“Nazis were marching through streets, burning houses” - WWII veteran

RT presents War Witness – a special project dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the Victory in the Second World War.

World War II veterans recount their stories about the war, its effects and its human perspective.

Polish veteran Wieslaw Szczygiel remembered the tragic first days of war.

”They occupied it, our place, street by street with German scrupulousness. It was a poor district with mostly wooden houses, so Nazi troopers were marching through the streets, setting houses on fire and rounding up all the residents. They started checking documents and dividing the people.

”They transferred us on to trains to Wroclaw, to a special assembly camp where they gathered people from the neighboring regions. There was horrible hunger in that camp. They gave us some kind of gruel, which made people sick and caused dysentery. In those conditions it meant inevitable death.”

Watch the full interview with Wieslaw Szczygiel

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Nikolay Samodelov was a Moscow defense volunteer, 1941, Russia.

“There were 12 volunteer divisions formed in Moscow in the first days of the war,” he recalls. “Then, we – I was among about 650 volunteers from my home town – were sent directly to Moscow. Our train left in the evening. On the platform, of course, there were tears and goodbyes and encouragement from our relatives. The girls from the senior class also came to see us off. Everybody assured us of a quick victory. They had no idea about the hardships that we would face.”

On July 4 the volunteers left on about 50 open trucks from a collection point in Moscow. The trucks took the Mozhaisk Highway in the direction of Smolensk.

“At first, we were singing songs. Near Mozhaisk there was too much dust in the air to keep singing. And then, somewhere between Mozhaisk and Vyazma, we saw a Nazi reconnaissance aircraft. We got scared and jumped out of the trucks – it was the first time we had seen a German plane…”

The continuation to the first meeting was not long in coming.

“The night of July 5th was nice, a quiet, warm night; we even started to doze off in our trucks,” Samodelov remembers. “Suddenly, at dawn, around 3am, a barrage of bombs started falling. There were the tracer bullets too. As we had never seen tracer bullets before, at first we shouted ‘Hooray, an enemy plane is hit!’ In fact it was a plane showering us with fiery bullets. Several bombs hit our truck column, and that’s how the first common graves came to be. Graves for 17-year-old boys…even some 16-year-olds were in the trucks with us! Because we were not enlisted by drafting offices, you know. We were volunteers…”

Watch the full interview with Nikolay Samodelov

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Watch and read more real life stories from World War II witnesses