Fifty Years Later, Russia Finally Honoring World War II Hero
May. 03, 1995
MOSCOW (AP) _ When a triumphant Georgy Zhukov rode into Red Square on a white horse 50 years ago, he was a hero even Josef Stalin couldn't kill.
But the jealous dictator did the next best thing: He exiled the Soviet Union's greatest World War II commander to the backwaters of the empire and to the back pages of its history books.
Now, five decades later, Moscow on Monday will unveil a huge monument to Marshal Zhukov, who saved the Russian capital and dealt German ground forces their first defeat. He broke the siege of Leningrad, defeated the Nazis at Stalingrad, led the drive that captured Berlin _ and dutifully credited the ``genius'' of Stalin for it all.
Victory Day, the May 9 anniversary of the victory in what is still known here as the Great Patriotic War, is the most hallowed holiday for most Russians. Few families were untouched by the war that claimed nearly 27 million lives in the former Soviet Union.
With Stalin still in disgrace, Russians in search of a hero are looking back to Zhukov, who rallied the defenders of Moscow with an order many still remember: ``Not a step back! Halt the fascists! Do not let them reach Moscow! Every man must fight like 10.''
The government has created special Zhukov medals for World War II veterans, and President Boris Yeltsin has approved an Order of Zhukov that will be Russia's highest military honor.
``Russia has a debt to my father, and now this debt is being repaid,'' said Margarita Zhukova, the marshal's 65-year-old daughter. ``All of Russia, and maybe even the world, has been waiting a long time for this monument.''
Although his wartime role was officially played down by the Soviet press, Zhukov was recognized in the West as the architect of the Soviet Union's victory.
``To no one man do the united nations owe a greater debt than to Marshal Zhukov,'' said his American counterpart, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The American people elected Eisenhower president; Stalin sent Zhukov to a minor military command at Odessa.
``Stalin was jealous of Zhukov. He thought that giving glory to Zhukov took away glory from Stalin,'' said retired Gen. Dmitry Volkogonov, a Stalin biographer and Russia's top military historian.
``In the West, they'd say all the operations went well because Zhukov thought them up, Zhukov planned them, Zhukov ran them. Stalin was pushed back behind the scenes. Stalin never forgave this.''
At one point, Stalin's henchmen even fabricated a case against Zhukov, which would have been a sure death sentence. But Zhukov was considered too popular and powerful within the military to kill.
After Stalin's death, Zhukov's career was revived by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who made him defense minister in 1955. Although Zhukov supported him in a battle with his opponents in the Communist Party, Khrushchev fired him in 1957.
``Like Josef Stalin before him, Khrushchev was uneasy about the authority Zhukov had,'' the marshal's daughter said.
After Zhukov's ouster, his military accomplishments were belittled by former colleagues and underlings, who said he had simply carried out Stalin's orders. He was criticized for ruthlessly pursuing glory at all costs, despite enormous casualties.
``My father didn't like to talk about this period of his life very much,'' said Zhukova, who has led the campaign to erect the monument.
Under Leonid Brezhnev, Zhukov's reputation was rehabilitated, but he had a mostly quiet life until his death on June 18, 1974. He was buried along the Kremlin Wall on Red Square with full honors.
Zhukov's daughter would like the 18-foot-tall bronze monument of the marshal on his horse to be on Red Square, the site of the 1945 Victory Day parade he led. Moscow authorities decided to put it outside the History Museum on nearby Manezh Square.
She says Communist leaders seeking her support in next year's presidential elections have promised to relocate the monument if they win.
``But I declined this offer, and I think the people themselves will move this monument to Red Square with their bare hands,'' she said.