On May 9, 1945, at 1:10 AM, the citizens of the Soviet Union heard on the radio that Nazi Germany had signed the act of unconditional surrender, which ended the USSR’s fight on the Eastern Front of World War II, or the Great Patriotic War as the Soviets called it. During the war, according to official data, the state lost more than 26 million people.
A rare case of an indestructible victory over its worst enemy rallied the population of the state behind one of their traditional methods of celebration–vodka consumption.
General jubilation engulfed Soviet citizens, who went outside in their pajamas, embraced, and wept with happiness. Thanks to the universal jubilation, even non-drinkers began to drink. Excessive use of vodka, against the background of its deficiency in wartime, led to a unique situation.
Approximately 22 hours after the start of a big party in honor of the victory, Joseph Stalin addressed the nation. However, by this time, the population had drunk all the vodka reserves in the country.
A nationwide hangover began, which by the way was an extremely small price to pay for the liberation of Europe from the domination of Nazi Germany.
Naval navigator Nikolai Kryuchkov recalled,
On May 9, 1945, with the permission of the commander, I left for 3 days in Moscow. It was impossible to tell what happened on that day in Moscow…. We celebrated Victory Day with my family, the owner’s apartments and neighbors. They drank for the victory, for those who did not live to see this day and for the fact that this bloody massacre would never be repeated. On May 10, it was impossible to buy vodka in Moscow, because it was completely drunk.
It is worth considering the fact that in wartime the Soviet Union did not have large reserves of vodka. Starch and grain in most cases were used to produce food and supply the army. However, the production of vodka did not completely stop.
In his book History of Russia, Walter Moss wrote, “During the famine of the early 1930s, Stalin ensured that sufficient grain and potatoes were still available for vodka production, and vodka revenues in this period provided about one-fifth of government revenues.”
Moss also referred to Stalin’s words that insisted on direct and open assistance in expanding vodka production to strengthen the country’s defense. Thanks to the state monopoly on alcohol, the idea of using it for national defense made sense. Even in times of widespread famine, vodka remained part of the Stalinist national strategy and its production was a priority.
During the Great Patriotic War, in July 1941 the Red Army began issuing vodka to soldiers, although Stalin did not sign an official decree on this until August. Soldiers were given 100 grams of vodka per day and called it “the commissar’s ration.”
At the same time, ordinary citizens also engaged in the production of alcohol at home. Given the gloomy state of things, vodka was important in life.
Among Soviet war veterans, there was a contradictory attitude toward “the commissar’s ration.” Some believed that such a dose of vodka could reduce the feeling of fear and relieve tension before a fight. Others believed that alcohol adversely affected the outcome of the battle. However, nobody was forced to drink, and the number of those who became addicted was small.
The victory on May 9 was celebrated not only by citizens but also by soldiers. In the book by Artem Drabkin entitled T-34 in Action, tanker Yury Polyanovsky recalled:
When the war ended, my 9th brigade stood in Linz. We had captured a huge number of German [vehicles]: trucks, cars–all kinds. I, as a deputy engineer, was ordered to go to the brigade and select the cars for the regiment’s needs.
I arrived there on May 9, my acquaintance met me, the deputy commander of the battalion on the technical side, Max Ivanov: “These cars can go to hell, let’s have a drink with the allies first. And then you will go.”
The Americans were already there, and there was a barrel of trophy alcohol–everything is ready to celebrate the Victory. I say: “If I drink, I will be intoxicated and I will not be able to choose anything. First, I will choose, and then I will come and drink.”
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We left to choose. Soon we heard a scream and noise. We come running, and they are lying there, the foam is coming from their mouths, some have already died and some have gone blind. It turns out that there was antifreeze on methanol in the barrel. They drank this antifreeze and began to die.
Eighteen Americans and twenty-two of our people died. All this on the day of victory.