“This is not a provocation; this is war” – WWII remembered
World War II veterans recount their stories about the war, how it began and what happened in the very first days of the fighting.
Belarusian partisan Anatoly Oleinik remembers June 22, 1941, when Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union. Early in the morning, when it was still dark, the tent camp of his battalion was fiercely shelled from the other side of the border. Many were killed in their sleep, and the Nazis had cut off their communication with headquarters prior to the attack.
Soviet Army artillery officer Vladimir Belyaev, who was a commander of a mortar and machine gun platoon, remembers that “the least pleasant thing for me was when some of my men, when following the command from the top, would jump out of the trench before me. That was something I feared most of all.”
After Minsk, the capital of Belarus, was bombed on June 24, 1941 – it was the first and only serious bombing – anarchy started in the city, as former Minsk ghetto prisoner Mikhail Treister recalls.
“For four days people were looting stores, factories and warehouses. The city was on fire. Basically the whole central area was destroyed. The firefighters, instead of putting out the fires, would come and load their vehicles with flour, potatoes, salt, sugar, and go home. I saw it with my own eyes and even participated, because we did not know what would happen in the future, so I took some things too,” he remembers.
Georgian war veteran Victor Gudushauri destroyed a large-caliber German machine gun during one operation and for that was later awarded the Order of the Patriotic War 1st Class.