Pavel Vinnik

Published september 27, 2010

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In Odessa

I was born in the city of Vinnitsa in 1926. In 1932 our family moved to the city of Odessa where my father had been shifted to work. In the early 1900s my father was a student of the Emperor Alexander the Second, Highest Technical School, the Mechanical Faculty, bridge-building specialty. (By the way, at the same time Boris Rossinskii, the future “Russian Aviation’s Grandfather,” studied at that Highest Technical School).

In 1905, Nkolai Bauman, a famous Russian professional Bolshevik-revolutionary, was killed and a civil funeral for him was conducted in the Highest Technical School’s assembly hall. Since my father was an excellent elocutionist, it was suggested that he deliver the great Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov’s poem which contains accusatory lines “You, the haughty descendants…” near the Bauman’s coffin. Although my father wasn’t a member of any political party, he accepted the suggestion – to declaim was a pleasure to him. The School’s deputy rector summoned him and said: “You are a junior but if you deliver this poem, you’d be thrown out of Moscow within 24 hours and be blacklisted. And no educational institution of the Empire would accept you.” In spite of this threat my father delivered the poem during the ceremony and … “flew out.” Initially he worked at some light industry works, and then he became a mathematics teacher in Odessa. Much later my father stopped teaching and worked at a study aids store.

All of my mother’s relatives were connected to the Odessa Opera in different ways. My grandfather was a watchman there and my mother’s older sister, aunt Polia, was a doorkeeper. My mother became a dressmaker at the same theater. In that way I became attached to the theater since my early childhood. And I had no doubt that I would be an actor. Being a sixth-grader, I became a member of the school puppet show and had played the part of the old man in the Pushkin’s “The Tale about a Fisherman and a Fish.”

It is hard for me to remember the relationship between my father and me when the war started. He wanted to have a talk with me but I was too busy with my own matters and refuse. My father became upset. Then, when I needed fatherly advice, it was too late – my father was killed in action…

Despite his age and poor health, my father was one of those who left for the front shortly after 22 June. He knew field-engineering and was mobilized. On 13 September 1941 we received the pokhoronka (an official notice about his death).

A member of the Fighter Battalion

In 1941 I was 15 years old and moved up to the 9th grade of the high school. Since the first days of the war I along with several teens joined the local Fighter Battalion. (Fighter battalions were organized in the western regions of USSR just after the war began. They were militarized volunteer formations of civil citizens and were initially intended for fighting against the enemy’s saboteurs. Most members of the fighter battalions were armed with rifles). As the Fighter Battalion’s youngest members we had a special mission: as soon as the air-raid alarm sounded we had to be on alert on the roof of a particular building. When a firebomb fell, we had to grab and to throw it down. Then we covered the bomb with sand.

German and Romanian troops attacking toward Odessa were very strong but the city defense went on for quite a long time. Soon our Fighter Battalion was ordered to retreat. Initially our way lay along the Black Sea coast. Then we were ferried over to the city of Nikolaev. Our final destination was the city of Mozdok, North Ossetia. Only there an order came in to shift all of our battalion’s personnel to the frontline forces. I was too young to be drafted. Nevertheless, at my request some well-wishers made a distortion of a couple of years upward on my papers, and finally, I found myself in the “mother infantry”: the 1374th Rifle Regiment of the 416th Azerbaijan Rifle Division that belonged at that time to the Transcaucasian Front. With this division I came through up to the end of the war.

At the time of our arrival to Mozdok the division was re-forming and I received a uniform and a rifle.

Meanwhile, the German troops managed to occupy a substantial part of the Soviet land including my hometown Odessa. (My mom had left the city and already stayed in Vinnitsa with her uncle and aunt).

The Hungarian, Italian and Romanian troops supported the Hitler's forces. It was a very hard period for the Red Army, and scores of our warriors had been taken prisoners. Their fate was terrible.

On the occupied Soviet territory the Germans conducted themselves as victors. They were taught that we are muck, rags, Russian swines. People who came through the occupation told how terrible their life was at that time. The occupiers raped local young women. Also the Germans formed a police consisting of local men, and these policemen were espesially cruel.

At the Third Ukrainian Front

After its reinforcements our division started fighting in the fall of 1943. This time it was a unit of the 5th Assault Army that belonged to the 3rd Ukrainian Front. The division commander was Major-General Syzranov, the deputy division commander was Major-General Ziuvanov. Both were very wise and attentive commanders. They personally took part in our hard battles. Assault armies were specially trained and armed for breakthroughs and for forced wide river crossings.

Soon we began driving the enemy out. After crossing the Dnieper River we liberated Nikolaev, Odessa… In was an unbearably hot summer of 1944 when we crossed the South Boog River and continued our attack. There were a lot of grapes and plenty of food on the whole.

It was clear that the German troops would retreat while our offensive went on. Nevertheless they used a terrible weapon – the flamethrowers. I had a friend who came from Siberia, a wonderful fellow. He was the deputy platoon commander, a sergeant-major. He helped me a lot! Being a townsman, I wasn’t fitted to long marches. My footwear was a pair of soldier’s shoes with the leg-wrappings, and when our column had a halt for dinner after my first 30-kilometer-long march, I realized that I couldn’t take a single step. My feet were covered with red blisters. A medic washed my feet, lanced the blisters with a blade and applied the ichthammol. During the procedure my Siberian friend was looking at me and when everybody moved off, he told me: “I see that actually you aren’t so afflicted by these wounds. Do you want to live? I’d advise you: are you comfortable right now?” – “Yes,” was my response. – “Enjoy your temporary status. Don’t think ahead – and you will live longer. If you start thinking of your fate, your attentiveness declines, and you can get under a bullet.”

So, we were already rushing into the city of Kishinev, and somewhere from the side a German triggered his flamethrower at my dear friend. I still can’t forget the dying man’s scream. We began covering him with loamy soil but in vein. I lost my friend in such a terrible way…

 

 

We lost many combat comrades during the Yassy-Kishinev operation. At the same time I will remember the terrible images of those days for the rest of my life. The German tanks retreated down the Tiraspol’ route and they caught up with a big group of their collaborators, even from Odessa, who were running away from the advancing Soviet troops. The tanks crushed a lot of those civilians along with their wagons and horses. That was a deserved punishment for the traitors.

I should also remind you that before our offensive started, the Germans attacked us a few times. The enemy had many tanks at that time and in one strong attack they managed to “iron” our foxholes.

As a total result of the hard battles in the Yassy-Kishinev area the rest of our company counted no more than forty men. The command decided to disband us. The battalion commander shifted all of the aged soldiers to the supply platoon and we reinforced the submachine gunners company. So, instead of a rifle I received a submachine gun (SMG) for the first time. I think that being with the SMG-company saved me during the war. The matter is that the SMG-company was a somewhat privileged detachment in an infantry unit. Its duties were HQ guarding, connection with the division’s HQ etc. Besides, in the night we had our combat post about 10 – 15 meters behind the trenches and so we guarded the sleeping infantrymen as well as we supported the reconnaissance missions. Actually, we experienced many risky situations as well. The company’s full strength was up to 100 men but only 29 of us reached Berlin. The last reinforcements were just 17-18-year-old. True children!

Lieutenant Salkin, our wonderful SMG-company commander’s contribution also helped me to come through the war. He was given the rank of a captain in the battle for Berlin. Salkin was a former sailor. Recently he had served his sentence in a penal company. The famous penal companies always fought at the most dangerous sections of battles. Those who came through such a battle were to be released.

Salkin was a marvelous man! Usually he asked us: “Hey, boys, how should we perform this mission with few casualties?” And all of us sought over the mission together…

You asked me what type of SMG we used in our company. Our best arm was the PPS-43 (Sudaev’s submachine gun). It was much lighter and not so unstable as the PPSh-41. We also often managed to use the German machinenpistol MP40 (“Shmaisser”). First, you shouldn’t clean it regularly; second, we had a lot of its cartridges.

Our company traveled the same way as any rifle detachment did – only on foot. We had just two wagons, two wagon-drivers (both were Azerbaijanis) and four horses with them. Usually they were in rear and didn’t take part in fighting. There was in our unit the deputy regiment commander for rear services some Colonel Gadjiev, a fat man. Once, during our offensive, he went, while sitting scrawled in his personal spacious carriage very far behind the troops. Suddenly a German air raid occurred. Gadjiev instantly jumped into a nearby ditch. Bombing destroyed the carriage and horses. He became horror-stricken and shouted: “They could kill me!” – a great surprise to him!

In Poland

After the liberation of Kishinev we went toward Bucharest but unexpectedly another order came in, and we boarded a troop train that brought us to Poland, into area of the city of Kovel’. Since then on our division became a unit of the First Belorussian Front. A new offensive started. German defensive positions in Poland were well prepared and their troops resisted hard, therefore we experienced severe battles there.

Almost all of Polish civilians didn’t abandon their homes. Soon after coming in Poland from Moldavia we noticed a big difference in the quality of local people’s life. There were in Moldavia plenty of fruits, food and wine, while in Poland – potatoes and milk, at best, and the only drink – their nasty vodka.

Initially the Poles’ receptions were friendly, and we placed our share on the table. Our food was better: the famous canned bacon (of officer’s ration) and canned stew (of soldier’s one). Soon a conversation started.

- Will you, Pan (Sir), go to beat the German?

- We’ll go, Pan, we’ll go.

- Will you organize collective farms?

- Nitz nie rozumie (we don’t understand anything.)

Most Polish rural population consisted of farmers, they lived in hamlets. After hearing from Soviet soldiers what a collective farm means, they hated that method of management in the country.

While staying in Polish villages and hamlets, we noticed not only the miserable living conditions of the residents but also their suspicious attitude toward us. Soon our units were prohibited from settling in any populated locality. Particularly, in the re-forming period we encamped in a forest. The reasons for these precautions were the armed detachments of the Armiya Krayova (the Military Organization of the Polish Overseas Regime). They fought against us and, besides, they killed some Poles who had given a shelter to Soviet soldiers.

Once we met a Polish doctor, who spoke fluently both Polish and Russian. He advised our commander not to discuss with locals such topics as the collective farms, they say, the climate was too complicated, although the German rule was very bitter for them. They hated Germans…

There was one more very serious reason for the contradictory attitude of the Polish people toward the Red Army – the defeat of the two-month-long Warsaw armed uprising, which started on 1st August 1944. The Warsaw uprising against the German garrison in the Polish capital was organized by the Polish Overseas government in London. The Armiya Krayova detachments and numerous local Poles realized the uprising. The main goal of the uprising was to seize the city before the Red Army troops could reach Warsaw and bring there a Communist regime. So the Soviets didn’t support the insurgents when the uprising was being put down by German forces…

By early January 1945 the Red Army held two bridgeheads in the Warsaw direction – the Radom and the Sandomir ones. Our division was at the Radom bridgehead for four days running. It was freezing but the campfires were forbidden. We suffered from the frost very much because we had just three military overcoats and three waterproof capes for six of us.

The main powerful attack against Warsaw went from the frozen Visla River. It was a surprise for the Germans, and it came to the end with their crushing defeat. According to the Marshal Zhukov’s tactics, the attacking troops bypassed the city and continued to advance westward. And other units dealt with the encircled enemy.

 

 

Our division attacked from the bridgehead toward the main German line of defense. The no-man’s-land was densely set with land mines. Therefore our SMG-company was divided into three groups that boarded three attacking echelons of tanks correspondingly. The tanks drove us through the minefield, then we dismounted and went on the attack along with the tanks. I was in the second echelon.

As soon as the first echelon burst ahead, it came under a strong direct fire, both the tanks and infantrymen were beaten. Our echelon entered such a zone where only the shells’ hisses were heard and the explosions took place far behind us. However, one shell fell to our share: I heard the hiss and… lost consciousness. I lay like a log: didn’t budge, didn’t hear, and didn’t speak…

When a unit is attacking its wounded men initially should be collected in its medical battalion and only then they would be directed to hospitals. I had luck: our company’s wagon loaded with loafs of bread bumped into me. Comrades lay me over the bread and delivered me to our medical battalion. I had been treated there for two and a half weeks (massages and a bit of alcohol) before I resumed walking. They had an idea to direct me in a rear hospital but I would not go – not for anything! For me to lose your unit was the most terrible thing at the front…

Our division continued its advancing westward. After several warm days running the dirty roads became impassable for any kind of heavy vehicle like guns, trucks and loaded wagons. Nevertheless we, the footmen, kept our advance on. I’ll never forget how after getting over a railroad embankment we entered a spacious field and… we found ourselves just across the famous German “Tigers”! It could have been a direct skirmish but we had nothing to defend ourselves with! And we rushed to make off. I remember how our regiment commander Colonel Kalashnikov, while speeding a horse drawn cart, shouted: “Stop! Don’t run at your full height, lie down!” But we ran and the Germans fired at our backs with tracer bullets… Thank God, in contrast to us, the tanks couldn’t get over the embankment, so they opened up with cannon fire. We managed to reach a spacious barn and at that very moment a shell exploded nearby. A door of the barn fell on me but in one stroke I was released by my comrades without injury. Colonel Kalashnikov was wounded and some long ammunition box fell down out of the cart. I opened it – wow, our regimental banner was there! If a unit’s banner is lost, the command of the unit would undergo a military tribunal and the unit itself would be disbanded. As soon as we reached our HQ I put the banner on the table. That was the reason of receiving my first award, the Order of the Red Star…

While in Poland, we had an occasion to fight against a detachment of vlasovtsy (the General Vlasov’s Russian anti-Soviet fighters). Knowing that a death penalty was waiting for all of traitors, they never gave themselves up.

Coincidentally, at that period we often saw now here, now there the German faustpatrons (a faustpatron is a handheld recoilless German anti-tank weapon), but we passed them because none of us knew how to handle those arms. To avoid the inevitable death two vlasovtsy came to our trench like “truce envoys” and instructed us detailedly in the use of faustpatrons. It was a great armament when you fight among buildings in a town. After the lesson we didn’t pass such finds as the faustpatrons anymore. And our “instructors” had been delivered alive to a special camp.

In Germany. Berlin

After the liberation of Warsaw we advanced westward and reached the Oder River. We forcedly crossed the frozen river forming the famous Küstrin bridgehead. The Germans launched there two extremely strong attacks but we repulsed both of them. Just at the bridgehead my first hand-to-hand fight took place (not a bayonet-to-bayonet one).

By the spring of 1945 we had a good experience in seizing cities (Kishinev, Warsaw etc.) and got to know that each city had its own features. However, Berlin was a special and surprising city. First of all, it was very big. Moreover, despite the famous German neatness, its lengthy approaches and outskirts looked incoherent.

We advanced toward the center of the city from the airport. The Germans retreated in disorderly fashion and it seemed that our victory was already just round the corner. Nevertheless, when we approached the central part of the city where mostly large houses with granite ground floors stood, our problems arose. For example, a long street lies, and such a house stands by an intersection. There are several embrasures in its ground floor – the entire street could be shot through. Try to direct tanks there! None is able to enter there. (It was an idiotic Grachev’s order to direct Federal tanks in the center of the Chechen capital city of Grozny in 1991). Actually a tank is unable to take part in street fighting! You throw a bottle filled with an incendiary blend – and the explosion destroys the tank, lock, stock, and barrel…

Well, it was decided to take Berlin by infantry. Six armies or so outflanked the city. The German troops resisted very hard but some soldiers gave up. In general, there was not an easy battle and our infantry played the key part in it. We had plenty of tanks but they didn’t enter the central area of the city. The heavy artillery guns also were located on the outskirts of Berlin. And the infantry entered the center of Berlin! Field engineers followed us. In the street fights we used not only SMGs and hand grenades, in case of need we made use of anti-tank grenades equipped with an external armored coat. Such a grenade had a terrible destructive power.

Most buildings seemed deserted when we entered them (all front doors of houses and apartments weren’t locked – there was such an order of the German Commandant). However, you could see in an empty house a warm pot on the oven. All women, children and aged people were sitting in basements. They feared us like the plague, they thought that we’ll take revenge. Of course, there was a lot what for! The Germans annihilated scores of our people! However, we acted according to Zhukov’s order: “If a German soldier gives himself up – don’t kill him!” A lot of leaflets were spread: “Give yourself up – the Soviet Command guarantees your life!” In general, we followed Zhukov’s order, although there were some sadists among us, too.

Our company received an order: to oust the enemy from a central street. Salkin, our company commander, gathered several of his most experienced subordinates and asked: “How should we realize our mission? Share your ideas with me.” I offered: “Every building here has two entrances – the main and the back ones. If you enter the house through the back entrance, you have an opportunity to reach the porch of an adjoining house and enter any apartment – you know that they aren’t locked.”

Salkin approved my plan and appointed the house we should start with. My fellow soldier and I entered the house and examined from the upper floor what was going on in the backyard. We saw several field kitchens and a pile of ammunition boxes with mortar shells there. A group of German soldiers were sitting all around the backyard. I directed my fellow soldier to bring the company and remained alone for about 50 minutes. Then the company joined me. We went downstairs to the third floor, opened all windows there and threw hand and anti-tank grenades at the Germans. Only a jumble remained of them, and the street became passable, while we had no casualties.

 

 

That was a perfect example of how it comes about when the commander thinks on the fate of each of his subordinates! Unfortunately, there were commanders of another sort. Some of them were able to send rashly their detachments toward a certain death without hesitation…

Each of the attacking regiments, battalions and companies were given a red banner to deliver to the roof of the Reichstag for raising the banner there. However, everything depended on the actual direction of your unit’s attack. Our division reached the Alexanderplatz (not far from there the future Soviet commandant of Berlin Colonel-General Nikolai Berzarin perished in a motorcycle accident that happened in June 1945).

There was a horrifying fire along the streets. You could see a jumble of corpses and torn parts of human bodies underfoot. During these street fights my second hand-to-hand fight came about. Both the German soldier and myself could be killed. However, I came through! I’ll never forget the battle for Berlin…

The closer we approached the Berlin’s center, the greater was the danger to everyone’s life. But everyone wants to live! One more block, one more house, one more attack – and that’s all! It smells of Victory! At the same time, if you make a single wrong step – that’s the end. So many pals were lost!

Our division reached the Friedrich’s Palace, just across the Reichstag. There the banner we were keeping had been raised. The Friedrich’s Palace was a work of architecture of a unique beauty, a true museum. The narrow Spree River flowed behind the palace. We also managed to reach the famous Brandenburg Gates (Brandenburger Tor in German). Most of buildings in the center of the city were burnt. (When I visited Berlin after the war the Soviet Embassy was not far from the Brandenburg Gates).

After we found ourselves at the very main points of the Third Reich's capital a feeling of a foretaste of Victory came to us. That day everyone impatiently tried to picture to himself – what would the victory look like?

Suddenly by the morning a complete silence came. What happened? Were our shells all over with? We couldn’t understand. All of a sudden our HQ’s portable radio delivered: “The Germans troops in Berlin capitulated. Don’t fire! Wait for instructions!” It was May 2, 1945, when the complete victory in the battle for Berlin had been announced. We saluted this event with cries of joy and firing in the air.

Long single files of German soldiers stepped down several appointed streets to the outskirts of the city. At the intersections Soviet armed submachine gunners stood, and the Germans piled up their arms there. Then, several column formations of unarmed Germans continued the stated way.

Despite our high mood, some sad occurrences took place these days, too. The first one happened in Berlin just on the day of its capitulation. Our comrade came running to us with interesting news: “In two blocks from here there is a clothing store. I saw there fantastic boxcalf boots!” (Our footwear were just boots made of the ersatz leather). The guy told us that five of our soldiers already went there. We were waiting for them for an hour or longer, and then the guy guided us. Two soldiers weren’t found but the three others were lying with their heads shot through. There was an ambush there…

As soon as the battle for Berlin came to the end, you could see many Soviet field-kitchens in the streets, where Red Army detachments were located. Free bread and hot meals were distributed there among German civilians.

After the Victory

The first two weeks after the Victory Day (May 9, 1945) our company stayed in the Wassergasse side street, then we were shifted to the Treptov Polizeikasernes in the Treptov Park. Actually, our company was under direct control of the regimental HQ. On these days it was not so easy to serve in Berlin, especially, “to go into the street.” Sometimes our political deputy regiment commander gave a commission to buy several bottles of beer (the beer was marvelous there!) Once, while standing in line for the beer, I was arrested by the commandant’s patrol. I was brought to the commandant’s office, they tore off my shoulder straps and put me in the guardhouse – I didn’t have the authorization to leave the casern. I was released only in the evening…

Even after the Victory Day bad events befell, and some Soviet soldiers had been killed in ambushes, sometimes because of their own carelessness or improvidence. Shortly after the stringent occupation regime was implemented.

Our unit had been transferred from the Treptov Park to the town of Zossen area. (Later the famous Jointed Headquarter of Occupation Troops lodged there, and the garrison’s HQ was at the Waißen See – a wonderful elite area). Nevertheless, even in the time of the stringent regime, twelve soldiers of our regiment disappeared for almost a week. It turned out that there was a deep dugout bunker on the territory of a former military camp outside the town. Some Soviet soldiers often entered it and went down. Once a group of them discovered an underground passage. It was 30-kilometers-long and led to munition factories. The soldiers examined everything there. That was the astonishing reason of their temporary disappearance!

Berlin was divided into four sectors: English, American, French, and Soviet. Ours was in the very center of the city. Our company acted as a guard detachment. The objects under our guarding were changed weekly. I remember in details how we guarded the Reichkanzlei, which remained undamaged. There was there an audience hall, where Hitler handed awards to well-deserved recipients. In the wall of the hall were built-in safes where the Reich’s awards were kept. We took a lot of them to exchange the awards later for cigarettes with Americans. In the USSR we had no cigarettes, only strong papirosses and poor tobacco. By the way, you could find everywhere a lot of German cigarettes, even cartons of them. We smoked these, too, but they were too light – instead of tobacco, they were stuffed with thin paper that was sodden with nicotine. (When I got to the front, I was a non-smoker and an abstainer. However, while smoking a cigarette, you can somewhat warm up your hands – and I began smoking).

While guarding the Reichkanzlei, I accidentally owned a famous Zeiss-camera. I was going to write a letter to my mother, and in order to take a sheet of paper I entered a room, where recently some aide-de-camps had worked. At random, I opened a drawer and saw the camera. Some German civilians explained to me that such a camera costed 300 reichsmarks before the war while the price of a cow was only 30 reichsmarks. Later, during the first devaluation of Soviet rouble, I managed to sell that camera for 17 000 roubles to help my mother.

For one week we guarded the former German Reichsbank’s building. Scandalous occurrences took place there shortly before, when another detachment guarded the building. At that time there was plenty of Soviet money there that the former President of the Reichsbank submitted to Soviet representatives. All of it was officially conveyed to the Soviet government. The next day absolutely by chance a lot of “extra money” was found.

 

 

An officer and a soldier of the guarding detachment, while idling away their time, fired a faustpatron at the external wall of the bank’s building. The hole in the wall had been formed and it was big enough. The soldier got into it and exclaimed gaily: “Comrade Lieutenant! Money! Roubles!” It turned out that the bank’s president didn’t submit to the Soviet officials his personal safe. There were in it metal boxes (filled with piasters, lire, and shillings) and cardboard boxes with Soviet money taken from the Smolensk, Pskov, and Novgorod provinces. Every one of guards stuffed their knapsacks with roubles. The guarding battalion commander sent 200 thousand roubles to the Army’s HQ in order to excel. However, this “present” triggered just searches and arrests. The investigators found as many as 300 thousand concealed Soviet roubles in the boxes where the Reichsbank’s files had been kept. The same night our company was awaked by alarm and delivered to the commandant of the city. He stood before our formation and asked some soldier: “How long ago did you depart from your home?” Soldier answered: “Two years…” Then the commandant addressed the formation: “Now you’ll receive the explanation of your unusual mission. Remember, if you discredit yourselves, you will no sooner see your home as your own ears!”

We were directed to replace the acting battalion in the Reichsbank. Our commander Salkin warned: “Don’t take anybody’s order! Don’t let anybody in! You must obey my personal orders only!” Several big brass representatives had visited us. And we worked hard – 13 bags of coin and scores of paper money were packed in three nights running. The Studebaker trucks had driven the riches away. After completing this special mission we returned to our unit. However, a mishap took place with our commander Salkin on the first day there. He liked cameras and had found one in a camera-case when we were working in the bank’s building. After our return, as soon as Salkin tried to open the case, several coins spilled out. He was arrested but very soon released, although they returned neither the camera nor the camera-case…

The most “profitable” object under our guarding was the so-called “17th guard” – alcohol base. It was a depot, where the alcohol from all points of Berlin had been delivered and collected. Two sorts of spirits, technical (ethyl) and refined, were kept separately. If you’d see our guards’ chances! Everybody had its own “output” of alcohol – a flask, a carboy or some can… Aviators visited us: “Guys, we brought presents for you – the leather pilot’s jackets. Please exchange them for spirits.”

Initially, for our own consumption of spirits we made it with fifty-fifty water dilution. However, the diluted alcohol proved to be warm and disgusting to taste. Fellows improved the taste by adding salt in the glass. And finally we came with the best procedure: you pour refined spirits up to a third of a glass and take it in one gulp. Immediately after that you take two gulps of water – and you are in perfect bliss! You get up in the morning – no hangover! A drink of water – you are in bliss again!

These days in Germany the unified occupation mark was in use and we were able to drive without restriction around all Berlin’s sectors. There were military trade stores in the Soviet sector but only officers could enter them. In allies’ sectors everyone could purchase anywhere. So we used to exchange with the Americans or the English some Reich’s awards for the marks. Moreover, after the deal they drove us to their stores by the Willys jeep. (In general, as members of the guard detachment, we took quite many liberties).

You had asked me also about the sexual contacts and rapes in Germany. I can say that if during a fighting some Soviet soldier accidentally bumped into a German woman, at that very moment she started preparing herself to make love with him. Foolish girls, it’s off the point! They were ready for anything so as not being killed.

We, the young Russians, were clean; we weren’t cynics, we weren’t rapists. Beyond question, we felt drawn for women; we flirted with our nurses and signalwomen. However, our generation was chaste and shamefaced. For example, it was very interesting to look at a bare woman but, on the other hand, you could feel ashamed at the same time (I’ll never forget the movie “Pyshka” after the Guy de Mopassan’s novelette).

After the stringent occupation regime was implemented neither the Germans nor we could commit anything unlawful. Nevertheless, some soldiers of our guarding detachment ventured to make love with young German women. Usually the consequences were sad: such a philanderer caught at least gonorrhea. It was said that the Nazis had formed some “female detachments” of young German women with venereal diseases. Supposedly, their mission was to infect as many Soviet soldiers as possible.

We were warned not to have contacts with German girls. Once our wise Colonel Kalashnikov shouted at the soldiers’ audience: “You, the ‘victors`! Your mothers and sisters are waiting for you, but you are going to bring home the Berlin’s gonorrhea on the tip of your penis, aren’t you?” Everybody roared with laughter…

In conclusion, I would say that the slogan “If a German gives up on his own – don’t kill him!” smoothed the mutual relations between Germans and us quite soon. Then you could see among the German population a full respect for us. No sabotage, no malevolence…

I was a senior sergeant when the war ended. The ordinary military life began in the garrison. It was unbearable for the recent frontline soldiers. Before taking dinner your detachment was assembled in a column starting its way to the regimental canteen. The sergeant-major orders: “Lead the singing!” But nobody wants to. As the column silently reached the canteen, a new sergeant-major’s command sounds: “To the rear double-quick march!” Not far from the caserne you hear the next command: “Halt! Right face! Lead the singing!” And again nobody sings…

The General HQ decided to get rid of the frontline soldiers as soon as possible, and the demobilization started. In the first category were the aged soldiers. Because of being shell-shocked, I found myself in the second category. Nevertheless, they suggested that I become a cadet of an infantry military college. My instant response was a firm no. You may remember that I always dreamed of becoming an actor!

Interviewed by:A. Drabkin
Recorded and initially edited the Russian text by:S. Anisimov
Finally edited the Russian text and translated it into English by:I. Kobylyanskiy
Edited the English text by:T. Marvin

 



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They didn't even curse around me at the front. These were normal, regular soldiers, and not some kind of intelligentsia. There weren't any affairs at the front.

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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...
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