A Stranger to Myself: The Inhumanity of War: Russia, 1941-1944

The title of this blog is also the title of a book written by Willy Peter Reese.

He was born on born January 22, 1921 in Duisburg. It is not clear when he died but it estimated he more then likely died between June 22 and 27, 1944 near Wizebsk in the Soviet Union.

Willy Peter Reese was a German writer. During the Second World War , as a Wehrmacht soldier on the Eastern Front, he kept records of his experiences, which he edited into a manuscript. It was published in 2003 with the title “A Stranger to Myself: The Inhumanity of War: Russia, 1941-1944”

In the book he describes the things he sees on the battlefields and the crimes which are committed. He is clearly disgusted by it, but even more so because he is a participant in these horrific deeds because he was a soldier.

He was only twenty years old when he found himself marching through Russia with orders to take no prisoners. Three years later he was dead. Bearing witness to-and participating in-the atrocities of war, Reese recorded his reflections in his diary, leaving behind an intelligent, touching, and illuminating perspective on life on the eastern front. He documented the carnage perpetrated by both sides; the destruction that was exacerbated by the young soldiers’ hunger, frostbite, and exhaustion; and their daily struggle to survive. And he wrestled with his own sins, with the realisation that what he and his fellow soldiers had done to civilians and enemies alike was unforgivable, with his growing awareness of the Nazi policies toward Jews, and with his deep disillusionment with himself and his fellow men.

I have to be honest I have only read some of the book. In a way it is an easy read in the way it is written, but is extremely hard to read because if the descriptive narration of the horrors. I will however finish the book soon.

One thing that is very clear from the book is that it wasn’t only the SS committing atrocities, but also the regular German army, the Wehrmacht.

These are just two excerpts from the book.

“We are war. Because we are soldiers. I have burned all the cities, Strangled all the women, Brained all the children, Plundered all the land. I have shot a million enemies, Laid waste the fields, destroyed the churches, Ravaged the souls of the inhabitants, the blood and tears of all the mothers. I did it, all me.—I did. Nothing. But I was a soldier.”

“Our quarters were wrecked, and there were corpses littered about everywhere. We covered the German dead with tarpaulins; with the Cossacks we took off their felt boots and caps, as well as their pants and underpants, and put them on. We now moved closer together in the few houses still standing. One soldier had been unable to find any felt boots, which were an excellent protection against the cold. The next day he found a Red Army corpse frozen stiff. He tugged at his legs, but in vain. He grabbed an ax and took the man off at the thighs. Fragments of flesh flew everywhere. He bundled the two stumps together under his arm and set them down in the oven, next to our lunch. By the time the potatoes were done, the legs were thawed out, and he pulled on the bloody felt boots. Having the dead meat next to our food bothered us as little as if someone had wrapped his frostbite between meals or cracked lice.”

sources

https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/words-war-11

https://www.academia.edu/3420145/Sexual_Violence_in_Europe_in_World_War_II_1939_1945_in_Politics_and_Society_March_2009?email_work_card=view-paper

The death of Yakov Dzhugashvili-Stalin’s oldest son.

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Everyone knows Joseph Stalin, but most aren’t familiar with his familial life, particularly his eldest son, Yakov.

The tumultuous relationship between father and son created a story that spanned a difficult youth, the German invasion of the Soviet Union and a Nazi concentration camp.

Yakov was born to Stalin’s first wife, in 1907. He was born in what was at the time Imperial Russia, and his mother died of typhus only a few months after his birth.

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Yakov was mostly raised by his other female relatives, his aunts and grandmother. He was encouraged at a young age to go to Moscow to seek out an education.

From his youth onward, Yakov and Stalin did not get along, with Stalin being quite judgmental of his son, looking down on him in almost every way. As a young man, Yakov attempted suicide after a disagreement with his father over Yakov’s Jewish fiancee.

Stalin did not approve of the marriage and after an intense argument, Yakov retired to his bedroom and attempted to shoot himself. However, Yakov survived and was treated for his wounds, but his father was prompted to make remarks on how his son couldn’t even kill himself properly.

Yakov did end up marrying the Jewish girl, a dancer who was already married. He helped her arrange a divorce before marrying her and having two children with her. Afterward, Stalin said that he no longer wanted to have any sort of a relationship with Yakov, as they had nothing in common. He called Yakov a thug and an extortionist.

Yakov joined the Red Army at the outbreak of war in the East in June 1941, serving as a lieutenant in the artillery. On the first day of the war, his father told him to ‘Go and fight’. On 16 July, within a month of the Nazi invasion, Yakov was captured and taken prisoner.

Nazi Officers Interrogating Yakov Stalin

Stalin considered all prisoners as traitors to the motherland and those that surrendered he demonised as ‘malicious deserters’. ‘There are no prisoners of war,’ he once said, ‘only traitors to their homeland’.

Certainly Yakov, by all accounts, felt that he had failed his father. Under interrogation, he admitted that he had tried to shoot himself. His father probably would have preferred it if he had.

Families of PoWs, or deserters, faced the harshest consequences for the failings of their sons or husbands – arrested and exiled. Yakov may have been Stalin’s son but his family were not to be spared. He was married to a Jewish girl, Julia. Stalin had managed to overcome his innate anti-Semitism and grew to be quite fond of his daughter-in-law. Nonetheless, following Yakov’s capture, Julia was arrested, separated from her three-year-old daughter and sent to the gulag. After two years, Stalin sanctioned her release but she remained forever traumatised by the experience.

The Germans made propaganda capital of Yakov’s capture, dropping leaflets in the Soviet Union saying “Do not shed your blood for Stalin! His own son has surrendered! If Stalin’s son has saved himself then you are not obliged to sacrifice yourself either!”

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In 1943, Stalin was offered the chance to have his son back. The Germans had been defeated at Stalingrad and their Field Marshal, Friedrich Paulus, was taken prisoner by the Soviets, their highest-ranking capture of the war. The Germans offered a swap – von Paulus for Yakov. Stalin refused, saying, ‘I will not trade a Marshal for a Lieutenant’. As harsh it may seem, Stalin’s reasoning did contain a logic – why should his son be freed when the sons of other Soviet families suffered – ‘what would other fathers say?’

On 14 April 1943, the 36-year-old Yakov died. The Germans maintained they shot him while he was trying to escape. But it is more likely that after two years of incarceration and deprivation, the news of the Katyn massacre was the final straw. Stalin had ordered the murder of 15,000 Polish officers in the woods of Katyn in May 1940.  The discovery of the mass grave in March 1943 was heavily publicised by the Germans. Yakov, who had befriended Polish inmates, was distraught by the news. ‘Look what you bastards did to these men. What kind of people are you?’ said a German officer to him. He died by throwing himself onto an electric fence.

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The crime of Louisa Gould: Caring for a Prisoner of War.

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The Channel Islands were occupied by Nazi German forces for most of the Second World War, from 30 June 1940 until their peaceful liberation on 9 May 1945. The Bailiwick of Jersey and Bailiwick of Guernsey are two British Crown dependencies in the English Channel, near the coast of Normandy. The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles to be occupied by the Wehrmacht (German Armed Forces) during the war.

 

 

The Germans brought over hundreds of Russian slave workers to build fortifications and they were regarded as “Untermenschen” – lower than animals.

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Louisa took the escaped worker in without hesitation because she had lost a son in the war and was determined to do an act of kindness “for another mother’s son”. She lost her life for it.

After two-and-a-half years Louisa was betrayed by a neighbour and while the Russian escaped she was sent to a concentration camp along with her brother Harold Le Druillenec.

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Louisa died in Ravensbruck concentration camp and Harold was the only British survivor of the horrendous Bergen-Belsen camp.

(An inmate thought to be Harold when camp was liberated by British troops)

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Another heroic figure was Albert Bedane who managed to hide three Russians and one Jewish woman.The punishment for concealing a Jew was execution but despite the stress the concealment must have caused Albert he succeeded in keeping his guests undetected for the duration of the occupation, saving their lives.

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Mikhail Devyatayev-Heroic escapee from a Nazi Concentration camp-branded a Criminal.

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Born in 1917 at Torbeyevo, Mikhail was the thirteenth child born to the family of a Mordovian peasant. In 1938 he graduated from a School of River Navigation (Речной Техникум) and worked as the captain of a small ship on the Volga. That same year he was conscripted into the Red Army and began education at a Chkalov Flying School, graduating in 1940.

Devyataev was an early entrant of World War II, destroying his first Ju-87 on 24 June 1941 just two days after Germany attacked the Soviet Union.

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Soon he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner. On 23 September he was seriously wounded (he was hit into his left leg). After a long stay in the hospital he was assigned to slow-speed aviation (Night bomber Po-2) and then to medical aviation. He resumed his duties as a fighter pilot after his meeting with the famous Soviet ace Aleksandr Ivanovich Pokryshkin in May 1944. Commander of an echelon with the 104th Guardian Fighter Pilot Regiment (9th Guardian Fighter Pilot Division, 2nd Airforce Army, 1st Ukrainian Front), Senior Lieutenant Devyatayev destroyed 9 enemy planes.

On 13 July 1944 Devyataev was downed near Lwów over German-held territory and became a prisoner of war, held in the Łódź concentration camp. He made an attempt to escape on 13 August but was caught and transferred to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He soon realised his situation was perilous-as a Soviet pilot, he could expect extreme brutality; therefore, he managed to exchange identities with a dead Soviet infantryman.

With his new identity,  Devyataev was later transferred to a camp in Usedom to be a part of a forced labor crew working for the German missile program on the island of Peenemünde.

 

 

Under hellish conditions, the prisoners were forced to repair runways and clear un-exploded bombs by hand. Security was rigidly enforced with vicious guards and dogs, and there was little chance of escape. Even so, by February 1945, Devyataev concluded that, however remote, the chance of escape was preferable to certain death as a prisoner.

Devyataev managed to convince three other prisoners (Sokolov, Krivonogov and Nemchenko) that he could fly them to freedom. They decided to run away at dinnertime, when most of the guards were in the dining room. Sokolov and Nemchenko were able to create a work gang from Soviet citizens only.

At noon on 8 February 1945, as the ten Soviet POWs, including Devyataev, were at work on the runway, one of the work gang, Ivan Krivonogov, picked up a crowbar and killed their guard. Another prisoner, Peter Kutergin, quickly stripped off the guard’s uniform and slipped it on. The work gang, led by the “guard”, managed to unobtrusively take over the camp commandant’s He 111 H22 bomber and fly from the island. Devyataev piloted the aircraft.

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The Germans tried to intercept the bomber unsuccessfully. The aircraft was damaged by Soviet air defences but managed to land in Soviet-held territory. The escapees provided important information about the German missile program, especially about the V-1 and V-2.

 

The NKVD did not believe Devyataev’s story, arguing it was impossible for the prisoners to take over an airplane without cooperation from the Germans. Thus, Devyataev was suspected of being a German spy and sent to a penal military unit along with the other nine men. Of the escapees, five died in action over the following months. Devyataev himself spent the remainder of the war in prison.

Devyataev was discharged from the army in November 1945. However, his classification remained that of a “criminal” and was unable to secure long term employment.. Eventually, though, Devyataev found work as a manual laborer in Kazan. Soviet authorities cleared Devyataev only in 1957, after the head of the Soviet space program Sergey Korolyov personally presented his case, arguing that the information provided by Devyataev and the other escapees had been critical for the Soviet space program. On 15 August 1957, Devyataev became a Hero of the Soviet Union, and a subject of multiple books and newspaper articles. He continued to live in Kazan, working as a captain of first hydrofoil passenger ships on the Volga.

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In 1972, he published his memoirs.Devyataev was awarded the Order of Lenin, the Order of Red Banner twice, Order of the Patriotic War (first and second class), and many other awards.

 

He became an honoured citizen of Mordovia Republic, the cities of Kazan, Wolgast and Zinnowitz (Germany).

He died at Kazan in 2002, aged 85, and is buried in an old Arsk Field cemetery in Kazan near a World War II Memorial. There is a museum of Devyataev in his native Torbeyevo (opened 8 May 1975) and monuments in Usedom and Kazan.

 

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I am passionate about my site and I know you all like reading my blogs. I have been doing this at no cost and will continue to do so. All I ask is for a voluntary donation of $2 ,however if you are not in a position to do so I can fully understand, maybe next time then. Thanks To donate click on the credit/debit card icon of the card you will use. If you want to donate more then $2 just add a higher number in the box left from the paypal link. Many thanks

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Sources

Open Soutce Wikipedia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikhail_Devyatayev