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elvira kohn

Each one of us had his duties and knew what he/she was supposed to do. I knew exactly what took place when and where, in terms of meetings, conferences, events, campaigns, and I followed the schedule. I was the only female photo-reporter within ZAVNOH. There were two other male photo-reporters, but sometimes there were called in for other duties, so there were times when I was the only photo-reporter for ZAVNOH.

After the supreme headquarters formed their own public-relations department, I started to work for them, and I stayed there until the war was over.

For a while we stayed in Topusko and were about to start the preparations for celebrating 8th March [International Women's Day]. However, we received the order to move to Zadar. Zadar was terribly bombed, but liberated, and so we were given orders to reach Zadar.

After we packed our belongings, we set out on our journey from Topusko to Zadar. In front of us was a Russian military mission, the English and the Americans, and each had flags on their trucks. And, again, the day was sunny and clear, the Germans saw the truck convoy and started bombing. When we were forming our convoy, each truck had a number; each department received a number and had to load the truck with the corresponding number.
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While I was with the partisans, I always emphasized that I was Jewish. I've never hidden the fact that I am Jewish. There was also no need; as soon as I said that I had been on the Island of Rab, it was known that I was Jewish. I said I was Jewish so that I wouldn't put anyone or myself in an uncomfortable position.

I wanted to let everyone know so that nobody would say anything against the Jews. There were other Jews with me in ZAVNOH in other departments. Some were typists, some clerks, and so on. Nobody treated us any different than the rest. There were Croats, Serbs, Slovenes, Jews. Everyone was treated equally, and the relations among us were fine. We all had a common goal: to liberate our country and bring about peace.
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When the partisans arrived from Crikvenica on the Island of Rab, whoever wanted to join the partisans could join them. A group of young Jewish boys registered and was sent to Korski Kotar. Most of them didn't know how to use weapons so many of them lost their lives soon after they were liberated from Rab.

I immediately decided to join the partisans. They asked every one of us individually what we wanted, where we wanted to go, which brigade we want to join, what our profession was. I told them I was a professional photographer, and that I had a camera, that I had a Leica.

They were very surprised to hear this, and very glad, so they invited me to join the advertising and public-relations department of ZAVNOH [8], which was situated in Otocac at the time. They asked about my mother and what her profession was. So I said she was a housewife, and they replied that she should also come because we would need her around the kitchen. And so we left the Island of Rab; most of the inmates from the camp decided to join the partisans.

We got aboard a large boat that had both motors and sails, and arrived in Senj. Senj was completely bombed and destroyed, the whole town except for a church. We stayed in the church for several nights and slept on the wooden church benches. From Senj, we left on ox-drawn carts across Velebit and reached Otocac. For a while we stayed there. My mother worked in the kitchen, and I was part of the public-relations department of ZAVNOH. Apart from this department, there were other departments, like the educational, cultural, technological one and others.

My job was to take photos of various events that took place within ZAVNOH. They had board meetings, conferences, workshops, exhibitions, concerts; all kinds of events were taking place. It was like a government so many activities were going on, and I had to take photos of all the events. All the high-ranking officials of the government were there.
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Throughout the whole time of our imprisonment in the camp, I had my camera with me. I managed to hide it when we arrived in the camp even though we had to submit all of our belongings to a detailed search. But, apart from the initial search, I had to continue to hide the camera because the Italians searched our barracks almost every day.

We, the inmates, figured out the system although it was very risky. We informed each other when and where the search began so if the search began in barrack number 1 that meant that barrack number 1 was clear.

One of the informers ran to let the others know, who then let me know, and then I sent the camera through others to barrack number 1 that had already been checked. So my camera was always in a different place and the Italians never found it, thanks to good communications and good relations among the inmates.

I didn't take any photos during our imprisonment because that would have been too dangerous. I wasn't, of course, allowed to do it and, had they caught me, I could have been in great trouble so I never even tried.
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Today people say that the Italians didn't really kill anyone directly in the camp. My answer to that is: the Italians did and didn't kill in the camp. They killed indirectly. They killed by forcing us to work, by giving us small amounts of food, by giving us orders, by treating us like a lower race. They were cruel.

Often the inmates who had small children were given half a liter of milk for a child. The commandant of the camp who was among the worst, saw a mother with her child in one hand and a bottle of milk in the other, approached the mother, took the bottle from her and spilled the milk. They were cruel in these ways: starving us, mistreating us, scaring us, forcing us to work.
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Rafael Genis

Then there was an unpleasant incident, which ended up having no consequence. Soldiers from Russia often asked me how I was living in capitalist Lithuania and I honestly and straightforwardly told them that we had a good living - we had a lot of food, abundance in goods and no oppression. I was called to the party organization several times and accused of anti-Soviet propaganda. I tried to explain that I didn't concoct anything. I was arrested and kept in custody for 14 days along with other 'anti-Soviets' - the wardens of the liberated villages etc. We were put in a guarded cart. They gave us no arms and no explanations. Finally, they either clarified things, or didn't have time for that, or my proletarian origin worked, I was released all of a sudden and sent to the regiment. I will never forget those two weeks of fear and consternation.
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We were going towards the Russian border. We were stopped by Lithuanians in Mazeikiai [town in North-West Lithuania, close to the Latvian border]. They had already taken the German side and they were not willing to let us through. Our activists had weapons, they shot a couple of times and the Lithuanians ran away. There was a covering force of Russian Army soldiers [8]. They didn't let any single civilian car, a cart or a pedestrian pass. There were a lot of people. At that time a low-flying German plane started firing at people a couple of times. Many weren't moving. Our car was crushed. The passengers scattered. My sandals were torn so I went barefoot. My feet still remember the hot July asphalt. At that time a military column was passing the border, and I got under the tarpaulin of one of their trucks and went with them. We reached Pskov [town in Western Russia, close to the Latvian border]. I was afraid that they would find me, so I jumped off the truck and sat on the curb.
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There was one truck in our unit. I drove it - I had recently learnt to drive. I drove three members of the party, the commanders. I remembered one of them: Vaikus. In general, I was lucky to be able to drive and was ordered to take the Communists. There was no gas and I could not fill the car up. We went to the district town Telsiai. I was worried about my relatives, but I had neither a chance nor time to go to Rietavas. People weren't permitted to go there any more. Rietavas was closer to the border and the Germans had already occupied my town, besides my passengers were getting nervous and made me hurry. We arrived in Telsiai. I saw a large truck by the building of the district administration, where the leaders of the district, party members were sitting. My passengers joined them. I didn't think long and also jumped in the truck and we headed off.
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Eva Ryzhevskaya

We communicated with Germans during our stay in Germany. They gave us bicycles so we could go sightseeing after work. Germans were starving and we often gave them canned meat and bread from our ration. We didn't feel animosity from their sides. They treated us benevolently, and there was no thirst for revenge.
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I didn't hate the Germans I was treating. I understood that there were few of them who wanted to fight. They were soldiers. Hitler gave an order and they were to carry it out. The Germans who were on the operating table used to reiterate that they were against war and fascism. Even if they believed Hitler, they still were responsible for their actions. We believed Stalin and were tacit accomplices of his crimes. Anyway in the post-war period Germans repented. They are still assisting those who suffered from the war. But our communists who had taken millions of peoples lives in the Gulag [35] are not penitent and are not going to contrite.
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Being a doctor I saw the Germans not only in battle, but also on the operating table and in the hospital. When our reconnaissance captured Germans to get information, some of the captives were wounded. If they were lightly wounded, they were sent to the headquarters for cross-examination. There were severely wounded captives, and it was important to save their lives. Sometimes we had to pay a high price for one captive: the lives of a couple of our reconnoiters. In spite of the fact that Germans murdered all my kin, it didn't even occur to me that I should not treat them. I was a doctor and I ought to do my job no matter who was on the operating table. The duty of a doctor is to help and to save life, not to judge. Not to mention that it was my obligation.
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tili solomon

He once managed to come home from Harsova and stay for five days. They only allowed him to do that because they thought his child had died. I was that child. [Editor's note: The Herscu family managed to obtain a false death certificate for Tili Herscu in order to get the father home to the so- called funeral of his daughter.] He was escorted by an armed Romanian soldier. He had been given five days and had to return on Saturday. He reported to the [Military] Circle, to a man named Cotaie, and was given his return pass. My father then told the soldier escorting him, 'You know what? Let's pretend we got to the station too late and missed the train and let's postpone the pass for 24 hours. Since I'm here, I'd like to spend the Saturday with my wife and children.'

On Saturday they went to the Circle to pick up the pass for that day, which was the last day of his leave of absence; they intended to leave the following day, on Sunday. If someone asked them why, they would simply say that they had missed the Saturday train. So they didn't even go to the station on Saturday, only to the Circle. Instead of going to the train, they came home. This happened on Saturday at noon. On Sunday the frontline gave in and the Russians entered Iasi. Had he left on Saturday, this event would have caught him on his way back to Harsova and who knows how long it would have taken him to find a train to get back home. This was the only time he got lucky during the war: he happened to get his five-day leave of absence at the right time. Because of the Russians' arrival, he was able to stay in Iasi with his family.
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Arnold Fabrikant

Then we fought at the 1st Belarusian Front. I participated in the famous Bagration operation. [Editor's note: Belarus operation of the Soviet army in the summer of 1944. The invasion force consisted of 1,700,000 troops supported by 6,000 planes, nearly 3,000 tanks, and 24,000 artillery pieces. This attack cost the Germans more men and material than the defeat at Stalingrad.] Then we came to Brest and moved onto the territory of Poland. After Warsaw was taken, the advance was suspended. That was when I thought: We are advancing the war is coming to an end, it's time to think about peaceful life. During the war I actively corresponded with girls like everybody else. We often received letters at the front from girls, with photographs in them: 'I would like to meet a young soldier.' The girls didn't know any name and address at first, of course. All the action was organized by the military. I had a whole collection of photographs of different girls signed on the backside: 'May this still-imprint remind you of a living soul,' or 'don't think about me, when you look at the photo, but think - and then look!' There was one girl from the Far East, but this wasn't what I was thinking about. I wrote to the girl in Odessa whom I liked, but there was no response.

From Poland we returned to Belarus and then moved to Lithuania. Our division was one of the first to cross the border of Prussia and come to German land. [Eastern Prussia was bordering with Lithuania before the war. After the annexation of the Baltic States (1940) it became a German- Soviet border. After the war Eastern Prussia was divided up in between the Soviet Union and Poland.] At the border, there was a post with a sign reading 'Here it is - the fascist Germany!' Of course, that Europe was radically different from where we came from. I compared the houses in Prussia with the ones we had seen in Belarus. I even took a picture of one house in Prussia, so well-designed it was. When we entered Germany, we were allowed to send trophies home. Everybody looked for something to send home. I sent my mother a gown, fabric, some pieces of cloth. There were many abandoned houses. Our soldiers were particularly eager to get watches. Sometimes they would stop a German man asking, 'Uhr, Uhr [German for 'watch'] take it off!' I had about 16 watches. There was a popular saying: 'let's make an exchange without looking!' to swap watches. The watches were a kind of luxury in the USSR. Some didn't care about trophies and others were greedy - one could tell what people were like.

During the war relations between people were the same as in peaceful times. If a person was bad, he was not liked. We sensed what a bad commander was like when somebody named Alexandrov replaced our commanding officer, Glavatskiy. Everything changed in the regiment. Alexandrov had stayed in the rear forming marching companies, but at the end of the war there was no more need in doing this and he was appointed regiment commanding officer. He came to Prussia with his wife, but he turned out to be such a womanizer that he had several lovers. His wife made a scandal every day. We were allowed to lodge in apartments and my orderly found me one about one and a half kilometers from where our military unit was deployed. All of a sudden there was alarm every night. This Alexandrov had nothing to do in the evenings after the scandals with his wife, but raise alarms. Every night I had to jump out of my bed to run to the unit - this was painful! Everybody cursed him, and I still recall him with disgust.

At about the same time a woman doctor came to our regiment. Her name was Valia; I don't remember her surname. We all recall her with warmth. She was a dentist technician. She was a big fat woman. There were no trousers of her size, so she wore a long skirt. She had many patients, but no anesthetics. For anesthetization she would lie down on the patient with her big bust - this was her method. For a long time, and this made her different from other women, looking for men at the front, Valia was alone. Then she finally fell in love with the battalion commanding officer Petrus. One night they were making love in an earth hut and she began to groan loudly. The Germans heard it and started firing. This was the front line. Later there was an investigation: 'Who screamed? Why?' But we didn't give her away and the case was eventually dismissed.

In 1944 I got a letter from my mother from Odessa. She had returned home, but there were other people staying in our apartment. Before she managed to have them move out by a court's decision she lived in a small storeroom in the conservatory that Maria Podrayskaya helped her with. Then one room became available in our apartment and my mother moved in there. Everything was gone - our mahogany furniture, my grandfather's pieces, valuables. My mother only discovered a copper mortar and a bookshelf at our neighbors'. She bought a black plastic upholstery divan, when she received her first salary. She was assistant chief of the cardiology department of the Lermontov health center, headed by Professor Zhigalov, one of the most famous cardiologists in Odessa then.

In Eastern Prussia the Commander of the Western and 3rd Belarussian Front, Army general Ivan Cherniakhovskiy issued the only order throughout wartime: 'Save people!' Commanding officers were brought to trial for violation of the order for unjustified casualties. I had a good friend called Kostia Brovin, commanding officer of a rifling company, an accountant in peaceful life. A smart reserved guy, we had many common interests. A soldier from Kostia's group of combat security disappeared. Whether Germans kidnapped him or he surrendered - nobody could tell, but he had disappeared and that was a fact, and Kostia was brought to the tribunal because he was a commander, and sent to a penal battalion. [Penal battalions were subdivisions of the Soviet Army to which people were sent for punishment during the war. They were used at the most dangerous frontlines, basically sent to certain death]. He perished in the first battle. General Cherniakhovskiy was mortally wounded in Eastern Prussia in 1945. This was the most annoying thing: to perish at the end of the war.

On 13th January 1945 we got an order to attack, when we were not ready for it whatsoever. It turned out later that the Germans beat down the ally troops in Belgium and they asked Stalin to help them. [The last significant German counter-attack took place on 5th January 1945 in the Ardennes. It was not successful and the Germans were gradually retreating afterwards.] To save the situation we were made to attack, when we didn't have sufficient stocks of shells, when there were many wounded people and when no additional troops had been sent. It was hard to break through the German defense near Konigsberg. We couldn't avert the artillery firing of the Germans and had many injured people. When their artillery firing began, somebody shouted in the trenches, 'Hold on, Vanyka, it's beginning!'

By late March 1945, after hard battles in Eastern Prussia, we were sent to the rear for remanning and we thought the war was over for us. Our echelon reached the town of Lida in Belarus. We went to sleep and in the morning, when we woke up, it turned out we were moving across Poland. What happened was that we were transferred to the 1st Ukrainian Front moving to Berlin. On 22nd April we started our first battle near Zossen - the location of the underground headquarters of Hitler's land troops. After the battle we started looking for interesting trophies. I took a map of Berlin from the wall and I still have it.

In April we entered Potsdam and joined in the most horrible action - street fighting. I was in infantry troops since there was no artillery used in these operations, just machine guns and grenades. On 30th April 1945 we began our attack on the railway station, and this was also the Charlottenburg metro station in Berlin. This was a three-storied reinforced concrete building with big windows and doors. There was a big square in front of the building with a low steel fence with one entrance way. There was no other way and we had to send people through this small entrance, but German snipers were killing them one after the other. I requested artillery troops to somehow blacken the square with smoke and they did it. We rushed to the first floor, but couldn't even look out of there - the Germans were shooting and throwing grenades from the second floor. Then I did my most heroic deed during wartime: I requested artillery firing to my coordinates. The artillery troops started firing to the second floor - they killed the Germans, but we survived. We went around the station - there was nobody left!

We moved on. There were connecting underground passages in Berlin through a whole block - from one corner to another. There were a few steel doors leading to the basements. I tried to open one and heard a shot. I drew back in time - somebody shot from down there. If it hadn't been for the steel door, there would have been nothing left of me. On 1st May there was another dangerous moment. It happened in the basement of a house. When we arrived there we saw many people and then somebody fired a gun and the bullet went through my cap. We began to search people and one of them, a thin German guy, had a gun in his pocket. This was the only person throughout the war whom I was sure I killed. I also captured another soldier wearing a German uniform in this basement, but he happened to be a Vlasov [17] soldier. He was wounded and we left him in the basement till morning. In the morning we found him hanged on a beam on his own belt in a sitting position. Nobody felt sorry for him. We had a bad attitude toward Vlasov soldiers.

On 2nd May, at 12 o'clock, Berlin surrendered. The war was over for us. On this day I wrote to my mother after a long interval - since December 1944. I had thought to myself that I had survived for a long time and that I would probably be killed and that she had better get used to the thought that there was no me. So I lived through the last months of the war with this attitude, but then there was a turning point in my heart and I believed that everything would end well for me. After Berlin surrendered, our unit marched in the direction of Prague in Czechoslovakia. We were at the border of Czechoslovakia, when the war was over. At night we got to a mine field and our unit had to walk step by step to avoid the mines, when all of a sudden we heard shooting somewhere in the rear. We turned our heads and saw tracer bullets flying by. This was a sign that the war was over. This happened at midnight, on 8th May.
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When I recovered I rejoined my brigade. This happened in late April 1942, it was already warm. On my way I stayed overnight at some trans- shipment point. There were tents on a hill and two U2 planes nearby. There were girls from the medical battalion of our brigade in the tents. They were singing, 'Sweetheart, will you hear me,' with such lament that this song is imprinted in my memory. After the war I was trying to ask the women from our brigade at our veterans' meetings: Who sang this song then? But I never found those girls. Finally I got to my battalion and from there I was sent to be first sergeant in the battery of 120mm mortars. I got an intelligence unit in my command and received a stereo telescope. I was to sit at the observation point looking for targets and reporting to the commanding officer, who identified the coordinates, range, angle and other data. I had a stereo telescope throughout the war; when one broke down in a battle I got a new one.

We happened to be in defense at this same Hill 101, but behind the hill there was some smoke appearing every day. We discovered that this smoke was shooting. It turned out that the Germans were sending an armor train from Taganrog and it was firing periodically. We fixed it finally and covered it with our firing and it didn't reappear. In general it was quiet and the Germans left us alone. We lived in earth huts. There was no wood and we thought of heating the huts in the following way: we took a brick soaked in gasoline, burned it in an iron cast pot and it burned for a while heating the hut. We lit the earth hut with a makeshift lamp from flattened out shells. We made a hole on the side to pour in kerosene. We inserted a piece of cloth torn off our overcoats to serve as a wick in its narrow part. These lamps emitted lots of smoke, but served their purpose.

We were fed well: millet porridge, sometimes we got meat, and 150 grams of vodka every night, officially, but it was always more actually. It was believed to be a normal thing to cheat on the rear unit. Every day it was necessary to submit a report for meals for a specific number of people, because sometimes the deceased remained on the lists and their food rations were received and shared among the others. Officers received additional food rations. I was first lieutenant and received cookies, sugar and tobacco additionally.

Soldiers were given makhorka tobacco. We made 'goat leg' cigarettes from newspapers pieces. There weren't many matches and we lit cigarettes with fire steel. We borrowed cotton wool and manganese from nurses, absorbed cotton wool in manganese solution and dried it out. When a piece of such cotton wool was placed on the fire steel, the sparkle lit it instantly and then we lit cigarettes from it. At first I didn't drink or smoke and used to exchange my vodka for sugar, but I was freezing in the trench. The others smoked and had a drink and seemed to feel better. So I also began to drink my ration of vodka and smoke, and it became easier to endure the damp trench, but it was still cold.

We had warm flannel underwear: a shirt and underpants and a uniform shirt and trousers over them. We wore sailor caps at first, but later we got winter hats and wore knitted headpieces underneath. We also had sheepskin liners to wear underneath our winter coats; they warmed us well. The boots with leg-wrappings that I wore till 1943 didn't help against the cold. Those wrappings were a problem to me. You drop the end of a two-meter long belt, it rolls away and you have to crawl around looking for it and then roll it up again - a terrible nuisance. In our pastime everybody told stories. Older soldiers told fables of their frontline love adventures. Everybody boasted as much as he could. We often read letters from home aloud - everybody was interested what was going on in the rear.

When the Germans forced a crossing over the Don River and approached Stalingrad, we got the order to retreat in the direction of Rostov. We had to cover about 60-80 kilometers. The Germans were following us. A few kilometers away trenches had been dug for us and we had hardly managed to get there, when German tanks started to attack us. All of a sudden a pack of dogs with triton blocks attached to their backs ran past us. There was a starting lever sticking from their belts - they hitched the bottom of a tank to this lever and the tank exploded. Of 40 tanks 30 exploded, and the rest of them left. It turned out that there was a company of tank fighters behind us. The female trainers fed their dogs only under an operating tank and developed a trained reflex in them. We felt sorry for the animals, but what could be done about it, at least the attack was repelled.

When we came to Rostov to cross the Don, I saw an incredible scenario: vehicles, horses, wagons, tractors, combines, people, and cattle were moving along two crossing ways continuously bombed by Germans. They didn't just drop bombs, but shot through empty barrels whining so loudly that each barrel seemed to be falling on you. You press yourself to the earth to hide away, hear something falling nearby and wait for an explosion, but nothing happens. The main crossing was on a pontoon bridge. Everybody stepping on it began to run fast. There were bombs exploding on the right and on the left, raising fountains of water; some people fell into the water - a terrible sight. Somehow we managed to do the crossing.

On the opposite bank, walking a few kilometers in the direction of Bataysk, we took a defense position. My observation point was on the roof of a house in the nearest village. I was doing observation of the locality and at dawn I saw Germans marching in a row in a ravine from Bataysk. I reported to my commander of the battery about this and he reported to higher officers. At this time the Germans bumped into our outposts and exchange of fire began. Half an hour later a group of Germans on ten motorcycles arrived. There were two machine guns on each motorcycle. Our resistance didn't make sense any longer and we were ordered to retreat. Where to? The only possibility was to head to the flood-lands, and there were reeds, sedge and waist deep water. I was making my way through the reeds with my stereo telescope. All of a sudden I felt something hitting my arm. I dropped the telescope and somebody picked it. There was blood all over my hand; the bullet injured a tendon between my big thumb and forefinger. It was a trifling wound and under different circumstances I wouldn't have needed to go to hospital, but I had it bandaged in the water, probably with dirty bandages that caused festering. I had a lot of trouble with it for about a month and a half. We were retreating. Finally, I was sent to a hospital near Tbilisi [today Georgia]. They promptly treated my hand and from there they sent me to an artillery instrumental intelligence school in the town of Manglisi near Tbilisi.

This was a division of the Makhachkala town military infantry school training geodesists and survey engineers, i.e., those who could picture a location layout with theodolite and find orientation with the help of a stereo telescope. When I finished it in the middle of September 1943 I was sent to the front line in the 55th guard division, 66th guard rifling regiment under the command of Glavatskiy from Odessa. Our division was to head to the Taman peninsula [Western Caucasus between the Azov and Black Seas] to the Strait of Kerch [connecting the Black and Azov Seas]. There are many lakes, swamps, reeds and canals there. The firth Kyzyltysh [one of the numerous firths of the Azov Sea] was separated from the sea by a split where we were to land to cut a retreat for Germans. We landed successfully; the Germans didn't notice us and began to retreat along the split, when they bumped into us. During a battle something went wrong with the radio holding communications with the army headquarters. Then a plane dropped a message from the commander of the army, Petrov, for us: 'We don't know where you are. Make an identification sign on your front line.' We made a line from pieces of white cloth, whatever we had at hand, to show them the location we were at. We held the Germans back and stayed there quietly till late October.

On 4th November we were put ashore across from Chushka, a split at the end of the Taman peninsula; this area was called Malaya Zemlia. I stayed with the artillery on the main land. I began to send data about the targets and did it well. I don't know how I did it: we had learned calculations, but here intuition was more important. Our troops captured a part of the Kerch peninsula, but the Germans had a well fortified defense line and they stopped us after we had covered about twelve kilometers of the Kerch peninsula. Despite this we were in good spirits probably thanks to political work. There was a political officer in each company whose only mission was to trigger discussions telling us what we were to do and how, what we were fighting for and whom we were fighting - this wasn't a mere formality and it had its effect on soldiers, lifting their spirits and uniting them. We went into battles with the words 'For Stalin, for the motherland, straight on!' Of course, there were deserters. Once, when we were remanning, our brigade was ordered to line up in a U-order and two individuals were demonstratively shot for desertion. Once, additional staff of Azerbaijani arrived. They didn't know Russian and didn't want to fight whatsoever. They ate some herb on purpose, it caused diarrhea, and it was terrible and everybody wanted to get rid of them. They were sent to a medical sanitary battalion and I don't know what happened to them then. They never returned to us.

I took part in a landing operation. On the evening of 9th January we went into the Azov Sea. We had the so-called anti-yperit high boots. At night, all of a sudden a storm broke and our boats, long boats and schooners were scattered all around. Half of the landing troop disappeared, some drowned and some were dragged into the sea; they were found two weeks later. I fell into the water, my stereo telescope got wet and I got wet in the chest-deep water, the temperature of which was only four or five degrees. What saved us was that the seashore wasn't far away and the water was shallow. When I reached the seashore, the commanding officer yelled, 'Drop your stereo telescope, grab a machine gun - there are Germans moving along the shore, we have nobody to shoot back at them!' I grabbed a machine gun and joined the others. We managed to repel the attack. In this battle Nadia Leschina, Glavatskiy's wife, who served there with us, demonstrated heroism. Mariners were fighting with us and Germans sent tanks to where they were, and the mariners began to retreat. Nadia all of a sudden got to her feet and shouted, 'Guys, follow me! Go ahead!' The mariners felt ashamed that they got scared and the woman was not and they repelled this tank attack. For this battle Nadia was awarded an Order of the Combat Red Banner [16].

In those days I was thinking of joining the Party. I talked to Zakharov, the Party leader of our regiment. He talked me out of it, 'If you join the Party, they will send you to the hottest spot and you will perish for nothing. You are important for us and we need you to be here with us rather than somebody else.' Our division moved to the village of Varenikovskaya to relocate to a different front. There were many troops, tents, cannons, and lots of people taken to this railroad junction. All of a sudden somebody noticed a hare running from God knows where. Everybody went after this hare trying to throw an overcoat onto him. The hare escaped. It was a lot of fun, especially when an army newspaper wrote that the glorious 55th guard rifling division failed to catch a single hare.

Then we fought at the 1st Belarusian Front. I participated in the famous Bagration operation. [Editor's note: Belarus operation of the Soviet army in the summer of 1944. The invasion force consisted of 1,700,000 troops supported by 6,000 planes, nearly 3,000 tanks, and 24,000 artillery pieces. This attack cost the Germans more men and material than the defeat at Stalingrad.] Then we came to Brest and moved onto the territory of Poland. After Warsaw was taken, the advance was suspended. That was when I thought: We are advancing the war is coming to an end, it's time to think about peaceful life. During the war I actively corresponded with girls like everybody else. We often received letters at the front from girls, with photographs in them: 'I would like to meet a young soldier.' The girls didn't know any name and address at first, of course. All the action was organized by the military. I had a whole collection of photographs of different girls signed on the backside: 'May this still-imprint remind you of a living soul,' or 'don't think about me, when you look at the photo, but think - and then look!' There was one girl from the Far East, but this wasn't what I was thinking about. I wrote to the girl in Odessa whom I liked, but there was no response.

From Poland we returned to Belarus and then moved to Lithuania. Our division was one of the first to cross the border of Prussia and come to German land. [Eastern Prussia was bordering with Lithuania before the war. After the annexation of the Baltic States (1940) it became a German- Soviet border. After the war Eastern Prussia was divided up in between the Soviet Union and Poland.] At the border, there was a post with a sign reading 'Here it is - the fascist Germany!' Of course, that Europe was radically different from where we came from. I compared the houses in Prussia with the ones we had seen in Belarus. I even took a picture of one house in Prussia, so well-designed it was. When we entered Germany, we were allowed to send trophies home. Everybody looked for something to send home. I sent my mother a gown, fabric, some pieces of cloth. There were many abandoned houses. Our soldiers were particularly eager to get watches. Sometimes they would stop a German man asking, 'Uhr, Uhr [German for 'watch'] take it off!' I had about 16 watches. There was a popular saying: 'let's make an exchange without looking!' to swap watches. The watches were a kind of luxury in the USSR. Some didn't care about trophies and others were greedy - one could tell what people were like.
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My military train arrived in the village of Abinskaya [town of Abinsk, Russia, since 1963]. We were accommodated on the football field of the stadium. There we were acquainted with Stalin's order to recall young men with secondary and incomplete higher education to send them to officers' schools. We were sorted out and I happened to be in the group that was sent to the town of Piatigorsk where the 68th separate Navy shooting brigade was being formed. I was enlisted in a mortar unit of a bombardment company of 50-mm mortars. This mortar has the shape of a big frog. It couldn't be disassembled, it was to be carried on the shoulder and it weighed twelve kilos. We also had to carry boxes with mines - eight mines weighing 800 grams each in one box. Our commanding officer was also carrying boxes with mines; we all did. Our unit consisted of five people: the commanding officer, three mine deliverers and a gun layer. I happened to be a gun layer. We began to learn the mortar discipline. The company deployed at the Mashu?k Mountain. [Editor's note: the Mashuck is a rather low mountain (993 m) near Pyatigorsk. It is known in Russian history as the place of the duel and death of the great poet Lermontov [15].] Winter started and we began to learn how to ski. We skied up to the hill where Lermontov had had a duel. Then we either skied, if we managed, or rolled down the hill.

In late December 1941 our brigade was sent to Rostov. There were 50 percent experienced navies there and the rest were inexperienced youngsters like me. The officers were former sailors. The commanding officer of the brigade was a submariner, who had only a vague idea about land operations. He didn't even care to train us to entrench and we had many problems due to this later on. At Bataysk station near Rostov, where our train stopped, somebody got to know that there was an echelon with spirit nearby. We took canvas buckets from which we gave water to the horses to get spirit that we drank. This happened to be poisonous technical spirit and many died from poisoning. I didn't drink at that time, and this saved my life. We went patrolling in Rostov, guarded the general staff of the regiment and dug trenches near Rostov.

We were in reserve of the 56th army till March 1942, when we were ordered to re-deploy. We marched at night, slept in stables or sheds or just on manure since it was warm. We reached the village of Kolesnikovo on the banks of the Mius River, 12-15 meters wide, but rather deep, up to 8-9 meters. It was covered with ice at the time. There were flood- lands in spring and farther there were hills where the Germans were in trenches. There was Hill 101 in front of us, the highest and the most important one, shielding the direction to Donbass [Donetsk].

The commander of the Southern Front, Budyonnyi, decided to make the Soviet people happy before 8th March, Women's Day. There was a tradition to have accomplishments coincide with holidays before the war, and they transferred this practice on military actions without giving it a second thought. They decided to attack and capture this Hill 101 on 1st March, the town of Matveyev Kurgan, Taganrog and approach the German grouping from the rear, from the sea. On 7th March we were ordered to start the attack. The artillery failed to catch up with us and there was no artillery preparation. We crossed the Mius River over the ice before dawn, came onto a field and began to move ahead slowly in a chain. The first was the infantry line, rifling units followed and our company with mortars was moving about 200 meters behind. We were about 400 meters from the slope of the hill, when the Germans started shooting. They hadn't seen us before since it was still dark. We didn't wear camouflage: officers wore sheepskin jackets, soldiers had their overcoats on and sailors in their black overcoats made perfect targets on the field covered with snow. Like many others I didn't have high boots, but ankle-high boots with leg-wrappings. The Germans fired mines at us and then started firing from machine guns. Later I got to know that in this battle the average density of rifle-machine gun firing was 10 bullets per each linear meter of the front line per minute. So we were moving through this wall of firing.

There was a small village - just a few houses at the bottom of the hill. We identified a machine gun nest and cannon by the houses and eliminated it with mortars. When we began to climb the hill, a sanitary instructor and two attendants were walking beside me. The attendants were taking the wounded down the hill. The sanitary instructor was wounded, and the commanding officer of my company ordered me to take his bag. At this instant a splinter of a shell hit my mortar and damaged it. The commanding officer ordered me to drop it and apply bandages on the wounded. There were many wounded, so I applied bandages while they were also helping each other. We managed to almost climb to the top, to the German communication passages. In a trench nearby a mine exploded and the splinters wounded my legs. The blood was coming through my leg wrappings. They applied a bandage and evacuated me down the hill to the houses. We were waiting for wagons from the sanitary company there. The Germans trapped us in mortar firing. I was shell-shocked. I started bleeding from my ears, nose, throat, and my teeth came loose. I almost fainted, but I survived. We were taken to the medical company on horse- drawn wagons. From there I was sent to a hospital in Rostov.

While in hospital I got to know that our troops failed to capture Hill 101 since the Germans used tanks and planes in their defense. Over half of the staff of our brigade perished then. There were 4,400 of us, and only about 2,000 survived.
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