"They say a farmer is attached to the soil and to his native village. And of course it's very true. But I'll tell you this: our Russian worker is no less attached to his factory and his work. I have been at the works here since 1914, when I was no more than a boy. My father before me and many of our family worked here too. I shall never leave the works of my own free will, unless of course the Soviet authorities say I must.When the Germans began to close in on our city, do you know how many of our workers joined the Volunteer Corps? They made up a whole division! Many have been killed, but even now there are units in the army, where our Putilov lads are in the majority."
All this was told to me by Comrade Muzheinik, a veteran worker of the Putilov Workswhich played such an important part in the Russian revolutionary movement and now bears the name of Sergei Kirov, a prominent leader of the Soviet state. The Volunteer Corps Muzheinik mentioned has indeed earned itself a glorious reputation for its part in the defence of Leningrad, shielding the city at the decisive moment with the bodies of its soldiers. The superbly equipped German army, which had spent years preparing for this war and had behind it two years' combat experience in Western Europe and the Balkans, was halted at the walls of Leningrad. And not only halted--suffering tremendous losses in men and equipment, it had to dig in and was pushed back on a number of sectors. This is a historical fact which future generations will regard with awe and admiration.
"We sent our people to fight in the Volunteer Corps," Muzheinik continued, "but we couldn't help wondering what would happen if the enemy broke into the city and cut us off from the works. What should we do then? And we decided not to surrender the works under any circumstances and to prepare for all-round defense. So we built fortifications around the works to be able to defend it ourselves if the worst comes to the worst. And apart from the Volunteer Corps, we organized self-defens units. Come what may, we Kirov people will never abandon the works. Sometimes one wonders just how many of us Kirov folk there are. Certainly there are far more of us than are on the books. For all the people of Narva district are Putilov folk in one way or another, all have something to do with the works, all belong to the same big family. There are countless numbers of us. Just take this one thing--so many people have joined the Volunteer Corps, and yet work goes on. All equipment and all regular workers have been evacuated to the east, and yet work goes on."
"I don't suppose the workers liked the idea of leaving their native city for the rear?" I asked. "As far as I am aware several thousand of them were evacuated by plane, and that means they could only take along a few bare necessities."
"Some liked it more, some less," Muzheinik answered with a smile. "But on the whole they did not make much ado about going. You may wonder why. Simply because Kirov workers know full well that neither Leningrad nor their works will ever submit to the enemy, and that the Kirov workers, if anybody, will certainly return to their native parts. We're still evacuating people even now--children, the old and the sick. When they object, we say: 'Don't you worry, you'll come back as soon as possible. The works will remain where it is, nothing will happen to it.' " Muzheinik uttered these words with such profound conviction as could not but command respect. "And we also tell them: 'You're going to your own people, to Kirov folk. We're all one.' And it makes us proud to hear that over there they work not merely just as well as here, but two or three times better. We are proud of them and we envy them. See that shop? Huge, isn't it. But it is standing empty." He sighed sadly. "Do you know what it is? It's the turbine shop. I started off there in 1914. ... It's a grand shop! They've been shelling it something terrible, but there it stands."
I was one of a group of writers, most of us army correspondents, come to inspect the works. It lay before us spread over an enormous territory, like a whole city. This veteran of Russian industry presented at once a majestic and tragic sight. Throughout the blockade it had been subjected to incessant bombing and shelling, and was scarred and damaged all over. But it held out, and was fighting back. It stood in the second line of the front, as it were, but it was a second line of such importance that the enemy concentrated its fire on it. The works, within its ring of fortifications, was neat and tidy. Some of the shops were empty, some were still working. Everywhere painful traces of destruction met the eye--broken walls, collapsed roofs, empty window-frames and shell cratersin the yard. But the chimneys smoked busily. Of course, as compared to peace time, work was not exactly in full swing as was only to be expected, but it nevertheless remained an important arms factory employing several thousand workers. And the sounds of whirring lathes, the roaring of furnaces, the rumbling of rolling mills and the hoots of a small locomotive shunting in the yard was sweet music to our ears.
The iron foundry, one of the biggest workshops, showed many traces of heavy artillery hits, some old, some quite fresh, but work in this vast shop went on non-stop round the clock.
Once, when a fire broke out, Konstantin Skobnikov, the forty-three-year-old shop manager fought the flames with a group of workers, while work in the shop went on. With the agility of a young man he climbed onto the roof followed by other members of the self-styled fire-brigade. They worked like Trojans, without a thought for themselves and losing all track of time. When the fire was finally put out and it was clear that the workshop had been saved, Skobnikov was surprised to discover that his hands were bleeding and his face burnt.
"Well, damn it, I built this shop," he told us with an amused smile on his lively, sun-burnt face. "You might say the shop is a part of me: I built it twelve years ago and have been working here ever since. Spent practically all my mature years here."
"Remember how we cleaned it up in the spring, Konstantin Mikhailovich?" asked the very ancient, white-haired foreman who accompanied us on our tour of the shop.
"There were mountains of rubbish," Skobnikov responded chuckling. "And everything covered with ice-pretty discouraging, I can tell you. I must admit when we started I had my doubts as to whether we'd really ever be able to do it. We carted out mountains of junk."
"So there was a period when the shop was not working?" I asked.
"Yes, there was. There was a time when I lived here all by myself."
"How do you mean, lived?"
"Oh, I live right here. My family has been evacuated. In winter I had an iron stove, and I got what heat I could from it. It was silent as the grave all around: the only sound was the wind whistling through the broken windows. Snow had swept in, and everything was covered with hoar-frost. There were moments when I doubted that the shop would ever revive again."
"But what did you do all those long days and nights?"
"In the day-time I was busy enough: there is plenty of work to be done here in Leningrad. Evenings I sat alone and thought or read books."
"What did you think about? What did you read?"