What I still remember from that time is panic and fear of sirens – WWII veteran
World War II veterans recount their stories about the war, its effects and its human perspective.
After the breach of the Leningrad blockade and cessation of fighting on the left flank of the Volkhov Front near Novgorod, artillery officer Aleksandr Kuznetsov, together with his battalion, assumed a defensive position.
“In March 1943, a whole train came from Siberia carrying presents from the Siberian people – above all, delicious Siberian dumplings, so small and beautifully crafted, with dough so fine you could see the meat through it! Every soldier and officer got a present – gloves or warm socks or a tobacco pouch or an embroidered handkerchief. And there was always a letter with the present! Mostly those were letters from children; written by tiny hands, they were so open-hearted, so sincere and pure! You could sense the milky smell of children coming from those letters. That's what every soldier felt, especially those who went to war and left sons and daughters behind. For soldiers who had just come from horrible, blood-soaked battlefields, those letters were like a spring of fresh pure water, an overwhelming expression of their love, their hope for victory, and their confidence in our strength! It really evoked strong feelings in soldiers and a desire to fulfill those hopes,” Aleksandr Kuznetsov recalled those days.
“To understand it fully, you have to live it. That is called unity between army and people,” he added.
Resident of the German town of Warburg, Karl-Heinz Bohning says the sound of sirens is something he has not been able to forget over the years since the end of the war.
“What I still remember from that time is the panic and the fear of sirens. When we heard the bomb alert, we ran for our lives. And this fear for my life, I still have it whenever I hear any siren. But my parents were not put off by it and every Saturday they still went to the cinema. It was tradition, as the years went by,” he said.
“Then there was the bomb alert – everyone ran out of the cinema and hid in the cellars. When it was over, everyone went back into the cinema and the film continued. They were used to that, it was extraordinary how they adapted to the situation. They said “What else can we do? We want to live and not just think about war, destruction and death,” Karl-Heinz Bohning recalled.
Jan Duda was a soldier in a Polish division formed within the Red Army. He remembers how he made it to the field.
“In 1944, we were brought near Stalingrad to work at the Stalingrad Tractor Factory. We were supposed to repair equipment. One day I was walking to the canteen when I heard a Polish anthem played on a local loudspeaker. And there was a newscast about a special Polish division that was being formed within the Red Army. That was a huge joy for me to hear. I went to the nearest conscription office and said I was Pole and that I wanted to fight. They didn’t believe me; they put me in a cell. They said I was no Pole at all, that I had deserted the army.
A few days later, I was called to a Major who spoke Polish and who interrogated me briefly. I understood that it was a test; he wanted to make sure I was really a Pole. He asked me who Mickievicz was, who Zhivkova was, what Poland's anthem sounded like, and so on.
After my answers, he stood up, shook my hand and said, "Yes, I see that you're a Pole and a patriot; you can enroll with the First Division.”