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I am a participant of one war - the Great Patriotic War. I was there from July 3, 1941, and until May of '46. In essence, the war was a constant struggle for survival for me, especially in those extreme conditions in which my life passed, although not always with a weapon in hands. I want to tell a little about that life.
On June 22nd I was in the city of Feodosia, where we were building a secret installation. I lived in the Astoria hotel. I woke up at 10 - no one was around. I went outside and found out that the war had started. Well, how I felt about that... Probably, same as all the Soviet people - I was uneasy, because my parents lived close to the western border. Besides that, I understood what war was about because I had gone through military service as a combat engineer. That evening I was already on board a train that rushed me to Moscow. In Moscow I was immediately mobilized for bomb shelter construction. An on July 3rd, after a speech by Comrade Stalin, all my buddies went to sign up for the people's militia, but I was a professional serviceman - I had a mobilization assignment from the military commissariat to come only at the special summons, and couldn't go with them. My buddies said: "Dan'ka, what the hell?! We're all going! And you? Let's go!" The director said: "Danil, how can you? All your comrades are going, and you're not?" So I went into this so-called militia. When they found out that I was an NCO, they appointed me a sergeant major of a separate combat engineer company. I was given approximately 300 men, almost all of them with higher education, we even had doctors of sciences, and poets, and writers, and composers - anyone, but we didn't have any workers. I instantly formed them up - roared: "Fall in!" - and they immediately felt that this was a sergeant major that had gone through professional service in front of them. And so, I formed them up and led them to the barber, and despite the protests and malicious challenges they all got haircuts. Then they were taken to the bathhouse. And everything fell into place - it really became an engineer battalion, led by a real sergeant major.
On July 4th or 5th we set out from Moscow over the Mozhaisk highway. We marched 30 km to the village of Tolstopaltsevo and made our camp there. The army life began: learning, mastering weapons, mastering ammunition, explosive materials. One time I was called to the divisional engineer, my pal Zinoviy Levin, who said: "Dania, you have to go to the Ivanovo oblast (oblast was an administrative division in USSR - trans.) and receive 6 tons of explosives there. Also, get about 150-200 anti-personnel and anti-tank mines and 5-6 field kitchens." I said: "What will you give me?" He: "You'll get a platoon of soldiers and a GAZ AA. We sat into a car and I asked: "What am I supposed to use to get all of that stuff back?!" They tell me: "What kind of an engineer are you if you can't figure out how to deliver the cargo?!"
How I found myself in Podolsk - I have no idea, because
the road to Ivanovo is completely different, but for some reason we took a different
route and found ourselves in Podolsk. I saw a sign while driving through Podolsk:
"Autobase", and an idea crossed my mind. I entered the office of that autobase's
director, put my revolver on the table (I didn't even have a holster, the revolver
was stuck behind my belt) and said: "Listen. You sit here, in the rear, eat
well, and we are fighting!" - although we hadn't fought, I pretended that I
was an experienced soldier already. He said: "What do you need?" I said: "We
need a minimum of 12 trucks, to go and pick up explosives." He said: "Where
am I supposed to get them?! I got assignments!" I gave an order: "Do not let
a single car out, but let any car in!" I locked him in his office, posted a
guard, came outside, assembled all drivers, and said: "Guys, I have 2 sacks
of dried sausages, 2 sacks of bread, half a sack of sugar and canned goods.
I don't have vodka. We need to drive to Ivanovo oblast and receive explosives
and other materials needed for the front. Who's going?" Everyone shouted: "We'll
go!" This way I assembled 15 trucks. The director was screaming out of the window:
"Scoundrels! You'll be prosecuted!" I left with this cavalcade, drove through
the entire Moscow, arrived at the Ivanovo oblast. There we loaded up and returned
back to our unit the next morning. I have to mention that while we were loading
I grabbed two cases of flashlights without any paperwork. When I arrived at
my company, I reported everything that occurred to the company commander. He
"You know what? Don't turn this case of flashlights in at the engineering stockpile, and give it to us."
"Comrade company commander, I don't have the right" - I said.
"I order you!" - he started raising his voice.
"I will not obey."
"Repeat the order: leave one case of flashlights!"
"I will not repeat the order!"
"I will have you shot right now!"
He took out his Parabellum, and I saw foam on his lips, he was pounding the floor and yelling:
"Repeat the order!"
I threw open my uniform, tearing it, screaming:
"Go ahead and shoot! But I'm not going to repeat the order!"
He threw the gun and his hat on the floor and started pounding them with his feet, but I turned around and left. There the story ended, but I was relieved of my post and stopped being the company's sergeant major. I was put into a platoon with my pal Vasia Karpenko.
Then we were transferred to a village of Pupovo in the Smolensk oblast. There I participated in the capture of three pilots, whose plane was downed by our AA guns. They were caught and taken to the division's HQ. They entered there in a cocky manner - threw their arms out, yelled: "Heil Hitler!" That made a colossal impression on me: how could it be that a prisoner would behave in such way?
After a day some really tough fighter with 3 stripes (lieutenant
colonel - Artem Drabkin) arrived, assembled the
entire company, and said: "Anyone with a secondary or higher education, 2 steps
forward!" I did.
"Comrades, you're going to a school to get the rank according to your profession. You there, who are you?"
"I'm a construction engineer" - I said.
"Then you'll become a military construction engineer, 3rd rank."
That's great. They put us in the trucks and drove to the village of Korni near Viazma. There we 36 men were put into the first machine gun platoon, first company, first battalion. I said: "What machine gunner?! What are you doing?! I came to become a military engineer?!" "Silence! No talking!" In the evening I wrote a report, that I had been lied to. They wrote on that report in reply: "Comrade Zlatkin. The country needs machine gunners."
The drilling began - starting at 6 in the morning and until evening the rifle didn't leave my shoulder, we goose stepped, sang, clicked empty breech blocks - that's how they trained us to be machine gunners. And the food - tea with sugar in the morning, with a slice of bread; at midday, for dinner, some skilly which didn't have absolutely anything in it, not even a single potato, and kasha (a dish of cooked grain - trans.), and for supper - sugar with a slice of bread. In 10 days we all got so emaciated that we could barely walk. I kept asking: "When will we finally learn about machine guns? Where are those machine guns?" They said: "Silence! None of your business! No arguments! We'll do what the superiors order!" Well, that really astounded me then...
One evening I got out of a dugout to take a leak and saw
my guys eating potatoes. My God - potatoes! I asked: "Where did you get them?"
"Well, from the cook. In the kitchen." I ran to that cook: "How can I get potatoes
from you?" He said: "Potatoes... that has to be earned." I said: "I want to
earn them! I'm starving!" "You know what" - he said - "come tomorrow, after
dark - carry the firewood, saw, cut it, so that at 5 in the morning, when I
come in, water is boiling. Understood?" "Understood." I really did spend the
entire night carrying that firewood up from the river, sawed it with a hand
saw, cut it with an axe which kept flying off the handle, and by 5 in the morning
I had everything burning and water boiling. He saw that, says: "Well done! Alone,
but look at how you worked! I wouldn't get 2-3 people to work like that. You
are a young, good lad, I am giving you the potatoes. Take them." I said: "How
many can I take?" "Take as many as will fit." And I had that short cavalry bekesh
(a type of coat - trans.) on me. I stuffed both of its pockets with the potatoes
- but that didn't seem enough to me. I took out a Finnish knife, made another
cut, and stuffed the potatoes around myself. So I was walking, feeling happy,
thinking: "Now I'll fry some, or bake them in the coals." Suddenly there was
some officer with three stripes. He saw me and said:
"Comrade student, to me!"
I approached. He grabbed me by my bekesh and said:
"What's in here?"
"No, not stolen - earned."
"You're lying, swine, you stole it! No one could earn it, we're not such unit where you earn things! You must've stolen it!"
We entered the mess hall, where the soldiers were having breakfast at that time. Everyone was drinking that "tea" - simply boiled water with sugar and a slice of bread. He addressed them:
"Comrades soldiers, the Germans get 200 grams of bread per day and fight! And how they fight! But you get 500 grams, but there are bandits and thieves among you, who rob you and eat your food. Here, look!"
He started pulling the potatoes from my pocket and knocking them on the table. Pulled one out - knocked, pulled out - knocked, and kept repeating:
"You see this bandit! This is your potato! I must be on your table!"
Well, the soldiers obviously started murmuring when this potato mountain appeared. He yelled at me:
"Get on top of the table!" I got up on the table.
"Take the star off your cap!" I took it off.
"Take off the belt" I took it off.
"Take off the puttees." I took them off.
"In the name of the Russian Federative Soviet Republic I sentence the bandit and pillager to be shot!"
Took out his sidearm and aimed at me. At that point I went blind. I couldn't see anything, I couldn't hear anything, I only stood firmly on my feet. I was thinking: "That's it, now a shot is going to sound." I was prepared for anything. A torturous period of time passed, I don't know how long. I didn't hear that shot, but kept standing doggedly. Somebody pulled my arm - once, twice. I opened my eyes and saw the brigade commander to whom I had sent my report. He quietly told me: "Get off", and I fell, losing consciousness. The same solicitous colonel brought me round, put my star back on, put on my belt, and said "Put the puttees on yourself." I bent down, put on the puttees. He said: "Take the potatoes." I took the potatoes, he put his arm around me, and we left. Complete silence: all soldiers stood and looked at us, and we left, escorted by these stares. He asked me quietly: "Where did you get the potatoes?" I started crying. That was the limit of my nerves, I cried and told him where I got the potatoes. He kissed me in the head and said: "Son, the hard life has begun. Go, eat your potatoes."
After three days they put us in a freight car and drove
us somewhere. There were approximately 60 or 80 men stuffed in the car - no
way to turn! Where they were taking us - no one knew. Finally we got out. We
could hear explosions and small arms fire somewhere within a kilometer. A wounded
soldier approached. We asked:
"Man, who's there?"
"Well, they say, the Germans made an airborne landing."
"And where are we?"
"There's the river Plotva nearby. Somewhere here, not far, is Borodino. And this is the village of Myshkino."
Great. I remembered - Myshkino.
In the evening they assembled us in a bathhouse. Maybe 20 men were stuffed in there. Some senior sergeant was standing and saying: "Here, comrades, is the latest Degtiarev heavy machine gun before you. It must be serviced by 4 men: one carries the barrel, another carries these wheels, and 2 more carriers for the ammo. Understood? You! (pointed at me), you'll be the Number One! Understood? Here, take the barrel." I took the barrel. "And you," - he said to someone not from my platoon - "you're Number Two." Gave him the wheels. He appointed two more as carriers - they took the cartridges. "In order to fire you have to press this, push this, pull here, insert this, and shoot - understood?!" Everyone shouted: "Understood!!" And none of us understood anything at all. So with such knowledge of the machine gun we set out in the direction of the frontline, and were immediately fired upon, that is I heard the singing of bullets. I'm not a coward, on the contrary, I was a daredevil, but there I felt death - I crouched, my hands and legs shook, I couldn't get up, I felt that everything was shooting at me, by why wasn't I getting hit?! I looked around - my Number Two was gone, no ammo carriers, I was alone with the barrel, but I also had the 10 shot SVT rifle, and a satchel, and a gas mask, and an axe, and the devil knows what was hanging on me. In all, my accoutrements weighed 32 kg! I lay down. At that time some captain yelled: "Scum, forward, for the Motherland! For Stalin!" And stuck the revolver to the back of my head. I yelled: "Forward!" But who's behind me?! Nobody... Me and him - the two of us. We ran. And where were all our people?.. I looked. They were lying around. Basically, they took us to an open field, while the Germans were hiding behind a village. It wasn't a battle, it was simply slaughter: we were lying on the bare ground, not seeing the enemy, but the enemy saw us and didn't let anyone at all get up. And their planes were also flying overhead, shooting people on the move, a plane's machine gun burst passed by me. I fell on the ground again, then raised my hand, yelled to somebody, and I had no idea who I was screaming to: "Forward! For the Motherland! For Stalin!" At that time I got hit in my right hand. I didn't understand what that hit was, but maybe out of fear, or out of surprise, I lost consciousness. And this is called my first battle.
I awoke at night. It was very cold - this happened on October 15, 1941. I froze completely. I got up, but I didn't have boots on - someone took off my boots and I only wore foot bindings. I looked - I had 2 fingers broken, the blood clotted on them. I tore my shirt, somehow bandaged the wound. None of us had first aid kits. Although, there had been rubbing fluid in the gas mask, but we drank all of it before we got to the frontline, since it was based on alcohol. We filtered this fluid through cement or through coals, and we got excellent white alcohol. When I awoke, I felt hungry, but I didn't have anything - for 2 days they gave us 2 rusks and 2 salted fishes...
When I got up, I went looking for friendly forces. Saw
bodies of killed soldiers lying around. I found a flask with frozen water on
one of them, a rusk on another, then took the boots off another one. Wanted
to take somebody's great coat, but I saw a man move. He said:
"Friend, help me."
"Who are you?" - I said.
"What happened to you?"
"I was wounded in the knee. Help me, buddy."
He was older than me and apparently had more experience, I found that out later. He said:
"You know, the Germans passed, they took both of us for dead, took off your boots. I saw." "What, does that mean we're in an encirclement?!"
"Not only encircled, we're on the German territory now."
"Petia, we have to get out somehow!"
"You take me to the haystack."
He was very heavy, but I dragged him approximately 150 meters to that haystack, then we dug a hole in there, crawled inside. The water melted, we drank it, ate the rusk, and he said: "There is a village opposite us. Cross the river, then go to the first house and ask for some grub." But I couldn't swim. Found two logs, tied them with twigs, crossed the river on that raft. Knocked on a door. An old man, when he saw me, exclaimed: "Son, dear, get out, the village is full of Germans." I said: "Grandfather, we need to eat, I'm not alone, I have a wounded comrade." He said: "Hold on, I'll get something, you know how we live." Basically, he gave us food and advice on how to get to our side. At night, Peter and I set out. I said: "Petia, I can't carry you. I don't have the strength left. At least hop on one foot." He started hopping, leaning on me. This way we reached the river, crossed it, wet and cold. We barely walked some 200 meters, suddenly: "Halt, who goes there?" And they grabbed us and we were immediately separated. In that wet, frost-covered condition I entered a house. A captain sat inside, he took out his revolver and put it on the table:
"Sit!" - (familiarly, of course) I sat down.
"Who are you?"
I told him who I was.
"You're lying! That's not you. You tell me how you were recruited (by enemy intelligence, that is - trans.)" - Now I understood!
"Tell me, am I in the NKVD?" - I said.
"What NKVD?! What business is it of yours where you are?! You are in the Red Army, you understand?"
"Tell me who recruited you, with what assignment you came to us? Who fixed you with the light wound? But don't lie, or I'm going to shoot you right now!" - He approached me with the revolver and stuck the barrel in my teeth. Tore my lip - one time, another...
"Why are you beating me?! I'll talk." - I said.
"Aha, good lad!" - And hit my lip again, tore it, blood was pouring out.
"What do you want me tell you?"
"What, you're still dissembling?! You said you would talk!"
"Yes, I'll talk, just tell me what you want me to tell you?!"
"Who recruited you? Where are your accomplices? Your comrade told us that you had been recruited in Frankfurt-on-Oder to kill commissars! Tell me, who recruited you? What is your assignment?" - I was taken aback, I didn't realize the seriousness it was approaching. "What comrade told you?"
I was thinking: "What a scoundrel! How could he say that! I saved him from death, dragged him out! And that's what I get!" At that time some colonel entered. I turned to him. Said:
"Comrade colonel, save me, what's going on!?"
"Who knows you in Moscow?" - he said.
And suddenly it came to me. My brother was in charge of the first department in the Chief Military Prosecutor's Office of RKKA USSR. I said:
"My brother is such and such."
"What's his last name?"
"Brainer, Lev Markovich."
"One minute, hold on. Comrade captain, stop the interrogation."
He returned in 15 minutes: "Let him go, on my responsibility." He led me out, and there was my Pet'ka standing, we hugged, kissed. He said: "Dan'ka, how could you slander me with such things?" I said: "What things?" "Well, you said that you and me had been recruited in Frankfurt-on-Oder." I said: "Pet'ka, they told me the same thing. That you said it." In short, they drove us to Borodino because we were wounded, loaded us into a passenger car and we took off for Moscow. And Pet'ka kept approaching old women on the way. He was all wrapped up, he didn't even have a cap, put some scarf or a kerchief on his head, and shouted: "Mother, give us something to eat!" I was ashamed, I was saying: "Petia!" But he: "Mother, give us food!" And the old women tore their treasures, which they were supposed to eat themselves, away with shaking hands, and gave him maybe a slice of bread. He would come back and share with me. This way we reached the Belorussian Railway Station (in Moscow - trans.). At the station the police pulled me out on their hands and carried me to the general hall and set me down there. Then we were assigned to a hospital, and in 2 days we were loaded into a train which rushed us to the Urals.
Photo from the archive of D.F. Zlatkin