Today’s blogpost is eerily appropriate, because recently I and several commentators have been discussing vigorously the nature of the Nazi regime and Russo-German relations.
My story is a sad one, it is always sad when heroes die.
According to this piece, Ivan Lysenko has died at the age of 98. Lysenko was a war veteran who participated in the storming of the Nazi Reichstag in 1945. Lysenko ended his life in the town of Krasnaya Gora in the Bryansk Oblast. Bryansk is a typical Russian city, just 380 kilometers Southwest of Moscow.
Lysenko’s funeral will be held tomorrow, the last day of December, in his native town. He will be buried with military honors. His funeral will be attended by leaders of veterans organizations and local dignitaries.
The Storming of the Reichstag
During the War, Lysenko was a member of a reconnaissance unit which seized the Reichstag in Berlin, in the spring of 1945. Ironically, Lysenko was the oldest member of this unit, but went on to become its last survivor.
The best-known Reichstag heroes are the soldiers Nikolai Egorov and Meliton Kantaria, who appeared in the iconic photo of the raising of the “Victory Banner”. This photo is to Russians what the Iwo Jima photo is to Americans. Both photos have interesting histories and are not always what they seem. Both photos have been re-touched and re-packaged over the years. Both images were used for propaganda purposes, which does not detract from their basic authenticity and legitimacy. In their time they represented successful visual “packages” of what people believed and aspired to. And both represent the important concept of Military Victory over a seemingly invincible foe.
Origins of the Victory Banner
While the unit of Egorov/Kantaria received deserved acclaim for their actions, and for planting the flag, they were not the only unit which participated in the storming of the Reichstag. Historian Herman Goncharov has spent the last 15 years researching the various units which contributed to this successful action.
Studying material in the archives and interviewing participants, Goncharov learned that the Military Reconnaissance unit headed by Grigory Petrovich Bulatov (aka “Grishka Reichstag”) was the first to arrive at the Reichstag on 30 April 1945. Members of the unit were equipped with several home-made banners, and it was their assignment to plant them in a prominent place on the building. Lysenko, who belonged to this unit, planted his banner on the pediment of the second floor of the Reichstag. The men then fought their way up to the roof of the building, and a second banner, in Bulatov’s possession, was attached to an equine sculpture on the roof of the Reichstag. This momentous event took place on 30 April, 1945, at 14:25 o’clock, and was the “first planting” of the Victory Banner on the roof.
The following day, 1 May, at 03:00 o’clock in the morning, Egorov and Kantaria planted their banner on the roof, and the photo of this event became the defining image of Soviet victory in the war. The Egorov/Kantaria banner is also known as the “One True Banner”, and either it, or a copy of it, has been carried in every Soviet and Russian military parade since, comemmorating the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.
Of the members of the Bulatov Reconnaissnce Unit, Ivan Lysenko was the only member who was awarded the “Hero of the Soviet Union medal”, the highest possible honor that could be awarded by the Soviet state. Only 12,700 people in all were ever awarded this medal. Lysenko’s award was not only for his role in the storming of the Reichstag, but also because he was also able to capture two Nazi generals alive.
According to researchers, with Lysenko’s death, the only remaining “Reichstag” heroes among the living are the following, along with their current places of residence: Yakov Fadeev (Moldavia), Ivan Podvorny (Belorussia), Georgy Artemenkov (Belorussia), Vasily Korzanov (Estonia), Fedor Bakumenko (Kazakhstan), Boris Zolotarevsky (Israel), Nikolai Rodionov (Russia), and Boris Vigderhaus (Russia).