Prisoners of History: What can we learn from statues to heroes and monsters?

Book review: A fascinating look at monuments to the second World War

The Motherland Calls at the Mamayev Kurgan memorial complex for Soviet Soldiers in Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad. Photograph: Getty Images

The Motherland Calls at the Mamayev Kurgan memorial complex for Soviet Soldiers in Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad. Photograph: Getty Images

Among the many revelations in Keith Lowe’s new book is that the great second World War memorials across the globe are rarely, if ever, a simple tribute to those who served, suffered and died. The monuments are as much representations of our identities and ourselves and of the ways we choose to use and abuse history.

Looming over Volgograd in southern Russia is a towering statue of a huge female figure stepping forward while brandishing an enormous sword. The image not only captures the vast scale of the battle for Stalingrad – which cost hundreds of thousands of lives – but also serves to symbolise the power and perpetuity of the Motherland to whom one’s loyalty renders even total war endurable - then, now, and in the future.

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