March 28, 2015

Smoktunovsky: Portrait of an Actor

Smoktunovsky: Portrait of an Actor

March 27, 2015, would have been the ninetieth birthday of beloved actor Innokenty Smoktunovsky. Renowned for his film roles, such as Hamlet in Hamlet and Yuri Detochkin in Beware of the Car, Smoktunovsky also had a highly successful career as a stage actor. In this excerpt from an interview with a Hungarian reporter, he recounts his experiences during World War II on the basis of old photographs.

[…] In this one my face is more serious. It’s another photograph from my youth. See how much red hair I had? As many red hairs as freckles on my face. But where is that hair now? Where did that incredible, enormous power go? It’s gone. Understand?

And now we’re up to the war, that is, its end – 1945. Rather often I get this request: “Bring out your military photos.” They don’t realize that if someone has military photos, it means he was near the front lines, near the battles, but wasn’t fighting – no, he was posing in his free time. Whereas I was in really, really awful binds and wrote a book about it, soon to be two. […] Just now I wrote a book titled To Be. In it I describe how out of 125 or 130 of us, only four survived. All the rest fell like grass cut in a meadow. Just like my other three comrades, I would take their bullets, their grenades, to somehow extend my life and somehow protect the road we were supposed to be guarding, to not let through the Nazi division that had broken out of ToruĊ„ (this was in Poland).

And now I’m often asked: “Show us your photos from the front!” I only have the one photograph, but it’s not from the front, it’s from after the war – 1945. I’m a staff sergeant. My mustache and beard haven’t even grown in yet, but I’ve already gone through such awful trials that I wouldn’t wish even on my enemies. Because, as I’ve already said, I was taken prisoner, then escaped from the prisoner-of-war camp, because I was torn apart by disease – dysentery, dystrophy… and complete psychological shock. I couldn’t accept the fact that any prison guard could shoot me, just like that. So I escaped. Because if I hadn’t escaped, all the same, two, or three, or five days later I would have just collapsed from exhaustion.

Later, when I was picked up by friendly Ukrainians in the Kamenets-Podolsk Oblast (now Khmelnitsky Oblast) and was left to rest in their house, there was a mirror on the wall in front of me. And because my mind wasn’t quite working yet, I thought that someone was looking at me through a window, some man with a big nose and sunken eyes. I would ask him, “What are you looking at? What do you want?” And the man “in the window” would whisper something at the same time. Then I realized that it was me. After all, a whole year I hadn’t seen myself in the mirror, being on the front lines, fighting the Nazis with my division. How could I possibly have photographs from the front, if I was busy protecting my human dignity and perhaps even my own life, as well as the life of my country?!


Translation: Eugenia Sokolskaya [source]

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