This Month in History
Compiled by Drew Ingersoll
August 1, 1914: Germany declares war on Russia.
Following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Austro- Hungarian Empire issued the July Ultimatum to Serbia, demanding, among other things, the right to participate in the investigation into the assassination. When Serbia refused, Austria-Hungary declared war on July 28, 1914. Coming to Serbia’s aid, Russia began to mobilize its army, which prompted Germany’s declaration of war on Russia. The economic and political strain caused by the war provoked social and political unrest in Russia, eventually leading to the Revolution of 1917. Had Russia not joined World War I, its 20th-century history might have followed a different path.
August 3, 1980: The closing ceremonies of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympic Games are held.
Fitted with numerous new sporting complexes built for the 203 events, Moscow rolled out the red carpet to visiting athletes competing in the first-ever Games hosted by a communist country. A U.S.-led boycott reduced the number of participating nations to 80, the lowest number since 1956, but there were other records set at the Games as well. For example, gymnast Aleksandr Dityatin medaled in every men’s gymnastics event to become the first athlete to win eight medals in a single Olympics. In addition, 21 percent of the competing Olympians were women, more than in any previous Games.
August 7, 1938: Konstantin Stanislavsky dies.
Stanislavsky sought to have all of his characters performed as “truthfully” as possible, rejecting the artificial reproduction of emotion. To this end, he developed innovative acting techniques, and in 1897 cofounded the Moscow Art Theater with Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko as a vehicle to bring their “realistic” method to Moscow audiences. One of the theater’s first staged performances was The Seagull, although playwright Anton Chekhov was not happy with the choice, opining that he wanted a more experienced troupe to perform his new work. The play was met with critical acclaim and validated Stanislavsky’s method and the Moscow Art Theater’s place in modern theater.
August 15, 1893: The Tretyakovsky Gallery opens.
At age 24, with the dream of a Russian national gallery in mind, Pavel Tretyakov, began to acquire art. To accommodate his expanding collection, he repeatedly remodeled his home, which he opened to the public. In 1892, Tretyakov donated the collection as well as his home to the city of Moscow, thus fulfilling his dream of a Russian national gallery. Today, the Tretyakov Gallery contains more than 130,000 exhibits and is still one of Moscow’s most popular attractions for residents and visitors alike.
August 19, 1936: The Moscow Trials begin.
As his paranoia increased, Joseph Stalin began to move against other Party leaders whom he saw as a threat to his power. Accused of collusion in a Western, capitalist conspiracy to assassinate Stalin and destroy the Soviet Union, such prominent figures of the October Revolution as Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, and 16 others were tried and exectued. The verdicts were publicly justified by coerced confessions and used as pro-Stalin propaganda. More arrests, trials, and executions followed, marking the early stages of what would become known as the Great Purges. It was not until Nikita Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization in the 1950s that the Moscow Trials were finally acknowledged publically as show trials.
August 22, 1552: Tsar Ivan the Terrible lays siege to Kazan.
Located at the confluence of the Volga and Kazanka rivers, Kazan, capital of the Tatar Empire, was crucial to control of the region. Previous attempts to lay siege to the city in 1547 and 1549 had failed, but in 1552 Ivan the Terrible tried again, arriving this time with over 150,000 troops, a host of cannons, and a battery-tower. His preparation paid off: With Kazan’s walls in ruins, the Russians stormed the city and overwhelmed the Tatar defenders on October 2. Kazan is still a major industrial, commercial and cultural center and remains the most important center of Tatar culture in the Russian Federation.
August 23, 1941: The Luftwaffe begins firebombing Stalingrad.
At 18:00 on August 23, 1942, over 2,000 Nazi aircraft began dropping
incendiary bombs over Stalingrad, killing, by some counts, over 25,000 civilians. Initially, German forces took control of much of the city and encircled the Soviet army. Facing defeat, Stalin adopted the slogan “Not a step back!” urging soldiers and civilians to “turn every building into a fortress.” The Soviets’ redoubled efforts, combined with the Russian winter, halted the German advance, and on February 2, 1943, the Nazi army surrendered. The Soviet victory at Stalingrad marked a turning point for the Allies in World War II.
August 31, 1935: Alexei Stakhanov mines 102 tons of coal.
Alexei Stakhanov became a national hero and a champion of socialist labor in the Soviet Union after mining 102 tons of coal, 14 times his quota, in one shift. His achievement led to the Stakhanovite Movement and a new era of communist labor competition. As part of the Second Five-Year Plan in 1935, Stakhanovism spread to other industries. Workers, who achieved Stakonovite feats were honored with medals in recognition of their service to the Party and their contributions to the building of communism. During the first years of the Stakhanovite Movement, Soviet authorities claimed significant increases in industrial productivity.