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Eva Ryzhevskaya

In March 1945 we were transferred to Breslack, Germany, which bordered on Poland. [Breslack is about 70 km from Berlin south-east of today's German- Polish border. In March 1945, however, it was not yet the border between the two countries.] We deployed a hospital and the wounded were brought to us. We understood that the war was about to end, but our work was still intense. There were a lot of wounded, and unfortunately some soldiers perished in the last spring days of the horrible war. Breslack was the place where on 9th May 1945 we heard the announcement that the war was over with the unconditional surrender of Germany. It is difficult to put in words the feeling of unalloyed happiness at that moment. We went on an excursion touring Germany and Austria on the occasion of Victory Day: we traveled by bus for ten days and stopped in different cities. I managed to see the world-renowned opera house in Vienna. I got the chance to see that wonderful city.
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Arnold Fabrikant

In the 1980s regular meetings of veterans of the 68th Navy brigade began. In Odessa we keep in touch with Nadia Leschina who had raised the sailors in attack. In 1983 we took her to Matveyev Kurgan where Hill 101 used to be. A monument to the deceased land troopers of our brigade has been erected there. In the village of Kabardinskaya there is a museum dedicated to our brigade. We also traveled across the routes of our brigade in Lithuania and Belarus. These trips were organized by Party organs and administration of these areas as their propagandistic activities. Using the materials of these meetings and having worked with documents from archives I wrote a book about our brigade. At my request the veterans sent me their memorials. I realized there was nobody else to do this job and everything might have been forgotten. I need to give due to the Soviet times, saying that veterans were honored then. They were given awards annually on Victory Day [26] and other memorial dates.
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For many years I consulted the liqueur and vodka factory in Varna, Bulgaria. They requested my approval of all technical issues. I provided numerous consultations to them, but I, a Jew and not a Party member, was never invited to the cruise ship to Varna on 9th September, the day of the liberation of Varna. Not one single time! Only in 1976, after a big scandal with the officials did I manage to travel to Bulgaria for two weeks.
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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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Boris Dorfman

I remember Victory Day [18] on 9th May 1945. Due to the time difference we heard about the capitulation of Germany at night. It was such great news. People shouted 'Hurrah!' in the streets and were hugging each other. There was a meeting and the secretary of the regional Party committee said that we had to continue working. However, the war continued in the East and Soviet troops were fighting the war with Japan [19].
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Yankl Dovid Dudakas

In summer 1945 we arrived in Kaunas. Grandfather Girsh and Grandmother Beyle Leya were with us. We stayed with our relatives temporarily. Esther, my mother’s brother Zalman’s widow, who married their older brother Yosif Meishe, had returned from evacuation earlier, and she was living there. We went to Jonava. There were hardly any Jews left in the town. The ones, who had stayed in the town, perished during the occupation, and survivors didn’t rush back. We knew we would not be able to live on ashes where even stones seemed to have been saturated with the blood of our close ones. It was not for nothing that they said all Jews were interrelated in Jonava. We found our former room. There was nothing left there. Someone told us of almost a fight between two neighbors arguing about my mother’s Singer sewing machine. There was only an old wardrobe with wooden carving left in the room. My father rented a wagon to ship it to Kaunas. It was a memory of our past life.
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I went to school and since I didn’t know Russian, I had to start from scratch and went to the first grade. During vacations my brother and I supplied wood to the glass factory. The logs were very heavy, one of us could not lift a log, and therefore, the effort required us both to cope. In the summer we picked herbs, and Mama made soup with them. There were also mushrooms and berries, but the main product was potato. My father stayed at the labor front till the end of the war. Grandfather Meir died in Nizhniy Novgorod, and we never visited him there. When my father came back, he started making arrangements for us to obtain a permit to return home to Lithuania almost immediately.
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Mieczyslaw Najman

We gathered on 8th May [the day Nazi Germany surrendered], I remember, on a square. We started firing off, rejoicing, that the war is over. If the war's over, then everyone went to get some rest. And the Germans had mined the area. No one paid attention, people died... I also forgot myself in this happy cannonade.

Happy, we're going to fight, to liberate, to see the lands from which we came. That was everybody's dream, to go back home. Some Poles returned to their families even on the way [on the combat trail]. I didn't, because my family wasn't there anymore, so I didn't go to Drohobycz but went with the army.

The units were being separated [in Berlin], we found ourselves in Kielce [city some 160 km south of Warsaw]. The Home Army was active there, disturbed Jews. We were stationed in the village of Bokówka, a few kilometers from Kielce, I spent fourteen days there or something like that.
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Ester Khanson

Tallinn was liberated and our group came to Tallinn via Tartu. I went with Kopyrkin and the supplier, the Armenian guy. I was surprised that Tartu was an empty city. All houses were open and you could walk in anywhere and take anything. People must have fled the city without taking anything. We spent a night there and then went to Tallinn. Suddenly I felt so bad as I had nowhere to go. I could not understand whether it was my home or not. We were taken to the castle of the government and said that we would spend a night there. I spent many nights in the armchair in the governmental building. 

Then my mother and brother came and we went to Nõmme, to our prewar house. There were strange people in our house and none of our things. Mother managed to make it possible for our house to be returned to us. We were not willing to live there. Mother found an announcement in the paper regarding the exchange of an apartment in Tallinn to a house in the suburb. We made it work: we got the apartment and other people moved into our house. When we moved to Tallinn, I bumped into my nanny. She was very lonely. She was in such a state that we took her to live with us. She was a kind person, like an angel.
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Anatoli Kraemer

On 9th May 1945 [26] we were supposed to attack German positions... I went through the entire war and was always sure that death would go past me. But before that battle, I had a feeling that I would not survive it. On the eve of the battle, I went to bed earlier in the dug-out. Suddenly I heard shots thinking that the battle was on. I ran out and saw our soldiers shooting from guns and pistols and crying out that the war was over. It was on the night of 8th May, the last shots of war. I hugged a tree and burst into tears as I was sure that I would have perished the following day. It was as if someone had granted me life.
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Tobijas Jafetas

Aunt Masha and Uncle Iosif treated me as if I was their own son. They were willing to adopt me, but I didn’t support this idea. My mother’s death caused me a lot of pain. I wanted to keep the name I was born with, and besides, I was hoping that my father would find me. My dear ones understood my feelings and remained my closest people till their very last days; they died in the late 1980s. My cousin Anna has also passed away. I saw Frania, my rescuer, just a few times after the war. She lived in Kaunas and died in 1993. Yad Vashem [20] awarded Frania the title of the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ [21].
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Liza Lukinskaya

When the Fascists came to the farmstead, they were sympathetic when they heard my story and ranted about the Bolsheviks. One of them knocked on my window and offered me to run away with them, when the Soviet troops were approaching. I replied that I couldn’t leave with the army and would have to go my own way. In the morning the Soviet army entered the farmstead. I was the first to come up to them. I was overwhelmed with joy. I couldn’t believe myself: three years in the ghetto were behind me. I told the soldiers that I was a Jew from Kaunas and they broke joyful news to me: Kaunas had already been liberated. On that very day I went back to the convent. I wanted to say good-bye to the girls and the abbess, who saved me. I stayed there for a couple of days, and decided to go back home. I was looking forward to seeing Kaunas, finding out something about my parents and husband.
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Emma Balonova

Early in the morning all Tallin citizens were in the Ratusha square, the main square of Tallin. They were dancing, embracing, crying, singing. They did not care about nationalities: Russians, Estonians, Jews were together there. It was impossible to be forgotten!
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Elena Drapkina

That was why I did not manage to be on the Victory parade in Minsk. I got to Minsk later.
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Boris Iofik

I celebrated the Victory Day 60 kilometers far from Berlin (in Furstenberg). I was decorated with an Order of the Great Patriotic War (1st Class) [7] and a lot of medals (I do not remember the number of medals!). I keep them in my entresol pinned to a pillow, so that nobody will have problems after my death.
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