- I was born in 1912 in the village of Dybentsy in the district of Boguslavsky of the Kiev Region. In 1914 my father was drafted for the WW1 front. He returned home after the Revolution, but a year later he died of complications from the wounds received at the front. Trying to escape from hunger and violence, the family moved to a place named Boguslav, and a few years later, to the village of Yanovka. There I finished a seven year school and studied at a college for mechanics, but when I was 17, I picked up a bag of dried biscuits and went to look for a job. At that time an exodus of the youth from villages began. All went to the factories to work. For three years I worked in a factory in Dneprodzerzhinsk as a laborer first, and then as a machinist. In 1932 I went to Kiev and began to work at the Mechanical Plant. A few years later I entered the Kiev Industrial (Polytechnic) Institute. I graduated from it in March, 1939 and was qualified as a mechanical engineer for chemical machine engineering. I then returned to my plant in Kiev as a chief mechanic.
- Did you have a chance to be in the Army before the war?
- I studied at the paramilitary department in the institute. After several months spent in the commanders’ training camps, the rank of commander was conferred on all of us and we all were certified for the position of "tank platoon commander". Military training was an integral part of a student’s life at that time. At the institute I had an opportunity to be certified as Master of Sports in mountaineering, departing every summer for the mountains of the Caucasus and the Pamir together with the (Ukraine SSR) Republic’s team. But the most exciting things in our institute were flight training and the parachute clubs. In total I made 49 jumps. So I was mentally and physically prepared for the war.
- The day of 22 June 1941. What was it like for you?
- When Molotov's speech was broadcast on the radio, I put together a backpack, said goodbye to my wife and went to the military commissariat. According to the mobilization instruction when drafted, I was supposed to arrive in the city of Lvov within 24 hours, to Stryisky Park where my tank unit was stationed. About twenty of us, all natives of Lvov were detained at the military commissariat for two days. It turned out that our unit had been taken out by bombing and instructions were issued not to send more personnel to the city until further notice. Instead, we, a team of designated commanders, were sent to Lubny and from there to the vicinity of Kharkov to the 615th Reserve Tank Regiment. Individual tank battalions for the front were being formed there.
- What tanks were in service in your unit? What was of your first fight against Germans like?
- Those were the T-26 tanks, a sort of light tank fueled with kerosene. The crew consisted of three persons. Then, before the first real fight our "boxes" seemed to us to be "formidable combat vehicles"... Almost all the vehicles had radios. There were also a few BT-5 and BT-7 tanks.
Almost all the tankers, with few exceptions, had been called up from the reserve, so the level of our military skills was, to put it nicely, not very adequate... There was no time for thorough training of the reservists! Three months later we were thrown into battle. There was a village named Kilukivka, if I’m not mistaken. In the vicinity of that village the Germans had set up artillery batteries, which shelled the Kharkov highway. Those batteries could not be detected and suppressed by our troops. The commander of our battalion summoned me and assigned to my tank platoon the task of breaking through towards the outskirts of the village occupied by the Germans, to draw enemy gunfire, to detect and map the location of the enemy firing points, and to transmit this data by radio to the command post. That task, in fact, for us was a death sentence, but the order was issued. Then I was a Communist, brought up as a fanatical patriot, so I was preparing for a heroic death for my country. There was no fear. Instead, a naive sense of pride that even though I would die for my beloved country that day, I would accomplish the feat... How funny it is to remember it today. But that was my first fight. In the afternoon my platoon, consisting of five T-26 tanks, entered the village, and we split up. I went with three tanks along the main street, while my deputy platoon commander Tereshchenko went with two tanks along a parallel street. And then it began. They fired at us from everywhere. One of our vehicles was burned, and the other was only knocked down, but the crew was killed. Somehow I managed to make it on foot to the tank of Tereshchenko and pick up from his dead, bloodstained hands a map case with the map where the coordinates of the German guns were plotted... God protected us; three tanks left the village and went back to our lines. Tereschenko (posthumously) and I were decorated with the Order of the Red Star, the other crew members - with medals "For Courage".
In October of 1941 our unit was completely destroyed. The remnants of personnel were brought to the rear. In December we were given the T-34 tanks and returned to the front, the same freaky Kharkov battle theater. Only then, in the winter of 1942, did I encounter the German panzers for the first time. Two months later I was wounded for the first time and after being discharged from hospital I was appointed battery commander of an artillery brigade. When appointing me, nobody cared that I was a tanker. – “You are a commander? Educated? Do you know how to fire the 45 mm anti-tank gun? – Go ahead assume the command!” And then there was May of 1942... the encirclement near Kharkov...
- Now I am looking at a missing in action notice, which was sent to your wife. It reads that "Lieutenant Yampolsky went missing in action in May 1942…" How did you happen to be so lucky as to break out of that infamous encirclement?
- I was one of the four hundred men in the covering force spontaneously set up by some infantry colonel. We took up the defensive, as we were told to give the chance for two field hospitals, chock full of wounded, to move to the rear. The German infantry showed up in the morning. Our defensive line faced the advancing Germans with gunfire. A few minutes later German dive bombers arrived. It was an outrageous bombing... This was repeated several times. Once our defense line showed signs of life by shooting at the approaching German infantry, a new wave of bombers would immediately reappear and continue mixing us with ground. The Germans did not have to spend their tanks or motorized infantry on us. They just gave their airmen a chance to frolic. In the evening only 19 of us crawled out of that hell alive. I was wounded in the leg. My soldiers carried me slung in a martial cloak the whole night. In the morning they left me in a small Ukrainian village under the care of local people and went to the east.
One of the peasants hid me in his cellar. At night he would bring me food and water and change the bandages on my wound. His house was occupied by the Germans and I heard them talking and wondered how much longer I would have to live. If they should find me, that meant my certain death. I was a Communist, a commander and my ethnicity was not good for captivity. I had no chance... I removed the Order of the Red Star and collar insignia from my tunic and hid them in my breeches, but how would that help? I still had on me my Communist party membership card and commander’s identity papers. But my hope for salvation was still warm. I was aware of the unenviable fate of those who had broken out of the encirclements without identity papers back in 1941...
I had four rounds left in my pistol and I spent almost ten days, clutching it in my hand. By the way, the peasant, who had hidden me, was appointed a village elder by the Germans. Later on, in 1943, when the village was recaptured by the Soviets I wrote him a letter of gratitude, thanking him for saving my life. That letter helped him avoid the reprisals from the NKVD (political police). He also turned out to have been a member of the underground.
My wounded leg was healing, and on the tenth day my host made me a makeshift crutch and took me out of the village at night. He showed me which way was east, and I began heading towards the territory my countrymen still occupied. It was a good thing that I was only about 50 kilometers away from the front line. I was hiding in the fields in daytime, and at night I toddled my way towards my destination. I appeared to have been born under a lucky star: I reunited with my countrymen where there was not a tight front line. My wound was washed and the bandage changed. The medical assistant said: "Comrade Commander, you’d better get to the hospital," but...
It turned out that such poor fellows like me were sent to the filtration control point (holding facilities for personnel arriving from enemy encirclement or captivity until their "trustworthiness" had been verified) located on premises of the Special department of the division. I was walking there with high spirit, happy that I finally had reached my countrymen, not even thinking about what torture would be in store for me there. The sun was shining on me gently, as if saying “Enjoy your life!” Suddenly someone accosted me: "Yampolsky, what are you doing here?”
I looked around. There was the food provision officer from my ex- tank brigade in a 1.5 ton truck. I explain to him: “I’ve just come out of the encirclement and am going for verification.” He said to me: "Don’t go there! Your arrival in uniform and with identity papers will not impress them and you will be in trouble. I am here on my duty to deliver bread for the brigade from the army bakery. The brigade is stationed 30 kilometers away from here. We have broken out of the encirclement in an organized formation with our banner. One hundred and twenty of us have made it. Please wait for me here for about an hour and I’ll pick you up on the way back. Just sew your collar insignia back on your tunic and don’t leave this place. Wait for us!"
The truck driver-soldier gave me a needle and thread... I sat and wondered what to do: whether to keep walking to the Special department or not. What hideous people they were... In an hour the food provision officer picked me up and took me back to the tankers. Later I would have to experience the encirclement near Zhitomir, fight in the German rear, both near Kamenets-Podolsky and in Sandomierz.
- Did any repressions follow?
- I was interrogated by the Special department a few times, but they didn’t “gnaw into my liver” too much, let’s say, they did abuse me, but did so at slow pace. There were 80% of us, those who had broken out of the encirclement. They shook me down for only one reason: I had come out of the encirclement on my own, not as a part of an organized formation. During the first month after my arrival I did not even write letters to my wife, I didn’t want to raise futile hopes in her that I was still alive. My “death notice” had already been sent to her.... In early 1944, I was recommended for decoration with a prestigious Order; however, the Special department rejected that idea on the grounds that I had broken out of the encirclement alone and allegedly my loyalty was not well enough tested... And the fact that by that time I had been already wounded in action five times and decorated with several Orders and two medals “For Courage" did not really matter. If you don’t know, I can tell you that commendation lists for decoration with the Order of Lenin or the Order the Red Banner had to have the stamp of approval of the Special department. Those Special department servicemen were real bloody-minded rascals. They could punch an officer in his face. They enjoyed their power and impunity.
There was another episode related to the Special department servicemen, but it will seem to you too fantastic and unbelievable, so I would prefer not to arouse your sound skepticism. Then the Special department servicemen nearly had me shot for no particular reason at all, but the Divisional Commander Krasnokutsky saved me. I would tell this story to other veterans who know that anything might happen at war... There were plenty of despicable acts at war, also.
- Can you tell me that story, if it’s possible, anyway?
- No, I think it would be too much.
But here's a different story I would like to tell you that will help you comprehend the kind of arbitrariness the Special department personnel was capable of. My wife's two cousins were both tankers, both Heroes of the Soviet Union: Matthew and Yevsei Weinrub. In Stalingrad Matthew commanded armored units of the 62nd Army commanded by Chuikov. Once he (Matthew) personally assigned a combat mission to me and I did not even know that he and I were relatives, I thought that he just had the same last name as my wife. Yevsei and I associated very closely after the war. He was a unique individual. At the beginning of the war, he was the commander of the reconnaissance service in the 150th Armored Division. He was the only man in the Red Army who, with the rank of captain, was singled out in July 1941, by personal references, in the text of German propagandistic leaflets dropped over the positions of our troops. It was understandable when generals were mentioned in propagandistic leaflets, but he was just a common captain. I saw those leaflets, the text read: "Oust your Jewish captain back to the rear, or we will kill every one of you and won’t take any prisoners!" He was a man of exceptional courage.
At the end of the war Yevsei Weinrub was a commander of the 219th Armored Brigade of the 1st Mechanized Corps. The Brigade was attached to an Infantry Division of the 47th Army to support infantry attack. Weinrub was in starting position waiting for the order to attack, but it did not follow. He radioed the divisional headquarters, but there was no answer. He moved his brigade forward, but it was too late. The Germans had already brought intensive gunfire down on the advancing infantry and launched a counterattack. Our attack petered out. Weinrub was summoned to division headquarters.
The Division Commander, barely holding back his anger, asked him: "Lieutenant Colonel, why did your tanks not support the infantry?" Yevsei replied: "I did not receive the signal for ‘attack!’ "The General turned to the Chief of Staff of the Division: “Did you deliver he signal to the Brigade Commander? " - "Yes, Sir!” - The Chief of Staff replied, - “I delivered the signal several times, but the Brigade Commander did not respond." The General began yelling at Yevsei: "Because of you, half strength of the division has been killed! Arrest him!" A major, the chief of the divisional Special department stepped out of the dugout dusk: "Lay down your arms!" Yevsei was held in the Special department serviceman’s dugout for several hours. The major interrogated him, while recording interrogation report, but Weinrub did not see what the major wrote and was not offered the report for signing. The Special department major stepped out and came back after a while: “Stand up!” - He yelled – “For the cowardice displayed during the combat mission the court marshal of the 47th Army has sentenced you to death." Weinrub was taken aback: "What the hell, what court marshal? I did not see it in session! Are you sentencing a person to death in absentia?" Without giving him time to come to senses, the major gave an order to his aide, a lieutenant: "Take off his insignia and state decorations!" Yevsei was put into the back of a 1.5 ton truck between two armed escorts and the vehicle started off down a field road. The truck stopped near a haystack. The lieutenant assembled his soldiers in a row: "Load rounds!" The rifle bolts clicked. Weinrub realized in deep despair that this was his death and he addressed the Special department man: “Lieutenant, give me a cigarette!" The Special department man hesitated for a moment and then allowed him to smoke, but after a couple of puffs blurted out: "Well, that's enough! One cannot take a deep breath his death!” And then the situation developed like in the movies. A motor-vehicle loomed on the road. The brigade commander said: “Lieutenant, look there!" The lieutenant lazily turned his head: “Well, that would be a “Jeep” coming, but why do you care?" - "Can’t you see? It’s coming over here after us.” The brakes squeaked and the major jumped out of the car and said: "Belay the execution!” Weinrub was saved by the Brigade’s Political department supervisor Kosmachev. Upon learning of the arrest of the brigade commander, he rushed to the commander's tank radio operator. The latter testified that no signal for the attack had been received. Having seized the logbook of radio transmissions, Kosmachev rushed to the Divisional Commander and, after him, to the Army Commander... So the combat officer Weinrub was standing and weeping there... What was easier for a man to enter a battle with the threat of death or to taste the triumph of someone's meanness?
How could it happen? Putting a brigade commander “against the wall” (for execution) without a proper trial and investigation. It was not the year 1941! The Corps Commander Krivoshein personally appealed to the Army Commander demanding punishment for the Special department men, but... I also saw many times how retreat-blocking detachments fired on people at Stalingrad... But it was the last resort, there was no other choice. We had to die, but to hold the city. Everybody knew that summary execution would await any person who retreated without orders, or who left his weapon behind! It was such a time...
- Hundreds of books and thousands of articles have been written about the defense of Stalingrad. But there were very few ordinary soldiers' stories about what was happening in the city. A scout Yefim Minkin, who was decorated with the full set of the Orders of Glory, gave a good account of it to the writer Konstantin Simonov. And Viktor Nekrasov did in his famous book (The Front-line Stalingrad). But for the most part only the memoirs of senior commanders were published. In the battle for the city you were in command of a tank company and battalion. What does Stalingrad mean to you? How were the tanks used in city fighting?
- There would hardly be a writer ‘talented enough’ to describe what was going on in Stalingrad in September and early October of 1942... A new Leo Tolstoy would be required... Anyone who was there would say “I was in hell”... And it would be true.
After the Kharkov tragedy the brigade was sent to Stalingrad for reformation. On our way to the city we were caught in by an air raid. Our troop train did not suffer a lot of damage, unlike a troop train with reinforcements travelling towards the front, which stood next to us on the nearby railway siding. The Germans “gave them a plastering.” There were hundreds of dead and wounded. Several of the wounded were brought into our boxcar as we were told to take them to the nearest railway station where there was a hospital and the crippled would be taken off. But the trip to that station took all night, as the rail track was taken out by bombing and we had to wait until it was restored. A wounded soldier, who had his leg blown off, was put next to me. He was conscious. He managed to tell me that it was the third time he had gone to the front, and it was the third time he had been wounded during bombing of the troop trains going to the front. It was his third wound, but he still had not seen any Germans... In the morning he died, we could do nothing to help him. I also thought that, after reformation I would have to make my way to the front for a third time.
We did not participate in the summer battles in the bend of the Don River. Stalingrad was living a peaceful life until the middle of August. And then our turn came...
The city of Stalingrad had a peculiar layout. It stretched several tens of kilometers along the bank of the Volga River in length, and its widest part from the outskirts to the river bank was no more than four kilometers. On August 23, we were read the order from the front armored forces commander Shtevnev about the general offensive against German forces, which had broken through in the vicinity of the Tractor Plant village. After heavy bombing the city was on fire. Crude oil from the damaged storage tanks caught fire and rushed towards the Volga. The river was burning quite literally. The whole sky was covered with hundreds of German bombers. Our brigade became a part of the 23rd Tank Corps, which had suffered enormous casualties in earlier battles in July. The Corps Commander, General Abram Khasin personally came up to each commander, shook his hand and said cheerful words before the battle. German panzers were one and a half kilometer away from the Tractor Plant village, waiting for their infantry units to move up. Had they rushed forward that day without waiting for appropriate orders due to their German methodical nature, the battle of the Volga might not have ever happened...
There, for the first time I had a head-on engagement with German panzers. My crew managed to burn two of them. But slowly, suffering losses, we retreated into the city limits. Tanks were available as the Tractor Plant continued producing them almost through the end of September. But we could not use the tanks in large numbers. Usually they were distributed in groups of two or three in different areas to support infantry. If a tank was knocked down, it was entrenched and turned into a pillbox. But the Germans did plow ahead in huge panzer formations. I still remember the battle for the Silicate plant, and it was very heavy fighting, when the brigade of Lieutenant Colonel Udovichenko and Colonel Krichman was gathered together to repel the attack to the south of the Tractor Plant. There the Germans launched 150 panzers at a time against us. Very few survived that battle on either side. At first there was not even a tight front line - you could not tell where the enemy was, and where friends were...
A man usually survived in Stalingrad no more than three days. I did not even have time to get to know the men in new crews as they were killed. I remembered one crew. The commander was a lieutenant, 18 years old. His last name, if I remember correctly, was Gerschenson. His face was so inspired. I even thought, “If he survived the war he would become a poet” ... Two weeks later they were all killed by bombs. The lieutenant’s map case was brought to me. There was a notebook with his poetry. I remembered one line: “We will come to Stalingrad as old men to remember our youth near the Volga"... The best selected men were recruited for tank crews, as they said: "tested by pure alcohol", but sometimes even we were afraid. Fire was so deadly that when we were set on fire, the crew was afraid to bail out of the burning tank. The driver-mechanic was immediately killed when he got out through his hatch. I had to use force and swear words to push guys through the smoke and out of the tank. The first slipped out successfully, the second was wounded in the arm. I left the combat vehicle last. I crawled about ten meters away, and then the tank exploded... The wounded did not leave their comrades. We and the Germans were frenzied to the point that it seemed that doomed persons bent on suicide who dreamed of quick departure for the next world fought on both sides. I remember our Battalion Commissar (political officer), my namesake and a countryman, who had lost his leg and was supposed to be taken across the Volga at night. The Commissar was lying with his pale and bloodless face, down which the tears flowed. We came to the river bank to say goodbye to the Commissar. He said: "I do not cry because of pain, guys, but I do cry because I resent not being able to continue killing the fascist bastards. Please, finish the Germans off!"
Once I went to visit an infantry unit before the attack to discuss interaction. The unit was in a four storey building, standing in ruins. Out of the blue, there was a sudden breakthrough of a German assault force. The Germans drove us, throwing grenades. I shot away all the bullets from my TT pistol, picked up a rifle from the body of a dead soldier... We retreated from the basement upstairs to the fourth floor, until nearly all of us were killed. I descended to the ground over a burned out rain pipe. About ten Germans at a time were shooting at me, but it was a sheer miracle! All their bullets missed me... At night that building was reconquered and there another survivor, an infantryman, was found. He was severely wounded, unconscious and the Germans took him for dead...
We were attached as fire support to a cadet battalion, which, I think, was from Grozny Infantry School. The cadets went on the attack and only eight of them returned alive. We drove there over the dead bodies, which seemed to lie on every square meter of the ground of Stalingrad. Only by the color of their greatcoats we could tell, whether we were driving on the bodies of our soldiers or Germans. The ground everywhere was buckled up; there were no flat areas. We couldn’t even open the tank’s lower escape hatch, because even if the ground clearance sufficed; the hatch would rest on either a corpse or a pile of metal and bricks. The worst thing that I saw at war, was not the dive bombing near Kharkov, nor the night battle of Kursk where all fired at each other without particular regard for which were our tanks, and which were the German panzers. The worst thing was the attack of the Pacific Fleet mariners’ brigade. It was a standup headlong assault against a wall of machine gun fire. A thousand men died within a few minutes... And once I witnessed how a barge loaded with wounded went down to rest on the Volga River bed. The Germans had bombed it out, so the water in the river turned red with blood... Day and night hundreds of German planes hung in the sky over the river.
In early October my tank was knocked down again, and again I was wounded in the leg. That day my tank held a position 100 meters away from the Volga River. You know, just 100 meters of Soviet land remained behind us. We knew that we would not retreat... I was transported across the river at night and taken to the village of Komsomolskoe on the left bank. Typically, half of the wounded would die during the crossing. The flow of the wounded was so great that the hospital had run out of anesthetics. I was moved across the river immediately after being wounded, while many others had been in the basements of buildings and in field hospitals for up to two weeks. The doctor said: “If you don’t get operated on today, you will kick the bucket from gangrene.” Two glasses of pure alcohol were poured into me. Four people held my hands and feet, and the surgeon operated. And this was not something out of the ordinary. I was sent to the hospital in Saratov and two months later returned to the front at Stalingrad again.
As I was approaching the front, the thoughts and feelings I had were very sad. I thought that this time I was sure to be killed, as how many times I could win a "toss a coin" gamble with my fate? But as the columns of our troops were passing along, I saw everyone's enthusiasm and desire to defeat the enemy, and I was even ashamed of myself and my frustration. I found myself in the brigade commanded by Filipenko.
In early February 1943 I was in the center of Stalingrad. A terrible picture came into my view: all the basements were packed with wounded German soldiers and officers, dying of their wounds, hunger and cold. It was hard to look at their suffering, but after what we had experienced during the autumn battles, nobody felt any pity towards the Germans. Our paramedics were physically unable to provide assistance to all the Germans. The order was enforced not to kill the prisoners. Anyway, some of us wandered among the rows of the wounded, looking for SS-men. Those identified by their SS uniforms were shot on the spot. One more thing struck us: almost one in ten of those wearing German uniforms were former Red Army soldiers. Summary execution was applied to them also. The bitterness of people was overwhelming. All the streets were littered with frozen corpses of Germans. The German prisoners themselves cleared the pass ways by pulling the corpses to both sides of the roads. They hooked them by their nostrils and dragged. The Germans ripped off jackboots from the dead bodies of their countrymen. The technology was simple: they would hit with a crowbar on the ankle, it would crumble and then they could easily remove the jackboots... Isn’t that enough details for you?
- Once again, a lot has been written about Stalingrad. Is there any episode in your memory which has not been mentioned by historians in their numerous accounts?
- You should put this question to the historians; they have all the archives available at hand.
Perhaps the episode which took place at the Tractor Plant was unknown or not reflected in publications. In September 1942 both opposing sides had made full use of captured tanks. Once I had to repel an attack of seven T -34 tanks manned by German crews and for a couple of days even had to sit in a captured German tank, turned into a firing emplacement. Sitting inside their tank was something like sitting in a comfortable room, so comfortable it was. So, our tank column, which consisted of about twenty tanks, was making its way for repair. At dusk four German tanks edged into that column, so that nobody was able to sniff into their dirty trick and the Germans drove onto the grounds of the Tractor Plant’s repair site, where they stopped at the corners. They opened fire at tanks, people and shops.
Before they were killed they had done a lot of damage. Such a "holiday" they showed us... The Germans were able to sacrifice their lives also…
In spring of 1944 in Ukraine, we were escorting one German major for execution. He spat in our faces, and shouted at me: “Juden Schwine!” (Jewish Pig!) ... They also were able to die with dignity... We were breaking out from Zhitomir without our equipment. We advanced in multiple groups. Against us there was about a company of Germans. They did realize that if they accepted the fight, they would be dead, but still they did not give us an easy pass. All of them were slain in hand to hand combat... So we fought a strong and experienced enemy, who did not think too much about saving his skin ….
- After all of your multiple injuries, you might well have been found unfit for active service back in 1944. You were a certified engineer, who had a chest full of decorations.... Why did you still go back to the front lines?
- I was offered a job in the national economy, again in Stalingrad, to work as an engineer for the restoration of the refinery or to move over to the Army’s department of captured enemy equipment control. I couldn’t be a tanker anymore: my legs by then resembled a manual of military surgery for students. After the hospital I was given a leave. I went to Kiev. The city was destroyed. I was trying to find at least one of my relatives or friends, but all were killed. I came up to my old house, and was told that my relatives had managed to hide when all the others were driven to Babi Yar for slaughter, but their neighbors gave them away... We were stationed in Boguslav for reformation, the town where I had spent my childhood. I was appointed commandant of the town. None of the people I remembered were alive; the Germans had killed them all. I previously had no particular affection towards the enemy, but after what I saw there... In short, I could not accept that the war would end without me. Further, I was at war pursuing my engineering trade, working as a technical quartermaster of the 42nd Brigade in the 13th Division of the High Command Reserve. In January 19, 1945 we crossed the Polish- German border. We stopped in a small town. I said to the driver: “Hey, Ivan, why have you stopped in the middle of the street. Our tanks behind us cannot pass because of you. Move to the right." He did move to the right, straight to a German anti-tank mine... Again, I got multiple shrapnel wounds. On December 27, 1945 I was discharged from the hospital disabled, on crutches.
- Didn’t you want to visit Stalingrad again after the war, as to quote your dead tanker "to remember your youth near the Volga"?
- After the war I often dreamed of Stalingrad at night. The war wouldn’t let me go. But it took me thirty years after our victory to make up my mind to go on that trip. At first, I tried to find someone from my tank battalion to be my company. I found two. One was already at the death’s door. His frontline wounds had finished him. I arrived in Russia to see the second one and suggested to him that we go together to Volgograd. He replied: “Joseph, please understand, I’ve got a weak heart, I'm afraid that when all those horrible memories come back to me it won’t be able to stand it."
Special “tourist” group trips were being organized in Kiev. One of those routes was from Kiev to Volgograd. It was autumn. Guides took us through the scenes of former battles, and every place there for me was associated with a bitter loss of my wartime friends: “Kolya was burned here and Sasha was knocked down there, and this is where Ivan was killed by bomb splinters…” It is the case now that my memory has erased many of those names, but then I remembered them all...
I swallowed a lot of tears and heart pills there...
We were brought to the Mamayev Kurgan. A group of students and teachers from the German Democratic Republic, University of Berlin, was standing nearby. An elderly German, seeing my ribbon bars, came up to me and spoke to me in decent Russian. He asked: "Where were you fighting in Stalingrad?" I pointed to the direction and said that I was a tanker. He said: “In September, 1942, our positions were right opposite your tanks", and he even gave me the name of the street where our headquarters were located. He was a former sapper, non-commissioned officer, and then a professor at the university. He surrendered at the very final stage of the battle, alongside the staff of the Field Marshal Paulus headquarters.
About a couple of years before that trip I read in "Komsomolskaya Pravda" newspaper about a similar encounter of two former enemies on the ground of Stalingrad. Then I thought that the journalist had made up that story, but when it happened to me in reality, it was so incredible what surprises our lives could give us! It looked like the Germans had also longed to visit the scene of the former fights. We both were standing and talking, but suddenly I realized that neither he nor I had forgiven anything to each other. He could not forgive me his defeat and captivity, and I could not forgive him the death of my friends and relatives. The war for us was not over….
|Interview and literary work by:||G. Keuffman|
|Translated by:||N. Kulinich|
|Translation review by:||Charles G. Powers|