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by Sergey

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Archive List > Prisoners of War

Contributed by 
Sergey
People in story: 
Dmitry Egorovich
Location of story: 
Russia-Ukraine-Germany
Article ID: 
A2519156
Contributed on: 
14 April 2004

I met Dmitry Egorovich on a hot and sultry summer afternoon, when every movement squeezed a whole bath of sweat out of you, and you could not even think of doing anything. I was staying all by myself — my family was in the country with my mother-in-law — and it was a holiday. I did not feel like cooking, the usual breakfast of cornflakes with milk had been digested long ago, opening the way to a feeling of light hunger. I had to go out — to buy some food, or for any other reason, and on my way back I stopped by a rubberized tent, which appeared in the city in big quantities, and in which people drank draft and other beers.

So it was a hot and sultry July afternoon, when I dropped at a tent, ordered a draft Klinskoe, when suddenly I saw Bochkarev — white wheat beer that had just appeared. I had started to like unfiltered yeast beers after tasting them in Germany, and first of all, in Bavaria. There is a famous Biergarten in Munich, where contented German Buergers and visiting foreigners, sitting on wooden benches at wooden tables on the bank of a small pond with ducks, drink the foaming beverage from huge one-liter mugs. This Biergarten is a must for tourists, that is why I came there with a delegation of paper-makers from Karelia. And tasted the opaque sweety liquid, it seemed very unusual to me. But its real taste came to me later, and since then I prefer these beers to all others and am ready to drink them at hot noon and at cold midnight, steaming after a sauna or chilly after a winter walk. How I longed for such Russian beer! And at last! It came true! Long live the market and competition! At first there came (returned!) the live unfiltered beer. And it turned out that we had been drinking the stuff for ages, while dreaming of some pasteurized lousy dish-water in tin cans. So it had been not for nothing. Once during the hungry Perestroika times my acquaintance — a professor of mathematics from the Altai — returned from abroad and stopped with us for a couple of days to solve some problems before going home to Barnaul. I came home from the office, and Nikolay (the professor’s name was Nikolay) with a satisfied grin asked me: “Would you like canned beer?” Where from would canned beer appear in my house, when it was impossible to find ordinary beers? He must have brought it from abroad or got hold of it at some special shop at his scientific conferences. “I would!” — I answered immediately foretasting the delicacy. “Then come and get it”, - Nikolay opened the refrigerator and took out a three-liter jam-jar full of opaque beer — the usual home draft Zhiguli. “I bought it at a beer-tent round the corner, treat yourself!” And you tell me — Heineken…

And now we have yeast, moreover — wheat, beer. Thanks to Bochlkarev and Baltika (for its number eight). And we wait for others.

Of course I put aside the Klinskoe, and ordered Bochkarev and bacon and eggs — I have said that I did not feel like cooking at home alone. I sat at a table, looked around and saw an old man who munched a dry burger.

- Hello, Granddad, would you like some beer? — I asked him.
- Pour me some if you don’t grudge.
- Take the whole glass, - I sat at his table and gave the Klinskoe to him, extremely satisfied with myself — I have done a good thing.

We exchanged unimportant phrases — who and what, and it turned out that he had been at war. And I do not know why, obviously he lacked audience, but he told me his life…

I do not remember exactly why we began talking about the war. It must be the main topic in conversation with unknown elderly men. And indeed, what will you begin with if you see an old man, grey-haired and wrinkled, beaten by the life? Talking about the war is advantageous for both parties — for you, if you want to look interested and politely show that your conversation partner means something to you, and for the partner, especially if he is older than you, and he can talk about the war without fear of counter-reminiscences from your side. So I thought it would be something of the kind — the drink had been offered and accepted, I had eaten my eggs and was sipping leisurely the second bottle of wheat beer. In order not to look new-Russianly haughty as if I treat to beer everybody who may be quite indifferent to me, I had to say or ask something. So I asked: “Were you at the war, yourself?”

- Oh yes, I was, three times I was at the attacking side, and see, I am still alive, only was slightly wounded. I was lucky…
- Sorry, and what is your name?
- Uh?
- What is your name, I asked?
- I am Dmitry Egorovich…

I also introduced myself. We had a lot of time, beer was still on the table, and it was hot. Grandfather — Dmitry Egorovich — slowly, word by word, began telling his life. I was listening, sometimes asked him a leading question, or just nodded when he talked about events which were familiar to me from books, or about places which I happened to have visited too.

“It was at the end of forty second. We were brought to Northern Caucasus, the Germans were on the offensive, that is why we were brought there. It was near Prokhladnoye, probably you know? We were brought there, let out from the wagons, then marched a bit, and here we were — the front, quite nearby. We were all from the training unit, seen weapons, learnt ceremonial step, and now straight ahead — forward! We are attacking! We had to dislodge the German from the mounting ridge, where he had settled down. I was lucky to be in the third platoon, a machine gunner, I even had some military rank. And then… The first platoon was cut down completely. No wonder — attacking, forward, and the German machine-gunned them from above. Only three people were left from the second platoon. And we were the last to attack, probably the German was out of ammunition, or he had retreated, or, may be, they had been all killed there, but nobody shot back at us. So we were lucky, our platoon came out from the first combat practically without losses. I even did not have to shoot. So we digged in the German position, set up kind of a camp. We did not have to dig much, everything had been done by the Germans, and we only corrected it a bit. In any case nobody could come from above. And it was dark already, winter — getting dark early. We made a fire; somebody brought food, boiled some water. It was strange — so quick — the first attack, and you are alive, and what lies ahead… Yes, and it was frosty, and stars at night. Yes, but our platoon commander had been killed, he was running ahead of us, urging us to follow him, and we had traveled from Turkmenia together…

- Oh, so you are from Turkmenia?
- No, I was only drafted to the front from Turkmenia…
- Well? So you did not live there?
- No-no, lived and worked there, in a kolkhoz. But I am from the Altai.
- Really? From the Altai? And which place in the Altai?
- Ah, you have been there, have you not?
- Yes, I have…
- Then probably you should know… Have you heard of Talmenka?
- Is it far from Barnaul? I was in Barnaul, and went to Biysk, and then to Gorny Altai…
- From Barnaul, you say? Neee, not very far.

“Yes we lived there. Had a house of our own, some cattle. I was a small boy and remember that the life was good. And then they began to organize kolkhozes. But we did not join the kolkhoz at the beginning. What was the purpose of joining, we had enough. But then the commissars began to scowl at us. And they began evicting kulaks. So my father grasped that there would be no life for us there. And we decided to move to Turkmenia. It was the time when they still called people to go to new territories. We were three children in the family, so we gathered at once. My father gave everything we had to the kolkhoz in exchange for a document that we were kolkhoz members. So we gathered everything we could carry and went to a new place. In any case life in the old place would have never been the same. They would have driven us in the kolkhoz in any way, and afterwards would remind us our old good life. Anything could have happened, the new place was safer. So we went there. I was small then, cannot remember everything.

It was no problem to get settled at the new place — the document helped us much. We got some land and were registered in the local kolkhoz. And it was easier for us, everybody treated us well, as new settlers, and we did not own anything but our hands. My father worked well, so we lived on… It was there that Daddy thought of a profession for me. As everybody else I wanted to work with machines. But he was good with iron himself, so he said — go and learn to be a plater. So I worked as a plater’s apprentice, and got it, how to work with plate. Afterwards it helped me very much. And when the war began, it was not immediately that they in the local MTS (machine and tractor station) let me be drafted — they needed a good specialist. So that is why I was a year or two older then the others in the training unit, when we were finally sent to the front. So that is why I was made the man in charge, when our platoon commander had been killed, moreover, I was a machine gunner…

We were in the position on one side of the valley, and on the other our training battalion was. And as we did not have any intercommunication with them for some time, my platoon was sent there — kind of help, or reconnaissance. But it was already taken by the German. So we marched there, on the other side of the valley. And had already made our way through the valley to the slope, and nearly made it, when he poured us with machine guns. So we all lay squeezing ourselves in the earth and could not raise our heads. And we lay there for some time… And the German pressed us from above and began throwing hand grenades at us. And they at the other side of the valley finally understood that it was a real combat at our side and began firing mortars. But how could you distinguish, where the German was and where our soldiers. So that is how I was wounded, in the legs, by our own mortar shell. So I was taken prisoner, wounded…”

Dmitry Egorovich looked at me and made a gulp from his glass. “It is now that one can talk about German captivity, and before — not a single word… You know, people looked differently at me. And I was a war, three times at the attacking side and was left alive, I was lucky, sure…” I nodded and Dmitry Egorovich continued his story.

“The wound turned out to be light, so I was sent to job practically in no time. There were a lot of prisoners, we felled trees — for firewood, it was winter, remember. We made ourselves at home in the barracks, made some private stocks. I had a haversack, a dixy, and I had picked up a steel-helmet, so I carried it all the time. And then the German began retreating, after Stalingrad, so we were all lined up and driven to Rostov. In winter. The columns were long, and were guarded mostly by the police, organised from Russians who served the Germans. Oh, they were really cruel and shot down those, who fell behind. There were different people among us — old and ill too. They told them — sit down, you are tired, get some rest and you will catch up. We went further and only heard — bang! — another one shot down. I was young enough, with Siberian health, so I pulled myself up, though the leg was aching. And on the march we were not aloud to eat or drink, just walked, everybody according to their strength. And near Rostov, when we were crossing the Don, near an ice-hole, I was very thirsty, and scooped without stopping two times with my dixy and drank two dixy-fulls of ice water from the river. And then nearly died — I got typhus.

So I was put to a hospital for prisoners. There was a Russian doctor — a prisoner himself. It was he who cured me, thank him. And do you know with what? — with manganese solution — he made it from crystals and water and gave me to drink twice a day. So I got cured from the disease, but then nearly starved to death. In the hospital they gave us to eat only skilly — water with two-three grains of pearl barley floating in it, and that was all. Three or four days of such meals and there was no strength in you to get up. So you just lay and saw that your neighbor had not moved for two days, so he was carried out. And I felt that not much was left for me. So I begged the doctor to let me out from the hospital. Those, who were healthy and worked, got some food at least, and the sick people in the hospital — there was only one way for them — to die.

Meanwhile the German was preparing to retreat from Rostov. And I was lucky once again. One morning they wanted to choose some prisoners to load railway wagons in the warehouses. I volunteered though I could hardly stand after my illness. But I felt that I would die right in the barrack if I did not go — no strength was left at all. So we, absolutely exhausted, were taken to the warehouses. Big they were, packed with food — with flour, macaroni, sugar and tinned stewed meat. We had to load sacks into railway wagons, but there was little use from us — we swayed under the sacks and could not even lift them properly. The German-in-chief saw that there was no use, so he stopped us and made his cook to give us some food. The cook prepared macaroni with stewed meat, put a lot of meat in. So we ate a whole dixy each, and there was left something. So he said: “Who wants a second helping?” My neighbour warned me: “Be careful, you can die eating so much after starving.” But I ate my second dixy nevertheless, though it was hard. Then I nearly dozed. So with great difficulty we managed to work till dusk, and it was getting dark early — it was still winter. And the Germans did not work in the dark — they were afraid. So we were sent back to the barracks. But the German-in-chief allowed us to take everything we could carry. There were a lot of torn sacks and broken cases on the floor. I filled my haversack with flour, put some macaroni in my pockets and took a tin of stewed meat on top.

There were two seniors in our barracks — from those who helped the Germans. So they ran the whole thing. They even had a stove. Everybody who brought something shared with them. I gave them all the flour, but gnawed the macaroni myself — raw and dry. They made thick pancakes from the flour and brought some to me, so I fortified myself again. That’s the young organism, it needed so little, and I was already on my feet.

From Rostov we were driven in columns to the Ukraine. And the weak were shot down again. But I held out, though was among the last in the column. In the Ukraine I managed to run away. On the same road, that we were marching, some Bashkirs drove cattle — cows and sheep. They had undertaken to bring the herd to Poltava. They rode behind the herd in a cart. When the cart overtook me, their chief addressed me: “Would you like to join us? We have lost two people…” So I agreed. It was getting dark, no escort was around, so I jumped into the cart. They immediately put on me a fir hat, like Bashkirs wore. And they hid my steel-helmet or just threw it away, I do not remember. And my uniform overcoat was not seen in the dark. Our escort passed the cart, looked at us, but did not say anything. And in a short while we stopped for the night, asked to give us some shelter in a house, gave some meat to the land-lady, she gave us some hot water, and we slept in the inner porch, quite warm on straw. So I stayed with the Bashkirs — to drive cattle.

In Poltava we gave the herd over at the receiving check point, and were given kind of a bonus — a sheep — each of us. And went our own ways, mainly to lonely farms. Spring was approaching, it was time to dig beds for vegetable sawing, but there were no men left. So we went from one farm to another. Some of us stayed in one place if they found a good woman. I also stayed with one woman, worked in the garden and helped her in the house. So I lived there almost till summer. And the police inspected the farms — gathered men without documents. So they came for me, and I did not manage to hide myself. They escorted us with guns ready to shoot, there were about five of us there. We had to cross some gullies, they were already green and no Germans or policemen dared to poke their noses in them. So we walked, a fellow, a Tartar, near me. He walked and kept squinting at the bush in the gullies, and then gave me a wink — let’s run away. I looked at the escort, and when they turned away, I ran for my life to the gullies, right into the bush. And heard the Tartar to follow me. The escort shot at us but did not hit, and they certainly did not follow us. So we escaped.

And then I had to decide how to live without documents — till the next police raid. The woman, with whom I stayed, told me to go to a German commandant and tell him that I was a refugee from the Reds, others had done so, he should give me a document. And so I did. Went to the commandant. He was an old man, sitting in his office. The Germans, they were like children, one could easily deceive them. I told him a story, that I had been fleeing from the Reds from Rostov, that I had been followed, and had lost all the documents, and that in such a turmoil one would not remember his documents. The commandant believed me and gave an Ausweiss. “Go to the burgomaster and get yourself registered”, - he said. The burgomaster was from local people, not easy to be deceived, he immediately cracked me, that I was a prisoner on the run from the Germans. But either he pitied me, he also had two sons in the Red Army, or he needed spare hands. He told me: “See, I have to rush around a lot, and the Germans allocated two hectares of land per family, and it should be farmed, and the produce — given to the Germans. I don’t have men in the house, and women — how much they can do? Stay with me as a help.”

So I stayed with him. Lived in his house, worked in the fields, was fed rather well. And in autumn the Germans began to leave. Local people also followed them. The burgomaster loaded his cart and told me: “Come with us, what’s you got here…” I thought a bit and agreed. So we went with the German army through the whole of the Ukraine, Poland to Germany itself. And in Germany I got to a small works near Braunschweig in Salzgitter…”

Having seen my approving nod, Dmitry Egorovich stopped and asked:
- What, have you been there?
- Yes, it so happened…

“In the works my plater profession was of use again. So I settled there till the end of the war. And then the Americans came and we all got interned to a big camp. There the former Red Army commanders, who had been prisoners, demanded from the Americans that we should be handed over to Russians. All of us were brought to an airport — a huge field — and we fell in columns. We were about fifteen thousand there, and about five thousand women — those who had been driven to Germany or went there of their own accord. We were all already married there, lived together in a kind of civil marriage. I also had a woman — her name was Christine — we had made plans how we would live together afterwards. And as we were put in trains, the wives asked to go together with their husbands. But alas, as we were brought to that airfield, we never saw each other again. And all the traces were lost. Then everybody was checked by special department people. They asked how and when we had been taken prisoners, what the circumstances had been. I told them everything about my wound and imprisonment, and there were no more questions, I was sent to a military unit to continue my service.

Our regiment was very soon sent from Germany to Archangel Region. There was not enough winter clothing, and we had to live in dugouts, which we made ourselves. One could easily die of hunger, and of cold, and of a disease — typhus. And again I was lucky that I had my profession. The colonel asked if anybody had any profession. I volunteered: “I am a plater, - I said, - I can make a bath-house.” So they brought some sheet iron, I made an oven from it and other things to equip a bath-house. The commander was ready to kiss my bottom for that — soldiers could wash themselves and scorch lice from the linen.

And here I came from Alma-Ata — three years ago — to my daughter. My wife died, and the daughter lives here. She has taken a lot of trouble to get a registration for me here, so I live nearby.”

And he named his address.

- Does the Grandfather come here often? — I asked the barman.
- He sits here every day.

Recently I was in the place where the beer-tent had been. It was dismantled before winter. Only white-and-blue booth of a movable toilet remained — with a sign “Toilet fee — 5 roubles.”

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - A Glass of Beer

Posted on: 03 May 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Your English is very good Sergey, and I very much enjoyed your story.

Best wishes,

Peter

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