Eyewitness Accounts, Great Patriotic War

Veteran’s Memories: I Have Forgiven No One

Original article
Translation by Alexander Fedotov

medal

– Once again, there has been much written about Stalingrad. What event, which was not mentioned by historians in the numerous monographs, has remained in your memory?

– Probably, the event at the Tractor Plant that has remained unknown or has not been mentioned in the publications. In September of 1942 both  sides made full use of  the captured tanks. Once I had to repel the attack of seven T-34 with German crews. I even sat a couple of days in a captured German tank that was made suitable for the firing point. While you sit inside their tank you feel like you are in a comfortable room. So, our tank column of about twenty tanks was driven to be repaired. Four German tanks at dusk got inside this column. None of ours  felt that something was up. So the Germans rode onto the territory of the repair site of the Tractor Plant and  positioned themselves at the corners. They opened fire at the tanks, people, factory shops. Whilst we did manage to destroy them, they did do  a lot of damage. Such a “celebration” they organised for us … The Germans knew how to sacrifice themselves too…

In the spring of 1944, in Ukraine, we were leading one major to an execution. He spat at us and shouted at me: ” Jüdische Schwein!”… They also knew how to die with dignity … At Zhitomir they broke through our ring, this time without hardware. They came in a large crowd. Almost a company of Germans stood against us. They realised, if they accept the fight,  they would die. However, they did not let us pass through easily. We killed them all in a melee… So we were fighting with a strong and experienced enemy that was not particularly sparing of  itself…

– After the war, did you not want to visit Stalingrad again, as wrote your dead tank driver “to reminisce about the youth by the Volga river”?

– After the war, I often dreamed of Stalingrad, the war would not let me free. But it took thirty years after the victory, until I decided to do on this trip. First, I tried to find someone from my tank battalion. I found two men. One of them was practically dead – the wounds from the front line finished him. I visited the other one in Russia and asked him to visit Volgograd with me. He said: “Yuzef, please understand, my heart is already weak. I am afraid it will not survive when all these terrible memories come flooding back”.

Here in Kiev, special “tourist” trains for trips by organised groups were formed. One of these routes was Kiev-Volgograd. It was in autumn. Guides were accompanying  us through the battle scenes, every one of which was linked to the bitter loss of military friends: Kolya burned there, Sasha was hit here and here Ivan was killed by bomb’s shrapnel… Now many names have faded from my memory whereas back then I  remembered all of the names…

I swallowed a lot of tears and validol [Russian name for medicine that dilates blood vessels lowering blood pressure –transl.] there…

They brought us to the Mamayev Kurgan [the memorial complex dominated by the statue of Mother Russia  overseeing the city of Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) – transl.]. Nearby a group of students and lecturers from the German Democratic Republic, from the University of Berlin was standing. One elderly German saw my Service Ribbon. He approached me and began to speak with me in decent Russian language. He asked: “Where did you fight in Stalingrad?”. He pointed in the direction of his own and said he was fighting as a tanker. He said: “I was in front of your tanks in September of 1942”. He even called out the street where our headquarters were located. The former sapper, non-commissioned officer and now a university professor. He surrendered at the very final battle along with the headquarters of Paulus [Friedrich Paulus was a German field marshal commanding the 6th Army in the Battle of Stalingrad – transl.].

For a couple of years before this trip, I read in the “Komsomolskaya Pravda” [a daily Russian newspaper, founded on 13 March 1925 – transl.] of a similar meeting of two former enemies on the grounds of Stalingrad. I thought it was imagination of a journalist. While here the same story happened to me in real life. Just unbelievable what surprises life throws at us! It turns out, the Germans also gravitated back to the places of fighting. We stood and talked as I realised that neither he nor I had forgiven each other for anything. He had not forgiven me for the defeat and captivity whereas I had not forgiven him for the death of friends and family. The war for us had not ended yet…

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Yampolsky & M – participant of the Battle of Stalingrad

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