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Posted on 05/02/2005 3:05:56 PM PDT by sergey1973
Frankly speaking, I can't be objective when talking about upcoming May 9 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany to be marked in Russia and throughout the fmr. Soviet Union. Without exaggeration, the 1941-1945 Soviet-German War (aka "Great Patriotic War") touched nearly everyone in the fmr. Soviet Union and became the bloodiest chapter of the WWII. If you are from the former USSR and even if you are born after the World War II, you are likely to have a parent, grandparent or other family member or someone your family knew who went to the war. You or your family could know someone who experienced bombing raids, evacuation, starvation or German Occupation. Possibly you know someone who worked day and night for the War effort at numerous armament factories or GULAGs--the dreaded Soviet slave camps--producing guns, bullets, cannons, tanks, mines, guns, airplanes, military uniforms and other crucial war and life necessities. Many of these "soldiers of the home front" were women and children slaving away on these factories and surviving on substinent food rations. Some of your family members or family friends could have ended up on the German occupied territory and were taken away to Nazi held Europe to be slaves for the Third Reich. Some of them could have perished in Holocaust and other Nazi mass murders. Overall, estimated 27-30 million of Soviet Citizens, soldiers and civilians perished in this war. Most of those who survived the war, remain physically or emotionally scarred for the rest of their lives.
Among millions and millions of war stories, is the story of one 17 year old Russian-Ukrainian Jewish kid, a child of Stalin prison system survivor, who escaped advancing Germans from Kiev with his family in 1941 and went to the Central Asia on a long, arduous and overcrowded train ride. One year later, he went to the officer school to become an Infantry lieutenant in just 6 months. Then a new 19 year old lieutenant went to the Battle of Kursk in the summer of 1943. A few months later, he lost a leg to a flying piece of cannon while crossing Dnieper River near Kiev--the city he left a couple years ago. The young officer was lying unconscious on the river bank slowly passing away and loosing blood, but miraculously he was found among a number of bodies, picked up by the sanitary team and transferred to the hospital. After undergoing a number of operations in various military hospitals, he married a young woman he met 2 years earlier during evacuation and had two boys with her. One of this boys is my dad. The story of my grandma and grandpa made me one of tens of millions for whom this terrible War became an integral part of family history.
It was painful for me to see politicization of the May 9th anniversary. First, it's disgusting to see that once again Russian leadership tries to rehabilitate Stalin whitewashing his crimes and strategic blunders before and during the War. Once again the Stalin-era myth of treacherous 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact as a "necessity" to secure USSR Western borders is being proclaimed by Putin and his cohort. The mayors of several Russian cities plan to erect Stalin statues--the very dictator whose policies of "Great Terror" of 1937-1938 destroyed top Soviet Military leadership paving the way for 1941 military disaster. 1945 Yalta conference that sealed the fate of Eastern Europe and forced these countries to exchange Hitler for Stalin is hailed again as the great achievement of Soviet Diplomacy for which Eastern Europeans should be 'grateful'. Such ignorance of historical facts and recycling of the Stalinist myths continues to poison atmosphere between Russia and Eastern Europe and impedes the development of normal relations between them.
However, politicization of this special date is not limited to Putin side. Latvian president Vaira Vike-Freiberga, while rightfully reminding the world that May 9 for Baltic States was not a liberation but exchange of one murderous tyrant for another, praised Latvians who served in Waffen-SS Latvian legions as fighters for Latvian Independence against Soviet re-occupation. Although Latvian Waffen-SS legion was formed in 1943 after the Holocaust in Latvia had largely ended and young Latvians were drafted into this unit mostly involuntarily to fight the advancing Soviet Army, there were reports by Simon Wiesenthal center that about 1/3 of the legionnaires could have been involved in the Holocaust earlier as members of Nazi auxiliary police units. Other Baltic officials dispute claims that some of their countrymen participated in Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities claiming that it was all Stalin propaganda to justify mass repressions against Baltic people. With all due respect to the terrible suffering of Baltic Nations under the Stalin thumb, mythologizing history and rushing to deny historically based claims and facts to portray themselves exclusively as noble victims of ruthless foreign invaders is ultimately a self-defeating delusion creating a false self-image. Substituting facts with wishful thinking whether in Russia or Baltic States distorts the truth making the normal and healthy relations between the parties impossible at a time.
Overall, May 9 need to be about the memory of millions of Soviet citizens (military or civilian) perished in this horrible war. Remember those fallen in Stalingrad, Kursk, Moscow, Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and other sites of bloodiest WWII battles covering space between Moscow and Berlin and between North and Caspian sea. Remember the Soviet Citizens perished in Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities. Remember those who were taken against their will to work in Nazi held Europe as slave laborers. Remember how Stalin regime callously sacrificed millions of the Soviet soldiers to satisfy his vanity (i.e. race to Berlin to be there before Americans would, sending untrained or poorly trained conscripts with average 1 rifle per 4 soldiers on German tanks in 1941-1942). Remember more then 5 million Soviet POW's branded as "traitors" by Stalin condemning them to languish and die in Nazi concentration camps without Red Cross assistance because German Nazis had a perfect excuse not to allow Red Cross to visit "non-existent" POW's. Remember how those POW's who managed to escape and wanted to rejoin the Soviet Military faced lengthy interrogations by dreaded NKVD-- Stalin secret Police--and often ended up exchanging Nazi Camps for Soviet gulags or were sent to penal units. Remember the soldiers who heroically fought in poorly armed penal units composed from former GULAG prisoners and military personnel often sentenced there for trumped up offenses. They faced armed to teeth German soldiers in front of them and NKVD units behind them to shoot any retreating soldiers. Remember that decision by Roosevelt and Churchill to ally with monster and mass murderer Stalin to defeat another monster and mass murderer Hitler was necessary although it was very tragic. Remember, that while heroism and achievements of American, British and other allied forces against Nazi Germany are indisputable, 3/4 of Nazi Military casualties were on the Eastern Front. Remember the fallen Soviet soldiers who heroically fought German Nazi War machine and condemn the Soviet regime that often needlessly sacrificed them without qualms and rebuilt the tyranny on their backs throughout USSR and Eastern Europe.
Thanks for good words, lizol ! Glad you like it !
"With all due respect to the terrible suffering of Baltic Nations under the Stalin thumb, mythologizing history and rushing to deny historically based claims and facts to portray themselves exclusively as noble victims of ruthless foreign invaders is ultimately a self-defeating delusion creating a false self-image. Substituting facts with wishful thinking whether in Russia or Baltic States distorts the truth making the normal and healthy relations between the parties impossible at a time.
Enjoyed reading this.
She knows her only by name
The story of Karaganda resident Valentina Grigor'evna Mikhno, who was born in a German concentration camp in 1945, is similar to a scene from a Soviet war film, but with a very touching ending. An ending which in a real life has yet to be. Still, Valentina hopes and waits for it. Through the television program Zhdi menya ("wait for me"), the Karaganda resident is searching for a female Soviet spy who was working right under the very noses of the Germans. She wants to meet her so that she could bow low before the person who helped a newborn girl survive German captivity..
Valentina's mother Maria died in 1996. But long ago in 1941 the still young 'Masha' worked as a telephone operator in her home town of Lubna in the Poltava district in the Ukraine.
"Mama was the first to find out that the war had begun," Valentina quietly says. "On the 22nd of June she was working on the telegraph and received a message for the district party committee. On that very day they took mama to the front. She didn't even get to say goodbye to her parents."
Maria met her future husband Grisha after a few months in Kuybyshev. A real-life field romance bloomed between the young lieutenant and the communications specialist. "By 1944 our soldiers had already pushed back the Germans," Valentina explains. "All this time my parents never separated. They served together. Father was the commander of an observation post, and was also a comunications specialist, while mama was already pregnant with me. They offered to send her home, but she refused: 'Why? Victory is close'. But on the 20th of August mama was captured by the Germans."
The most frightening day
"In the unit where mama served there were three Marias: Mikhno, Lomakina, and Kulikova," Valentina says. "And two of them were captured, it happened below Riga at the battle for Koenigsberg."
From the book Sources of courage, by a soldier from Maria Mikhno's unit, Ivan Vyborniy, who included the comm specialist's narration of her capture:
... on 20 August 1944 tanks broke through in the Tukums region. I was on duty at the switchboard. Suddenly Lomakina ran in, pale, shaking from fear. 'Fascists!' she yelled. 'Run to the woods!' I was already worried. Something had fallen on the comms line and I wasn't getting any messages. When Lomakina ran in, we knew what was up. They cut the wires! It was already too late to run. What could we do? 'Into the hay!' someone yelled..."Father yelled that," Valentina tells us. "Three army pals: mama, Lomakina, and Kulikova quickly changed into civilian clothes. They ate their party membership cards and buried the covers in the bomb shelter. And somehow made it to the haystacks. Kulikova climbed into the hay, but mama was undecided. She was afraid that the Germans would poke the hay with their bayonets and kill me. And so, together with Lomakina, they ran into the woods. Lomakina didn't desert the pregnant woman, so that's why I consider her my second mother. But they couldn't make it very far - a German grabbed her by the hair: 'Haende Hoch!'."
Maria Mikhno's recollections from the book Sources of Courage:They began the interrogations. What units, they asked, where are they located. The interrogations continued on the second and third day. And so we lived: from the cell to interrogation, from interrogation back to the cell. The fascists tried everything to get us to talk, tortured us with thirst and hunger. They made us put on wooden shoes that had nails projecting inside, and run in a circle. They thought that it would make us more talkative. No dice! We made it through this torture.On the walls of the torture cells in the Riga prison the girls - in their own blood - wrote to their soldiers. The text of one such appeal was later written down by a platoon leader and sent to the commander of the 51st Army:Dear friends! The little Hitlers wanted to find out from us comms girls our unit designations. After torture they threw us all in here in this cold cell in the Riga concentration camp. Dear comrades. We live in the hope that you'll soon free us. But today was the most frighting day: they are sending us to Germany. Rescue us from German captivity! We believe that you'll come. We await you!The detainees were taken at first to Danzig, later to Paderborn....
Born under a the barrel of a machinegun
"In Paderborn concentration camp all the prisoners without exception were forced to drag heavy stones and iron about," Valentina says. "Mama told how the prisoners - in order not to go to work - would make lumps on their legs by beating them with wooden spoons."
From Maria Mikhno's recollections in the book:I was then readying to give birth, but somehow, I don't know how Masha Lomakina succeeded in doing this, they allowed me to be taken to a maternity hospital. There they laid me right on the floor, though it's true they put down some kind of sackcloth for a bed."Mama said that she gave birth to me right under the barrel of a German machinegun," recounts Valentina. "In front of her very eyes a fascist shot a woman and her newborn baby boy. A little boy - so that he wouldn't become a Soviet soldier, and his mother - so that she couldn't give birth to any more... When I showed up in this world, an air-raid started. Everyone who was in the maternity hospital ran away. They threw me on the floor, and mama laid next to me. Later Maria Lomakina, mother's friend came in and saw me, naked and blue from the cold, and she tore up her shirt, wrapped me in her overcoat and took me to the barracks. It was the 25th of January 1945... Maybe I was a white crow, because the Lord allowed me to survive.
After a few months the prisoners were freed by the Americans. The allies offered to let many of the prisoners stay and not return to the motherland.
"Our prisoners were afraid of Stalin's policies," explains Valentina. "His example, when he refused to exchange Paulus for his son, declaring that he was a traitor, that was proof. But mama decided to go home to the Ukraine. The homecoming was just like the cinema. Mama came home to her parents with me in her arms. Her father, my grandfather, was a strict man. Therefore mama told him right on the doorstep: 'Papa, I didn't whore around, I was married to Grisha on the front, but he's dead.' But grandpa says: 'Dont' worry, your Grisha is alive.' Mama dropped me from shock. It turned out that my father came to grandpa just before mother's homecoming. He told grandpa that he thought that Masha - grandpa's daughter - was pregnant by him, but Masha was dead. Father said this, and left. But mama was alive... This is how it is in life. On that day they took me to the doctor, I was very weak, and the doctor said that I wouldn't live. Mama came home and cried, but grandpa took me from mother's arms, sent her out of the hut and decided to treat me with folk remedies. What he did, I don't know, but he told mama later: 'She'll live!'. Well, later father came for mother and me and took us to live with his parents."
In 1961 Valentina Grigor'evna arrived in Karaganda and lived with an uncle on her mother's side while she worked as a letter carrier and finished 10th grade. She climbed the ladder to control auditor. She got married and had children who presented her and her husband with four grandchildren.
"Well, that's my life," Valentina sums up with a smile.
But the Soviet spy, the one you're looking for? Who is she?
Valentina Grigor'evna leans over to a book on the table. It opens immediately to the right place. She reads from her mother's recollections:In the maternity hospital worked one girl. Either a nurse or a nanny. Her name was Asya. She begged the midwife to look in on me from time to time. Asya game me an old blanket to wrap my baby, and later came to me several times. Secretly she'd bring me packets of jelly; we fed the baby with these, because I had no milk. Yes, and why not: they only fed us watery gruel..."Mama told me that this Asya worked in Soviet intelligence. Under the very noses of the Germans. Just before the end of the war she came up to mama and said that they'd found her out, and that she was on the run. And she took off. And that's all that I know about her. But I'd like to find Asya and bow before her and even kiss her feet. To give a her a human thanks... Don't misunderstand me."
Two years ago Valentina Grigor'evna wrote a letter to the television show Zhdi menya ("wait for me"). She is keeping contact with the Russian talk show through a friend from Vladivostok. The friend is a member of the counsel of the international union of former underage prisoners of fascism. In her last message to her Karagandan friend, she gave Valentina hope that she would really meet Asya. Apparantly the television people have found her and what happened to her. And then Valentina will know her not just by her name.
(Dmitriy Kim, foto Valeriya Kalieva)
Original in Russian
Life served up harsh trials for Zangiev, events that one could not even imagine in their worst nightmare: fierce aerial combat in the skies of North Osetia, his aircraft shot down, later fascist captivity, holding camps, the cold and gloomy buildings of Concentration Camp 301, doing battle with the partisans against the agressors.
Yet, nonetheless, Vladimir Zangiev returned to his air regiment. He completed another 10 sorties in his Ilyushin 'flying tank', and his exploits were rewarded with many medals... (SNIP)
...Autumn of 1942 came to foothills of the Caucasus in a rare form - cold, rainy days with fog that rarely lifted. A fine screen of drizzling rain hung in the air. Nazi troops stubbornly attacked the capital of North Osetia, since from here there was an almost open road to the oil and mineral resources of the Causasus.
At dawn on November 5th, Pilot Vladimir Zangiev of the 7th Attack Regiment, based in a temporary field aerodrome below Grozny, took off on a combat mission. A mission which for Zangiev and his wingman Pismichenko had become routine: the 4th Air Army was short of fighters, so ground attack aircraft were used to defend bombers.
Shturmoviki made approach after approach over the target. Then, black and white tracks - tracers from enemy anti-aircraft guns - cut the sky. Zangiev suddenly noticed six enemy fighters, and an air battle ensued. Two 'Messers' were brought down by Vladimir.
A track of machine gun fire appeared on the Ilyushin's fuselage. Zangiev turned and saw broken bulletproof glass. 'Time to go... faster...' he thought.
Jerking the control stick toward himself, the pilot caught a 'Messer' in his sights, and pressed the trigger. The machine guns and cannon were silent; the ammo was spent. The cabin smelled of smoke, and a thick brown tail stretched behind the aircraft. Caustic fumes entered the cabin. At any moment the fuel tank could explode. The attack aircraft, losing altitude, rushed swiftly downward.
With difficulty, Vladimir opened the canopy and parachuted from the burning machine. After touching down on earth, he felt a sharp pain in his leg and lost consciousness.
The unequal aerial battle was watched by both friends and enemies. Inhabitants of the village of Khataldon, above which the battle was carried out, thought of the pilot's fate with alarm. The brush around the village in which Zangiev had fallen was swarming with fascist motorcyclists.
Six year old boy Boris Basaev watched and remembered everything. Nowadays he is dean of the Mountain Agricultural university. Boris Beshtauovich recalls: "My grandmother on my father's side, Anush, and my mother, Farus, and other residents of Kataldon were very worried that the pilot would fall into the hands of the fascists. In the evening motorcyclists brought him into our house, unconsious, and threw him on the dirt floor. The pilot was burned all over: face, hands, coveralls, field shirt... All around stood guards with automatics. Grandma Anush was beside herself: how to go up to the half-alive pilot and find out who he was? How to help him?
"Only at night could grandmother and mother get to the wounded man. They got him to drink, and greased his burned face with sour milk. Later they found out that he was a fellow Osetian.
"The pilot was in our house for a few days. Officers and translators came to him. The interrogation began, but Zangiev was silent, refusing to answer the questions: where was his aerodrome, what was his regiment? They beat him to unconsciousness. This was repeated every day.
"When grandma asked Vladimir Zangiev to lay still, since he was in critical condition, the pilot answered: 'It's nothing, Anush, it's just my wings got singed. I can still fly!'"
One morning the German soldiers forced the residents of Khataldon to the school building. One of them dragged the pilot out onto the porch, and with a quick motion threw a noose about the prisoner's burnt hands and tightened the knot. The Nazi tied the other end of the rope to a saddle. The rider spurred the horse. It lunged forward and dragged the wounded man along the ground. On the outskirts of the village, on the side of the road, a pit had been dug. The fascists pushed the disfigured body in and hurriedly covered it with frozen clumps of dirt.
A few days later, when the Soviet forces liberated Khataldon, pilots of the 7th Air Attack Regiment put up marker - a small obelisk with a star. A few years after the end of the war, comrades came to the village and attached to the obelisk a new plate, on which was engraved: 'The Hero Lives! Let this monument recall his exploits!'.
Yes, Vladimir Zangiev miraculously survived. On that November day in 1942 when the fascists had buried the pilot alive, a group of Red Army prisoners had been driven through the village of Khataldon. They noticed that a dirt mound by the road was moving. The prisoners dug up the pilot, dragged him from the pit, and took turns carrying him to Digora.
With difficulty, Vladimir Zangiev returned to life. A damp, clay quarry on the outskirts of Digora, later the Prokhladenskiy transit camp and a long road in an icy railway wagon to the Ukraine, and finally, 'Gross Lazaret Slavuta', Concentration Camp 301. This was a terrible place, where the Nazi doctors tested monstrous methods of mass destruction on the wounded prisoners.
While collecting materials for the book Singed Wings, I was able to visit the former 'Gross Lazaret'. It is located about two kilometers from the Ukrainian hamlet of Slavuta. The Nazis used an old military barracks for the concentration camp. In ten three-storey stone blockhouses, each enclosed in several layers of of barbed wire, thousands of wounded and sick prisoners of war were kept. Along the outer wall, at 20-meter intervals, were guard towers with searchlights and machineguns.
At night, when the gloomy camp buildings had quieted down, Zangiev, relying on hand-made crutches, was learning to walk. He tried to escape from the concentration camp three times, but without success. Only after a fourth attempt, together with a group of prisoners, was he able to pull himself free from that hell.
Residents of the Ukrainian village helped Zangiev make contact with woodland partisans. Thus did the attack pilot, participant in air combat for the North Caucasus, become a partisan in the 1st Moldavian guerilla unit, named in honor of Voroshilov and active in the regions of Shepetovka, Rovno, Slavuta, Kamenets-Podolska. Upon once again finding himself able to fight with a weapon in his hands, Zangiev would take the lead in the most critical combat operations.
In the partisan unit, Zangiev found real friends, but he longed for his air regiment, and impatiently waited for the moment when he could again sit at the stick and climb into the sky. Soon Vladimir's group was crossed by the front. There it was, the long awaited Big World! He wanted to get back to his unit and sit in an aircraft right away, but the doctors sent him to a hospital. Later, he had to spend several months of interrogation from investigators of a special unit of SMERSH, telling how he, a pilot, was captured, and how he ended up in a partisan unit. Here his friends from the front came to his aid. They sent the investigators a letter, though headquarters of the air force, not just confirming the combat achievements of the pilot, but recommending Vladimir Soslanovich Zangiev for the highest award, Hero of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, this document has been lost somewhere in the offices of military bureaucrats, and the award did not find the hero. (SNIP)
Valery Shanaev, decorated worker of culture in the Russian Federation and Republic of North Osetia.
October 13th, 2004
Dmitriy Trofimovich Chirov speaks of his life easily and with wit, as if he was not recalling his own past, but telling about an amusing book. Although... it really is a book. A year ago the recollections of this Karaganda retiree were set to print in Austria, in the German language.
In Dmitriy's past there is everything: a guardian angel who saved the Karagandan's life, fascists who took him prisoner, Austrians for whom our countryman worked during captivity, and whom he befriended to this very day.
Do you believe it?
Dmitriy Trofimovich (Chirov) looks pretty good for his 83 years - not a day over 75. This retiree with his crafty smile and thick, full beard had been answering our questions for several hours. At just the right moment, he pulled out a fat album with his photographic archives, as well as newspapers and books to confirm his story. Ever more frequently, he used the word 'lucky'.
"I was called up when I was 18. I had already been working as a language and literature teacher in the Lbishchensk middle school. Lbishchensk - it's that cossack village where Chapayev died in 1919. I was sent to work in the school after 4 months of training.
"In the army, I served in the western Ukraine. As I remember it, on June 17th, 1941, we were taking down our tents because of an alert, and loading them onto the wagons. Then we marched 120 kilometers in two days. We stopped at the village of Olese - it's about 18 kilometers from the border. On the 20th and 21st we built a summer encampment, and on the 21st we got reinforcements. The boys were wearing new undershirts and soft caps. They hadn't been trained, and they didn't even have weapons. The next day, as you know, the war started, and on the morning of the 22nd, I remember, at 3:45 AM they woke us up. We thought it was just a drill. We ran outside, and I look up: airplanes were flying towards us, to the East. In 15 minutes our regiment formed into a military column and went into a forest. There, some 'Messers' flew at us, but we still thought it was some kind of drill. They'd been warning us the whole time that combat maneuvers would be as close to real as possible. When we got to the border, some bombers flew over us at top speed. Our anti-aircraft gunners fired at them. Only then did I understand, that it was war"
The confused soldiers did not receive any information. Only one order after another: retreat, retreat, retreat. "We had regimental mortars, they were real new, but we didn't have a single shell. Only after the second month of the war did we get some mortar rounds, then we started to fight for real," explained Dmitriy Trofimovich, underlining the 'for real' with a gesture. "I remember how we went around the Dnepr. We started to get close to Chernigov. This was my most awful memory," the veteran was quiet for a moment. "The whole city was in flames, but it was still ours, the Germans hadn't taken it yet, even though the fascists bombed it night and day."
It was by Chernogov that Dmitriy Trofimovich's regiment was surrounded. "When we had no shells left, we tossed the weapons in the river. The senior politruk (political officer) gathered the fighters and gave a speech. 'Comrades, let us break up into small groups and go into the forest.' I was in awful shape. I put all my documents in a haybale, I wasn't thinking, because if we made it back to our lines, the first thing they'd ask me for would be my documents. Me and a comrade twice tried to make it through the forest. We were shot at. I said to my comrade: 'Davai, Ivan, let's dig a foxhole, and camouflage it so that no one sees it. We'll sit there for a couple of days. When the Germans leave, we'll think of what to do next.' And so we did that, we hid in a foxhole, fell asleep. But in the morning, all of a sudden, footsteps! Someone stepped on our roof! And then a yell: 'Russ, aufstehen!'
THE ANGEL AND THE PONCHO TENT
All captured soldiers were taken by the Germans to a nearby village. For awhile, they were kept in the collective farm's stables. "I'm standing by the barndoor, looking around," masterfully, like a professional actor, our narrator lowered his voice. "And suddenly I see: right in front of me a young fellow, with a master sergeant's rank. He asks me: 'Why don't you have any trenchcoats, any poncho tents?' I was just in my undershirt. Then he gave me his poncho and... disappeared. I looked for him among the prisoners, and never saw him anywhere. What was it?" the retiree turns over his hands, and answers himself. "Maybe, an angel came... because, later, that poncho saved my life!"
The captured prisoners were transported in eschelons to the West, to the border. "They put us in open train cars, like they use to carry coal, and sent us off. We came to a little place called Lambsdorf, in occupied western Poland, and they put us in Camp 318. Some of the prisoners had died on the way: we'd been transferred to freight cars, 100 to a wagon. You couldn't sit or stand, it was so crowded, and we travelled like that for 2 days without stopping.
"And we got to the zone. But nothing was there! Just the naked earth, and an iron and concrete latrine. The toilet was so that there wouldn't be epidemics among the prisoners."
And so, you lived right on the naked ground?! "Yes, right out under the open sky. In October. At first, our eschelon had 3000 men, but less than half survived two weeks in this zone, the rest simply froze to death. This is where my poncho tent saved my life!" the veteran artfully raises his voice. "Rain would be pouring down. Me and a comrade dug a trench so that we could get some kind of shelter, and covered it with the poncho. Water would run down our collars, but we covered our heads and sat together for warmth. I was in Camp 318 for 40 days."
HELPING AUSTRIAN FARMERS
"Only in Austria did we get normal treatment," the former prisoner of war stressed. "They took us to the Krems district. We went through quarantine there, got bathed, they took away our rags, shaved our heads. We dressed in clean clothes. They gave us these dyed German uniforms, and in big letters: 'SU', short for 'Sowjetisch Union', on the back and on the breast, and on the soft cap. Instead of footwear they gave us these wooden slippers. We were put in warm barracks and they more or less fed us regularly, with hot meals."
A few days later, Dmitriy Trofimovich was once again lucky. He was transferred to a so-called work command, as an assistant to the translator: his knowledge of German helped him. "In the summer of 1942, I asked to be put in the work detail, where there were 20-25 fellows," the retiree recalled. "You see, in a small work brigade, it's easier to survive. I was sent to the agriculture detachment. Me and 15 others worked in the village of Hedersdorf, by the central prison camp, where I was at. We helped farmers at home. Several dozen prisoners were sent to a factory. In the morning, we were woken up, taken out to the village square and went to various houses to work. They came for us at night, but during the day no one guarded us."
For this work... they paid the camp for your labor? "The farmers asked for prison labor," Dmitriy Trofimovich explained unperturbed. "They signed a contract with the camp, and paid something for us. And fed not just us, but the guards who brought us.
'WE ATE AT THE SAME TABLE'
Do you remember the first time you saw your host? Did you feel some antipathy towards him, perhaps? "Ni-ni-ni! Not in the least!" he waves me off. "I remember, the guard brought me. I went into the farmyard and sat down. Suddenly, I hear: 'Hallo, komm!'. That was my host, Johann Zinner, riding past me on an oxcart," Dmitriy Trofimovich laughs at the memory. "He was taking some clover hay to feed the cows. I went over to him. He asked everything about me: who, what was my name, what did I used to do. Together we went into the farmyard and unloaded everything. Later we sat down to eat. And that's how it all was. Austrians in general are kind-hearted. Only once did my host yell at me, by then I'd been working for him for 3 years. I'd done something with a shovel and had put it back in the barn without cleaning it. The next day, my host showed me it, and said sternly: 'Dimitry, was ist dass?' I begged forgiveness."
Dmitriy Trofimovich, did you have many duties? "I worked mostly in the vineyards. Springtime my host would cut vines, and I'd collect them. Later I'd trim and clean up around them. A whole hectare of vineyard, that takes a full month of work. The vines need a special amount of moisture, and we'd work hard to get that right. It was a lot of work, but I was never driven like a slave. I guessed that it was better to do something slow, but well. The host worked with me, from dawn to dusk. We ate at the same table. First breakfast - coffee, tea, or milk, with a roll. Second breakfast - bacon with bread and beer. At midday - lunch. At 4 O'clock, break, and in the evening supper. I ate well there. Before that, I was just skin and bones. My relationship with my host was the best. I don't remember anything but good," the retiree stressed. "Hedersdorf for me became a second homeland. I could have died in captivity, obviously."
AND THEY DID NOT EVEN REPRESS HIM
For a time, the Soviet prisoner had to work at two farms. Johann Zinner and Franz Herstenmayer shared a fence. "I worked for two families simultaneously for 3 months. Later, Herstenmayer got another fellow to help him, and so he and Zinner chose who would keep me. I was a good worker: I spoke German, I understood everything. You didn't have to explain things to me very long. Both neighbors asked me: 'Dimitry, who do you want to stay with?' I acted diplomatically. I would stay with the family to whom I first came, that is, the Zinners.
"I worked on the farm until April of 1945, until our forces took Vienna. In parting, my host loaded a travel-bag full of bread, bacon. In a word, he set me up with rations for a week. And he asked: 'Dimitry, wherever you end up, please write.' Although, when they liberated us prisoners, there could be no talk of this, otherwise they'd have quickly sent me to someplace bad. I wanted very much to write, but it was just fate."
Nonetheless, Dmitriy Trofimovich's fate turned out very well. Perhaps, he would again be lucky? "Obviously, in those days, how could it be otherwise? The Soviet forces liberate this or that camp. They load up the prisoners into an eschelon. Then, on to the Urals, to the so-called 'filtration camps'. For example, my second cousin was also a prisoner, but he didn't return from the Urals until the beginning of 1947. He didn't come back as a soldier, but as 'having passed through filtration', and because of that, he didn't receive credit for taking part in the Great Patriotic War. I was demobilized on December 30th, 1945, as a teacher and student of the Pedagogue Institute, and do you know why? When they liberated us, I found out that there were in our camp agents of counter-intelligence! They had burrowed into it somehow, I don't know all the details. And so, here were these counter-intel boys, I knew them all, and I'd even been feeding them with the food Zinner gave me. I told them everything, just like I'm talking to you now. Perhaps the counter-intel guys said that I was svoi (one of ours)."
LIKE IN A FAIRY TALE
Dmitriy Trofimovich recalls the very day he decided to write the story of his life very well. It was in memory of his grandchildren. "On November 27th, 1987, I took this school notebook here," the retiree held out a thick essay folder. "I wrote just one such notebook. What it is? It turned out to only be enough for my childhood. So I filled up another: again, only childhood and the beginning of adolescence, and so I wrote and wrote. Twelve notebooks. The general volume - 4500 printed pages. I'm now re-reading my notes. It's like it isn't about me. It reads well, easily," Dmitriy Trofimovich laughs.
In 1990, the Karaganda veteran finally made up his mind and wrote to Austria, to the editors of a communist newspaper, with a portion of his memoirs - the part where he recalled his captivity and his friendly hosts. "I thought, perhaps they'll print my writings and send me some kind of honorarium?" the retiree confessed. "And soon I got a reply: yada yada, we cannot print your manuscript, but we'll send your papers to the Krems district. That is, to where I lived during the war, you understand?
"And later... the grey reality ended and a fairly tale began, because personally I've only ever seen a 'happy ending' in the cinema."
Less than a year after that letter from Austria, Dmitriy Trofimovich once again found a foreign letter in his mailbox. The return address began with 'Franz Herstenmayer', the name of one of the farmers under which POW Chirov had labored. "I remember that I thought: 'Bah, can he really still be alive?!' But it turned out that his son Franz had written. When I lived in Austria, he was but two and a half. Of course, he remembered almost nothing about me, but I'd written a whole page about him in my memoirs. He was such a good little boy! In his letter, Franz wrote that his parents had died, and the other hosts had as well. And in general, in Austria everything had changed. Oxen don't pull wagons anymore," Dmitriy Trofimovich recounted, hiding his smile behind his whiskers.
And so, correspondence began, between the former prisoner of war and his new Austrian friends. Ten years ago, Dmitriy Trofimovich and his wife travelled to Austria, and last week, they received a visit themselves. Three guests came to Karaganda: Franz Herstenmayer's granddaughter, her husband, and a distant relative who spoke Russian. "We've become more than friends now," Dmitriy Trofimovich said. "We are kindred spirits. We will never forget them. It's surprising, but it turns out that the Great Patriotic War was for us both a great grief, and a great happiness. It happens that way."
'I SAW HIM ON THE TELEVISION!'
Christine and Walter - the Austrian guests of Dmitriy Trofimovich - sit humbly on the small couch. They smile wide, a little differently than we do, but very affable. They are comfortably dressed. Bank teller Christine wears a gay blouse. Electronic engineer Walter is in a biege t-shirt, like you would find in our markets. It turns out that they bought their clothes here.
"We like your bazaar a lot," the couple explained through the translator. "We even bought marzipan and dried apricots."
Dmitriy Trofimovich organized a rich program for his guests: a trip to Spassk, a visit to the folk history museum, and some strolls about town. "We liked the city," Christine smiled. "The people here are very nice."
Does your family still have any recollections of those days when Dmitriy Trofimovich lived with you? Christine shakes her head. "Dad was very small. But Frau Zinner, from the family where Dimitry also worked, was always watching television. When they showed Kazakhstan or Russia, she was always hoping: maybe they'll show him. One time, she even yelled: 'There's Dimitry. I saw him!' There you have it, she recognized him!" the guests finished their story with laughter.
"Or maybe, didn't recognize!" added Dmitriy Trofimovich from the corner. "I'm always on television. In Astrakhan and in Karaganda. So maybe Frau Zinner really saw me!"
|By the way
A year ago, a book of Dmitriy Trofimovich's recollections was printed in the German language, in hardcover, with a wealth of archival photographs. The Karagandan's memoirs were translated and edited by Barbara Schtelsl-Marx, who sent him a souvenier copy.
Dmitriy Trofimovich dreams that the story of his life will be printed in Karaganda someday.
"My letter is at the district administrator's, Mukhmedzhanov. And there's another hope, the dean of Karaganda state university said: 'well, if nothing else works, come to me'." Dmitriy Trofimovich is a candidate for a PhD in education, and has worked for years at the university as a professor.
|Marina Funtikova, photo Valeriya Kaliyeva|
Thanks for great War stories ! Hopefully, many of them will be published/re-published in English here in the US. When I was a child in fmr. USSR a lot of facts were ommitted from history books about WWII and only in the late 80's with Gorbachev, the real stories about POWs and their treatment upon return to USSR start coming to a full light.
...In those days, alas, a few party officials did not wish that readers and the general public knew the bitter truth about this man. I won't now name the one party functionary who used to work in state security. He openly hindered the book's creation, negatively related to it when war veterans from our republic wrote to the central committee and council of ministers, petitioning them to award V.S. Zangiev the medal Hero of the Soviet Union. God will judge him! The book saw the light of day, anyhow, and Vladimir Soslanovich rightfully became a hero of the people.
Thanks, Lion in Winter! I'm glad you found my post worth reading !
I have thoroughly enjoyed your posts!! THANKS! THANKS!!
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