Alexander Gak

Published september 27, 2010

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I was born in Moscow, in September 1922. I studied in high school 618 next to the Bauman garden. This garden was very famous back then, because of its numerous dancing stages, band stands and pools. Next to my high school there was also a Moscow Military Jail where later in 1953 Lavrenty Beria was waiting for his trial and execution.

When I was in a high school I was a very active member of the comsomol and in 1940 after I graduated I got into the History department of Moscow Pedagogical Institute n.a. Karl Libknekht. I was not drafted to the army right away. That was because of my severe near-sightedness, I was wearing glasses with very thick lenses. During the medical, doctors checked some instructions and determined that I cannot be drafted. They gave me a so-called "white ticket". I was very upset by this decision and felt almost insulted, so I decided to learn how to shoot. In our institute we had a very good shooting range, and I was going there quite regularly. I truly wanted to become very good in shooting despite my poor vision and was dreaming of proving those doctors wrong. Two years later, in Stalingrad this skill will save my life several times.

In summer of 1941 I became a sophomore at the History Department. As soon as the war started I went to an enlistment office and asked to be drafted, however doctors again concluded that I cannot serve in the army. In the beginning of the war they were not accepting people with poor vision, this practice will start later.

On June 26, 1941 the comsomol committee of our institute was ordered to begin a comsomol mobilization and to create a group to help in building defensive fortifications. I signed in. They put us in trains going west. There was a big group of approximately 25 thousand Moscow students. We arrived by a city of Yelna. For the first three months there we were digging anti-tank trenches, building pillboxes, and scarping banks of small rivers. As soon as we were finished the Russian army troops would occupy these newly-built fortifications.

We were bombed heavily and there were a lot of fatalities and injuries among students. Germans were throwing posters from airplanes which would say "Students! Stop working! We know everything about your defense" And below there would be a map with locations of our troops and our defensive fortifications. In September, Germans broke through the front. Fortunately, my comrades and I managed to escape from German troops.

With many difficulties I managed to return to Moscow by the end of September. My institute was already evacuated. My parents were evacuated too. My big brother was already in the army, and I stayed in the city. On October 15, the infamous Moscow Panic started. People started to loot shops, factories, they were grabbing everything they could. There were no security guards or police. Most of the police was already fighting, and the remains were hiding. I went to a railroad, it was a complete mess. Thousands of people were trying to get to train stations, lots of screams, people were crying, pushing each other. With my high school friend Andrey Seregin we went to an enlistment office again, to join militia. This time, they were accepting everyone, even people with "white tickets", handicapped, students, everyone... However, they did not take us! The officer did not explain the reason to us. He said Wait, we will call you ourselves. I had nothing to do in Moscow, plus I was starving all the time so I decided to go to my parents. It took me several weeks to reach Frunze city. I found my father and registered in a military office. In two days after I arrived to Kirgizia, on January 2 of 1942, I could "use some of my mother:s connections" and finally was drafted.

How did you manage to do that?

I'm telling you, I had to use some connections. My mother:s brother was a lieutenant colonel in Kirgizia. He had received an order of moving to the battle-front, to Panfilov:s division, and he was going to depart any day then. I told my uncle that it is shameful to be so far away from the front in such difficult time for my country and asked him for help. He talked to people in at the enlistment office and they drafted my as a volunteer. I went through the medical commission and they ignored my "white ticket". When they learned that I was a former student they sent me to the Frunze Infantry School. This is how I became a student of FIS.

What do you think about the level of students there?

Well the preparation was quite bad, I think. We did not have teachers with battle experience. So during the six months there they were just making us to do some useless drills, run in full ammunition in mountains through fields etc. We barely learned how to use machine-gun "Maxim", and I never saw anything more sophisticated, like say an 82-mm mortar. In general my memories about studying there would be best described by words: heat, mountains, sweat, and dumb useless drills. And the food provision level was not sufficient either. They were always feeding us with some "rusty" herring --- as we used to call it. In the middle of July of 1942 we graduated. We were promoted to the rank of Junior Lieutenant, we were given boots and new military cloth. Though frankly speaking we never learned how to command a platoon.

Where were you sent?

As a part of the 100 graduates I was sent to Stalingrad front. I was assigned to division number 28. In the division headquarter I was assigned to my regiment. I remember, as the first time in my life I was going to the front line... to the regiment headquarter to be precise. As I was going there, 200 meters away from me I saw Katyusha. It fired once and immediately left the position. I was completely impressed and excited by watching it firing. Two minutes later, Germans intensively bombed that spot, and thanks to my "luck" I was there. ... Anyway, in the headquarter they gave me a TT-gun, took my data, and in an hour I was in the front line. This is how 28 days of my time in Stalingrad had started.

Your division participated in fights for Kotluban. Personally, what memories do you have about Stalingrad's hell?

Our defenses consisted of many separate "cells", but there were also parts with connected trenches. The commanders of my company were settled under a destroyed tank. My division was considered a Siberian because we had many old soldiers from Siberia who were very strong during battles. But anyway within 10 days because of enormous fatalities, it completely changed. More than 70% soldiers of the division were young soldiers from Middle Asian republics. Neutral line was as short as 350-400 meters. The field in front of us was full of destroyed German and Russian tanks and other machinery. A huge number of our burned-up tanks. It was a horrid view. Killed soldiers were not collected or buried. Many corpses were just rotting on the neutral line and in our part of the defense line. We were bombed constantly. Germans had complete superiority in the air.



How were you accepted in your platoon? How did you grow into being an infantry commander?

Old soldiers had somewhat patronizing attitude towards me. On the third day, one of them brought to me a sniper gun. It was some kind of maturity test I guess. Before the sunrise, I crawled to the neutral line and quietly reached German positions. I saw two German officers bathing, and I killed one of them with the first shot. His friend immediately took him inside some shelter. That was my first german. A commander of a neighboring platoon helped me a lot. His name was Sulla and he was a lieutenant. I remember his words before the attack "Do not bow to bullets when you do not have to". Anyway, I basically had only three days to become a commander and then the nightmare began. We were attacking all the time. Fights were incredibly difficult. The goal was "To take over the front line of Germans and push them back!" It was truly horrifying to get out of your trench and make yourself open to the killing fire. But you go and make your people follow you, and you curse saying "F..." or whatever. Every day you take your rifle with a bayonet and "Hoorah". After the war I had nightmares about those Stalingrad days. I was going into bayonet attacks almost every day.

At Kotluban' battles how often did you have hand-to-hand fights?

Several times. After one of these fights I almost lost my mind. I killed three Germans. And when the fight was over and I calmed down a bit I noticed that there were only two dead bodies of those whom I killed. I started to run in the trench: where is the third German??? Where?? I was turning german bodies and was looking for "my german", the red-haired one. As I was killing him I noticed that he was red-haired. I was worried that he survived and crawled away, in which case I should find him and kill this f.... bastard. I was like a wild beast. Anyway, usually, even if we would manage to capture the first trench, then after few hours Germans would get it back. They would shoot at us from mortars, would bomb us for a long time and then counterattack. We would not have enough people to try fight for this trench and we would have to retreat.

How big were the fatalities in those days?

A small example. During 28 days my platoon joined more than one hundred people. The losses were 300%. You can imagine for yourself how violent those fights were.

Did you take prisoners of was during September of 1942?

Usually not. Even if we would capture somebody we could not do anything with him. Such thing as "rear" basically did not exist. In those days there was no place for such thing as humanism. We started to take POW only in the beginning of 1943. But anyway, you would send soldiers to convoy 8 POWs and in the best case they would bring three to the regiment's headquarter. However, when I think about those days, I am positive that we were more humane to prisoners than Germans.

When were you injured?

September 28, 1942. We started the attack and were covered by a heavy fire of Germans, and bombed at the same time. We laid down like hundred meters away from them. I got up again to start the attack and got injured in my left leg. When in the medical train they were taking my to the rear... to Melekes, I could not believe that I survived that.

How much time did you spent in hospital?

A bit more than two months. It was hospital 3273 in Melekes. After they fixed me, I got an order to join courses"Vystrel" for officers that were in Moscow around "Sokol" station. Three-month courses were organized for infantry officers. There were 300 people in these courses. I remember, once I got a permission to look at my apartment, where I lived before the war. And it was such a coincidence, I met my older brother Kolya, who was going back to front, and had a stop in Moscow. He died in Fall of 1943, in Ukraine, as he was trying to lead our troops to counterattack and to stop them from retreating. After the war I ran into Fedor Gnezdilov, the former commander of the Kolya's regiment, and he told me that he saw how Nickolay Gak was killed by a mortar. The war was really brutal to my family. Among eight cousins that I had, six were killed and two were handicapped. Well, anyway, after we finished the courses, the commander of Moscow Military District gave us a graduation documents and wished us luck. In the beginning of the Spring of 1943 I was in charge of a company on the Kalinin's front.

How did you become a commanding officer of a battalion?

It was in the beginning of June, by the order of the regiment headquarter. They put me in charge of a battalion of the 421st infantry regiment of the 119th infantry division. The previous commander, as I was told, was under military trial for excessive losses. He decided to capture two German fortifications, that were ahead of the battalion, and was sending his troops there over and over again. Until almost, you know, all soldiers died. He basically destroyed a battalion. I do not know why I was chosen for this position though. First, the head of the regiment, mayor Marakhovsky, was highly anti-Semitic. Second, after several months of commanding a company I did not show any particular courage or achieved any particular success. It was a tedious trench war, and it is hard to do something heroic in such a war. But in any case they did decide to make me a commander of the battalion, and so I became one. The remains of my battalion were temporarily removed to the rear in order to get new soldiers. And as soon as it was done, we went back to the front line.

How were you accepted by the battalion soldiers? You know a gicky Moscow student in glasses becomes a commander. How did soldiers respond?

I was a gicky Moscow student only until September 3 of 1942 when I killed the first enemy. In that day from a "student" I turned into another person: a cruel, strong, someone who can kill, and who can defend himself. Well, this said, I did lack some common and military experience.... And glasses they never were a problem. Only when I needed to take a picture I was taking them off. I was shy and did not want to be in glasses on pictures. Did you read "In Stalingrad trenches" by Nekrasov? There, the future combat (the commander of a battalion) Farber was also in glasses, but he was a great officer and soldiers liked him. When I came to the battalion, I gathered all officers, introduced myself, described our goals and demanded continuous scouting. There were forests, swamps, all around us, and so without any reconnaissance it was hard to fight.

Did your sub-ordinates follow your orders?

Not always. There were some --- as they used to say, "operative violations" --- I would give an order and my sub-ordinates would start: "may be I will go, may be I will not go, was it correct or incorrect order, should they do that or not: But I learned very quickly how to make them obey; I already had some previous experience. Plus another subtlety. I came to the battalion as a senior lieutenant, and I had two sub-ordinates who were already captains but were in charge of only companies. So at first they tried to intimidate me a bit, but then gave up. I mean the thing is that on the war you earn respect during battles. In first fights we had, I led the battalion to attack. My courage was almost on the edge of recklessness. However, after that there were no discussions anymore about who was the commander.



When you went to a new battalion, did you take anyone from your previous company? It is said that many combats are taking their old and trustworthy friends with them.

I was not allowed. When I came to the battalion, I gathered all soldiers, picked few men. They were all from the Northern Caucasus region. I already knew how to pick people like that. They were brave and merciless guys, and absolutely loyal to me. They were like my "personal guards". If in some company, soldiers could not move forward I would send somebody from my "personal guards". And these guys, they would save the situation. Do not be surprised. This was quite common in many battalions.

If you needed to save the situation, why couldn't you use officers from the battalion's headquarter?

Just before my battalion returned to the front line, the political commissar "urgently and suddenly" got sick. Next day, my senior adjutant came up with some reasons and also ran to the rear. I reported all that to the regiment commander, I told him that I even do not have an assistant. And Marakhovsky told me "Hang on there, you can do that without any assistants". During the four months that I had been a battalion commander they never sent me officers for vacant positions. So as you see I could not send officers to rescue a problematic situation. I would either go myself or send someone from my guards.

How many soldiers did your battalion have?

During good times it could be as much as 700 people. That including auxiliary subdivisions. Though in general, 500 men were considered to be a full battalion. Sometimes after the battle I could have less than 200. There were three infantry companies in the battalion, 100 men each. Plus a machine-gun company. That was 70 men. I did not have a mortar company, just a platoon. So there were 20-25 men. I also had a scouting platoon --- 15 men, a communication platoon, a miner platoon, a medical platoon, a battery of 45mm cannons: in total I think it was 80-100 more soldiers and officers. So you can calculate how many people were under my command. To be a battalion commander is a big responsibility. Because you are responsible for people's lives, for accomplishing goals, for :. basically everything that was going on.

What were the fatalities in Summer and Fall battles of 1943?

Well, when I was asked this question before, I was always replying "Fatalities were not that bad, we did not have really big losses", at least comparing it with losses during Stalingrad. But then I started to think. Starting from July 1943 our regiment was always in the middle of incredibly difficult attacks, we were chewing German defenses in Nevel and Polotsk directions. In news reports, they were calling these battles as "local battles", but at some point I realized that my battalion was loosing approximately 50 soldiers each day as either killed or injured. And I felt bad: essentially in relative terms it was just the same Stalingrad.

How was your battalion supplied with ammunition and food?

We did not have problems with ammunition. Plus we were capturing German guns. Automatic guns and machine guns were especially valuable. Also, in each battalion, we had some amount of machine-guns MG. As for food, we usually had problems with it. At Stalingrad sometimes, during night they were bringing some hot food in thermoses, but not very regularly. However, when they did bring it was really plenty. The thing is that there were so many people killed during the day so by the evening there were much less: you know: eaters. However, if thermoses were not delivered, we were eating dried bread, or whatever we could find in things of killed soldiers: both Germans and Russians. In 1943, the situation with food was better. There were still periods of time, like two or three weeks, when we were just starving. Once our guerillas took us to German's rear and with sudden attack we captured the station Khorna. And there was a train with food on the railroad. There was a separate car full of delis and presents to officers of vermacht. Another car was full of wine bottles. This was the first time when my soldiers finally could eat as much as they wanted. When the regiment commander found it out he immediately contacted me and said with a very sweet voice "Comrade Senior Lieutenant , are you going to share?" And I so got so used to the fact that he always yells and curses, so here it was just like in a fairy tale, "he spoke with a human voice". Anyway, we never had problems with alcohol. Because of big losses there were always extra supplies of alcohol. And when the situation would calm down a bit we were always having guests from the rear. Political commissars and officers from anti-spy divisions they were coming to drink with soldiers for "future victories". It is true, we were drinking a lot on the front line. In general, alcoholism and cursing were a norm on the front line, perhaps unneeded norm, but it was unavoidable part of the war.

How often did you work with guerillas?

Only once. But we saw results of what they were doing. At Nevel', me and another officer went to the German rear. And we saw a destroyed train with tanks. We were quite happy. Imagine how many soldier lives were saved by these guerillas.

You mentioned you raid to the enemy's rear. Can you give us some details?

According to our intelligence, Germans were going to move back to avoid being surrounded. So we sneaked behind them, I had one company but it was a strong one. We hid on the both sides of the highway leading to the west. We were warned that Germans might have several tanks, so I had an antitank rifle and actually I was lying almost on the highway itself. When Germans appeared, there was a car with officers in the beginning of their column. So I shot them with my antitank rifle, and that was a signal for us to start the attack. Germans fought back and they had mortars to support them. Despite that, Germans suffered great losses because of our attack. We killed more than a hundred of them.

What did the soldiers and officers of your battalion thought about soldiers and officers who were serving in the rear?

We were very arrogant towards those people. You know these one and half, two kilometers between the front line and the headquarter were separating and dividing us on "dead and alive". On those who will enjoy this life and those who next morning will be lying in an unmarked grave. Plus the question with medals and decorations was also separating those who were actually fighting, and those who were "supporting the military activities". You would go to the regiment headquarter and they are all full of decorations. You would recommend for a decoration your own soldier and would get nothing. For the raid to Germans rear I recommended several of my soldiers for the decoration, but nobody got it. Personally I myself received an Order of the Patriotic War of the 1st degree, an Order of Red Star and a medal "For Stalingrad Defense".

Battles at Polotsk were a very bloody yet unknown episode of the war. What do you remember about those combats?

At Polotsk we were replacing an exhausted regiment on the front line. Early in the morning, the commander of the regiment talked to the officers. Each of us was a little bit nervous before the battle. Secretly, we got on top of a small hill, and through the morning fog we were looking at the area, and listening to his orders. He was saying "The first battalion attacks on the left between that hollow and that building, the second battalion:". In that very moment, enemy's mine blew up only 30 meters behind us. Before the commander could tell the second battalion where to attack the second mine blew up, like in forty meters from us. It was clear that Germans noticed us and are going to finish us with the third shot. Marahovsky yelled "Disperse!" A friend of mine, a young captain who just arrived to our regiment, together with me ran away and laid down twenty meters to the right. I did not hear the whistle of the mine flying towards us, and then all of a sudden I heard a loud explosion and was covered by the soil. When the smoke from the explosion faded, I looked at where my friend was lying and did not see him. I looked around and saw a part of the leg in the boot and internal organs hanging on the tree. He was literally torn apart by this explosion. This is how Polotsk combats started for me. And then there was nothing but blood. I do not even want to talk about it.

Please tell us about your last day on the front line.

It was a mid-November of 1943. In the morning the regiment commander ordered me to go to the headquarter. In my trench there was no one but an orderly, and I told him that I will go alone, and will took my automatic gun with me. Just in case I put into pockets several grenades and left the trench. The headquarter was located only one kilometer away from the front line. I was walking, and to make sure that I do not get lost I was looking at the poles with telephone wires. And then before I even made it half of the way I heard German language, something like Forwerts! Schnelle! And I thought to myself "I think I'm screwed". I looked there and saw a group of approximately 30 Germans moving towards me. They did not notice me yet. I hid behind the tree and when they approached I started to shoot from my gun. I was running from one tree to another, and kept shooting all this time. Germans fired back. However, they thought that they were attacked by our front defense lines and started to retreat. I ran to the headquarter and reported to the colonel Marakhovsky about this meeting. Actually he heard the shooting himself. So he sent a company of gunmen to check the area according to the directions that I provided. And then he started to scold me for coming alone without the orderly or somebody else. Then he set some military goals for me, and said "Ok, go back now". In few hours as I was starting the attack towards Polotsk-Vitebsk highway, I was injured by an explosive bullet into my arm. My arm bones became lots of little pieces, and they took me to a regiment's medical company. The colonel Marakhovsky was looking at me silently as I was taken to the hospital. I heard that in several months he will be killed in the battle.

What happened to you after the injury?

I ended up in a medical battalion. Doctors immediately suggested that my arm should be amputated, and that there is no chance to save it. I refused, and turned out to be right. In Spring of 1944 I left the army due to my injury and returned to Moscow. My allowance as an invalid was extremely small and my right arm did not work. I somehow managed to find an office job. And then in the end of 1944, major Kovalev from the army called me and asked me: "Do you want to return back to the Army?" And I happily accepted that. I loved the army. When I was leaving my house, I would think something like I could put a platoon of machine gunners here, and there I could put mortars: And so I was really happy to be back in the army again. The Army was recruiting officers to serve in commandant's offices of the Soviet Occupation Administration in Germany - SOAG. Almost 100% of the German territory was still controlled by Nazis, however, we already had organized the administration to govern it. The German territory was divided into several districts, and commandants' offices were assigned to each district. Commandant's offices were in the rear and as soon as the front line was moving further west and we were liberating more districts, the offices were starting to function.

What were the criteria for officers to serve in commandant offices?

I do not know actually. I know that they did not care about people speaking German. Most of the people were junior officers who had military experience and who could not serve anymore in active troops because of injuries. As for higher-ranked officers that was very eclectic. I was serving in city Eberswalde, and our office was in control of more than 300,000 of local population. It was a big railroad station. The city for a while was controlled by Germans. The commandant of the city was a former intelligence general who was demoted to colonels. I do not really know why. His deputy was an old lieutenant colonel, who spent most of the war in the rear. He was a real jerk, by the way, and he was stealing so much from local population. A translator was a student who just graduated from the Military Institute of Foreign Languages; also a political commissar, someone from anti-spy division and an economic assistant of the commandant were "jerks from the rear".

How big was the staff of the commandant office of SOAG?

In our office we had approximately 10-12 officers and this is not including "special officers" from KGB. Before Eberswalde was captured, they took an infantry company from the front line and they served as our security. That was approximately 70-80 soldiers and 3 officers.

What exactly was your job?

I was a part of a three-man group responsible for reconstruction of municipal services, including public transportation, communications and local factories. Also we were to make sure that local population had access to food and medical services.

Was there any training for this kind of job?

No, not at all. I do not even remember us to have an orientation meeting or at least something, some lectures that would cover specifics of the region where we had to operate. We knew that Eberswalde means Boars' forest, and that was about it. However, anti-spy people, and so-called repatriation groups were actually prepared quite well, and they were getting full information about everything from their own sources.

What is a "repatriation group"?

These are groups that were in charge of disassembling some of German factories, bringing equipment and other valuables to Soviet Union. Each group had its own profile, and they were taking to the Soviet Union basically everything: things that could be used and things that could not be used. If you would go after them you would see empty plants and factories. They were superior to all kinds of special labor battalions that were made from our former POW and "ost"-workers.

What did you personally think about these groups?

I did not consider it to be some kind of looting you know:. I thought of it like justice, we were calling it "compensation for previously incurred losses", and believe me even if we would take all of Germany to Soviet Union it would not compensate everything our country lost because of Nazis. Anyway as Romans were saying "The Winner Takes It All".



Did Anti-Spy officers work for commandant offices?

We had our own department of SMERSH (anti-spy division of the Red Army), and also there was a group of "special department" officers that were also working with SMERSH. However, they were not really looking for "polizeis" or betrayers like members of Vlasov troops among liberated POW and "ost"-workers. All former Soviet citizens were registered in the commandant office and then they were sent to special camps for further investigation. And then it would depend on person's luck. Some would be sent to Siberia, some would be sent home. If somebody got arrested we would not see it. Former prisoners of war and demobilized soldiers were not our business either. It was higher military commandant offices who were dealing with these people. So back to your question, these guys from SMERSH, I think they were mostly working with local population. They were not looking for war criminals or former SS-officers. They were looking for German technicians, military engineers, etc. As soon as they found somebody they would put a German uniform on this guy and send him to the Soviet Unions as if he was a prisoner of war. Yeah: things like that were happening. However, nobody was doing anything bad with Vermacht soldiers who were injured. Sometimes you would see someone with crutches in the old uniform and you can immediately tell that this guy fought in Russia killing our people, but you would just pass him by, and would not think of revenge. Oh, I almost forgot to mention. The anti-spy department in our office was also working with so-called white immigration, that is those who immigrated to Germany after the Revolution. In Eberswald, there were many Russian emigrants and some of them were hired as translators and sometimes as "snitches" as well.

After the Red Army came to Eberswalde, were there any occurrences of guerillas?

At first we were being shot from ruins and attics of buildings. We had some losses. You would walk in the city and boom! --- there was a bullet just over your head. And nobody wanted to die after the victory. After several of our soldiers and officers were killed we were told to walk in the city in pairs. Whenever there would be a sign of these shooters we were surrounding the block and were looking for this person. But these attacks lasted only till January of 1946. After that in the forest we found a hide-out with weapons and food. We killed several people hiding there. Our bosses immediately applied for more medals and forgot about us who were actually storming the hide-out. The person who was preparing the reward documents was a captain Blyakhin. He did not even have a hint about such thing as officer honor. Anyway, honestly speaking we did expect to encounter guerillas on German land, but in reality there was not much. Very quickly we realized that Germans are very obedient and loyal nation and they got tired of fighting. We were walking on the streets and were seeing lots of fake smiles, even though we were expecting something way more aggressive against us.

Where was your commandant office located?

In the downtown, in former barracks. The office was located there together with a guard companion. However, the officers were staying in the city: in empty houses. On the territory of these barracks there were hundreds of German cars, all kinds of brands, sizes, etc. And we were keeping our food supplies there, and there was also lost of unaccounted cattle. Soldiers were combining the cattle in herds and this is how we were able to feed the population.

So you also had to feed locals?

Yes. There were several military kitchens. We were getting food from army warehouse, and also some extra meet from our cattle. In addition, we organized some bakeries and so locals were getting enough of food. Thanks to good organization, German population was not starving.

How the staff of the commandant office was dressed and fed?

We had no problems with uniforms or cloth. They did not want us to look bad in front of Germans. As for food we were usually getting it in Berlin and in tiny quantities. We had a cook, a woman from Poland. She was cooking for us and for soldiers of the office. All "passing by" soldiers and officers were also eating with us.

What were the functions of the political commissar at the commandant office?

His main goal was propaganda, work with German population in occupied areas. German Communists who were liberated from concentration camps were helping him. And in addition to that, the commissar was making sure that our spirit and morale were high. He made lots of snitches and he, himself would always report the commandant about "what happened, where and when and who participated". He knew everything. He would come to you and ask "Comrade Captain, why did you drink yesterday in you apartment?" or "Comrade, Senior Lieutenant, why did you go to the warehouse this morning, and what did you take?" He was minding everyone's business. But what would you do:. A political commissar.

Were officers punished for affairs with German women?

According to the order of Marshall Zhukov, the head of occupation troops in Germany, having affairs with Germans were treated as betrayal. With lots of dire consequences for those who would violate the order. Marshall Zhukov was a cruel man. However, I would like to say that German women did not mind having affairs with Russian soldiers. It was quite common, and it was not because they were expecting to get some help with food supplies or things like that. There were other reasons as well:. At first, many junior officers were ignoring that order. One captain even got a nickname "Master of sexual propaganda". However, it was not coerced. After the army conquered the city there was no violence. People were finding other ways to protest against German civilization:. In the end of 1945, political commissars started to be more serious about that order, and so many had to break up with their German girlfriends.

Did your office also have police functions?

Yes, of course. Once was had a very tragic case. In our company there was a lieutenant, he was a commander of the communication platoon. A very reckless guy, from a reconnaissance unit. He lost his eye, and so he had a black patch over it. Once, he decided to loot a jewelry store, he and three of his soldiers. He did not know that just before that all jewelry stores had been connected directly to the commandant's office. And owners were instructed to call right away in the case of any suspicious activity. So the owner called the commandant office and said that several people in the Red Army uniform broke-into the store. In several minutes our group came there. They blocked the lieutenant and ordered him to surrender, but the lieutenant refused. And it was right after the war so marauders were usually shot. A shooting began. All four were killed in the store. And it came as a big surprise that it was a shooting against other Soviet soldiers. The commanders had hard time thinking about how to inform the relatives. Eventually, they decided to report it as "killed in action", which was very generous of them.

What about Zhukov and Berzarin's orders regarding the fight with marauders? Were they enforced?

Well, not particularly. Sometimes anti-spy officers would search through junior officers apartments. They were looking for possible valuables. During 18 month that I served there, I only sent two packages home with tobacco. And immediately the commissar asked me what's the deal with these packages and that told me that I should not do that. And at the same time senior officers were sending home cars with German things, I'm talking train cars. But nobody was doing anything about them. From time to time they would read us some news regarding the fight with marauders: "That lieutenant would get caught with 100 of golden watch, got sentenced to 10 years." Other examples: when we were listening to that we were only sadly smiling. We saw our generals and colonels stealing so much that they had to hire train cars to send the stolen back home. However, we never heard about a single general being arrested for that. Some of senior officers just completely lost self-restraint. There were so many unpleasant and simply wrong moments. In the end of 1946, I finished my service in the Army. I had an accordion, and doctors suggested that I would practice it more so that I could train my injured arm. When I was leaving to the Russia, my right arm was not completely recovered so that I could not actually carry my accordion. I had to leave it. So to sum up all I brought from Germany were two suits, two watches, a pair of shoes and a gun. So I could not considerable enrich myself and I do not regret it at all.



What were you doing in your leisure?

Junior officers would usually gather in apartments, remembering the battles, their front comrades. Sometimes we were playing cards. The commandant office had also a cinema equipment and we had more than three hundred German movies. It was very common for us to watch some German movie in our leisure.

Did you have lots of contact with allies?

In 1945 we were working with allies quite often. However, after Churchill's speech in Fulton all contacts were minimized. Once in 1945, I was on a business trip in the British occupation zone. My job was to start a trolley transit in Eberswalde, and so I was sent to the British Zone to get some trolleys. Two British officers were accompanying me, and also there were two German specialists and a translator. They put me into the best suite in a hotel, and I was eating in restaurants. British were highly polite with me, but no more. In evenings Germans would knock into my door and ask me whether a "herr officer" would like to have a German woman. British officers took me as an expert in industries and so they accompanied me to several plants and showed how they were begin recovered. Nothing out of the ordinary.

How many of your classmates survived the war?

From twenty of my classmates, only two survived. One is my good friend, Zhenya Goldin, a nephew of a famous singer Utesov. He was a figher pilot and participated in more than 200 military operations. He was recommended twice to the top order (Hero of Soviet Union) but because of his Jewish nationality he never got it. He passed away 15 years ago. Another one survived is Seleznev, who was captured by Germans in the beginning of the war, then he escaped. Then he was arrested and investigated by our troops and came back to the front line in infantry troops. After the war he became a famous scientist. And the tombs of others of my classmates, they are spread from Moscow to Berlin. My generation paid a horrible price for this victory, but we did everything we could for our country.

Interview:Grigorij Kojfman
Editing:Grigorij Kojfman
Translation:Gene Ostrovsky (

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