At the foot of the Spasskaya Tower of the Kazan Kremlin stands an impressive monument erected to the memory of Musa Dzhalil, the hero and patriot, who fought against the Nazi invaders.
Naked to the waist, the figure of the poet is shown tearing apart the barbed wire which fetters him. This gesture is frozen in time for eternity and demonstrates the poet’s resolution and steel will. It takes the visitors to the Plötzensee prison in Berlin, where the Tatar poet was executed on the 25th August, 1944.
While a captive in Germany, Dzhalil carried out anti-fascist propaganda under the guise of cultural and educational work. His will was unbroken even by the threat of imminent death. After his underground organisation was discovered, Dzhalil continued his struggle, as any poet would, in poetry. “My death will resound as a song of battle”, this is a line from the celebrated Moabit Notebooks written by Dzhalil while in captivity.
The location of the monument has long figured within the mental maps of the people of Kazan: as early as 1895, a monument to Alexander II, who liberated Russia from the feudal system, stood in this place. In 1918, the monument was replaced by a sculptured figure of a metal worker, called Liberated Labour, and the square was renamed from Spasskaya to 1st May, to honour the solidarity of workers. This monument was soon to be replaced with a monument to Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the proletariat. In 1951, the statue of Lenin was brought to Freedom Square, where it continues to watch over Kazan, while a monument to Stalin was raised near the Kremlin, which has not survived to the present.
The monument to Dzhalil in contrast stands to inspire locals boys with his decisiveness and is an example of tenacity to adults.
Dzhalil was captured after being seriously wounded in the Lubanskaya operation to relieve the siege of Leningrad. In 1942, he joined the Legion Idel-Ural, which trained soldiers to fight Soviet partisans and the Bolshevik regime. Dzhalil was ordered to carry out cultural and educational work amongst prisoners. In his meetings with prisoners, Dzhalil recruited an underground organisation to fight against the Third Reich.
However, German counter intelligence managed to infiltrate their own officers into the Kurmashev underground group of which Dzhalil was a member. All its members were caught and executed. During the period between arrest and execution in the Plötzensee prison, the saboteurs were held in the Moabit prison in Berlin. Here Musa Dzhalil found scraps of paper on which he wrote several notebooks of poetry, later to become known as the Moabit Notebooks.
In 1946, two years after his execution, Musa Dzhalil was accused by the Ministry of State Security of the USSR for betraying the Motherland and assisting the enemy. That same year, former prisoners of the Moabit prison began to send Dzhali’s notebooks to the consular departments of the USSR in a number of countries. They served as evidence of the poet’s innocence. The notebooks were filled with hastily scribbled Tatar words, making them difficult to decipher, but protected the notes from any “vilification” by possible agents provocateurs. The notebooks were only translated in the 1953 after the death of Stalin, when the poet was rehabilitated. In 1956, Dzhalil was posthumously awarded the “Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union” medal, and in 1957, he was awarded the Lenin Prize for the “Moabit Notebooks”.
On the 3rd November, 1966, a monument to Musa Dzhalil was erected in Kazan, on the square in front of the Kremlin. The monument, sculpted by Vladimir Tsigal, was unveiled to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the birth of the poet. Much later, in 1990, the remaining members of the Kurashev underground group, of which Dzhalil was a member, were also rehabilitated. On the 25th August, 1994, the monumental complex was extended to include memorial plaques to the other members of the Tatar underground. This monumental complex is now part of the cultural heritage of the Russian Federation.