A war-time appeal to Americans,
comparing the Volga and Mississippi rivers
6 August 1942
I just took an airplane flight over the Volga River.
The Volga is my homeland. Each new meeting with her thrills me; stepping onto her shores is just like arriving home. And now I saw the expanse of this extraordinary river from the height of clouds. Remnants of numberless lakes on water-meadows; the sandy islands of her shoals; whole ragged seas of her forest vegetation; the dark masses of the Zhigulevsky Hills. The wealth of nature combined on these shores with free and expansive settlements, human habitation, with a variety of sailing ships, with the boiling noise of large cities, with the quiet and thoughtfulness of fishing stations.
In Russian life, the Volga is like the sky and air. We breathe the Volga, we are enrapt with her. We sing the most heartfelt songs about her. We teach our children her traditions and legends.
The Volga is the homeland of daring, courage, and the people's glory.
The Volga is the homeland of Russian geniuses and talents.
From childhood, people on the Volga dream about their river as the most beautiful of all earthly gifts which have been bestowed upon them.
When I was a child sitting at my school bench, I imagined Volga steamers, rafts, and boats sailing past, like a holiday; green islands stretched out before me; the silver of fish scales sparkled; I breathed the aroma of the swaying shoreline willows. All this was living right next to me. I knew that after lessons I could run along the Volga and touch all this with my own hand.
I have read Travels on the Mississipppi and saw myself as a small Mark Twain hero on a Volga raft. In my fantasy, American sailors and captains turned into sailors and captains of the Volga; I recognized them as the comrades and teachers of my river life; and the water of the Mississippi mingled with that of the Volga in an inseparable current, carrying me away to a land as alluring as America and as beloved as Russia.
Our distant American friend will clearly see what the Volga means to us, because he has the Mississippi. The Volga is our dream. But the Volga is not just a dream. It is our river navigation, our timber floating, our industry covering vast distances, the main highway for our oil, our grain from boundless fields, our home--the home of our fathers and children.
From the height of the clouds I look on these riches, on our property, and my heart loses its customary rhythm, causing such pain as I have never felt before.
Imagine, my American friend, the tanks of Hitler clanking 100 kilometers from the Mississippi on the 35th parallel, not far from Memphis. They are churning forward to the river of which Mark Twain sang, of which the American people sing--captains and sailors, fishermen and farmers--to your river, about which you dreamt while sitting on your school bench. The tanks of Hitler are threatening, day by day, to cross the Mississippi. New Orleans becomes a German city. In homes in Louisiana and Texas they hang portraits of the protector of the United States--Adolf Hitler. The Gulf of Mexico is out of reach for the Americans.
Does your heart maintain its steady beat, dear American? Can you still calmly utter that familiar name, Mississippi?
I cannot say calmly say Volga. "Volga!" I shout, and in my ears resounds war. "Volga!" I shout, and echoing back to me comes the threatening clank of Hitler's tanks.
The battle on the Don is the battle for the Volga. The battle for the Volga is the battle for the Mississippi. Have you done everything you can to protect your dear, your miraculous river, dear American? You have not done everything if you have not taken part in the battle for the Volga.
We shall give up our most valuable forces to stop the avalanche of Hiter's tanks, to kill the hated fascist soldiers who have been thrown athwart the Volga.
It is impossible to give up the Volga. We will not give her up.
So, my dear American friend, do not forget that the Volga is the Mississippi and that Hitler is standing 100 kilometers away from it. And to save such rivers as the Volga and the Mississippi, we must not waste time.