, the V-2 was never going to really pay off. The Nazis basically subsidized post-war research for their enemies, and that’s about the only real legacy for that whole system. Start to finish, it was a vanity project that could never have managed much real strategic effect–You’ll note it was never deployed against anything in the East.

      When you look at it all, you really have to wonder if there wasn’t something there that convinced them that it was worth it. Did the Germans have some sort of WMD warhead for the V-2, or think they were going to get one? That’s the only way that program makes even the least little bit of rational strategic sense, and that’s a point that has always made me wonder about the conventional wisdom regarding their progress towards something we might consider the equivalent of an atomic bomb. Whatever that might have been…

    19. MCS Says:

      The European refugees that were instrumental to the Manhattan Project were only some of the refugees that contributed to a whole spectrum of projects. Many, but not all, were Jewish. Their fathers had had no problem supporting Germany in WWI.

      I remember reading, though I don’t remember where, that some few months of prewar U-boat production would have been the margin of victory in the Battle of the Atlantic.

      By the time the V-2 was in production, it was virtually the only way that Germany could attack England. The alcohol didn’t require petroleum which meant that it didn’t compete with other needs. The V-1 ran on gasoline. Still probably not an optimum allocation of resources, but pilots were in even shorter supply, the aircraft that could have been built instead would have been shot down as fast as they were built without the satisfaction of leaving a crater in London.

    20. Mike K Says:

      Did the Germans have some sort of WMD warhead for the V-2, or think they were going to get one? That’s the only way that program makes even the least little bit of rational strategic sense,

      From what I have read, Hitler seems to have been something of a mystic and his early success gave him more credibility than he deserved. There is also this strange German devotion to orders. Perhaps the fact that Germany was only united by Bismarck after centuries of being abused by France has something to do with it.

      I’m reading Roberts’ biography of Napoleon and he seemed always to be fighting these top heavy states like Austria which had 70 year old generals and incompetent juniors. The Prussians only got the Germans organized by mid 19th century. Maybe they had a fear of the disorganization of the German history. Their chemistry and metallurgy seemed to develop after unification so maybe a fear of losing all the progress made them too willing to follow orders.

      Wilhelm’s father was far less interested in adventures and his death, which might have been prevented, changed history. Wilhem was a peculiar sort, an Erb’s palsy arm and English cousins he was jealous of.

    21. Lex Says:

      Links do not work for me.

    22. David Foster Says:

      Lex–links fixed, should work now

    23. OBloodyHell Says:

      I’m preaching largely to the converted here, but–we should always keep in mind, when watching Russian WWII films or reading books on the same subject, that the great heroism demonstrated by so many Russians, and the fact that they were allied with America, do not negate the extreme evil of the Soviet regime

      The regime, not the people.

      This sounds like a Soviet people story, not a Soviet regime story…

      Our government certainly does some evil things, too, but our people are about as decent as anyone can be….

    24. David Foster Says:

      OBH…”This sounds like a Soviet people story, not a Soviet regime story…” I think that’s largely true….even in the 1972 film, there was less regime-worship than I would have expected.

      I’d like to read the original novel also, but it doesn’t seem to exist in English.

    25. Helian Says:

      I really enjoyed watching these, David. Thanks for the tip.

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