Greetings. We received your letter. Many thanks! Your questions about the war stirred up an ocean of unfading memories of that harsh time. Yes, war-how many painful and bitter memories have been caused by this terrible word. I remember June 22, 1941, a warm summer full of promise, but suddenly on the radio they announced the attack on our country by fascist Germany. We didn’t yet know then what this would mean for our country, especially for our people. Just one month later I was called up (I was born May 1, 1923) since when the war began I had just turned 18. In the city of Tarasha, where I lived with my parents, the evacuation began. The enemy swiftly advanced through our territory, bringing death and enormous destruction. The Party elite, many upper class people didn’t have to fight, and the majority of the Jews, who because of old age or illness could not go to the front [were evacuated]. People had to leave all the belongings that they had acquired over the years. My parents and my two sisters took part in the evacuation, one of whom was due to give birth in August. The government provided transportation so that people could save themselves. The husband of my older sister went to the front immediately at the beginning of the war, and the husband of my younger sister was called up at the same time I was. It’s impossible to describe the tragedy of bidding farewell to my family-my father’s tears, the hysterical cries of my mother and sisters, when the husband of my younger sister and I jumped out of the cart, that carried away our dear ones into the unknown.
My father died during the evacuation, my mother lived a very long life, and was a Hebrew teacher for my family and me. She knew many Jewish parables [popular folk-tales/midrash] and Jewish history and she helped us observe Jewish holidays. The husband of my older sister died at the front; the husband of my younger sister returned wounded and with shell shock, and died after the war.
My future wife worked, while still a young girl, at a factory in the Urals that produced shells for the front. How much she had had to endure. I write these lines, and my heart is torn remembering those experiences that we survived. That is how my war biography began-a simple Jewish kid who before then had never been anywhere, who grew up fairly spoiled by his parents and sisters, since I was the youngest.
First I was put in a motorcycle regiment attached to a tank brigade, was wounded, and after the injury [healed] they sent me to a school for lieutenants-the Zhitomir Infantry School. At war, it’s simply the way it is at war. We fought courageously, we tried not to let them break through our defense and we suffered huge losses, while the enemy reinforced their numbers again and again with fresh troops. They subjected us to furious machine gun and mortar fire as well as automatic (sub-machine gun) fire. Using tracer bullets, which struck the least obstacle in their path and exploded, they created the impression of gunfire from all directions. The air attacks of the enemy created a total hell for us. How much courage was needed, how much will power and love for one’s Native Land [Rodina in Russian], sometimes going without food or water, it took to stand up against a massive enemy armed to the teeth with military machinery, pushing forward to the Don at any price to take Stalingrad.
A description of the war wouldn’t be complete without a description of our last attack and that great tragedy for our fighters. Not just our school [Zhitomir Infantry], but also seven more schools were sent into the battle for Stalingrad as reinforcements, even though we were reserves of the Supreme General Command. We all were thrown into battle before we had finished the course.
In the area of Stalingrad in August of 1942 there was a terrible heat wave, there in the hot Russian steppe. From fierce fighting they sent us directly to another section of the front, and to get from the one place to the other was very hard. We had to fight our way while surrounded. To establish a new line we had to dig an entrenchment. The earth was like a rock and we had to remove 40-50 centimeters of rocky soil with great effort before we reached the sandy soil.
Once we had dug the trenches, they sent out a patrol, and the rest of us lay down to rest. But we didn’t even have a chance to fall asleep before they had raised an alarm and ordered us to drive out the enemy’s 74th mounted patrol no matter what it took. We were exhausted and hungry, and without giving us any additional ammunition they sent us directly after the patrol. I remember the feeling of quiet as in peacetime as we walked 8-10 kilometers in silence. At a stopping place they brought kasha to us. We wanted to drink, an unbearable thirst overwhelmed us, but we had no water with us. They promised us: take the patrol and then we will drink. So we ate and moved on again. We approached until we were about 70-80 away, and wanted to take them by surprise, but a burst of fire from the enemy position hit us. We quickly lay down flat. We were immediately urged to attack even though there were already many wounded and dead. As soon as we would move forward, fascist tanks appeared in front of us. They moved in a column about 5-6 meters from each other. And at this moment someone shouted, “Save yourselves as best you can!” Imagine the scene-everybody stood up and started running. The tanks cold-bloodedly shot at us, pursued us, and rolled over us with their caterpillar tracks.
Near me a captain came up and said, “Fall down and press yourself to the ground.” Right then he was wounded and fell, and I fell beside him. A new column of tanks appeared and they continued to finish off anyone who remained alive. I managed to bandage the captain, who was wounded in both legs, and the whole time he was begging me to kill him. With the appearance of more tanks, again I threw myself to the ground and God protected me. There was a short period of quiet, I helped the wounded captain, and then again a fascist tank appeared. Again I began to run. The driver of the tank stood in the open hatch and shot at me. The bullets struck my cap, and there were bullet holes in the shirt and pants of my uniform. I understand that this was already the end, and threw myself to the ground, pretending to be dead. The tank stopped right beside me. The driver crawled out and decided I was dead, but shot at me one more time. The bullet entered my leg but stopped before hitting my stomach, and I still carry it to this day. And the tank went past. I bandaged myself and waited until night, and then on my back, I crawled all evening and night, leaving a bloody trail on the Stalingrad earth, to reach our side. The tracks of the enemy tanks served to orient me since they returned back where they had come from, so I knew where our troops were, and I kept crawling until I got back, even though it was to another section. They took me to a medical unit, and then I was in the hospital, where I spent about a year. They released me as an invalid of the war. I later found out that out of 10,000 military cadets thrown into battle that morning, no more than 500 men were left alive.
After us came divisions from Siberia and the Urals, and in February of 1943 one of the strongest attacks by the fascists took place.
So there you have the part of the Stalingrad battle, which passed through my life, leaving traces not only in my body.
Again I give many thanks to you for your letter. My family extends their heartfelt greetings with wishes for health, happiness and new undertakings. With respect and love,
The G. Family
P.S. Thank you very much for your letter and your attention.
Yu. N.