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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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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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Victor Baruh

In the following summer Armand and I were mobilized in the Jewish labor group in Verinsko [a village between the towns of Ihtiman and Vakarel]. We lived in tents next to some petrol tanks. In August 1944 after the Yash- Kishinev Operation at the Eastern Front some defeated German units withdrew, passing through Bulgaria. I remember that trucks full of German soldiers passed nearby. There was a Bulgarian unit in the neighborhood and they were commanded to disarm the passing German soldiers. We asked them why they didn't disarm them. 'Why don't you disarm them!', they answered. And how exactly could we do it - with spades? Afterwards they really did take captives and sent them to the yard of the Vakarel church. The Germans knew that their soldiers were there and one day an airplane flew past very close to the ground - as a final salute and in a few days they bombarded the tanks.

The government changed. But we had already removed the yellow stars beforehand. In July Slaveiko Vasilev, a famous military officer who had taken part in the coup d'état in 1923 [see events of 1923] [18], passed through. He stopped his car and said, 'You don't have stars anymore.' On 6th-7th September 1944 I was in Pazardjik; there was an ex-priest, 'the red priest', who held a meeting where he spoke a satirical and symbolic public prayer to bury fascism.
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Rafael Genis

I reached Kiev with the army of Marshall Rybalko [Marshall Pavel Semyonovich Rybalko (1892-1948) commanded the Third Tank Guards Army, which liberated parts of Eastern Europe from Nazi occupation in WWII] and took part in the liberation of this city. At night on 6th November we crossed the Dniepr on boats. There was a gun crew with us and they put boards one in front of the other and placed two anti-tank weapons on each of the boards. The German artillery fired on the boats from the high right bank. They hit our boat and I swam to the right bank. I was drifted away 500 meters as the current of the Dniepr was strong. I was in Kiev. There was a barge by the dock. I reached it and then I remember only a flash of the blasted shell. I can't remember anything else.
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Knowing the Fascists' attitude towards the Jews, and reading the military press, I understood that Lithuanian Jews, including my relatives, were exterminated. When we were liberating towns and villages in Ukraine, the local people told us about executions of Jews in ghettos and camps, about the atrocity of the Fascists. I saw horrible pits, the places where Jews perished and understood even more that I remained alone. My task was revenge. I went in every battle to take revenge and exterminate as many Fascists as possible. In summer 1943 I undermined four enemy tanks and every burning tank was a monument for my kin.
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There were a lot of tragic and sad things of course. Every day some of our pals didn't come back from the battle. So many of them were lost! We couldn't even bury them, just leave the cadavers on the battle field and move on. We saw boys dying. Even now I can't get how we were able to survive. We hadn't washed ourselves for months, didn't change our clothes, slept in wet dirty clothes, were frozen to death, but still we fought. Though, I should say that we were fed quite well at the time when there were problems with nutrition.
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When I finished the sergeant school I went in the reserve regiment of the tank army of the First Ukrainian Front. We covered almost all of Ukraine, having liberated Sumy, Poltava and the Chernigov oblast. Once in Poltava [today central Ukraine] I was in a dugout, and it was hit by a bomb. I was covered with earth. Fortunately, they found me and sent me to hospital. I had a bad concussion. After the hospital I happened to be in the 9th Tank- Destroyer division, which reached Kiev.
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I was sent to the 8th reserve regiment of the First Baltic Front in the vicinity of Orel [today Russia, 360 km south-west of Moscow]. The Lithuanian division was dislocated there, and I took part in battles for the liberation of that region. Now it is hard for me to remember the names and dates of the battles. I was as if in a stupor during that noise and cold. After several battles I was sent to the Moscow sergeant school. I was there for several months and it was a fabulous respite.
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I and hundreds of unseasoned recruits were thrown in the battle. We even had never held a weapon in our hands. I don't remember anything about the battle, but the whistle of the bullets. After the battle I was all shaken, I had malaria. I was put in a separate room in the unit, given quinine and sent to the hospital.
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I and hundreds of unseasoned recruits were thrown in the battle. We even had never held a weapon in our hands. I don't remember anything about the battle, but the whistle of the bullets. After the battle I was all shaken, I had malaria. I was put in a separate room in the unit, given quinine and sent to the hospital.
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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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My birthday was on 21st June 1941. It was Saturday and my pals from the military unit wanted me to celebrate it with them, so I didn't go home. My pals and the head of the cart fleet Shalin celebrated with me. We drank a bottle of vodka and went dancing to the club. We stayed there until midnight. I went home and fell asleep straight away. At 6am I was awoken by Shalin: 'Get up, the war has started!' I should say that I wasn't surprised. We understood in the military unit that the war was inevitable. There was talk about it. We said that we wouldn't give up a single piece of our land. Shalin sent me over to the garage and ordered us to dismantle the cars for the Fascists not to take them. There were a lot of them and it took us a long time. We dug a huge pit and covered the cars with timber waste as the saw mill was nearby. By that time the town, where the military unit was located, was almost vacated. Some people ran away, others were hiding.
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Janina Duda

One of these Bortner cousins from Warsaw was in the Red Army, he fought in the Stalingrad battle [3]; he later returned home [to Poland] as an officer. He changed his last name to Tagori. He was a lieutenant colonel and got married in Lublin to a Polish woman, Zosia, a very pretty girl.
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Vladimir Tarskiy

I need to mention an episode that hasn’t been recorded in military history. Konigsberg [today Kaliningrad, Russia] was encircled twice. The first time, and we participated in it, was a breakthrough to Zalmanskiy peninsula. We advanced to the sea west of Konigsberg cutting it from Pilau where the Germans had several tank units. They attacked, captured many prisoners and came back to Konigsberg. I need to mention here that while our aviation bombed military facilities and utilities, the Americans and British raged on cluster bombings of the towns that were to belong to us after the war. They destroyed Dresden this way and bombed Konigsberg. We were in a town near Koningsberg before Germans repositioned themselves in Konigsberg. The allies didn’t drop bombs on this town and all German elite took shelter in it.

When we came into this town, there were civilians in it. We had never met any before. Peaceful citizens usually left the towns before we entered there, but here we broke into a living German organism. I didn’t care about women then. Besides, nobody raped my wife or killed my children, but there were older soldiers who had information that their wives had been raped by the Germans or their wives and children had been killed. They began to take revenge on German women. I don’t think there were more than 20 percent of the German women left who weren’t raped in this town. The soldiers destroyed and ruined everything. I saw them throwing down a grand piano listening to its clinking. It didn’t occur to them that it would be all ours in the end. They burned everything. They sensed the victory. If they had saved every house on our territory because it was ours, there, on the German land, they wreaked vengeance on Germans. ‘Let’s set this house on fire and I will get warm nearby.’

I remember our troops seizing a railway station where there were trains with valuables that Germans had taken to this station. There were a few railcars with Swiss watches. Our soldiers took five to ten watches each. I didn’t need a watch, so I took a box full of Zeiss binoculars and stereo tubes with periscope features. These were valuable trophies for my intelligence activities. While we were in this town, we didn’t know what was happening in the rear, and at this time Germans troops broke back to Konigsberg. We were ordered to move in the assigned direction, when we bumped into a commandant’s platoon. ‘Who are you?’. We began to explain that we were from the frontline observation point and that we had got the order to return to our unit. They took us to the commandant office to clarify the circumstances and put us into a cellar with cupboards full of delicious food. There was silver tableware on the table in the middle of the cellar. This had probably been a hotel or a café before.

We took to drinking and eating, when we heard some noise and cracking sounds upstairs. The door opened and our commanding officer and the commandant came in. He pretended to speak in a threatening voice ‘What are you doing here? Eating? The battery is fighting and you are fooling around here? Rush to the battery location!’ We were sorry to leave the spot, but moved to the position of the battery. By the way, we left there on time since the Germans went on their attack: their two groupings that we had split before united and they occupied Konigsberg and the town where we had stayed before.

There were many battles and attacks before we broke through to the sea and proceeded to Konigsberg and fought it back in April. For the attack on Konigsberg I was awarded the Order of the Red Star [22]. Then there was the Zalmanskiy peninsula and fortress Pilau. This was a historical fortress. There were huge marine cannons there. During our attack on Konigsberg we had an inconvenient position to support our infantry. We couldn’t see the positions of the enemy. Our commander ordered me to move onto the territory of the enemy and shoot air rockets in the direction of the positions that were to be destroyed. There was an artillery preparation and Germans were hiding away. I went on this task with my radio operator.

After fulfilling the task we hardly managed to escape from there. Later this radio operator perished. I usually went on my intelligence tasks with a radio operator. Three of my radio operators perished during the war. One was hit by a mine and smashed to pieces, there were no remains left to bury; another operator perished in the tank brigade near Pilau. This battle was called ‘Landing troops on armor’. I was sitting on the tank beside my radio operator to send messages about our whereabouts, when a shell exploded near us. He was killed and I just fell off and wasn’t even wounded. He was a skilled carpenter. When a soldier had been killed before, this man made him a coffin and a grave pillar with a star. He said back then, ‘Here we bury him while there will be nobody to make a decent burial for me’, and indeed it happened so. I put him aside, we threw stones over him, marked the spot on the map and moved on to Konigsberg.

I didn’t have any fear during the attack. I was young and had no children. Besides, I had been in the war for some time. I used to feel fear in Belarus and in Smolensk region during bombings and air raids, when we were defenseless. There were bombs falling on you and the soil hitting you from all around. It wasn’t just fear, it was the feeling of hopelessness, when you look for a hiding, but there is none. An attack is different. When I had been wounded in my hands I felt like running forward and tearing everything apart with my teeth, though I couldn’t even hold weapons. Any of us felt the same. We attacked shouting ‘Hurrah! There! Go forward!’, or advanced in silence. When we came closer when we could see Germans we began to shout to scare them and it worked: they left their trenches retreating – it was scaring when a brutal crowd moved on them. I joined the Party at the front.
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Then fierce efforts to liquidate the Eastern-Prussian grouping were taken. Our brigade joined a tank army. We broke through the front line with the tanks. A tank is a noticeable target and we were to neutralize the weapon emplacement to enable the tanks to attack. For these actions and the storming attacks on two towns our army received appreciation of Stalin twice. There were fierce battles in this direction. We witnessed how General Cherniakhovskiy, Commander of the 3rd Belarusian Front, was lethally wounded in a small town cleared from the Germans who retreated into a small forest on a hill in the north. Thus the town was in their full view. Our attack was delayed. Cherniakhovskiy was a very energetic man, the youngest Commander of the Front. A column of vehicles with the Commander of the Front drove to the headquarters. The staff rushed outside, the Germans saw it and shot Cherniakhovskiy.

Marshal Vasilevskiy replaced him. He was chief of general staff before. We, soldiers, sensed the difference. Perhaps, German troops were exhausted from previous battles or Vasilevskiy was more skilled than the previous commander, but German troops began to fall apart. They were encircled and eliminated without significant losses or hysterical battles. The front promptly advanced to the Baltic Sea. The Eastern-Prussian grouping of Germans was cut into two parts.
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