The small town of Bedford, Va., is home to 21 men who sacrificed their lives on D-Day, June 6, 1944. It is now also the home of one of the world’s few public memorial busts of communist dictator Josef Stalin.
Local citizens and organizations have expressed their outrage over the installation of the bust at the National D-Day Memorial, which honored the 66th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy over the weekend. The bust of the Soviet Union’s wartime leader was unveiled last week to accompany existing busts of U.S. Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman as well as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
“Having Stalin in our backyard, people are really upset about that,” said Karl Altau, the managing director at the joint Baltic American National Committee that has helped in movements against the Stalin bust.
A Facebook page with more than 2,000 members as of Monday afternoon has been set up to protest the statue. In an online poll from the Bedford Bulletin, the town’s local newspaper, 94.8 percent of 429 respondents said a bust of Stalin should not be placed at the National D-Day Memorial as of Monday afternoon.
Lee Edwards, chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, another organization involved in the protests against the statue, said he and others thought the prospect of a bust of Stalin was a joke when they first heard about it.
It was “too misplaced and ill-timed,” he said.
But confusion soon gave way to frustration. “The National D-Day Memorial Foundation knows it made a monumental mistake by including Stalin in its memorial,” he said.
Stalin is infamous for his dictatorial rule of the Soviet Union, which ultimately led to the deaths of at least 20 million people, the largest number perishing during the terror famines he engineered in the early 1930s to collectivize Soviet agriculture. He also entered World War II on the side of Nazi Germany, and only became an ally of the Western democracies when Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941.
The erection of the statue is ironic to some because statues and images of the dictator have been torn down all over Europe since the 1950s denunciation of him by his successors in ruling the Soviet Union.
The memorial states that Bedford lost the most men per capita of any community in the U.S. during World War II, as the town’s National Guard unit was in the front of the first wave of the attack on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. The 19 D-Day assault deaths represented about two-thirds of the brothers, sons and fathers the close-knit small town sent overseas in World War II.
The president of the D-Day Memorial Foundation, William McIntosh, did not return three calls from The Washington Times. He has told reporters that the foundation merely sought to mark Stalin’s role in the war.
Joe Fab, who co-directed and wrote a recent documentary on the story of the soldiers of Bedford, titled “Bedford: The Town They Left Behind,” said he understood from an artistic standpoint why one might include a Stalin icon, adding that he likes to “try to keep an open mind” about such things.
“All kinds of art have dimensions and complexity,” he said. “If it leads to thoughtful reflection and provokes discussion, then it may have a purpose.”
Mr. Edwards said the foundation tried to deflect some of the criticism by installing the bust at a private ceremony last week and by adding a plaque that describes Stalin both as a wartime leader and as a genocidal dictator.
But Mr. Edwards’ said that regardless of what Stalin did on the Eastern Front, none of his forces were on the shores of Normandy that day.
“This is not a WWII memorial,” Mr. Edwards said. “This is a D-Day memorial. If we focus on the fact of it being a D-Day memorial, then there is … hardly any justification whatsoever” for Stalin being there.
Mr. Altau described Stalin’s presence as a “sore thumb” that gives undue honor to a dictator.
“To have his bust there, it’s an icon in a way, and a bust is usually meant to say a symbol of respect or honor,” he said. “No matter what they do to explain that, it’s still going to put him on the same kind of level as the other leaders and their troops who were there at D-Day.”
The next step for protesters is to take the issue to their representatives in government, Mr. Edwards said. His foundation intends to “keep putting pressure” on senators and others in positions that have sway in the matter.
“It’s not going to blow over anytime soon,” said Mr. Altau. “This is something we don’t want to back down on because this is very important for us.”