Theodor Klein

My grandfather, Klein Theodor Alexandrovich, a German, was born, on the 20th of August in the town of Balzer, Saratov province (later included in ASSR of Volga Germans, and since 30-ies the town was renamed as Krasnoarmeisk). His father, and my great-grandfather, had a store there. After the revolution the store was nationalized, and my great-grandfather got employed there as a shopkeeper. Beside that, my great-grandfather was a priest in a Lutheran (or Presbyterian) church. In the beginning of the 30-ies, when socialism was finally victorious everywhere in the country, the church (kirche) was blasted. My great-grandfather continues serving divine ceremonies in his own house, for that he was arrested in 1937 and sentenced according to the article 58, which was quite popular in those times. There were no more news about him any more, and only in the 80-ies my grandfather finally achieved his post-mortem rehabilitation, and the inquiry they sent us said he’d died in 1942 in a prison camp. All that, and the starvation of 1921 and 1933 years, repressions were eyewitnessed by my grandfather, and till the end of his life there was nothing more hated and terrifying for him, than that “NKVD” abbreviation. By the start of the war my grandfather was working at a weaver’s factory. In the August of 1941 there followed the notorious “Fifth column decree”, and in accordance to it all Russian Germans were sent to the “labor army”, and their families – to Kazakhstan and Siberia. Simultaneously, all Germans were recalled from active army service, fearing that “Russian Germans” could desert to serve in the German army. My grandfather was sent to work in a mine. He rarely shared any memories about this horrible period of his life, trying to forget about all that. Yet he told us it was a real concentration camp. Having compared the conditions of his stay in this labor camp with memories of German concentration camp inmates, I haven’t found any significant difference. Russian Germans were also rushing to the front, to fight for their Motherland – Russia. My grandfather’s cousin, Robert Klein, became the Hero of the Soviet Union – he was an intelligence agent, and raided German rears close to the front line dressed in German uniform. In the 80-ies I happened to get acquainted with one of those who managed to conceal their surnames and get to the front – Alexander Mutov (his real surname was Mut, he added a Russian ending to his surname and got enlisted as a volunteer). Let’s return to the history of my grandfather. He stayed an year in the camp, and was caved in twice in the mine – those who got into such situations weren’t usually excavated, for there were lots of inmates, and new ones were placed instead of those that had perished. People died like flies. Many convoy guards and freelancers didn’t even know that the inmates were Russian Germans, and considered them POW’s. The attitude was quite corresponding. The grandfather told that he had mentally said good-bye to his wife, children and his life. By 1942, due to heavy casualties in the active army, there was a shortage of specialists. The military arrived to the camp. All inmates were lined up and they started finding out who had skills of any kind. My grandfather’s friend, Alexander Felk, was a driver before the war, stepped out of the line. He pointed at my grandfather and said he could drive cars too (it was true). That’s how my grandfather got to the front as a drier in an artillery regiment. 1942 was very hard for the Red Army, it was still on the retreat. My grandfather took part in many desperate offensives, he was in surrounded armies, “kessels”. Still he didn’t desert to the enemy, contrary to the authorities’ fears. He was in good repute with superiors, for he was accurate, diligent, perfectly controlled his car and it was always in an impeccable state. He told be about some interesting incidents. Once an artbattery and some infantry were surrounded and they needed ammo urgently. The grandfather was the first to step out to be a volunteer, several other people stepped out after him. German defense hadn’t become dense, and the little column of vehicles with my grandfather managed to break through under enemy fire and deliver the ammo. Yet no one risked to drive back. They fought like simple infantry on that “kessel”, until they were deblockaded by other detachments of ours. I asked my grandfather whether he was scared. Why did he do so, he could’ve refused? The grandfather answered he hadn’t thought about this, and after the camp it wasn’t so scary (!) at war, and delivering ammo was his task after all, so it had to be executed. The grandfather told me of one more incident, that serves as a good explanation of wartime laws. They were delivering ammo to the front line, so they had to cross a river over a narrow pontoon bridge. Suddenly, right in the center of the bridge, one driver’s car died out. He’d always treated it negligently, so the consequences of this showed up. All attempts at starting it up ended with no success. And a “window-frame”, a German recon plane appeared over the column of cars. It became clear for everybody that the bombers would fly there soon, and would be in great danger. The commander ordered to push the car into water right with its driver, and it was executed. When the hapless driver emerged to the surface, the commander shot him dead. The column continued its movement. The grandfather frequently told this story to careless drivers of a vehicle depot where he worked in the last years of his life. In 1943 (I don’t remember precisely) my grandfather received a “studebaker”. He always recalled those cars with great respect, they saved his life many times afterwards. By 1944 they started to slowly extract “unreliable elements” from front line detachments, but my grandfather, as a brilliant driver, (and by that time he managed to drive all kinds of lend-lease cars and perfectly knew all hardware), was directed to be a personal driver of a colonel of engineer troops who dealt with setting communications in near-front zone, including Western Ukraine, where he happened to encounter the Banderovites. And there lend-lease cars twice saved his life. First time he drove over a mine in his “dodge” (or “willys”, don't remember exactly). A wheel was torn away by the explosion, yet no one suffered in that car, because some American cars had an armored plate attached to the bottom, 5 mm thick. Next time he drove the colonel through a forest road in his “willys”, there was a heavy shower rain. Somehow they drove alone, without any guards. They noticed Banderovites ahead, who laid corpses on the road, in order to stop the car capture its passengers. Yet they didn’t take into account the quality of American technics and the skills of grandfather – he pressed on the gas and rushed past the bandits under SMG fire. After that incident the colonel didn’t want to part with my grandfather, even when right after the victory my grandfather was recalled from the army and sent to “Tulaugol” mines, and even went to NKVD to put in a word for him. The grandfather was awarded with the medal “For the victory over Germany”, yet upon his arrival to Tula he was ordered to give this medal away. Up to 1957 he, along with his wife and children was on a special account with the NKVD. Until his very death my grandfather still wasn’t recognized as a veteran of war, and he didn’t put much effort into this. He didn’t want to be ostensible, for the words “NKVD” and “komendatur” pursued him till the end of his life. Even in the 80-ies he was considered an ex-POW fascist. In the peacetime he was awarded with the order of Labor Red Banner, “Veteran of Labor” medal, his name was inscribed with golden letters in the Book of Honor of Siberian department of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. And there was no hatred for Russia in his heart, he loved her, for she was his Motherland, that he fought for as hard as he only could.

Interview:Igor Klein
Translated by:Alexander Shmidke


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