by Patrick Fearon-Hernandez, CFA
If you ever find yourself in Volgograd, Russia, you will visit Rodina Mat’ Zovyot. It’s unavoidable. The statue, depicting Mother Russia calling her sons to battle against her invaders, is one of the tallest in the world. Standing almost 280 feet high, she is nearly twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty. Her colossal height is accentuated by her position at the summit of Mamayev Kurgan, the high ground overlooking Volgograd, whose great, grassy green slopes were fertilized by the blood of a quarter-million Soviet soldiers who died defending it from the invading Nazis during World War II, when the city was still known as Stalingrad.
You never know when you’re about to have an experience that will stay in your memory, and haunt you, for the rest of your life. Such was the moment when I first entered the glittering round chamber below the statue, where an eternal flame keeps alive the memory of the 20 million or so Russians who died in the war. I entered just at the beginning of the ceremony marking the changing of the guard. Young Russian soldiers in ill-fitting uniforms and black jack boots marched in painfully slow goose steps up the ramp around the perimeter of the chamber to relieve the previous sentries of their duty. It was impressive in the extreme. But, more than anything, I remember the haunting, plaintive choral music playing in the background (see this video). It perfectly expressed the quiet calm and peace that all who suffer in war must yearn for, if only in death. But when I asked my guide what the song was, I was flabbergasted by her reply: “Daydreams, by Schumann.”
What?! A Russian World War II memorial playing the music of a German composer? How could it be?