“Disrupting plant’s work was met with capital punishment” – WWII remembered
World War II veterans recount their stories about the war, its effects and its human perspective.
Mira Ribalchenko was a child when Nazi troops besieged Leningrad. At those horrific times her father fell ill and she recalls how she had to care for her family.
“Our family suffered a lot during the blockade, because I had a little sister and when the war started she fell ill with measles, and by the spring my father fell ill too. He was let go from his battalion, and today I can say he was let go to die, because men would hardly withstand starvation. And it fell to my lot to fetch water from the Bolshaya Nevka, I also had to fetch his food ration and hot meals for him.”
Soon a man from a neighboring family also fell ill, and Mira recalls how she had to go for meals together with his wife.
“Once she told me to wait on the street while she would go and see some place along the riverbank. There were bunkers there and when those bunkers were dismantled, people made fire with the wood and the place was used to put away the dead bodies. I preferred to walk on the other side of the street, not along the riverbank, because I wanted to see people. So there I went and I had very funny clothes, because I had grown up out of my only coat which they bought me before the war began. So I was quite funny and a soldier stopped me and said “Your cheek is frost-bitten.” It was very cold. And I had two muffs, but I covered the dishes with them because I was carrying those sets of dishes with meals. I’m so grateful to him for that, I don’t know whether I was really so frost-bitten, but he would not leave me until I warmed my cheeks up. Luckily my father survived.”
Janina Duda, a female partisan from the Polish resistance, was sent to a Polish unit in spring of 1943. She recalls: “We had many issues to solve there because normally we had only one enemy – and that was the Germans, but there it was not that simple – there were Ukrainian nationalists. Sometimes you enter a village and you don’t know your fate – there are no Germans there, but there are still enemies.”
“We didn’t want to fight against anybody, but the Germans were against us, and Ukrainian nationalists too – most of the time,” she added.
Mikhail Bobrov, mountain climbing instructor of the 105th Rifle Detachment from Russia, tells how they once fought Germans in the mountains and won the battle. When they checked the bodies of the German soldiers they saw two severely wounded men and brought them to a local hospital. Following their treatment, these two Germans were sent to a prisoners of war camp.
A very interesting thing happened with Mikhail Bobrov at the1960 Olympics. He began talking to a man and they realized they knew each other. The stranger turned out to be one of those two wounded German soldiers, so they continued to keep in touch for the rest of their lives.
Member of the Czech resistance movement, Yaroslav Ruzhechka, risked his life on a daily basis to keep the faith among his compatriots.
“At first, people were in despair after the Munich pact. They stopped trusting anyone – it was a difficult time. Very few wished to join the resistance – people were deep in despair, that’s why it was very important to lift up the hands and strengthen the faith of the people in the victory over the common enemy. I worked at an electronics plant, which was the best in the country. I had to work – the plant was under special control of the Germans. There was a Gestapo representative and several German engineers. We did not know about it, but we made various elements for rockets and other weaponry. Our task was to slow the production at all costs. We disrupted the assembly line all the time. I was just a worker at the plant, but in the resistance movement I occupied a major post: I was in charge of the propaganda in one of Prague’s districts.”
His position, as Ruzhechka recalls, put him in a considerable danger.
“We had a system of groups of three, we tried to make it so those people didn't know each other. A team of three worked on the same workshop floor, we received leaflets, for example five copies, and passed them around, and we had to get all of them back – they were not to leave the workshop. But sometimes we failed. We could even expose a traitor. For example there was one worker, who graduated from an international school for foreign communists, but it turned out he was working for the Nazis too. Just one traitor informed on thousands. I should explain: for such a leaflet, they sent you to a concentration camp immediately, while pouring powder into the melting pot was met with capital punishment. That's what our life was like. People often say that those who co-operated with the Germans betrayed their people, but I say that they had to work for Germans – that’s the difference. We did our best to produce as little as possible. The Germans ruled us, but we ruled the people’s souls. That’s a big difference.”