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6 May, 2010 11:39

“When I think of it, I do not know how we managed all that!” – 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.

Vera Rogova, traffic officer on the Road of Life, Ladoga Lake, Russia, recalls the very first days of the Siege of Leningrad.

“On September the 8th, our city was besieged by German forces, and the only connection with our troops was a narrow road running across Lake Ladoga: on one side there were the Nazi troops and on the other, the Finns, who were at war with us at that time.

All kinds of soldiers were involved in maintaining the Road of Life’s operation: there were labor battalions who were loading tow boats or vehicles, depending on the season. Pilots working for the transport air force, and military pilots who protected the Road of Life from bombings. There were road workers and traffic officers like me.”

Vera Rogova was one of these workers. There were five operating traffic lanes, the so-called threads, and there was a spare one in case of emergency.

“Vehicles drove along one and the same track, and the ice became very thin and worn out, so we had to watch the traffic and the ice condition. The ice was repaired manually: we drilled holes and carried water to pour on the ice road. All the while the Germans were bombing us,” she remembers.

Everybody was praying to God for non-flying weather conditions at that time. Sunny weather made the situation terrible because of constant bombing.

“The road was operating day and night. At first vehicles drove with the headlights off, but it could have led to accidents, because they did not see each other.

“Later a regulation to drive with the headlights on was issued.

“The drivers switched the headlights on, but they were afraid of being bombed, so they took the doors off or drove with the doors open to be able to escape.

“In order to stay awake they would put metal things into a helmet and hang it above, in front their heads.

“But there were cases when a driver fell asleep and the lorry went in the wrong direction. We rushed to the car to wake the driver up.

“When I think of it, I do not know how we managed all that! It’s just because we were young. To tell the truth it was very hard.”

André Barthelmé, Malgré-nous, incorporated by force in Wehrmacht, from France, remembers that the German troops entered the city of Mulhouse in June 1940. “At that moment they considered that Alsace – our region – belonged to Germany. So, they concluded that all the Alsatians should be viewed as Germans.”

So, in 1943 he was conscripted into the Wehrmacht, “and a few refused to come, they had severe sanctions. They could send you to a concentration camp or deploy your parents.”

André Barthelmé was sent to the Eastern Front and one day was severely wounded in a tank attack – finally taken to hospital in Mulhouse. “I was demobilized from the German Army due to my wound and on November 21, 1944 the French troops liberated Mulhouse.”

“So, I was lucky because the wound I received in September, 1943 saved my life,” he added.