Panfilov’s Memorial

Panfilov War Memorial, Almaty, Kazakhstan

[Gabby Ongies]

Even though Kazakhstan is not thought of as having been a major player in the Second World War, there is a strong presence of history and pride stemming from its involvement in the war as a part of the Soviet Union. One illustration of this is Panfilov Park, where a memorial to Panfilov’s Heroes stands, commemorating their stand against the Nazis during the Battle of Dubosekovo and the defense of Moscow (Panfilov’s Twenty-Eight). And although the Soviet Union fell over twenty years ago, both the park and the memorial continue to stand today, now no longer commemorating Soviet heroes, but Kazakh heroes who happened to serve in the Red Army.

The story of Panfilov’s Heroes is one of exaggeration, as happens with many war stories, and these stories become a matter of national pride after the war is over. It starts with Ivan Vasilyevich Panfilov, a decorated war hero who fought in the Russian Civil War and Central Asia. In 1938, Panfilov became the military commissar of the Kyrgyz Republic, and later, with Russia’s entrance into World War II, the commander of the 316th Rifle Division.  The division was based in Alma Ata, and was comprised mainly of men from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. In October 1941, the Werhrmacht began its offensive on Moscow, and the regiment was called up to help defend Moscow. Over the next month, the Germans pushed the regiment back, getting closer and closer to Moscow. The regiment was pushed back to the village of Dubosekovo, where it made a stand against the Germans which would eventually be made into legend (Ivan Panfilov). As the story goes, twenty-eight men in the 1075th regiment, led by Vasily Klochkov (Brummell), fought the Germans as a group, destroying eighteen Nazi tanks and all dying in the battle (Panfilov’s Twenty-Eight). These men would later be immortalized as Panfilov’s guardsmen, and their story would be told time and time again throughout the Soviet Union. However, the accuracy of the account of the battle is debated by historians, although the facts that the 1075th regiment sustained huge losses and Panfilov’s death at the battle are acknowledged as true (Brummell). This belief that the story is inaccurate is not just a difference of opinions, but instead has a basis in the Afanaseev Report.

The Afanaseev Report, an investigation to the “Dobrobabin Affair” in 1947,  started when Ivan Dobrobabin claimed to be one of the twenty-eight guardsmen who supposedly died during the battle. His story was verified, and Dobrobabin explained that he had been captured by the Germans, escaped, and even collaborated with the Germans in his small hometown village until the end of the war, although he claimed to have never hurt anyone. Dobrobabin’s story prompted Lieutenant-General Nikolai Afanaseev to investigate the story of Panfilov’s Guardsmen, and he found that there were four other surviving guardsmen, disproving the claim that all twenty-eight guardsmen died as heroes in battle. Journalist Alexander Kritivsky, the man who supposedly documented the events of the battle and the actions of the guardsmen, admitted during the investigation that he made up most of the details in his story on the battle, a story which the rest of the Soviet Union readily believed, and the former Soviet countries continue to believe today (Panfilov’s Twenty-Eight).

In Panfilov Park there is a statue of Ivan Panfilov, flanked by both the Soviet symbol of the hammer and sickle, as well as the post-Soviet steppe eagle and sun of the independent Kazakhstan. Also located in the park is a large war memorial to Panfilov’s Guardsmen, a sculpture in which the soldiers’ profiles also form a map of the Soviet Union. The memorial is in a very patriotic style and contains a long black marble sheet with an inscription to the 601,011 Kazakhs who died in the Second World War, as well as an eternal flame to keep their memories alive. An addition was later made to the memorial to commemorate Kazakhs killed in the Russian-Afghan War, in a much more realistic and haggard style, depicting the rough and weary nature of the war. Yet, even though these memorials commemorate bloody battles and harsh times, they are a common place not only for visitors but also as a place for newlyweds to have their wedding photographs taken (Brummell).

This dichotomy is incredibly telling; although the stories behind the memorials are remembered, they have become more of a work of art than a place where people go in remembrance of the soldiers who lost their lives. It should not be surprising, however, that this has become the case. Even though Kazakhstan was involved in both campaigns as a part of the Soviet Union, the pride and the memory stemmed mainly from their place in the Soviet Union, and some of this pride has faded since Kazakhstan achieved independence. And, while there is still the memory of the Kazakhs who died in both campaigns, the number of people who remember either or both events becomes smaller every day, and the people become farther removed from the original purpose of the monuments. However, the mere existence of Panfilov Park and the war memorial helps keep the story of Panfilov’s Guardsmen alive, even if the story is more fiction than fact.


Works Cited

Brummell, Paul. Bradt Kazakhstan. Guilford, CT: Bradt Travel Guides, 2008. Wikipedia, “Ivan Panfilov.” Last modified March 15, 2012. Accessed March 15, 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_Panfilov. Wikipedia,

“Panfilov’s Twenty-Eight Guardsmen.” Last modified March 15, 2012. Accessed March 16, 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panfilov’s_Twenty-Eight_Guardsmen

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