Read the German version of the article here.

Victory Day, will be a big day for Russian President Vladimir Putin. On May 9, he will step out in Moscow in a new role. As the anniversaries of the Second World War have approached, Putin has increasingly put himself at the heart of his country’s wartime narrative of destruction, death, and survival against the odds. He, personally, is the keeper of the national memory, the chronicler of its history.

As Putin underscores in a recent article for the Russian elite magazine, Russian Pioneer, the war that Russians call the Great Fatherland War is literally his father’s war. His father’s memories and his family’s represent those of the entire Russian nation. Since his childhood, Putin has borne witness to the Second World War. The Russian president goes to great lengths to inform the Russian Pioneer readers that his family’s war stories are facts. They have been thoroughly documented by others. In recounting these stories, these facts, he is now passing them on to the next generation.

In doing so he becomes the nation’s putative father, Otets.

Otets is the first capitalized word of Putin’s article in Russian Pioneer. The magazine, which was created by members of his inner circle, has helped rebrand Putin in the past. The article reads as conversational version of the most vivid details of Putin’s father’s tales from the front - fresh from Putin’s memories.

It conveys a number of important personal and narrative points. Putin’s father, also called Vladimir, was not a passive victim of the war. He volunteered for the front. He fought back. He went on a mission behind enemy lines to destroy bridges and railway lines - anything to defeat the enemy. Local villagers betrayed him and his comrades to the "fascists." Almost everyone was killed, but his father hid from German soldiers in a swamp and escaped. Much later, Putin’s father was injured defending his home city during the brutal Siege of Leningrad. He was saved by an old friend and neighbor, and in turn Putin's father saved his wife, Putin's mother, from near death. Neither of them could save their little son, Putin’s older brother, who was lost to deprivation and disease, and buried in a mass grave.

Putin was his parents’ somewhat miraculous postwar son. Their stories have shaped his personal and political perspectives. He now recasts them for his own message to the Russian people. Several themes emerge. One is the importance of loyalty, absolute loyalty. Another is betrayal as the ultimate evil. Traitors must be punished. Yet another theme in Putin’s retelling of his family story is reconciliation with Germans.

Beyond his personal history, Putin gleaned his knowledge of the war from Soviet movies and books, from his studies of German language and history, and from his 1980s KGB service in Dresden. Since the rehabilitation of ordinary Germans and close friendship with East Germany were political priorities in the USSR, the Soviets rewrote history.

In postwar East Germany, fascists were quickly transformed into good Communists. Responsibility for the atrocities of the Nazi regime was laid on the capitalists, the Germans across the wall in the West. Putin uses his parents’ stories in the same way. For instance, he stresses that his father’s group behind enemy lines was led by an ethnic German Soviet citizen, who presumably perished (although Putin does not actually say). He recounts how his mother had counseled him not to remember the German soldiers with hatred. They were, she reminded him, ordinary people like us who were forced to the front to fight.