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elvira kohn

We reached Zagreb on 9th May 1945 around 5pm. We crossed the Sava bridge and arrived at the main square. The welcome was amazing. People were standing on the streets all over the city of Zagreb, waiting for us to come, clapping their hands, waving the flags. The atmosphere was magnificent, full of emotions, people were delighted and excited. Everyone knew that the war was over, that the Ustashas and the Germans had left the city, that Zagreb was liberated.

After the celebration on the main square, a group of us partisans, who had been together throughout the war, went to Zvonimirova Street, where the headquarters of Pavelic [9] used to be. We decided to sleep in the headquarters of Pavelic, as a statement of victory over the Ustashas. We were warned not to touch anything because there was danger that the Ustashas had left bombs and munition.

There was still a smell of smoke in the backyard of the headquarters; the Ustashas must have been burning the documents and papers just the day before when they were driven out. My first night in Zagreb, I slept on a table in Pavelic's headquarters, with an army coat and a gun underneath me.
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Krystyna Budnicka

We were in Bobrowce when the liberation came [the Russians entered Warsaw on 17th January 1945], and in February we were moved to Osuchow, to the abandoned palace of the Plater family.
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Janina Duda

The war ended in this area in 1944. I joined the army and I was transferred to Poland, dropped with a parachute.
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gabor paneth

I was drafted several times into different forced labor battalions. First I was sent to Felsohangoly, where I spent three months between July and October 1944. At the time I felt that I, and many others, were saved from deportation by being sent to forced labor there. We weren't too badly off there. Of course, there wasn't enough to eat, but sometimes after working at digging ditches, we had nothing to do, so we just hung around. In September I was taken to Kecskemet and soon after to Szolnok. On October 12, I went home to my parents but two days later I was drafted again and taken to Szekesfehervar, 60 kilometers from Budapest. On October 15, the news came that Hungary had broken away from the German alliance. Everybody was sent home from the camp. By the time I got to Budapest, I heard the newsboys shout that the Arrow Cross (Hungarian Fascists) had taken power. I crept home and found my mother and aunt there. My father had already been taken to a collection center in Budapest. I went to the Swiss embassy where I found a huge line. I was standing around looking at this queue when suddenly the door opened and an acquaintance of mine came out. When he saw me, he shoved me in through the door. I found myself inside at the head of the queue. The embassy gave me four false Schutzpasses, protection letters, and those enabled us to survive. I went and got my father out of the collection center with one pass, and we all moved from our house, which was then a yellow-star house, into a protected house. Later, in January, we had to move into the ghetto. We were there until the liberation.
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Lily Arouch

When the war ended in October 1944 [12th October 1944], we saw the Germans leave in their trucks; we had a little window and we could see what was happening. Once again they sent me out first, to see what was happening. When I came back I told my father, 'I don't see any Germans, I think you can go out.' And so we left our hiding place. We had stayed there from April 1943 to October 1944, we had been there for nineteen months. After that we left the hiding place and life went on.

When we were liberated we found out that my grandmothers and my parents' sisters were all dead. The only one who was rescued was one of my father's sisters, Ester Pardo, with her husband, Sabethai Pardo, and her daughter, only because her son was a civil guard [15].
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Henrich Kurizkes

In February 1944 the crossing of the Narva began. There were violent battles for the Narva. There were Estonian SS military personnel in the Narva and they had nowhere to retreat. The German commanders convinced them that they were sending assistance soon and they were to hold defense until new forces joined them. And they staged a holdout of this plan. Another desperate thing about these battles was that Estonians fought Estonians, the Estonian Corps of the Soviet army against the Estonian SS division. There were cases when members of one family were on opposite sides. The river was frozen, but the ice was scarlet with blood.

In summer 1944 we managed to destroy the enemy fortifications on the bank of the river. Our battalion took part in these battles, but I would like to emphasize that the main blow was struck by the penal battalion fighting beside us. They were sent into initial attacks, and, frankly speaking, they were just cannon fodder. If it had not been for them our casualties would have been many more. There were few survivors in those penal battalions. They had to fight in penal battalions until 'first blood,' until their first wound, and after the hospital they were assigned to common military units.

One can speak a lot about hardships at the front. We continuously moved from one location to another fighting on a beachhead for one or two weeks before moving to new positions. To begin with, we dug trenches. It's impossible to count how many we had dug. Of all tools we only had entrenching shovels. We started with digging a hole to hide the body before deepening it to the size fitting the height of the body. Then we dug a passage to the nearest neighbor and then it became easier to work. Then, when this trench was completed we were ordered to move to another location and then started all over again.

We slept in the open air for the most part. It was fine in summer, when one could fall asleep on the grass, but winter was worse. We slept in twos on one ground sheet and one top coat and used another ground sheet and top coat to sleep under them. We used our back packs as a pillow and gripped our machine guns so that nobody could take them away. When we woke up three hours later, we were covered with a heavy layer of snow.

There was artillery preparation before each battle. By the end of the war we had sufficient artillery units. At the very start of my experience at the front we had 45mm anti-tank cannon guns called 'Farewell, Motherland!' It took three men to roll it onto an open space. They shot tanks point blank. However, the tanks didn't wait to be shot at. Very often these three soldiers were killed immediately. Later we got antitank rifles and rocket missiles. Also there were more planes attacking the enemy's positions, followed by artillery preparation and then the infantry attacked shouting 'Hurrah! For the Motherland!'

I remember our first battles. We were to rise to attack and it was scary to get on and march ahead, but we knew that we had to march ahead and had to stop thinking that we might be killed at any moment. Later, with more experience, this fear lessened, but never disappeared. It's impossible to get used to such things. But then we would think about our field kitchen delivering food after a battle, which was quite a comforting thought to enjoy. Of course, there were delays with food supplies, particularly in spring and fall, when roads were impassable. At such times field kitchens had problems catching up with armed forces.

There were many more battles after the Narva. We were marching across the territory of Estonia, from the south of Estonia via Tallinn heading to the islands. The Germans must have envisaged that the end was approaching and were hurriedly running away from Estonia.

I remember the battle for Saaremaa Island, which was a strategic point, and our regiment was to capture it. I was in Battalion 3. Battalion 1 was the first one to be sent to the island. It consisted of the marines of the Baltic Fleet on marine boats. These boats were the first to attack. They were to land on the beachhead and later we were to join them there. This landing ended tragically. The boats delivered them to the shallow water and they thought it was the sandbank, but it was followed by deep water and they all drowned.

It happened this way. The night battle on Saaremaa was frightful. We reached our positions. It was pitch dark and we bumped into the Germans heading to their boats. Our attack was quite unexpected for them. This was my first face to face fighting. Of course, we had fought before, but we never knew who killed whom or how many people each of us killed. The main goal was to move ahead and destroy the enemy. Nobody cared whether the enemy was killed by a cannon shell or one's bullet. There were no emotions. It was like a shooting range, while there we were close to the enemy and besides, we had to fight in this inky darkness.

We didn't know Germans before we grabbed them. They had longer hair, whereas we had very short haircuts. We grabbed someone by his head and if we felt the longer hair we knew it must be a German soldier. We fought with whatever was at hand: bayonets, knives, rifle and machine gun butt stocks. I didn't have a feeling that I was killing human beings. There was some animal feeling of self-protection: you were fighting for yourself and for your life. There were no other emotions.

In early 1945 I was sent on a course for junior command staff. After finishing this training I was awarded the rank of junior lieutenant. When we were sent to Kurland I had a platoon under my command. The final combat actions in Kurland were the most violent. Our command was in a hurry to wrest the ground from the enemy and finish the war, while German forces were holding the lines and fighting desperately, supporting some of their units to give them a chance to evacuate.

We were moving ahead very slowly: fighting, shooting, wresting the ground from the enemy, advancing 50-100 meters and stopping again. The location was unfavorable and there was no shelter: grassy clearing, then a spot of wood and then an open clearing again. Even the wounded had to wait for rescue until night and they had to stay there bleeding, if they happened to have been wounded on an open grass clearing.

My close school friend was fighting in the neighboring regiment. During an attack he was wounded in his leg and had to stay in a swamp all day long. There was no way to pull him out. At night he was taken out and sent to the medical battalion and later he was sent to hospital. He was developing gangrene, and the hospital could offer no cure. He had his leg amputated beneath his knee to stop the gangrene.

We fought in Kurland, when we had some period of inactivity. Actually through April 1945 we were only engaged in training. We made earth huts and were having a rest. We knew the war was coming to an end. In early May, Estonian General Lieutenant Lembit Piarn, Corps Commander, visited us. He came from the family of Caucasian Estonians. These families moved to Georgia in the 19th century looking for a better life. We lined up and Piarn told us that in a few days we would receive a signal to begin combat action and we were to prepare ourselves to advance 7 kilometers within one and a half hours and wrest the ground from the enemy.

We started preparations and training in aimed shooting on the run and running. Then, on 8th May 1945 in the late afternoon, we were ordered to start the combat action. We started moving to our positions. The tanks were moving along the road and the infantry was following them. It was still light, when all of a sudden the tank column stopped and I saw a Willis car approaching us from the German front line. It stopped and a general came out. He approached the tanks and pronounced loudly: 'That's it, comrades! The war is over!' Later I heard that this was General Panyushkin. He had already visited the Germans and they had signaled their surrender.
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Isroel Lempertas

We had been already conferred the officers' rank and I became a junior lieutenant. Shortly after our victory we were allocated to different military units. I was sent Vilnius and assigned Komsomol organizer of regiment # 249, where I used to serve. First I lived in the barracks with everybody. Our regiment was in Severny Gorodok, it was the name of one of the outskirts of Vilnius. Mother stayed in Moscow for a while. She was supposed to have a permit to come to Vilnius. When I managed to get a permit for her, I went to Moscow to take mother in Vilnius. In Moscow I saw aunt Anna and cousin Rina. By that time they came back from Kirov oblast, where they stayed during war. First mother and I rented our lodging in Vilnius. It was a small room without conveniences. In 1946 many people left Vilnius for Poland and many apartments were empty. [In 1946 soviet authorities permitted to leave the territory of the USSR to all people, who were born on the territories annexed to the USSR in the period of 1939- 40s.] I was given a small two-room apartment with a kitchen, but without conveniences. Finally, we had our own house and we settled there with mother. I had been writing the requests on demobilization, but they were returned to me unsigned.
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In the summer of 1944 my motherland Lithuania was liberated. I always corresponded with mother. As we agreed, she kept on working in the hostel of the Teachers' Training School. She was evacuated in Moscow with that institute. Mother asked me to be cautious not to be hit by the bullet, but I was never a coward. Strange as it may be the most difficult for me at the front was the lack of the conveniences, the chance to wash my face, take a bath and put clean clothes on, not fascist bullets and the fear of being killed at any moment. Marshes, filth, gnats and not getting enough sleep desponded me the most. My character did not fit the military service, though I was quite good in the battles being a brave soldier. At the end of 1944 the invitation for the officers' courses was sent to our regiment. It was suggested that I should go there. I did not want to be a career soldier as I did not like military service. I wanted to continue my studies at the institute. I understood that the war was winding up and it would be difficult for me to be demobilized at the rank of an officer. But still, I agreed. I even do not know why. Probably, because I was highly responsible. I left for the courses, which were to last for 3 months. These were officers' courses of the First Baltic Front. It happened right after Lithuania had been liberated. We settled in Riga. The war was about to end and the courses were constantly prolonged to save as much officers as possible. When the war moved to Eastern Prussia, we were sent to the former German Kaliningrad region [23], having been liberated by soviet troops. We met victory here. We were exulting. We were so happy to know that the war was over and now it was the time to think of our future.
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Before one of the fiercest battles I joined the Communist party. I did it consciously and deliberately. In the lines all those who wished were admitted in the party, without any bureaucratic routines. So I was admitted in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. I remember that often we darted in assault with the Stalin's name and we did it willingly. We thought he was the one who encouraged us and assured us in the victory. It was the way we were brought up. During one of the most serious battles I was ahead of everybody. I jumped in the enemy's trench and killed the fascists who were there. As it turned out my deed turned out to be decisive in liberation of the village we were attacking. I do not remember its name now, but it was somewhere on the border of Russian and Belarus. After that battle my commander included me in the list of the awardees. I felt strange. I was a modest guy and I did not think my action to be extraordinary. Soon there was a resolution and I was conferred with the Order of Fame [21]. Soon I was elected a Komsomol organizer of the squad and became the aide of the political officer [22]. I was to follow the rounds-up of the fronts, estimate political situation. By the way, news- paper were delivered daily and had political classes with the soldiers when they were not in the battles. The war was about to end and the front was advancing to the Western borders of the USSR.
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Dina Kuremaa

In 1942-43 the situation on the front was very tense, and it affected peoples' attitude to us. We were the only Jewish evacuees, the foreigners. Tartars were looking forward for Germans to come. I don't know what they expected from them, but they constantly were talking about it, and we felt ourselves ill at ease. When Soviet troops started attacking, the air was cleared. It was rather scary before that. There was a radio in the village, where we were constantly listening to round-ups from the front. We followed military actions of the Soviet army: where they attacked, and which cities they liberated. The closer Soviet troops were getting to Estonia, the more optimistic we were about the future.

We scraped through the dreadful year of 1944. In fall 1944 Estonia was liberated, and people started getting back home. We left for home in the middle of November. We were on the road for one month. We didn't have any food with us, and we had no things to exchange at the stations. One local woman gave me a loaf of bread at the station not far from the Estonian border. We cut it in tiny pieces and ate it on our way. When the train arrived in Narva, we were given food straight at the station. It was such an indescribable feast for us.
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jerzy pikielny

We found ourselves in a German woman's apartment, who welcomed us with open arms, although she hadn't been all that friendly towards us at the factory, where she'd worked as a nurse. We burned our clothes and took a bath.
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In the morning of 9th May it turned out the members of the committee had fled; the camp was situated next to a road leading to the town. We concluded we had to hide as well, because otherwise the retreating German troops could kill us. We ran uphill, into the woods. There were uniformed Germans there, very close to us, firing machine guns at the advancing Soviet troops. Later the German units moved away and the Soviets marched in.

That's how I made it through till 9th May. When the Russians entered, my friend Jakub Litwin and I left the camp. We had our camp clothes on. We were infested with lice. And in that state we went to the town next to our camp. It was called Friedland, currently Mieroszow [95 km from Wroclaw]. The town was already partially deserted, because the Germans had started to leave somewhat earlier.
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Edit Kovacs

During the war, in June 1944, my daughter and I, my mother and my sister,
and my sister's little son, who was the same age as Maria, were together in
a yellow-star house in Nepszinhaz Street. We were crammed into a three-room
flat with a dozen other people. The men were in forced labor battalions. In
July, the women and children were taken to a stadium from where we would
have been deported. A decent Arrow Cross (Hungarian Fascist) man-because
there existed such people as well-told me that everybody with a child under
the age of two should try to sneak away, while they would be looking the
other way. My family and I went back to the yellow-star house and we were
left in peace until the German occupation on October 15, 1944.

A week after that, the Arrow Cross people came again and collected all the
younger women and set them off on foot on a death march towards the
Austrian border. My sister and I managed to escape and arrived back in
Budapest in early November. In the meantime, my mother had been taken to
the ghetto together with the children, but we managed to find them when we
got back. My father also managed to escape from the Austrian border and he
found us in the ghetto. We pulled through the ghetto times somehow. On the
day before Liberation, in February 1945, I went out of the cellar where we
had been hiding during the bombing to get some food. I was injured by
shrapnel and I was left lying on the street for some days and got blood
poisoning, so my right leg had to be amputated below the knee (the
operation was done in the Jewish Hospital). This marked me for the rest of
my life.
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Anna Ivankovitser

Chernovtsy hadn't been destroyed by the war. Shops were open; there was plenty of food, and goods to be bought. My sister came from Chernovtsy several times. She brought some paint that she sold to the local farmers. She took a train to Mohilev-Podolsk and had to ride on the roof of a railcar, because these were freight trains. From the station she got to Shargorod by whatever transportation was at hand. My sister told us to move to Chernovtsy without delay. She said that there were many vacant apartments there. We went to Chernovtsy on a horse-driven cart.
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In April 1944 the Soviet army liberated us. The population of the ghetto was half of what it had been three years before. The war lasted for another year. We had to think of our future. We had no food or money. There were a few families from Chernovtsy. They returned home after liberation and my sister went with them to see whether it was worth moving to Chernovtsy. We didn't want to stay in Shargorod. There were too many terrible memories from living there. Gersh and another of my maternal uncles, whose name I don't remember, perished in Polonoye. They and their families were killed, shot by the Germans in 1941. Only Motl, the youngest, survived. He lived in the small town of Murafa near Shargorod. He and his wife and their children stayed alive. Motl died of cancer in 1957.
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