January 13, 2015

1943. The Women Doing the Labor in Moscow

Winter on the Home Front
"Women in the universal military training program marching in Moscow, Russia, late 1941" (Ivan Shagin, Russian International News Agency - source)
The parentheses indicate portions that did not pass Soviet censors for military or propaganda reasons.

(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports.)
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

 January 20, 1943

There's an army of women in Moscow which you have probably never heard of before. They are several thousand strong and made up of housewives and stenographers and clerks who are called into action by the government. Their weapons are picks and scrapers and shovels. Their enemy is the Moscow winter. And their objective is to remove as much ice and snow as possible from the city's streets and sidewalks.

These women have no uniforms. They just pile on as many clothes as possible wearing two or three coats and sweaters until they look like animated sacks of potatoes. (They wrap a couple of shawls around their heads, and about all you can see of their faces is the red tips of their noses. There are no styles in wartime Russia. Everyone dresses as warmly as possible and forgets what they look like.)

It's a tough job they do, and an unpleasant one. But these women are as tough as any American pioneer woman who thought nothing of doing a day's plowing back in the days when we were building a country. These Russian women work in the cold streets all day picking away at the packed ice and snow, clearing a few square yards at a time and carting the ice off in sleds.

It's an important job they're doing. Besieged Leningrad found that out when her ice-choked streets finally burst sewers and disabled public services.

By closely observing this daily battle against the snow, you can pretty well tell how all of Moscow feels about things. When the Red Army isn't doing so well, this army of women prod viciously at the ice. They glare at pedestrians and at each other. They don't do much talking, even when they stop for a breather.

But in the past few weeks, when the Red Army is advancing, you can almost time the increasing rate at which the shovels shovel and the picks pick and the sleds full of ice are pulled away.

Today the girls reached an all-time high. My favorite squad is a group of middle-aged women who are led by a short, stocky grey-haired grandmother. She was chipping away at the street as if it was a German fortification. Her two grandchildren, a boy and a girl who often accompany her to work, were putting the ice on their sled and putting it where it could be taken away.

Every time I've walked past this group, I have always stopped and talked to the kids. We're great friends, although we don't understand each other. Grandma, however, has never even given me a look.

The victory at Leningrad, however, has made everyone here so happy that I scored my own personal victory with Grandma. When I walked past on my way to the broadcasting studio, she looked up, smiled, and spoke to me.

It made me feel pretty good. And "pretty good" is just how the entire Soviet Union is feeling during its army's tremendous winter offensive.