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Remembering World War II – your stories


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Remembering World War II – your stories

To mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, we asked our audience for their personal family stories relating to the War, of which here is a collection. You can join the discussion in the Facebook post at the bottom of the page.

You can see more coverage of the Second World War anniversary on our special page

Şahin Musavi
“My grandfather’s father went to war in 1942 and didn’t return. He was a Soviet soldier and he was lost in Ukraine during the counter-attack of the Soviet army. When he was lost, my grandfather had not yet been born. He never saw his father. His soldier friends said that he was lost while resting after battle. Maybe he was captured by Nazi soldiers. His name is Saleh and he’s from Azerbaijan. We don’t know he died or survived.”

Annie Steinmetz
“I am a German, both my grandfathers were officers in the German Army. One died while defending his home in Hannover in 1943 and now there is a street there named after him “die Steinmetz-Str”. The other grandfather survived WWll. Every family in my country was tragically effected by both World wars and especially the Second.”

Rita Pálfi, Hungarian web journalist at Euronews

My grandmother’s grandfather (Ármin Schaffer) was the photographer for the royal family of Austria-Hungary. After the Hungarian Nazi party came to power, one day he was stopped somewhere in Budapest and asked for his papers. Even though he tried to save himself by telling them that he was the royal photographer, as soon as they realized that he was Jewish, they shot him right there on the street.

His son, my great grandfather was taken away and forced to serve in labour battalions. His family never heard from him again.

On the other side of my family my grandfather’s mother was taken to the Ravensbrück camp in Germany. She rarely talked about what happened to her but once she described how she tried to escape from the camp with two other women. A guard caught them, they had to kneel down in front of him and they begged for their lives in tears. They were lucky, he did not kill them.

I remember that as a child I could not understand what crime my great grandmother could have committed to be treated like this.

Fidel Pavlenko, head of Euronews’ Ukrainian service

“My dad’s father used to be an officer in the rank of captain of the engineering corps before the war but was persecuted during Stalin’s purges of 1930s as an “unreliable element”, stripped of his rank and exiled to Siberia for 10 years from his home in central Ukrainian Poltava Region. My dad and his sisters were born in Siberia, and were only able to move back to Ukraine after its liberation in late 1943.

“So my Granddad was working as a handyman in a small Siberian village until the war broke out between Germany and USSR in June, 1941. The Red Army suffered a number of defeats in the first couple of months losing many skilled officers and middle-rank commanders. Then my Grandad was mobilized again but only as a private in the so-called “penal battalion” formed of former criminals or purged ex-military.

“Those units were used as cannon-fodder and were often ill-equipped and under-armed. They were not meant to be spared. However my Grandad managed to survive for many months and was even promoted to lieutenant again. Then there unit was sent to Leningrad (now St Petersburg) which was under siege and blockade for more than a year by the start of 1943. Residents were dying of hunger and illness in their hundreds of thousands so the Red Army was instructed to breach the blockade and arrange a corridor for supplies.

“But the German defences around the city were heavily fortified with dense minefields everywhere. The decision was taken to clear one of the minefields and that’s were the penal battalions were used. Without any special equipment those soldiers were sent to become “human minesweepers” – they were blown up themselves thus clearing the way for those behind them. It was impossible to refuse the order as special units of the feared Soviet Interior ministry forces (NKVD) were pushing from behind and shot anyone of those penal battalion soldiers who tried to escape certain death and back off from the minefields. My Granddad was one of the first to have stepped on the mine and be blown apart…

“Hundreds of victims were then buried in one of many mass graves. We were told so 40 years later by a few survivors of that ordeal. My Dad has made dozens of inquiries in the Defense Ministry archives but only got an answer in mid-1980s when perestroika and glasnost helped open many dark secrets of that war. We were even told the exact place of the grave. I was the first to go there as my dad was unwell then, and sure enough I found the grave in the small village of Sinyavino. There was an obelisk put on top of the grave some 30 years after the war and a gravestone with the names of some of the known victims there. My Grandad’s name was among them…

“My mother’s dad was a young teacher together with his wife (my Grandma) in the Poltava Region when the war broke out. He was immediately drafted to the Red Army although his third child (my uncle) was born on the day the war actually started (22 June, 1941). My Grandad was quickly trained as an artillery unit commander and was sent to the front-line in the autumn of 1941 in the rank of lieutenant.

“He was wounded a few times but survived, and for him and his unit the war ended in Budapest in 1945 with the liberation of the Hungarian capital. At the time he was 29 and in the rank of lieutenant colonel. He is still alive at the age of 99, and the Victory Day is the most important day for him, but he tries not to talk about the war, some of the memories are still raw. Including some quite fresh ones…

“It was 2005 and Ukraine was celebrating the 60th anniversary of victory. Veterans from different regions of Ukraine were invited to capital Kyiv for special festive events organized by the Government. Veterans were brought into capital by buses, so I went to meet my Grandad at the station only to have found him quite upset. I asked him why, and he said that he would never ever take part in those official celebrations again, as everything, in his words, was fake. He was mainly talking about some “veterans” who were with him on the bus from Poltava to Kyiv. Many of them were in their early 70s, meaning that they were just teenagers when the war finished. And their chests were decorated with dozens of medals and military awards – also bogus. Unfortunately, being a “veteran” became a lucrative business in post-Soviet countries, with bogus certificates and military awards easy to buy in the black market. And this is one of the reasons why some people in those countries, especially younger ones, feel a bit skeptical…

“There is nothing bogus about my Grandads, however, and they are both huge heroes for me.”

Ints Olis
“I am Latvian. For everyone it was hard time, but for Latvia (and the other Baltic countries) on top of the war destruction was the political “cleansing”. On 25 March 1949 Stalin’s Soviet Union began the mass deportation of Latvians. Our family’s grandfathers – none of them was in the German or any other army – for them Soviet judgment was 25 years (in Siberia), 10 years (in Siberia) and 6 years (in prison). Some of them were able fight in court and get an early release, but some of them didn’t.”

Karolina B-Alladyna
“Just before WWII my great-grandmother – she was German but living in Poland – married a Jewish man. They lived in Berlin for a while but when my great-grandma was pregnant they decided to move to Poland. When WWII started my great-grandfather was taken by the Nazis and never came back. Probably he was executed near Poznan, that is all we know.”

Tamara Petrović
“My parents and grand-parents were survivors of the Holocaust. My mother’s side was from Poland and my father’s side from the former Yugoslavia. There are many intense WWII stories of escape and survival from both sides of my family. We finally arrived in the USA in the 1960’s as immigrants and my parents succeeded there, but there was another horrendous path for my family to follow in Yugoslavia, as another war destroyed my family once again!!! Yes it has affected us in many, many ways!”

Mark de Graaf
“My grandparents refused to talk about the war. My father was the first of seven, born in 1944. They came to New Zealand in 1965. The family was from Enschede in eastern Netherlands, one of the first towns invaded and occupied by the Nazis. My grandparents would either change the subject or go silent whenever it was brought up. I still have no idea what happened but it can’t have been anything good to get that reaction.”

Rose Balcom
“My father volunteered with the RCAF and took training in Edmonton, Alberta and Regina, Saskatchewan. He went overseas in 1943 and was stationed on the west coast of England at Kirmington, Lincolnshire. He did not return until 1945. He was a navigator on a Lancaster bomber. He had three brothers all serving in the American military: one, a paratrooper, was killed in Sicily in 1943. That made four brothers fighting in WWII (either Canadian or American), a fifth brother served in Korea (American). My grandparents must have said many prayers for their sons’ safety. WWII affected almost everyone on the planet!”

Lilia Goncharova
“WW2 had a devastating effect on my family. As a result of this war I don’t have many relatives left. Five members of my family died during the Nazi occupation of the Soviet Union (which lasted 1,418 days). My grandfather Dmitri was killed in the battle for Smolensk at the age of 33, his brother Anatoliy was killed in the battle for Kursk and my grandmother’s child Julia died of starvation in 1942 when she was only four. My grandmother Antonina told me that on some days they had nothing to eat, only nettles and dandelion leaves and it also affected my father’s health – as a result of this he died of a stomach ulcer when he was only 39. It was heartbreaking for my grandmother to live longer than her children but despite her hard life she never complained but always remained very kind and considerate to people. She is an inspiration for me and I am so grateful to her for bringing me up with so much love and care.”

Lorianne Meade
“I live in America, and always despised the stories of what Americans called “liberating” other people’s household goods and personal effects. “My grandfather brought/shipped this item home during the war.” It wasn’t his to pilfer. The only time I saw my other (non-thieving) grandfather cry was when he told the story of searching a concentration camp for survivors. He told me (I was very young) that he hopes and prays I never know what burning flesh smells like. Those words affect me to this day. “

Andrew Dickson Bonaparte
“Well it affected my grandfather positively because he was a commercial gun-smith, business was booming for him.”

Connery Connery Mba
“My country Nigeria fought alongside Britain and my grandfather was there. I thought they paid veteran soldiers’ pensions after military service.”

David Kislik
“In America, on my dad’s side, my grandfather fought for the US army and served in Europe during WW2. My family on my mother’s side, unfortunately, was in Budapest, Hungary. Some were sent to Aushwitz, and some survived, and then they had to live through communism in Hungary until they fled in the 50’s.”

Majestatea Sa Robi Rob
“I live in Romania. Here communism came with the Russians and it destroyed the lives of my family and country.”

Gatis Mezītis
“My country Latvia was occupied by the USSR, then by Nazi Germany and then again by USSR. My grandfather was forced to fight in the Soviet army while the grandfather of my wife was in the German army. Our nation was divided, but all our soldiers on both sides dreamed about was the restoration of our independent country.”

Mehriban Babakhanova
“My uncle didn’t return from war, our family have been looking for him until this day. My grandpa had many injuries and lived with them until 1982. Anyway it is so sad to lose your relatives in such politically based wars.”

Oleksiy Semenchenko, Euronews journalist
“The 9th of May was never a day of celebration in my family. When elderly people in WWII uniforms adorned with medals would head into central Kyiv amid cheers and congratulations from the public, we kept our distance. And there was no question of lining the streets as the serving military showed off their weapons and discipline on parade.”

“The reasons for our reluctance to join in, are the stories of our family. My mum’s dad was the only member of the family who as called up to fight for the USSR in World War II. Their unit was quickly taken prisoners and put into a POW camp near Kyiv. Somehow, my granddad managed to escape and joined a guerilla group. He fought against the Nazies and after some time managed to rejoin the Soviet troops only to get arrested for being “illegally” for some time in the “occupied territories”. As a result he was interrogated for many months by the USSR security services as a traitor – probably he attracted attention for being a prominent chemist and an author of chemistry textbooks. At some point after the war the regime let him go. He could carry on being a scientist.”

“Once our family got together at my granddad’s place on the Victory Day and I, as a schoolboy and a victim of Soviet propaganda, asked him: “Granddad Zhenia where are your medals? I’ve seen so many of them on so many chests today!”

He answered: “Give me a break, you little shit.” I remember that episode very well – my dad was really furious then.”

“My dad’s story was very different… He was 6 when the war ended. His father could not go to the army at all because he was disabled. So my the family was evacuated to the Kuban region of Russia. I think they were based in Krasnodar for a while which, I think, was occupied by the Germans for six months. My father says he remembers seeing some of the German soldiers.”

“My mum’s family was evacuated to the Russian city Kazan. They had to go without their grandfather who had been arrested in the Donbas region in 1933 because he wanted to defend one of his civil engineers from the charge of being “an enemy of the Soviet people”. He – my great granddad – spent 20 years doing hard labour and so missed fighting in the war, luckily. However my grandma and her two children, including my mum who was only one year old, were evacuated to the Russian city Kazan. I was told that they had gone there in a very basic non-passenger carriage where incidentally there were big bottles with some liquid inside.”

“My uncle who was 4 years old then, was so thirsty that he unknowingly swallowed a swig of the liquid – 90 per cent strong alcohol- and then nearly died. Thankfully he pulled though and that’s how we know about it.”

Ne Shu
“One part of my family was living in Republika Srpska and they were taken to a concentration camp by the Croats. They were five children and their parents. The youngest had his name changed by the pro-Nazis from Srpko to Franjo. They were beaten and they were forced to sleep on concrete floors. When the Croats executed some Serbs they would give them the bloody clothes to wear and to sleep on. Finally, my family was rescued by the Nedic government in Belgrade as part of a prisoner exchange in return for three wagons of salt. During the war, Croatia executed over 700.000 Serbs in Jasenovac alone. These crimes went unpunished.”

Wojciech Hanejko
“My mother’s mother’s father (my great-grandfather) fought during WWII here, in Poland. He was in the AK (The Home Army – Armia Krajowa, it was the dominant Polish resistance movement in World War II German-occupied Poland). His daughter, my grandma, said one day he saw his cousin in a book about Auschwitz prisoners. He died there. He couldn’t talk about that without emotions and tears. He died in 2006.”
“My great-grandfather’s wife, my beloved great-grandma was a teenager when the war started. She was 14 years old when the Germans took her from school to the Third Reich, to serve a German family. Fortunately, they were kind and they liked her. It’s in this way she survived the war in Europe. The sad thing is that she didn’t see her family ever again. The family, after the war, sent her with gifts by train back to Poland, but in the train she was robbed and raped. I don’t know who did it to her, she probably knew if they were Polish or Russians. She died in 1995. Despite this my great-grandparents were really kind, friendly, incredibly honest, they love each other and their whole family.”

Nazareno Parlato Rovella
(Translated from Italian)
“My grandfather was a lieutenant colonel in the destroyers unit, and was aware of plans for the destruction of the bridges to prevent the American landings. The British took him prisoner and handed him over to the Americans in Morocco. From letters written by him to his wife we can see clues of the unspeakable torture of prisoners, left buried in the sand with only their heads poking out in the sun for days. He never spoke about it again. In prison his fellow soldiers were being killed every day, but he did not speak about it. They also amputated one of his fingers. After the war he returned to Italy but after three years of imprisonment he was dying. He weighed about 38 kg according to the reports even though he was 1.78 metres tall (5’10”).”

Felipe Colombo
(Translated from Portuguese)
“The first group of Brazilian soldiers arrived in Italy in July 1944. Brazil helped the Americans in the liberation of Italy, which at the time was still partially in the hands of the German army. Our country sent about 25,000 men of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force (FEB), and 42 pilots and 400 support men in the Brazilian Air Force (FAB).”
“Brazilian soldiers achieved important victories against the Germans, taking cities and strategic regions such as the Monte Castelo, Turin and Montese, among others. More than 14,000 Germans surrendered to the Brazilians, also giving up thousands of horses, cars and ammunition cartridges.”

Nick Knight
“My grandparents fled the Russians by going to Germany. I was the first US-born child, but I moved back to Eastern/Central Europe where I and my family live today.”

Petro Brits
“My father and his brother were in Egypt fighting on the side of the Allies during World War Two. I have lots of old photos. My father never talked about the war.”

Matt Dor
“My mother’s father was in the South African Air Force (Liebenberg) shot down over Baltics dropping food supplies in Poland.”

Străistaru Eugen
“My family was lucky not to suffer human losses (this in Romania), but the land was stripped of all goods and live animals by the Russian army. All my family had to eat for a while was a wheel of cheese that the Russians didn’t find and left behind.”
“My grandmother was hidden under the wooden floor because her parents were afraid that she might get raped. When I was young she told me stories about how the Russians took one girl into the vineyards and “piggybacked her”. I did not know at the time what she meant because I was young, but when I got older I realized.”

[Call for contributions] How did World War II affect you or your family? Let us know in the comment section if you want…

Posted by euronews on Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Every story can be told in many ways: see the perspectives from Euronews journalists in our other language teams.

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