• Anatoly Uvarov,
    Saint-Petersburg, RussiaMORE...

    My name is Anatoly Gavrilovych Uvarov. I was born in Moscow, to a family of government workers. Both of my parents worked in the Supreme Soviet of the People's Economy - that was a large government institution. At the time, both of my parents were planning engineers.

    In 1931 I started first grade at a public school. I studied there for nine years, then in 1940, there was the possibility to attend one of several special military schools. I wanted to be either a pilot or a sailor, and I went to the first one that became available, which was the naval school. So in my tenth year, I continued my education at the military school and graduated exactly a week after the war broke out.

    Everyone who graduated was then sent around the country to continue their military education. I was sent to Leningrad, which is now Saint Petersburg, to be trained at the Dzerzhinsky High Naval Engineering School. In summer of 1941 I went through basic training. That autumn, the school had to be moved from Leningrad because the Germans were steadily approaching the city. We managed to move everything just days before the Siege of Leningrad began on September 8, to a town called Gorky, which is Nizhny Novgorod now.

    We attended lectures and further training at a nearby town called Pravdinsk, but the number of students had been reduced by nearly 70% because many of the cadets had been sent off to the front, or had stayed behind in Leningrad to fight. Most of them died because they were basically a shield. You have to understand that this was a very hard period for Russia - someone had to stop the German war machine. Their soldiers were well-trained and well-equipped and we didn't have much of an army at that point, so we did what we could. About a million and a half kids who had just gotten out of school were killed within the first two months of the war. Some were my classmates.

    Out of about 2,000 people, there were around 500 left. I was among them. This was October 1941, and the German army was approaching Moscow. The Soviet government needed to act to defend the capital, so they were creating new battalions. One was a Marine battalion that was joined by another half of our school. So just a few months after the evacuation, there were 250 students. But those who were on the front line weren't there for long. Stalin ordered to return all of the students from the front lines to their schools.

    We trained on military ships in the summer. Even though it was wartime, my classmates and I attended our first naval training with the Caspian Flotilla in May 1942. There was a lot of action there, because there were a lot of Germans going through the Caucasus trying to get to Baku and capture the oil rigs. The 'floating anti-aircraft battery' I trained on was basically a regular vessel that had been rebuilt for war use with one anti-aircraft gun on the bow of the ship and one on the stern. We were acquainted with its operation, but mostly we carried the shells and handed them off to the gunners. There was a lot of fighting there.

    The oil traffic was busy. Tankers came from Baku and transferred the oil to smaller tankers that would go up the Volga River to the refineries, and the Germans learned this was happening. They began to bombard the transfer points. All of the Caspian flotilla was involved taking down German planes.

    Our ship was called Polyus. We were effective and active enough that the Germans were forced to bomb from higher altitudes, reducing their accuracy. I remember only one bombardment that reached a tanker. It was a night and the oil had spilled and caught fire over the water. A terrifying scene. It looked like the sea was on fire. I could see people jumping from the flaming vessel. There was nowhere for them to go but into the fire in the water.

    I spent the summer of 1942 on this floating battery. Initially, we were defending the oil traffic. Later, we transported soldiers from Astrakhan to Makhachkala. The Germans were still approaching Baku and we tried to get more army personnel there.

    We went to Astrakhan to pick up the soldiers. God, it was hot, so many mosquitoes you wouldn't have known where to hide from them. We made eight trips because we could only take up to 500 people each time. Most of the soldiers came from Central Asia and barely spoke Russian. They were poorly dressed. Some didn't even have shoes. But we needed to take as many as we could. It was nearly impossible to get through the deck, it was so full of soldiers. When we needed to change shifts near the engine, we'd have to search for gaps between them.

    The Caspian Sea isn't big, but it's very unusual. After a storm, it has these strange, swelling waves - long and very tall. And many of these soldiers were uneducated, poorly fed. We would lose them during a storm. They would sit on the edge of the deck to, you know, relieve themselves. A wave would throw them off the ship. It was pitiful to watch.

    Soon I returned to the academy and was there until the winter of 1943. I graduated in early 1944, and that winter I was sent with the other cadets to join the Northern Fleet, where I served on a small submarine M-201, a so-called Malyutka, which means "the little one." It broke down almost immediately after I joined the crew and was recalled for repair. I was approached by my direct superior and asked if I wanted to join one of the submarines that was headed into battle. Of course I said yes. He sent me to the town of Molotovsk, which is now Severodvinsk, where another submarine was being repaired and was almost ready to rejoin the Northern Fleet. The submarine was a beauty, an S-16 (Stalinets series) - new and large, with a powerful diesel engine, six torpedoes and a crew of about sixty people. I was appointed to the engine team, because I was formally educated in diesel engines. We did some drills, and soon headed straight to Polyarny, where the base of the fleet was located. In October of 1944, we embarked on our first combat mission, to Nordkapp, which is the northernmost point of Norway. This was a crossing point for the Northern Convoys, a group of vessels that carried strategic supplies to Murmansk and Arkhangelsk: food and various goods, military gear. These convoys were formed in various ports of Iceland and Scotland. Each would consist of fifteen to thirty vessels and would be guarded by few military ships until they reached their destinations. German planes regularly attacked those convoys. These were goods delivered under the Lend-Lease program between the Soviet Union and the Allied Forces.

    The day the war ended, I remember I was on night duty at the submarine. Everyone was asleep. I heard on the radio that Germany had surrendered, but I couldn't celebrate with anyone because I wasn't allowed to wake people up. I had to wait until morning, when I woke up the crew with a fife. Everyone was ecstatic. Someone started a pillow fight. We didn't have much of a celebration. When we returned to the base, there was a fireworks show, with pistol signals on the outskirts of the town we were stationed. We went to a small restaurant nearby, had a bottle of wine to warm up, then returned to base. I continued to serve for another five years, on submarines in the Baltic Sea. One of them, interestingly enough, was a trophy boat from the Germans. It was very well-made. I spent two years improving it and learning how it was put together. After finishing my service, I decided to continue my involvement with the military and went on to teach. First, I was sent to Sevastopol, where we just reopened a Naval academy. Then I returned here, to Pushkino, near Leningrad. In 1983, I retired from the military sector. I continued to help out with classes, as a civilian.

    I was awarded a medal, "For the Victory over Germany" and this happened during the Victory Parade in Moscow, on June 24, 1945. It was . . . something outstanding. An incredible parade that occurred just a month and a half after the war, by order of Stalin. About 15,000 soldiers took part in the parade. I will never forget the day. It is something that's stayed with me my entire life. I have some footage of the parade. Sometimes I show it at schools during talks, or to cadets at military academies. The youngsters are always so interested.

    I learned English and can proudly say that I achieved a good comprehension of the language. I've been to the United Kingdom a few times, meeting with my brothers in arms - people who took part in the Polar Convoys. Also, I've been writing articles about the experience, I have been active in sharing my experience during the war.

  • Dmytro Verholjak,
    Markova, UkraineMORE...

    My name is Dmytro Verholjak and I was born in Manyava, in the Ivano-Frankivsk province of Ukraine. When the first Soviets came, my brother told me he'd rather flee to the West than serve the Russians. Later, I searched for him, and with God's help found him, after fifty years of not seeing him. He was in Australia. Our family had been heavily repressed by the first wave of Soviets, then the second wave almost wiped us out.

    During the German occupation in the war, I moved to the Ternopil province and found work on a farm. There was no work where I lived, and when I left home my mother told me: "The bread you earn with your hands will taste the best." It was hard to say goodbye to my mother, we loved each other very much. Another thing she told me was that no matter how hard things got, to never take my own life, that it was the biggest sin you could commit. I remembered that so clearly, how she said it, especially later on, when I was in a camp.

    The people I worked for on the farm were very nice, civilized. I am very thankful to them for all they did for me, for what they taught me. I was there for four years, and by the time I returned home to Ternopil province, the Russians had arrived as so-called "liberators" - throwing some people in prison and sending others to work in the mines in the Far East. I saw how they tortured people and humiliated Ukrainians. I felt there was little for me to do but join the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. I spoke with the partisans in my area and said, "I'm going with you." They didn't want me because I was still a kid. They said, "We have our path, but you have to wait to follow this path, in twenty or thirty years." I told them I wasn't leaving them. So one of them shrugged his shoulders and turned around so I followed them.

    The first time I was injured was a year after I went underground. Five bullets in my foot. I was living in the forest with a few others, all young kids. We were busted in the forest by the NKVD, the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs. There were five of us and they fired at us. I got hit then, in my left foot. I wanted to blow myself up with a grenade so they wouldn't take me alive, but once I realized I could still walk, I threw the grenade in the direction they were shooting from and ran with the others. They fired more shots, blindly, but didn't hit anyone else and we were able to escape. I had a total of three injuries when I was with the insurgents. That first injury has haunted me all my life. A nurse bandaged me once after that incident and for three or four weeks after that no one took care of the wound and it was literally crawling with bugs. It smelled badly enough that people didn't want to be around me.

    One time I was left alone, because I couldn't walk, while two others went off to the village to get some food. I was found by Honta, an older member. He asked why I was all by myself and why no one took care of me. I told him the story of how I got injured and no one attended the wound for a month. He got angry and told me to hang tight, told me that wasn't the order of things, that he would take care of it and I would never be left alone again like that. Then he left.

    Later that night, my guys came back and told me that they'd never leave me again. The next morning the nurse found us in the forest with another partisan. When she took the bandage off, we saw that the wound was crawling with all kinds of insects. She kept saying, "Don't worry, if there are bugs it means there are no germs." I don't know what kind of medical school she went to, but at that time, I had no idea what she was saying. Now I understand she was trying to get me to calm down. As she was cutting my pants with scissors, I was thinking these are my only pants, what am I going to do? The nurse said that when you're alive, you can get new pants, but if you're dead there'll be no pants for you at all. She stepped away momentarily with the other partisan she'd arrived with, our commander, and started yelling at him: "How could you let this happen? How is it that your soldiers aren't even trained to change a simple bandage?" Soon after, those in command decided that the nurses would need to train the soldiers to treat each other. I knew a little Latin, so it was easier for me to learn than for others. But for the most part, we didn't even know simple hygiene at the time. We didn't have paper or pencils, not to speak of medical instruments. And I was learning to do everything with my own wound. After I learned many of the simpler things and could walk, they asked me to travel to one of the insurgent centers in a different village, where there was a wounded person that needed to be taken care of. I learned how to give injections there. I practiced on pillows, of course, before I did it to people. After this, I was sent from one village to another, taking care of the wounded as well as acting as a message courier between groups.

    Doing that, I learned all the paths through the mountains. I walked everywhere - my legs were so huge that if I sat, my knees would practically be under my chin. I was a big, healthy guy at that time. They gave me a nickname: Oak, like the tree.

    Even after the war ended, we carried on fighting against the Soviets. They were as bad as the Germans, if not worse. The NKVD were everywhere, looking for insurgents. They tried to bribe or scare people for information. So many of us were killed or sent away. I was finally arrested in 1952, after being sold out. They tortured and interrogated me, put chemicals in my food. There was an agent with me in my cell that was on a "special diet" while they basically fed me poison.

    My health declined there and eventually I was sent to a camp in Potma, somewhere near Vorkuta in Mordovia, for twenty-five years. There were Poles, Russians, other Ukrainians there. Everybody. They quickly learned I had been a medic and I was sent to work in the camp's hospital. The warden was against this, he was screaming, "Do you know who he is? He's a nationalist, a Banderivets!" and the nurse told him, "I don't care who he is, as long as he is treating others, he will be working here." That was twenty-five years of my life. They were "correcting" me and didn't correct anything. When they released me, I was very nervous. My sister arrived to meet me at the gates. It was 1980 when I finally got back to Ukraine. But even free, they didn't let me do much. I couldn't work as a doctor or a medic with my record. I had to stay in my village all the time and I wasn't allowed to leave my house after 10pm. This was my freedom.

    But I got a job as a masseur. It was tough to even get that job, but I managed it. I worked as a masseur for ten years, from 1981 to 1991, when Ukraine finally gained independence. Now I'm here in Markova and the people from the village help me a lot. I have a pension. 

    This is how I only started to live freely after I turned eighty.

  • Herbert Killian ,
    Vienna, AustriaMORE...

    I was born in Austria in 1926, in the city of Korneuburg. I attended high school in Stockerau. At fifteen, I was conscripted. At the time, I was not enthusiastic or fanatical, but I did admire the regime. I was happy and felt well-protected. For me, the war began in 1933. They supplied us with food vouchers. We were taught about the war in school, and we helped out, focusing on civil activities, like providing the population with water, as well as construction efforts. For twelve years, I was part of the Hitler Youth. As part of my duties, I supported farmers during their harvest seasons - this was because many farmers were also soldiers. As a consequence of this, our lectures were limited. The public required our service.

    In 1943, I was stationed at Wiener Neustadt, working for the Luftwaffe. We defended against American bombers. Later, I was transferred to a different unit in Poznan, Poland, that helped provide medical treatments. After this, I returned home and became an active member of the military. By June of 1944, we received orders to repel the invasion of France. But when I got to Paris, I was immediately sent home because the Americans had landed successfully. By that September, I was transferred to Slovakia, as part of an attempt to reassemble a Panzer division that had been destroyed during the Russian campaign. In December 1944, we moved to Germany, near the Eifel mountains, where Gerd von Rundstedt unsuccessfully mounted his counter-offensive. After this, we marched through Luxembourg to Belgium because most of the transportation had been destroyed. We were very poorly equipped at this time. We lacked winter equipment and we were starving. We spent much of the time on our journey hunting deer in order to feed the soldiers. Along the way, some farmers and other military units we passed provided some relief. We intended to meet the Americans in Bastogne, but we lacked the equipment and necessary support and failed. For instance, we had to sew our own winter clothes out of things like curtains and cushions. The population suffered because we were taking their stuff. The Americans detected us early and repelled us. I am very lucky that I wasn't wounded. Many other soldiers with me were wounded or killed. I was then tasked with gathering the wounded and caring for them at the hospital.

    There were three of us tasked with caring for the sick and I was the only one with a gun. We searched the grounds near the hospital, which was a territory that had been captured and subsequently abandoned by Americans, and we found food in the forest - breakfast foods, chocolate, things we hadn't seen for a long time. But when we found it, we were spotted by the Americans. I wanted to open fire, but the others asked me to surrender. We had no chance.

    They imprisoned us and we found ourselves sent to the camp that already had a lot of our fellow soldiers. They questioned us, hoping to find out if we knew anything about the "wonder-weapons" they suspected our military was developing. After that, they moved us to a former German airfield in Compiegne, France. We were integrated into a larger camp, which totalled about one hundred thousand people. We lived in tents, in January cold, and we had little food, no beds or winter supplies. Then one day, we received many supplies. They gave us straw for the ground, a stove, some more food. We were surprised by this. It turned out there was an independent commission arriving from Switzerland, consisting of Americans, British, Swiss and Germans. They were there to check on the quality of the camp. Once they left, the supplies were all taken from us.

    I had a friend in this camp. Together we decided to escape from our imprisonment. Escape was relatively easy, as there were few guards - it was basically an open field, so we just snuck away. After three days we met a young farmer who was inquisitive of where we were from, where we were going. We spoke little English, but we pretended to be Americans. He didn't believe us. When the farmer went to notify the authorities that we were hiding, other farmers from the village surrounded and captured us. One of them spoke German and treated us kindly. Much to our surprise, we were taken into a house and he cooked for us and we were allowed to eat as much as we liked. I asked why he was feeding us and he said he had been a prisoner of the Germans and they treated him well, so he wanted to give back something. We were hoping to be freed, but they still intended to hand us over to the French police. We were then taken back to the camp which we had escaped from.

    In March, we were asked to volunteer for a labor camp. I did so because I thought it would take me farther east, closer to Germany. I was lucky because I ended up in the city of Russ. I was tasked with maintaining the garden of the headquarters there. They provided me with plenty of food and it was not a bad time.

    There were three of us, as before, and one of us worked in the kitchen. He snuck us extra cans of food. We stored them in the yard and planned for another escape. We waited three weeks to leave, and this time we had plenty of supplies. We only traveled at night and no one detected us. However, one day, we were feeling thirsty and we had an orange with us, and two of us wanted to eat it and the other wanted to conserve it. He left after an argument over an orange.

    The  two of us who remained ran out of food by the time we reached Verdun. There, we passed some fighting grounds of the First World War. There were many signs warning us to beware of landmines. It was here that my friend decided he would rather surrender than continue the journey. We agreed to one more night and then he would surrender. Eventually, we discovered railroad tracks and walked along them, expecting a train to pass us eventually. Instead we came across a train that was starting up and we waited for it to begin departing and jumped on. The train was guarded by Americans and we lost each other there. I didn't know if my friend had gotten on the train. This was a cargo train and I found many boxes in it. I hoped they would contain food. I realized that someone was moving from car to car, and at first I thought it was one of the guards, but it was my friend coming towards me. When I asked him if there was food on the train, he said, "No. All of these boxes are filled with weapons." The train was headed east. It soon passed a train station and it was bright and there were many French and American guards. All but one of them overlooked us - a French soldier spotted me. I saluted him and he saluted back and nothing happened.

    The next day, as the train was crossing a large river, I said to my friend, "This could be the Moselle river," which I knew was the border. On the other side, the train decelerated to go around a curve and it was there that we jumped off. We watched it pass and at the end of the train there were American soldiers with machine guns. When they saw us, we saluted them and they saluted us back. We were very lucky. For a month and a half, we walked across Germany. We rummaged through the ruins of homes, searching for supplies left behind by their former occupants. This was 1945 and the war was over.

    By May of 1947, I was back in school. I lived in an apartment and the house beside us was occupied by a Russian soldier and his family. The Russian barracks was across from where I lived. One day in June, I was studying and heard a lot of noise outside. Some Austrian and Russian kids were fighting. I shouted at them and they left. Later, they returned, teasing me and throwing rocks at my window. I got into a physical altercation with one of the kids and got arrested. I was taken to Vienna and given a short trial and sentenced to three years, the maximum penalty for hooliganism. Over the next several weeks, I was shipped across the Soviet Union by train, all the way east. Because I wasn't a political or war prisoner, I was categorized as a common criminal and sent to a Gulag labor camp among murders and thieves, harder criminals. They took us by boat to Magadan, in the Kolyma region, where there was a goldmine. I lived in temperatures as low as -50 degrees Celsius. I got weak from the scarcity of food and couldn't fulfil my duties. There was a quota and because I didn't meet it, they gave me even less food. After a while, my weight had dropped to just 36 kilos.

    One day I escaped the camp and survived nine days on my own without food. Based on my experience in France, I had thought that it would work out. I was lucky that after nine days, without orientation in the area, I somehow ended up back at the camp. I fell unconscious shortly after arriving. This was a psychologically difficult period. I didn't think I would ever get out. There were no Austrians. It was mostly Russians, some Germans. I was alone.

    Much to my surprise, I was eventually released from the camp.

    Immediately, I went to the police and told them that I wanted to go back home. The officer asked me if I had money and I said, "No. I have nothing, but I expect that the Russian government which has taken me here for free, will also take me back for free."

    The officer replied that when I was taken to Siberia, I was a prisoner.

    Now I was a free man and it was my responsibility to get back. I had to find a job, which was difficult, because I had no work experience. Luckily, I found one at a nearby hospital, utilizing some skills I learned during the war. After four and a half years of this, someone advised me to write a letter to the Austrian embassy. I did and got a passport sent to me. At this time, I was living in a barracks with a lot of ex-criminals, some of whom had been sentenced for over twenty years.

    The day we heard on the radio that Stalin had died, everyone was crying. I didn't know how to hide my feelings because I was happy he was dead.

    The passport I got was valid in all of Europe, but I wasn't allowed to travel beyond 20km of the town I was working in unless I transferred. I wrote letters to multinational corporations, asking to be moved from the area I was restricted to. I got permission, finally, in October, 1953. I soon sent a letter to the embassy and asked them to remit the money for my journey home. But I never heard from them. I hadn't spent much of my pay and had gotten extra wages from a labor dispute with the hospital where I worked. I traveled to the port, where the last boat was leaving the next day.

    After that, the water would be frozen for eight months and you no longer had access to the river. I couldn't get a ticket and the boat left without me. My permit to leave would expire in just four weeks. So I went to the airport, which was thirteen kilometers away, only to find out that there would be a three week wait. Frustrated, I went to an officer of the secret police and I lied, putting my passport on his desk, that I was an Austrian journalist and there was a conference going on in Moscow and I was stuck here. He looked at my passport and found no proof of entry, but he believed me and supplied me with a voucher to get my ticket for the next day.

    It was a small airport surrounded by mountains. The only way to get to this region, even to this day, is by plane or boat. There are no trains or roads. Every day, only five planes departed from the airport. They were small, seventeen-passenger planes. After we took off and were passing the mountains, I looked down and saw smoke - it was one of the airplanes, the exact one that had departed just before mine. The flight to Khabarovsk was five hours. I went from there to the Trans-Siberian rail station and found I couldn't get a ticket for two weeks. Luckily, I still had enough money for a direct flight to Moscow. There, I discovered that the ambassador of the Austrian embassy was a relative of mine, which I didn't know. I made it to Austria by train.

    I learned that my mother had died during my time away. There was no home waiting.

    It was a challenge reintegrating, from a society of criminals to a civil, European society. I had left home at fifteen and now returned at twenty-eight. After all this, I finally finished school. But I didn't want to socialize with anyone. I didn't want to speak to or meet new people. I wanted only isolation and so I decided to become a woodsman. I felt like a foreigner in my own land.

    At the end of the war, we did get to see American footage of the concentration camps and the massacres, and we thought it was propaganda - we laughed at it. None of us knew about the crimes of the Nazis. We only learned long after the war was finished, and even then we couldn't believe it. I only reconsidered my thoughts about the regime after I returned from Russia.

    One time, my sister asked me whether I'd like to see my father in the north. She recommended that I take a bus. I asked how far it was. She told me it was eighty kilometers. I replied that I didn't know why I should buy a bus ticket for that distance. I could walk it. 

    Eventually, I met a woman. I had lived for years among only men and they had been paranoid, some criminals, others spies. I just wanted to build a family. The forest where I worked belonged to a nobleman. I had to apply for his permission to have the marriage approved and he declined my request, so I terminated my employment and got married anyway. I am still with her.

  • Jack J. Diamond,
    Miami, FloridaMORE...

    My name is Jack Jerry Diamond, which is not my birth name. My birth name was Udell Moishe Diamond. I was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 23, 1925. I grew up as a kid in Brooklyn and then my dad bought a property on Long Island. He was building us a home outside of Huntington. My dad learnt about the automobile business during WWI, when he was in the army. However, my father was told to enter the gasoline business, and he listened to this advice. Therefore, he bought another property in Brooklyn at the entrance of the Brooklyn Bridge. He built a gas station on that property. Unfortunately, my father got killed by a drunk driver when I was only 8 years old, on Feb 1, 1934. At that time, we were in Huntington. After his death, we moved back to our grandparents' home in Brooklyn. We also had family in Miami, Florida. I had an uncle in Miami and he got us moved into his partner's apartment building on South Beach.

    The Second World War started when I graduated from Miami Beach Senior High School. My uncle sent me to join the Riverside Military Academy in my senior year. I enlisted in the army before I turned 18. I ended up in the 106th Division and we were stationed at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. We provided close support to the infantry. Our field position was on the frontline. I spent a short time in a military school in Indiana, ranked as an army private (PVT). We left from New York on a ship known as Aquitania, and landed in Scotland. We were stationed for some time in a small town outside England. Our division crossed the English Channel and landed in France where we went to our first combat position in Belgium. And BOOM! It was the time after D-Day and there were not many Germans left in France as the battle moved to Germany.

    The Battle of the Bulge was our first point of combat that was happening in a small town called St. Vith in Belgium. Our division got wiped out by the Germans, practically all, and I became a German prisoner of war. We spent approximately 19 days in combat, and the Battle of the Bulge was completely unexpected. Our division had no prior experience of any real combat. However, we destroyed all the evidence that the Germans could use against us before we got captured by them. I was a Jew, so I told them that I was a Jew and an American, so take me as I am. A person is a person no matter what kind! There were two German armies: the Wehrmacht who were trying to wipe out Jews, and then there was the SS who operated under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.

    I was captured as a PFC (private first class) and it was during the coldest winter in Europe. I was wearing my galoshes, but my feet already got frozen, and it sucked! The Germans knew about my feet and two of them took me to the hospital. But there was nothing the doctor could do as I had no boots. However, there was a German officer who made sure that I didn't have to walk on the woods with other prisoners without putting on my galoshes. There was not enough food for the Germans themselves, so they gave us next to nothing to eat. All Americans were treated this way, not only the Jews. There were all types of prisoners there, but they segregated us. For instance, the Americans were in one part of the prison and the Canadians in another. I was never segregated on the basis of being a Jew, but a dogface will be a dogface no matter what army he is in!

    The U.S. Army also sent a telegram to my home stating that I went missing in action in Germany. The telegram was received by my sister who was 13 at that time. She did not want to tell this news and upset my mother as she was a widow. So my sister never told my mother that I was missing in action and she kept it to herself. My mother came to know, however, when the army sent another telegram stating that I became a prisoner of war. At least she knew that I was alive. Later, we got transferred from the St. Vith 2A camp to another camp in East Germany. I stayed there the whole time until the Russians came along, and that was several months later. I was freed from the camp by the Russians in May 1945. The Russians came through East Germany.

    Ah! It was like moving from a German prison into a first class hotel in Paris. But the food didn't get any better with the Russians. We stayed there and helped the Russians. A few Americans came later in the combat trucks and took us back to America through France. Luckily we got shipped back from France directly to - guess where - Miami Beach! I was stationed at a hotel about three blocks from my mother's apartment. My mother did know that I was a prisoner of war from the communication sent through the American Army. However, she did not know that I was back in Miami. So I went to visit her, but she was not in the apartment. She was visiting our relatives in New York. Later, she came back from New York quickly when I notified her that I was back in Miami.

    We were examined by doctors as soon as we landed in America to identify what shape we were in. I must say that nobody was in good shape. I was then sent to New York on a leave. I was in the army until we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, and then the war was over. I was discharged from the U.S. Army at the Miami station. I did not want to go someplace cold to continue my education because of the memory of my frozen feet in the war. So I thought of southern California, but that was approximately 3,000 miles away from home. So I decided to earn a degree from the University of Miami in general education. After getting my degree, I knew that I wasn't going to move towards the northern part of the US. Therefore I had to do something in Miami.

    I loved the ocean and there was a club, the Riviera Cabana Club, which had cabanas and a pool. I had a concession stand at the back of that club. Therefore I got into this beach stand business. I had another stand in a hotel in Miami Beach. At that time, my uncle was in the nightclub business and he also had a liquor store. I ran his liquor store and I learned that business as well. I also learned about the surfing business. I got my name registered in the local phonebook as South Beach Surfers. I used to rent surf boards to the surfers at the beach. Apart from working in the food and entertainment business, I was also working at the dog track at night. I also used to give the beach weather report over the phone to people calling my surfing business. This was because sometimes it might be sunny in the town, while at the same time cloudy at the beach. I gave the best weather and surfing reports. No BS!

    I got married to Julie on March 1, 1978. Julie is the love of my life, though she is not my first wife. We did not have any children together. But I had two children with my first wife, a boy and a girl. Julie has two kids, too, and she had them from her own first marriage. I am very involved in the American Ex-Prisoners of War Organization. When I stopped working, I started volunteering at the age of 62 at the Miami VA Hospital as a service officer. I helped people get compensation from being prisoners of war and for injuries they had during the war. In 2014, I had 24,000 hours drawn for charity and I was the volunteer of the year at the VA hospital.

  • Imants Zeltins,
    Bauska, LatviaMORE...

    The beginning of my childhood was difficult after the First World War. Eventually, my family had managed to acquire some land. By 1939, we were doing very well. I remember these as good times. In 1938, we could afford a bicycle. 

    We had no thoughts of going to war. In school, we were taught that Germany was our biggest enemy. But in 1940, when the Red Army occupied Latvia, that perspective shifted dramatically. 

    When Germany attacked Russia on June 22, 1941, we thought they would be our liberators. On May 1, 1943, I attempted to volunteer for the army. I was sixteen, so they didn't take me. A general had us all in a line and said, "Those who are underage, step forward." There were fifteen of us. They sent me back to Bauska. I found work at the police station. By then, Latvia was under German administration. 

    In 1944, the Red Army was pushing back and closing in on Bauska. On July 28 of the same year, I joined the volunteer force. I was finally eighteen. But there were people who were as young as fifteen and as old as eighty years old, and everyone wanted to fight the Russians. No one wanted another Soviet occupation. We waged guerrilla war for several weeks. I was injured on September 14, 1944. That's where the war ended for me. I was injured in the fight where twenty-eight Soviet T-34 tanks went up against two hundred Latvian conscripts. We were trying to cross a river, but the Russians came at us from all sides. There were planes flying over, tanks on the ground, artillery fire. It was hell. Many men died trying to swim across the river. We had six mine throwers and all the men that knew how to use them were dead. I tried to use one from a rooftop, but a tank fired at the building and everything caved in beneath me. I was brought to a German hospital. My right arm was only attached by skin, so they cut it off. My left was completely smashed. The doctor there told me I had twenty-eight injuries total.

    By February 1, 1945, the Americans had invaded Germany. The soldiers put signs on hospital doors that forbade patients to leave the area. After a few days, all the Latvians there got together and literally cried, not because the war was ending, but because they knew Latvia will be once again occupied by the Russians. On April 9, we were free to go. I knew a Latvian woman who had married a German. I went to see them and they gave me a room, but they were short on food. I stayed there until the Americans handed that territory over to the Russians. I no longer remember the name of the town we were in. Eventually I was arrested for taking part in the resistance.

    I was moved across different concentration camps in Germany, Poland and Russia. Most of the people held alongside me ended up in Siberia, where they would remain for decades. I was the only one that didn't go. I hadn't done anything wrong. I told them if they thought I had, I wanted them to shoot me right away.

    When I was free, I returned to my home, only to be mistaken for a vagrant by my mother before she realized who I was. After three days back in Bauska, I tried to get my documents. But I was arrested and jailed for two weeks. They asked me for a list of names of all the people I worked with during the war. I gave them one and was set free. I still didn't have any documents, so I couldn't find work. I yielded to failure and left Bauska. I married a woman in Riga. I found a job there as a security guard for different shops. When my boss discovered that I hadn't served in the Red Army, he fired me after only three months of employment. I couldn't find another job. I started my own business and that's how I earned money to raise my children.

  • Jaakko K Estola,
    Helsinki, FinlandMORE...

    I was born in Finland after the Civil war, in a time of great deprivation, on December 8, 1918, just outside of Helsinki. My father ran a shop. My two sisters were tasked with raising me.

    Germany began to display its power in 1939, when it attacked Poland. Things seemed critical. I was told to make sure I was too skinny and too small to join the army. I didn't even show up to the calls. But when the war with Russia began, all of my friends were drafted. Because of this, I then felt the need to join. I was rejected, but later proved myself to be fit enough in 1940. Up until the last minute, everyone was saying there wouldn't be a war. Then it came. I can still remember the patriotic feeling that comes over you when you have to defend your country. I felt that I had to do something. I couldn't remain there on the home front. I had to believe that Germany was strong enough to defeat the Soviet Union.

    I was sent to a small town, where the army had converted a school into a training camp. I went through ammunition and weaponry training, but at the school we didn't have any real weapons so we would chop wood and train with pretend ones. It was very poor training.

    Anyway, I moved up in the army and the following year I entered the war. I was stationed at the Finnish coast for two months. There were only two particularly exciting incidents that happened there. During one, we had to go through Russian territory and on the way back we took a break and found ourselves trapped in a crossfire between the two sides.

    Another time, some of us took our bikes for a ride to the front lines, south along the coast. We turned back after coming across some of our own troops. We were coming back along the same route and passed a pile of pine tree needles. These were usually set to mark a salute or to signify danger. We continued on until someone yelled to us that the road was mined. I could have been blown so high I would've seen the church towers of Leningrad.

    In August, we were ordered to attack. By then the Russians had retreated to the old borders, where they had taken their positions and were ready. But as our tanks reached the river crossing, their soldiers began to retreat. This was a good feeling.

    It was mostly peaceful on the southern front. Every so often Russian planes would fly over and harass us. It was very sandy there and we decided to go up on a dune and shoot down the next plane that flew over. When one got closer, we aimed our rifles. But it attacked us at the same time. We buried ourselves in the sand, attempting to hide. It was hard to see and the sand blew everywhere. A bomb fell several meters from where we were and a massive wall of sand washed over us. We were covered and it was very hot from the blast.

    Another time, in 1942, five or six of us were walking. Something exploded beside us. Some kind of a silent bomb. I felt small stings in my back. Like children had been shooting me with pellet guns. The injury wasn't life threatening and they removed the shrapnel. It left a scar, it's like a tattoo memory of the war.

    Toward the end of January in 1943, we formed a new brigade and traveled 700km into the Russian territory by train. These were different circumstances. It was -20, -30 degrees Celsius. After only three days of fighting we lost seven hundred men to the weather. The next month, we were attacked at night. There was a full moon out and we were lying on the ground beneath enemy fire. I was staring at the moon and asking for help. But the moon was spiteful. I'm sure the moon didn't understand why we were there. This was supposed to be revenge for the Winter War. I assume the moon wanted to kill us, to let us freeze in the ice.

    It turned out the base was very restless and we were in constant conflict. The Russians tried to take prisoners almost every night. There was lots of trouble with our housing. Cases of lice, lots of rats, water damage. But when summer came, we enjoyed the warm and sunny days. We listened to military radio, and sometimes they played requests. They played one of our songs.

    On the morning of January 16, 1943, I was on my way to train at the base camp. This was after a heavy snow. I walked up to the barrier around the base and I was shot from a hundred meters out, where the enemy line was. I felt a wetness on my back. I thought I'd been shot from behind. I fell with blood in my mouth, certain I'd been shot through the lung. But it turned out I was shot in the neck. Another bullet had gone by my spine and broken some of my ribs. Chips from the bones tore a large hole in my back. I received treatment over six months and was deemed fit to serve again, but they sent me back to Finland and I experienced the Soviet bombing of Helsinki in February of 1944. But I don't feel comfortable talking about that.

    The rest of the time I served was peaceful and I was glad to give up my uniform and reenter civilian life. The life of a young man was still in front of me. Still, after the war ended, I felt hollow. I wondered if this was finally peace. But because I soon turned my focus to studying, I didn't have many thoughts about global issues. I didn't think about anything but rebuilding our country. I wasn't happy about the defeat but I also wasn't sad about it. Though there wasn't much food, I was glad to be alive and healthy and surviving. That's the term I would use: surviving. Because Finland hadn't been invaded. The outcome was okay, considering how large our enemy had been. And I was in a hurry to get to university. When I considered what courses to take, there were two boys that suggested I study agriculture. It was a strange idea to me because I wasn't from a farm. I started to study it and it was very close to nature and I found joy in that.

    It was 1948 when I graduated. I worked at a dairy farm. I worked in a mill where they harvested feed for animals. It was 1956 when I got a job for a large company. There I became chief of a department in charge of processing animal feeds and manures. I developed supplements to improve the quality of animal feed.

    Now I am content, happy. Family always comes first. My children and grandchildren always call to see how I am. Soldiers have a saying, "No one is left behind." This is a saying in my family as well. I get to watch them all grow. The peace I've found in life is very important. I am not alone.

  • Anna Nho,
    Almaty, KazakhstanMORE...

    Anna Nho is my name. I was born in Vladivostok, Primorsky Region, in the USSR, on November 25, 1927. My family was Korean, and my mother taught Korean, and my father was a fisherman. Our family owned this small island and a motorboat for our fishing business. When our dad died early in life, he left 12 children, and I was the youngest. So we had to look for some sort of help from the government. One of my sisters' husbands was the first secretary of the local Communist Party branch, and he was able to arrange a personal meeting with some high-ranking government officials to find a way to help my family. We agreed to give our business and island to the government. In exchange, they would give us a house and land for farming. Life was more comfortable after that.

    In 1937 many Koreans were deported from the Far East. We were transferred to Karaganda in Kazakhstan. They put up tents for housing. A few families lived in each one, but it was so cold that someone died every day. Then they suddenly decided to move all of us to Bukhara in Uzbekistan. They just loaded all of us up on freight trains and sent us there.

    Our uncle who was with us and couldn't take it any longer, decided to go and meet with Stalin in Moscow. He actually met Stalin before. He had a picture of them together, which he carried around. So he packed a bag and just went away. He said he would walk to Moscow if he had to. We all thought he died but he did make it. He looked like a homeless man and tried numerous times to get into Kremlin. He was finally let in after one of the NKVD officers told Stalin that there was a very persistent man determined to see him. Stalin remembered him so they fed him, cleaned him; and then they finally talked.

    Stalin said to him, "I can't help you, but I can offer you this: I'll send you to Ordzhonikidze where they don't know how to grow rice in the Caucasus. You can help them organize a rice kolkhoz. Ordzhonikidze will help you with everything." Some time later we saw in the paper that our uncle was looking for us, so we went to the Caucasus and joined him. After that, things were fine; mom remarried and studied and worked.

    Then in 1941, when I was in the 8th grade, I heard on the radio that the Great War broke out. I saw a notice on the bulletin board in school that our motherland needed volunteers. So I passed all of my exams for the 8th grade in June, and on July 1st I signed up as a volunteer and as a daughter of my motherland. I was a Komsomol member on the Northern Caucasus front. At the time, our duties were mainly digging trenches. So I was doing that during the day, and in the evening I started taking medical courses to become a nurse. I became a field nurse, giving first aid to our soldiers before sending them to the hospital. I was on the front lines until Stalin ordered all underage volunteers to return to their studies in November of 1943.

    So I went back to my family. Shortly after that we were evacuated to Kazakhstan. I worked various jobs and moved around a lot, but it was troubling to realize how people treated me differently because I was Korean. One guy in a kolkhoz I was working at told me that I was a liar - that no Korean was allowed to be on the front lines. I got so angry that I threw an inkbottle at him and he got all dirty. I almost got kicked out of Komsomol, but shortly after that incident my family moved again. We were ordered to work on a rice kolkhoz in the Far East, but I worked as a nurse. There was a typhus epidemic at the time and anybody who knew medicine was in high demand. I worked in the hospital room in the morning and at the Komsomol office in the evening (I was once responsible for the Party agitation in our kolkhoz).

    As it was, I had always been devoted to the Party and was always loyal to the ideals of Komsomol. This always remained so despite how my family and other Koreans were just thrown around and constantly relocated throughout the Soviet Union by Stalin and the Communist Party. I guess my youth and that of other Koreans was pretty rough because of this. Still, loyalty was an important thing.

    In 1948 I moved to Almaty without any papers, only my Komsomol card and medals. I struggled at first because it was virtually impossible to work without identification, but finally I got new papers and found a job as a cashier. After that, many things happened. I continued my studies and working in retail. I worked once at a train depot too. I was very active in my community, and I always remained loyal to the Party and to the Komsomol. I always believed that my work was to do good for the society.

    In 1949 I was happily married. But my husband worked for the government and was killed on duty. Both of my sons are also dead. The first one died from sickness, and the second one died tragically while in the police service. He was a policeman here in Almaty at the time, and saved a woman during a fire. He saved her, but couldn't save himself. So yes, life has been hard. But many are the memories that give me joy and happiness.

  • Ken Smith,
    Portsmouth, EnglandMORE...

    My name is Ken Smith. I was born on April 12, 1922 in Portsmouth. My parents were very religious. I was in the dockyard choir. I left school at thirteen. I worked on houses. I used to make flights of stairs until the war, when timber became so scarce the government commandeered all of it.

    I remember the day the war broke out. I was in church that day. At eleven, Chamberlain was going to make an announcement. I ran home. I remember him saying, "We are at a state of war." We were told to be ready for air raids. The first thing I did, I went down to the bottom of the garden and dug a big trench about eight food long. I was there the whole day, expecting an air raid that night. But during the night, it rained heavily. I couldn't stay there. The next morning it was filled up with water.

    I loved football and a friend of mine said, "Join the Royal Marines, you'll get plenty of football." I joined when I was eighteen. I did six months of training near Dover, where we expected the invasion to begin. Every night we used to stand on the beaches. When the invasion didn't happen, I was moved to Plymouth where I did a naval gunnery course. I passed two naval gunnery courses, and was sent up at a ship in Newcastle, HMS Manchester.

    We used to go around Iceland looking for German weather ships. Those days they depended on their weather ships to forecast the British weather. We'd live on the upper deck in the bitter cold. We'd live around the guns. We pulled into Scapa Flow for supplies and I was on the meet party to our biggest battle cruiser, which was the HMS Hood. I went aboard to get supplies to take over to our ship. The next morning, I received a telegram that said my father was dying. I tried to get leave to come and see him. And I put in a request to see the commander. Because I was a gunner, he said no. I asked for the captain of the ship, he said no. So I said, can I see the admiral? He was on the Hood. I put in to see the admiral. I had to dress up in my best uniform. While I was doing that, they spotted the Bismarck coming out. The bugle went and we shot out of Scapa Flow. I was dressed in my best and had to go down to help hoist the ship's anchor.

    We went looking around the north of Iceland, up the east coast. The Bismarck went around the Denmark strait. The Hood went along the south. The Bismarck sunk it, blew her to bits. We chased the Bismarck until we ran out of petrol. We were lucky enough that the Bismarck was sunk about a week later.

    We took a convoy down to Malta, stopping at Gibraltar to organize a larger convoy. We were near Malta when we got attacked by torpedo bombers. The stern of the ship was blown away, we had a lot killed. The ship was heeling over and I fired. I tried to aim uphill where we were tilting, where the deck was covered in blood and oil. There were bodies all around. Anyway, we managed to make it back to Gibraltar and we were patched up there, but they weren't equipped for all the repairs we needed.

    Those days, when you left port, you never knew where you were going. You were zigzagging all the time, avoiding U-Boats. And after all those days at sea, where we were living around the gun, I said to the gun crew, I wouldn't be surprised if we were going to Canada or America. Shortly after, the commander of the ship said over the radio, "The ship is bound for the United States of America." Within ten days we approached the American coast, then up the Delaware river to Philadelphia. It was marvelous, seeing it all lit up. Hundreds of workmen came aboard. Right away, they started to repair us. They weren't in the war at the time. This was hush-hush because they didn't want to be involved. We spent months there. It was a lovely experience, traveling around, playing football.

    In December, I was playing for the ship's football team, against an American representative team in Camden, New Jersey. I was on duty that day, so I had to go straight back to the ship after the game. I was at a bus station in Philadelphia, where there was a news office with these big, glittering lights flashing the news. I looked up and saw "American Battleship Sunk" with various names. I couldn't believe it. It was only when I get back to the ship that I learned what happened. The Americans joining the war was a blessing for us.

    Once we were repaired, we went down to Florida, then to Bermuda, where we met one of the worst storms I've ever encountered. I thought, oh no, we'll never get out of it. We pitched and tossed and rolled. We eventually arrived back in England and I left the ship so the repairs could be completed. I was sent to another ship, the HMS Penelope. The Manchester was sunk the very next convoy.

    Right away we went to the Mediterranean. We were known as HMS Pepperpot, we were hit and blown up so many times. The Germans were about to invade Greece in 1941, so we left Algeria and bumped into a German invasion armada on the way. We sunk most of it. While leaving, we were hit with a bomb. We had a lot killed on the gun deck. The Sergeant Major asked me if I would like to be a commando. I said, "Anything to get off this ship." They were forming a special air service, which was top secret. I was sworn to not to tell anyone. I joined the unit and left the ship. The Penelope went out shortly afterwards and she was hit with three torpedoes and 417 men went down with her.

    We boarded a train in Alexandria, to Cairo, then caught another train to Palestine. That's where they had their base, in Haifa. I continued doing raids after my training. I did ski training, I did a parachute course. I took a gunnery course in Jerusalem. I got sent to Cairo to do a few days sniping course. I went to the pyramids where they had a range. I was a patrol sniper. We were sent up the Dodecanese islands. I was attached to the special boat section, on two man canoes. During the training, we would go to sea every night and get out and we'd have to swim back to shore. If we didn't make it, there was only one punishment - return to the marines. Luckily though, I was very fit. I was sent to Italy. From there, to Albania. We lived in the mountains for a couple months.

    We did commando raids on various islands. I got a bullet in the arm in 1944. It's still there now. We did one raid where we landed at night on the island of Lusin, in Croatia now, and climbed the mountain with a guide. He knew we were going to blow the place up and he wouldn't show us. We tried again another time, but the Germans had taken over from the Italians and were waiting for us. They opened fire. I got hit then. We got under a tree. It was dark and I said to the sergeant, "I think I've been hit." My hand was all sticky. When we heard the whistle to evacuate, we got about forty yards and the house was on fire.

    Later, we discovered a German in the bushes. He had a stick grenade. I took it from him and lifted him and slung him on my shoulder, dragging him along. Then I heard this bang in my ear. This prisoner had gotten his gun and shot himself. I heard it drop and I thought, I'm going to have a souvenir.

    I was at the back as we were going up the mountainside. I lost a lot of blood and I could see that I was in trouble. So the officer came and took over for me and said, "Go up front." One of the marines was guarding a prisoner, and I was going to take the prisoner from him and escort him back to a ship, on the other side. The prisoner was older than I was. He was badly wounded and mumbling. I told him to shut up. It was getting to be dawn.

    They sent a few sailors to shore to help and they paddled us back to the ship. The German soldier had messed himself, he had his trousers down.
    Smothered in blood, resting on the deck. They helped me up and told me to go down to the mess deck. Just as I was about to go, I collapsed.

    I came to in Yugoslavia, on a cruiser. There were a lot of sailors there. Around me, a lot of other people in stretchers. I was flown back to Italy. The hospitals were so full with the wounded I was laid on a stretcher in the corridor. From where I was, I could look out and see all these badly wounded chaps with legs hanging up in the air, all wearing awards. I wasn't a serious case.

    After a few days, I was sent back to the front line, to Lake Comacchio. It was my birthday. We would be out in our two-man canoes, marking the way across the water for the fleet to come through. Then I heard the Germans going on the roadside. It was all horse and car then because they had no petrol. I could hear the Germans singing as they walked and I was fascinated. As they approached, they started firing. I said to the officer, "I'm twenty-two today, sir." He replied, "Everybody paddle for your bloody lives!"

    We zigzagged, paddling until we got out of range. A few hours later, the officers sent for me and congratulated me on being awarded with the highest award, with wings over my medals instead of my arms.

    When the war ended, I was sitting on the roadside watching hundreds of thousands of prisoners go by. The Royal Marines in this SAS unit were ordered to return. I was on the first boat back to England. I got a couple of weeks leave before I was sent to China, to fight the Japanese in Hong Kong in late 1945.

    After that, I was recalled to Malta. I had to teach young marines arms drills. But I dropped the rifle when a pain in my shoulder was too much for me, where I was shot. I was sent back to England and discharged. I was considered disabled. I took up building again. I retired at 65. I had nine children.

    My only hobby is growing chrysanthemums. I love growing them. They're so expensive, but so rewarding. I live for them. First thing in the morning. I spent all my time sifting the soil, getting a nice mix.

    I'm still here. And the only reason I'm still here is because I was a choir boy. I was brought up in the church and that's the only reason I'm still here, I think. The years are hard to remember, but I can recall the exploits like they were yesterday.

  • Jean-Jacques Auduc ,
    Le Mans, FranceMORE...

    My name is Jean-Jacques Auduc. I was born on July 9, 1931, in Cerans-Fouilletourte, to a modest family. My father used to make windmills. He was supposed to emigrate to Canada, but then he met my mother. She was a secretary. I went to school in Saint Pavin. I was nine when the war started. Our father was imprisoned by the Germans, but he escaped. On his return, on May 10, 1940, he arrived at an orphanage on the border between France and Belgium, where they had slaughtered a hundred children. They had killed everyone there. That's when he decided he would go into the resistance, thinking about his own children.

    To form his group he decided he would only ask people from his own family, to avoid any issues of trust. So my parents, uncles and aunts, and grandmother joined. I was just entering my teens. But I could go everywhere that adults couldn't. Because we were forming a resistance in the south, our job was primarily to gather information, but also to take care of American or British soldiers who parachuted or whose planes had crashed. I used to carry messages. I would go retrieve messages from a hotel, where they were hidden behind a radiator there and I would bring them to my grandmother's house. I kept them in the handlebar of my bicycle, and I cycled the 25km distance. It was very difficult to get out of Le Mans at the time, because of the German and French police everywhere. But I could manage. As a child, it was quite easy. I never had problems.

    One mission I had came from the British photos of the airfield in Le Mans. They noticed there was a fleet of planes, and were worried about their purpose. It was impossible to approach the airport without trouble, so I went there with my kite, to play. The German soldiers were quite old and not very frightening. They even played with me.I realized the planes were made of wood. They were fakes. They hadn't even painted them underneath. So I sent the message and the British dropped fake bombs carved out of wood, like a joke that was also an intimidation tactic. They wanted the Germans to know they didn't have complete control, that there was resistance. To make them paranoid of spies hiding everywhere.

    Guns were sometimes parachuted behind my grandmother's house. The whole family had to be there because there was much to be carried away immediately. I used to keep watch, in case anyone arrived. Once, I thought there was a problem. I gave the alarm. In fact, it turned out to be just some cows in the distance. But they still congratulated me for this, because I was eleven and I was doing my job carefully.

    The Americans had a lot of planes, but not so many pilots. When the planes were shot down, they would come retrieve their men. A few Allied pilots had been shot down around the surrounding villages. One of them was David Butcher, in Poille-sur-Vegre. He was a tail gunner for a B-17 bomber. The tail section had been shot and he parachuted into a field. The nine other men onboard were all killed. We kept these survivors at our home because we couldn't take them through the Pyrenees at the time, we would've been arrested.

    We had to wait for another group to be formed to help us with the escape. The four of the Americans stayed in a small room in the attic, but after a week, we needed to let them out. My mother made fake papers for them, identification cards, at her secretary job. They were supposed to be deaf and dumb. I was the one that escorted David Butcher around and I was apprehended for it. I was scared, I was twelve then. But he gripped my hand to signal me not to run away. He took papers from his pockets that explained his condition. The Germans seemed apologetic. We were very scared, but they let us go. Butcher said he thought he was too close to them, it was better when he was in his plane.

    My parents were arrested in early November, 1943. One of our neighbors was waiting for me at the end of the street and told me not to go home. She told me that the Gestapo was waiting. They wanted me, because as a child, they knew it would be easy to make me speak. They waited at the house a long time for anyone that might show up. My family had expected that something like this could happen, so there were plans. I was to go to Paris in the event of this, where somebody from the organization would be waiting for me. When I arrived, there was nobody. That person had been arrested also. I didn't know what to do. However, I was lucky because at the time there were men helping with the luggage in the stations. One of them approached me after seeing I was alone on the platform. I explained the situation and it turned out this man was from the same village. He took care of me for a while.

    Three months later, my parents were sent to a camp. Our mother in one, our father in another. Everyone separated.

    I had several addresses where I could go, but I never stayed long. There was one place I stayed for three days and the Gestapo arrived the day after. I had to keep moving. The last people I stayed with were prostitutes in Montmartre, who were very nice to me, because some people didn't want me in their house - it was too dangerous. But the prostitutes kept me safe. Eventually, I was able to return to my grandmother's house, where my brother was, because the Gestapo had ceased to be interested in me.

    I was with her on D-Day. We used to listen to the British radio and that's how we knew the landing had taken place. There was mainly hope, the end of the nightmare. The possibility to see my parents again.

    When the war ended, the hope was in the Americans. As a child, I couldn't think of what would happen after. I thought only about seeing my parents, my mother. Most people didn't know what the concentration camps were. We thought they were like factories where people were sent to work. The horror was unimaginable at the time. One of my uncles was killed there. My father and another uncle managed to return. While my mother was in a camp, she was sold to a laboratory for experiments. 98% of these women were killed. But she came back, though in a bad state. The doctors said it would good for her when she got better, that she should have another child, it would be good for her. She died five months after my sister was born, at 41 years of age.

    Later, I ended up taking lessons through correspondence, studying forestry. I spent my time in the forest with animals, as my father had done. I currently belong to the Franco-American Association, with responsibilities to this area. I have a medal that was presented to me by General Eisenhower.

  • Marko Vruhnec,
    Ljubljana, SloveniaMORE...

    My name is Marko Vruhnec and I was born on June 9, 1922. Following the First World War, my parents lived in Ljubljana. Later they moved to Belgrade, in Serbia, where I spent my early childhood until I was nine years old. I learned French there. We moved back to Slovenia and my father became the director of a coal mine. Our family was well-off and we were very happy.

    In 1940, the Italians occupied the territory, after that the Germans and Hungarians arrived. In 1941, the war divided our family. My father was sentenced to thirty years in prison and they confiscated our home. My mother was sent to a concentration camp in Germany. On July 14, 1941, I had to go to Italy where I was imprisoned. I was released and soon after I joined the Slovenian partisans.

    It's difficult to think of specific memories from the war. What I remember is that there was a huge difference between the warm and happy home I'd grown up in and the rain and fog and winter that came as a result of the fighting. My father managed to escape from prison. He also joined the partisans and we were reunited on January 1, 1945. My sister was also an activist. We were together until the capitulation of Rome, which was where we lived at the time.

    I was injured in the second half of April, 1945. It was a complete miracle that I survived. I couldn't walk. But I believed that everything would end and I would be okay. I remember the bright moment when I returned to Ljubljana, and everything had been worth it. The fighting. Everything was waiting to begin again. The Germans and Italians had already left Slovenia. I searched for my sweetheart and found her, immediately we wanted to get married. On July 12, 1945 we did just that. We had known each other since we were seventeen. She had also been imprisoned and tortured.

    I had wondered whether my mother would return from the camp. I learned five days before the war officially ended that my sister had been killed. On one hand, there was a feeling of euphoria of the war being one. On the other, it was an emotional, heavy time for us.

    Everything in Yugoslavia was in ruins and there weren't enough supplies. But it was rebuilt and became one of the best places to live in the world. Because of Tito, I think. He was very popular. He was the President of the Non-Aligned Movement. I worked in his cabinet as a leader. Because I had worked with Intertrade, I had fifteen years of experience and he saw potential in me. I was his economic advisor. I did this for three years. I also earned a doctorate in law. I was a professor at two major universities in Slovenia, where I taught world trade and economics.

    The world has changed since then. We have new centers of power. From technology to economy and so on. I'm not trying to be too romantic about history, because it won't repeat itself and it shouldn't. It's normal that everything transforms.

  • Endre Mordenyi,
    Szekesfehervar, HungaryMORE...

    My name is Endre Mordenyi, and I was born on June 10, 1930 in Godollo, a town situated in Pest County, Hungary. I belonged to a traditional military family. My father also served as an army officer and moved to Godollo after the First World War. I believe that I had the innate qualities of a soldier as I have always observed a military environment in my home. When the war began in 1939, I was very young. I applied for the military school in 1940, but I did not get selected because of my poor health. In 1944, I applied again and got admitted to the Gabor Aron Artillery School. The school was located in Romania, but the Soviets invaded the Romanian front in the fall of 1944. Therefore, the Romanian Army capitulated and the school was moved to Sopron, Hungary. Later, when the Hungarian government escaped from Budapest, they moved to the same building where the academy was, so the school was moved again to Sumeg, a town located on the north of Lake Balaton in Hungary.

    I attended my first training session for four months in Hungary. During the training period, we did not encounter any fighting, although a little accident happened on the railway lines and a few soldiers were injured. But thank God nobody died! After the training, we went to Bretzenheim in Germany that was a few kilometers away from our training camp. However, on the way there American soldiers captured us and took us to a camp in Tirschenreuth, Germany. At first, I was afraid that I was in the custody of the Soviet Army but quickly realized that it was the Americans. The U.S. forces were just closing and vacating this German town. Initially, there were not many prisoners, but as soon as the war started to end, the U.S. forces brought more and more captives every day. There was not enough space for more prisoners in the camps, so the American soldiers placed us all in a field where we used to spend our whole day on our knees with limited food.

    We spent two weeks in that field and there was almost no food, so every morning when we woke up, there were five to eight dead prisoners in the field. We were kept without food one time for four consecutive days. At first, there were American soldiers guarding us, but they soon left and the French Army replaced them. The area was about the size of a European football stadium, and there were 50 such fields next to each other, which were all fenced by the barbed wire. The prisoners were not supposed to cross the three-meter zone near the wire. One night, we were sleeping close to the boundary when we heard the guards shouting and there was a flash of light. We saw a German prisoner trying to escape through the barbed wire, but the French soldiers shot him dead. After that incident, the guards used to fire shots every now and then as a warning sign for the remaining prisoners to stay in their place. We were really very scared of the French guards as the American soldiers were much better trained. I remember once a few prisoners tried to escape but the American guards shot directly at their feet so that they couldn't run. The American soldiers were more capable than the French soldiers and they abstained from killing the prisoners.

    After a few months, we were transported to France and while we were walking through a town there with a group of prisoners accompanied by soldiers, the French people started throwing tomatoes and stones at us. There were no fatalities, but a few prisoners got injured. I also got wounded by a stone on my head, but it wasn't too serious. When we got captured I was just a student of the military academy and not a soldier because I wasn't even 18 years old. However, I was wearing the wrong uniform and the symbols on it reflected that I belonged to the group of officers. The officers were separated in this camp from the soldiers, and the supply of food was a little bit better for them as compared to the other camps. And because of this uniform mix-up, I ended up in the camp with the officers.

    In July and August, a few human rights organizations stepped up and started a dialogue with the government for the release of prisoners of war. There were all kinds of prisoners including Germans, Russians, Hungarians and Hungarian Germans. The Russians did not want to go back to their country as they were captured by the French soldiers when they were fighting alongside the Germans. Which meant they would be executed or sent to another camp if they went back to the Soviet Union. In the end of October 1945, we were again transported to another camp. While we were travelling in the train, I was sitting near the door of the wagon that was carrying approximately 60 prisoners. Another train crossed us carrying French people, and when that train was passing, the driver threw a big piece of coal towards us that hit my leg and I got injured. Probably, the driver of the other train recognized us as German soldiers and saw our uniforms.

    During that time, I was pushed around eight different camps in Germany and France including Tirschenreuth, Kulmbach, Wurtzburg , Bajreuth, Bad-Kreutznach (now Bretzenheim), Voves, Foucarville, Cherbourg and lastly in Mailly de Camp. The Voves camp was near Paris, and it was the central camp for French Foreign Legion recruitment. In this camp, a French officer came to us once and started selecting a few prisoners to organize another foreign legion. He selected six prisoners, including me, to form this legion, and after a while two people from this group were selected to receive a Medal of Honour in France. And two others were selected to come back to Hungary and later participated in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. I was among those two people.

    I came back to Kaposvar, Hungary, where I signed the papers of my release. I returned to our home in Godollo where I found my mother and our house completely destroyed after the bombings. There were no windows or doors left in my home and it was only a structure of bombed-out walls. I came to know that my brother and father also got captured. My mother didn't know anything about them, but she got a letter in 1947 that they are being held somewhere in Russia. My brother was released later that year in July and my father came back to Hungary only in 1951.

    I finished my school, and in 1950 I enlisted in the army again. I joined the army as a private and was promoted to a lieutenant after three years. Later, I enrolled myself in the reserve and began my training at the machinery technical school to get a job. In 1956, I got an invitation from the army to rejoin as it was the beginning of the Hungarian Revolution. In a few days I was made the leader of the National Guards of Godollo. There were hundreds of guards, as there were around 35 Russian tanks in the city. On November 4, 1956, I went to the nearby barracks to get some 300 machine guns for the guards. But the officers in the camps disappeared by noon and later by 10 pm all the soldiers capitulated to the Soviets.

    However, we got lucky as we didn't kill anyone during the revolution. But we were called several times to the police station for further investigations afterwards. I did not have any alibi, so I was punished and got demoted to the rank of a private again. Having that on my record made it almost impossible to get a job, but I got lucky again as a big factory opened not far from Godollo and they were in desperate need for workers. The factory was manufacturing washing machine motors and there were hundreds of people applying for jobs. I was a technician, so I easily landed a job there, and after just three months I was also awarded as the best employee. I worked in the factory for a few years and later moved to Budapest and got a job in a company that used to manufacture aluminum doors.

    In 1968, the same company transferred me to Szekesfehervar where they opened a new manufacturing plant. I stayed here and retired from work in 1979. I was still under surveillance for my active participation in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. In 1980, I started my own business for manufacturing aluminum windows and doors. I stayed in this business until the year 2000. I was working from dawn till night. I also had two kids, but they couldn't be a part of this family business because of a funny story. Well, funny in a way.

    In 2000, I had a heart attack and I was admitted to the hospital. But I escaped the very next day and sold my business that very same day as my cardiac arrest was caused by a lot of stress. From then onwards, I believe I have a healthy heart condition. Now I am helping veterans and their families in Szekesfehervar County, with the help of my wife. I am working as the editor of a website and we are working with several partner organizations including the HOHE center of Budapest, Armed Forces and Society Circle of Friends Szekesfehervar Organization, Wathay Fraternal Association and a few others. We conduct regular general meetings of the county's membership organizations to improve our service toward veterans and their families.

  • Nicola Struzzi,
    Rome, ItalyMORE...

    I was born in San Lorenzo on February 11, 1923. My father used to work in a public transport company in Rome. I had two brothers and one of them went to volunteer for the Italian navy, when I was very young. I started studying at the age of 6, but at 9 I stopped going to school because of I was discriminated by the kids from more affluent families. I started working at the age of 12 as an assistant in a metal store, where they used to deliver drain covers. They provided me a manual trolley on which I started delivering drain covers. Once I was taking the trolley and a heavy metal cover caused a misbalance as it moved down and the trolley moved up and as a result of which I was flying in the air holding the handle of the trolley. The people walking around helped me to get back to the ground.

    When I turned 17, I started working for a transportation company like my father.

    In 1940, I was working as a ticket collector for a local tram. During that time, I could easily spot the difference in the society as it was divided up on two levels. One level belonged to the upper class consisting of white collar people and the other was the working class. The white collar used to go to the events where Mussolini was directly addressing the people. One time I was on a tram, which was driven by a very old driver who was quite slow and there was a big queue of people waiting at the bus stop. One of the people waiting at the stop was dressed in a fascist uniform in whole regalia - with all the symbols and everything, the other people were Italian civilians. Accidentally, I closed the door when this person was entering the bus and his hat got smashed by the door. This guy called the concerned authorities and also wrote to my boss, which generated a lot of problems.

    In 1942, I was called by the state to join as a soldier but there wasn't much work so I signed up as a parachutist in Rome. I attended a few months of parachute training in L'Aquila. From there, we were moved by a train to Sciacca where an aircraft was ready to take us to the war zone in Tunisia. However, our aircraft came under attack when we were just about to reach Tunisia. We were lucky that our aircraft survived as all the other planes caught fire and got destroyed. After crash-landing in Tunisia, we were moved close to a place called Sfax, with the Italian army. We had been resisting the continuous bombing for 13 days but eventually we surrendered. We were captured by the Allied soldiers when all the Italian armed forces surrendered. There were about 35,000 Italian and German soldiers in a queue who were all divided into different groups to be taken to the American, British and French prisoner camps. All the Italian soldiers were hoping to be moved into the American camp. Unfortunately, I was moved with the French who were little upset with the Italians at that time. They painted a red square on the backs of Italian people to identify us in the French camp. Before getting to the camp, all the captured Italian soldiers from my group including myself had to walk for about a thousand of kilometers from Tunisia to Algeria. Later, some of us were transported to a camp in Casablanca. During the imprisonment in Casablanca, I was selected to work at a pork producing farm near Algerian border. I knew nothing about the nature of work at the farm, but I watched a documentary on pork production and I knew a few kinds of pork. It helped me in correctly guessing the different kinds of pork at that farm, which helped me in getting selected for work.

    However, I escaped from Casablanca trying to find a camp managed by the Americans. I succeeded in finding an American camp, but they already had too many people so they moved me back to the French camp. I again managed to escape from the French camp in an ambulance with 3 other POWs and reached the Casablanca Hospital. From there, I went to another American camp located near the Casablanca airport from where many American soldiers were flying to Italy. I also tried to escape from this American camp with the help of Italian personnel, who were collaborating with the American soldiers. I managed to hide in a plane that was scheduled for taking air mail to Italy and I waited for so long inside, but it didn't fly. Therefore, I came out of the plane but I got caught by the American soldiers and they moved me to another POW camp again. I was tortured at this camp with electric shock. Later, I was again moved to the French camp in Casablanca. I got another chance to escape from this French camp and go to the American camp. The first thing I did after reaching the American camp was to take a shower. It was very nice as we could have four meals a day and take showers any time of the day. Comparing to any other camp that one was a vacation. This camp was so good for all the Italians and nobody wanted to leave it. There was a swimming pool and we could also play baseball but staying there was quite risky for me because there were already too many people and they were trying to get rid of the extra people. My fears came true and I was again moved from the American camp to a French one located near the Casablanca port. However, this time I was dressed as an American POW as I borrowed the uniform from my last camp. All I remember is that I have been always escaping from one camp to another during the war. Anyway, there was an American freighter, Isonzo, loading at the port and I tried to flee again by hiding under a chair on the ship. I believed that I was alone but there were 24 other Italians escaping from the French camp. There were American soldiers as well as Italian workers on the ship and one of the Italian workers helped us avoid the search. I was still worried as one Italian prisoner told me that he had tried escaping on the ship before, but the authorities at Nador port sent him back to Casablanca. However, the person who helped us to hide on the ship also helped us to get to a safe place after landing. We found a man travelling to Rome, who demanded a huge fare from us and we assured him that after reaching Rome our families would pay him. Therefore, he took us to Rome. When I arrived in Rome, I found a newspaper with my photograph on it that had a caption "Missing person from war." I was absolutely astonished to see it, as it meant that my family didn't give up the hope and was looking for me.

    After the war, I started working with the ATAC public transportation company in Rome and later got married. I was financially stable and we were able to buy a beach house where we used to spend most of the time in summer. I have two sons and three grandchildren.

  • Uli John,
    Freudenstadt, GermanyMORE...

    I am Uli John. I was born on October 22, 1922, in southwest Germany. I had a peaceful childhood. I had a lot of fun around the village, with the boys and girls there. I lived on a farm. I loved the farmer's work. Sometimes my father hit me for getting in trouble.

    In 1940 I finished high school. Then I was a volunteer for the army. I was sent to Czechoslovakia for training, then to Poland. I was stationed in these places in the war: 1941, Poland. 1942, I was in the Russian campaign, where I became ill, and was sent back to Germany on recreational leave. I attended an officer school in Berlin. In 1943, I went to France. In 1944, to Italy to the front against the Americans, in the fight for Rome. In the end of that year, I went to Belgium for the Ardennes offensive and on December 31, I lost my left arm.

    I got a letter: You must become a member of NSDAP, of the party. I wrote a letter to my brother, who was also an officer in the war. He wrote me back: Do not become a member of NSDAP, because we don't know how the war will end. This was the same year.

    There was an order from the highest levels of the army, from maybe Hitler himself. It said that all the injured should be amputated, people with legs injured, arms injured, because it would be faster than being treated in a hospital, so that the wounded could rejoin the fight. So four weeks later, amputees would be at the front again. After an operation in 1945, I went back to Germany to the final fight against the Americans.

    The soldiers on the front lines had no idea what was happening at home. We were told that we weren't going to war against America, or against France. We were going to rescue the homeland. This was told to soldiers across the fronts. Because soldiers were often apolitical. Perhaps many of us were of good intention, doing wrong things.

    I remember once, on Christmas Eve, in Russia, the soldiers were throwing presents they'd gotten from home to each other, across the lines. There was still gunfire, but it all went high, for show. The packages were full of sweets or cakes, small things sent over. Cigarettes, perhaps. A symbol for the holiday.

    The last year of the war was a real mess. I was an officer, commanding my unit, and I did something forbidden: I dissolved it. I wrote everyone passes, for groups of two or three people, one weapon between them, so that they could get home. I could have been shot for this, but I did it because the war was ending and I felt they needed to get home. Everyone made it back. I traveled with a bicycle and on foot from a French zone, which became an American zone at the end of the war. Not far from Bavaria.
    The village I returned to was occupied by the French first, then by Americans. I had learned to speak French in school, so I was able to communicate. The mayor of my village had been imprisoned, he was a Nazi.

    Before the war began, I had wanted to study French. But the year after the war, I studied forestry. They told me I couldn't do it because I only had one arm. But I worked a year in the forest to show that I could, then I was accepted and began my studies in Freiburg and Breiscau. I started my career as a woodsman, cutting down trees. I later became a teacher in the forestry school. I taught about construction of forest territories, hunting, shooting, sports, horn blowing, etc.

    I was married in 1956. We had three children, all boys.

    We established many contacts in foreign countries, to France and Russia, the United States, other veterans of war, some through family members and forestry colleagues. I made some friends of former enemies. People who fought in the war and know what war really means.

  • Alfred Martin,
    Belfast, Northern IrelandMORE...

    My name is Alfred Martin, and I was born in Finaghy, near Belfast, on March 26, 1920. I was educated at the local primary school and then I went to secondary school in Lisburn. I passed my senior certificate in 1936. At that time, the world was in chaos in Northern Ireland and in Britain because of the King Edward VIII abdication crisis, as well as of Hitler and Mussolini's desire to take over Europe. There was a lot of publicity and pressure from the government to increase the strength of the forces. In 1938, at the time of the Munich Agreement, I made an application to join the Royal Air Force to fly on weekends. I signed up and went home that evening, but my mother indicated the dangers of flying and suggested I cancel it. Therefore I went the next day and cancelled my joining notice.

    In January 1939, things were still heading towards the war and I felt very nationalistic, so I joined the Territorial Army Royal Engineers. I was in the Territorial unit where we were paid 5 pounds a year as a bounty, which is roughly equal to a hundred today. The officer in charge was Maynard Sinclair, who later became the Minister of Finance in Northern Ireland. I was in the camp in June 1939, but after that I continued my civilian job at an insurance company. I was away for company business when I received the telegram from my office on August 28, 1939, to immediately report to the TA. Thus I took a bus and travelled to Kilroot, which is beyond Carrickfergus, from where I walked down to the camp.

    On the following Sunday on September 3, 1939, we were all on Church Parade for the first time at the camp. I spent a total of 20 months with the Royal Engineers and our duties were looking after search lights, which were protecting the land against intruders. We had nothing to do with aircraft as we were strictly handling the search lights to identify enemy ships. We performed our duty at Helen's Bay at Grey Point and then also at Kilroot. Later in 1940, we looked after the search lights in Magilligan. We all enjoyed our time at Magilligan and it seemed like a summer camp, as it was summer and there were beautiful beaches everywhere. There were about 20 of us just looking after ourselves. I returned back to Grey Point, and in April 1941 I read on the notice board that the Royal Air Force was looking for volunteers for an aircrew. I applied along with everyone in the camp because we were tired of doing very little. I was selected for the interview along with three others. However, I was told that I would do better as an observer instead of being a pilot. The observer helps with the navigation. The role of a navigator was becoming increasingly important because of the lack of navigation aids within the continent. I agreed, but later on I wished I had asked them to take me as a pilot. I would have liked to be a pilot as I had a car when I was very young. Although my parents never had a car, so I think I was mechanical minded in many ways.

    I was called up in May 1941, and the first place was Shakespeare County where we stayed at the Shakespeare Hotel for six weeks. Later, we stayed at the Grand Hotel in Scarborough doing our initial training. From there, we found ourselves all aboard to Canada. At least we thought we were going to Canada, but we ended up being dropped off at Iceland. We spent 16 days in Iceland, it was summer and we enjoyed swimming in a hot water pool, which was very lovely. Suddenly we were told to return to Reykjavik (the capital of Iceland), and we were put on board the HMS Wolfe (formerly known as the Canadian Pacific Liner). So back we went towards Belfast and then towards Halifax, Canada. I was then stationed at Prince Edward Island for like five months doing the navigation training all over the area. At Christmas 1941, we were declared okay as navigators and we were then sent to Picton, Ontario. It was January and it was really cold, which made it difficult standing up and firing machine guns, but we got through another three or four weeks before we were declared okay for bombing and gunnery. We also had a wings parade where we were all promoted to sergeant and then sent to Boston. On return, I found out that I and five others have been commissioned, so that was a change of uniform. This ended our training in Canada and we returned back to the UK, to Liverpool. From there, we went to various camps including Harrogate and Oxford.

    I remember one incident where we were flying back to Oxford from Scotland at nighttime and we landed poorly somewhere in the middle of the night. I remember myself climbing out of the wing and on to a tree. I also remember hearing the rescue people looking for us and shouting, "We will find you." And they did find us. We were then put on medical beds. The next morning when we woke up they put us on a train back to Oxford. Our survival of the crash was due to the fact that our landing speed was only 68 knots, which was very slow, and I think that saved our lives. The only person injured that night was our pilot, who broke his wrist and was sent to the hospital. And we never saw him again.

    Later in September 1942, we did our first two raids on Hamburg and Dusseldorf. After that, the men of our crew were posted to Pocklington, and that was my station for nine months. That is, from September 1942 to April 1943. I did a number of operations there involving navigating bombing on targets. My role was to assist the navigator as much as possible in helping the pilot target the enemy and press the button to drop the bombs. There were all sorts of fires burning on the ground and we did not have modern navigation aids at that time. Once we also got hit with machine gun fire on our way back, but the pilot managed. A few minutes later, the pilot came and said that our engine was on fire. I was beyond the escape hatch on the aircraft, and when they lifted up the escape hatch we started dropping down through the hole. Unfortunately due to the heavy wind, I had to disconnect my intercom. I had my parachute on my chest when I jumped from the edge of the door. It was five past four in the morning and I was able to see my watch, but I did not know where I was heading. After dropping out, I saw the tail of the aircraft pass over my head and I pulled the ripcord and it opened beautifully. I was drifting down at a very low level (I reckoned at about 5000 feet) and I thought it was very risky for the rest of the crew. Suddenly, the ground hit me and I rolled over on my back. I stood up immediately and looked for a place to hide the parachute. I started walking towards the southern side, although I wanted to go west. But I had an idea that the aircraft landed west, so it wasn't a good idea to walk towards it.

    I walked all morning through the fields and I didn't see people. By the time I made it through morning, my feet were soaked in heavy dew. I had to hide in the daytime to avoid people. So I hid between two hedges and sort of slept. Around one p.m. I heard some noise that I couldn't identify and all of a sudden a cow appeared. A little boy was riding the cow, who stopped as I stood up. He looked at me up and down and then he stood back and saluted me. He went off but it boosted my morale. I finally had to find a place to sleep through the night as I was tired and miserable. I found a shed and I lay down there while trying to get some sleep, but I had to get up every few minutes to keep myself warm by doing some exercise. It was the night of April 17, 1943, and it was a Sunday.

    The morning came and I moved on again while trying to look into some farmhouses there for help, but at the same time making sure that they had no phone connections. Finally, I was given a map and told to look for a train. I walked all evening until I got to a very small village and I did not know what to do next. There were some men, but they didn't pay attention, so I just kept walking alongside the road. Later, I saw a lady to whom I said, "Could you help me?" The lady seemed frightened, but I managed to gain her confidence and she led me up to the road. It was just getting dark (about nine o'clock), but she took me to a farm house and knocked at the door. It was opened and I was taken in, but I was told that I could stay the night. Eventually I stayed there for about six weeks.

    There were notices that the people who were helping us would be shot, but I spent six weeks there with the farmer. I had to dye my hair and whenever there was a search, they used to hide me under the straw in the barn. One evening, a couple came and took me away to the railway station where we had to wait several hours for the train to Arras. I spent about five or six days at the check post at Arras. We were then led to the train station again by walking, where we took a train to Paris, and there were people in Paris waiting for us. They took us to a safe house and two of us got to renew our cards, photographs and identity cards.

    I spent about five days there, and then we got a new guide who took us to the railway station for a train to Bordeaux. When we reached the station there were several men standing in a group, and I looked up and one of them was my pilot. It was quiet emotional as we both walked toward each other and patted each other's back. I also came to know about the other crew members. Two members were able to return to the UK (one was the navigator and the other was the wireless operator), two were taken prisoner and one other was killed.

    Anyway, we were taken on the train overnight to Bordeaux and from there we were again taken by train to Dax and later to the Spanish border. We spent a couple of days in a safe house. Later, we were taken to meet a smuggler who used to take people over the border. We were taken through the River Bidasoa to South Sebastian to a safe house where we spent about five days. We then drove to Madrid where we spent a few days in the Embassy, and there we were able to send letters to our parents for the first time. Later, we were sent to Bristol on an aircraft from the air force base across the border, and we arrived in Bristol on June 20, 1943. From there it was a trip all the way home to our air force station.

    In February 1944, I completed the staff navigator course and became the instructor for staff navigator courses. The students were very lively and it was quiet fun. I was sent back to England in October 1945, and stayed there for a couple of months before I was discharged. Later, I returned to Belfast and took up the civilian job that I had in the insurance industry. I stayed there for over a year and I considered moving to Canada where I spent several months looking for a job.

    Finally, I ended up joining Northern Insurance Company in Canada. And when I resigned, I was the deputy manager for Ontario. I stayed for about 21 years in Canada. In 1952, I proposed to my wife who I met back at home in 1943. We got married in December 1953 in Toronto. We had our honeymoon in New York. However, she was eager to return, and then I decided to also return and have my own business back at home. My hobbies now include playing golf, gardening and being connected with the armed forces. I am also Vice President of the local Royal Engineers Association and I am president of the Aircrew Association Northern Ireland branch.

  • Alistair Cormack,
    Aberdeen, ScotlandMORE...

    My name is Alistair Cormack. I was born on the 2nd of March, 1921. My parents had a hair saloon, and they were both hairdressers. When my father died I was only eleven years old, so it was very difficult growing up until I joined the RAF in 1940. The war had begun already in 1939, but I was part of a new regiment of defense for aerial fair fields. We all had wanted to join the Scottish regiment but since we weren't allowed to do that we had to make our own way. So I volunteered for the RAF, one of two other highland divisions. I went to Blackpool for training and progressed from there. I was made a corporal a couple of years after and then a sergeant following that. I first got my training on aircraft guns; all sorts of different ones like Brownings. I even finished training on charging up a Borfor 40 mm gun and taking down an aircraft - enemy of course. So when I went into action, real action, I landed in Normandy and fought there for about three months, from June to about August.

    When the war had first started I was attending a cycling event. I was a member of the cycling club and we would always compete on Sundays. We had just finished a race that day when it was announced that Chamberlain had been in Germany. He was there for some sort of peacemaking, or whatever you may call it, and that was when the war was declared. So we left Aberdeen to go to Blackpool for training. We were all spread out between villages, houses, and small hotels. We were there for about three weeks and we did all of our training on the promenade. It was basic training, marching up and down, training on different weapons, and this sort of thing. That was the whole purpose of the training, nothing very serious at that point until RAF regiments were formed.

    Our RAF regiments were formed when Churchill suggested that Britain have a defense of its own and leave professional soldiers to do the job that they were employed for, rather than hang around the air force. So there were a whole lot of regiments made up, and each squadron had 180 members as far as I can recollect. They compiled these regiments with what you could call volunteers. "You, you, and you" they'd say, until 180 of us were picked. We were allocated to an airfield in Mid England near Nottingham. We took various training courses like commando, jumping off of boats, and that sort of thing. It was always leading to something that would be useful when we went into action.

    During the evacuation at Dunkirk a lot of soldiers lost their lives. There were actually fleets that saved a lot of lives though; they were small sailing crafts leaving from the South of England. They came and rescued them. So after this a rumor started that the Germans would move over the tunnel and invade Britain. The rumors never materialized, but we still made preparations to return to France.

    We had a lot of false alarms before we actually went into action in Normandy. Everything was done under a certain amount of secrecy. You didn't know everything that was going on until you learned it was real and near. We knew something was going to happen, but nobody knew exactly what. We soon discovered that we would be leaving soon. We didn't know which exact day; some thought it to be the 5th while others thought it to be the 6th. So when we left Southampton we left in a tunnel of convoy vessels all the way to Normandy, and we came into contact with E-boats from Germany. We bombed a couple of their boats and a couple of their aircraft. And they sunk one of ours. We had three different crafts: 45, 46 and 47. I think it was number 46 that was sunk. The LCT that I was on was bombed, destroying our landing gear for the ramps. So when we first got close to the beaches we didn't go right in because we couldn't. We had to go through maybe two feet of seaweed to make our way onto the beach. All of the landings were prepared for water so they had to be dismantled on shore. Our engines were sealed off also as a temporary measure until we were on shore. A few of our members were killed. There were more that lost their lives as well, all buried at sea. I hear there was a memorial service for them. One of my colleagues I kept in touch with from England told me about it.

    After Normandy we went up into Belgium, then Holland, and then finally to a place called Eindhoven. We were based there until the war ended. In Eindhoven we were defending an airfield once when a supplies raid was made. Our gun placement was credited for taking one of the two aircrafts down. Unfortunately, one of our chaps was killed in the raid. There was quite a few others killed along the airfields but only one in our particular squad. But that's how it all finished off. The war was finished. I forgot the actual date of termination, but there was a lot of celebration during that time.

  • Dutch Holland,
    Ottawa, CanadaMORE...

    My name is Harold Edward Holland. I was born on August 31, 1922, in West Kildonan, in northwest Winnipeg. I was from a family of fourteen children: six boys and eight girls. As far back as I can remember, we spent our summer holidays on a farm in Saltcoats. It's in Saskatchewan, near Yorkton, which you've probably heard of. I went to standard public schools in Winnipeg, and college much later in British Columbia, where I earned a degree in mechanical and aeronautical engineering.

    When I heard that the war had broken out, I was working as an apprentice at the CNR in Winnipeg. I knew I was the exact age for joining up, and I knew I was going to be conscripted, so I went and joined right away voluntarily. I didn't know what was going to happen, but I did what I needed to do. It was just around my 18th birthday in 1940.

    I knew I wanted to be a pilot, but during my medical examination I could not cross my eyes, so they told me I could never be in the aircrew. You can't have depth perception if you can't cross your eyes, and as a fighter pilot you have to have pretty good eyes. So they sent me to do guard duty. And guess what? During my guard duty that summer I attached a bayonet to my rifle and spent hours putting it up to my eyes. By the time I finished guard duty two months later, I could cross my eyes as well as anyone. That allowed me to become aircrew, so I continued my training and became a pilot.

    I stayed in Canada, on the west coast, for about a year, continued my training while defending the country in case of a Japanese attack. But the Japanese never came, so I was sent to England. My time was easy there. I did nothing but chase girls. They were expecting a German invasion at that time, and I sat on guard duty, waiting. The Germans never attacked, so I was then posted to Burma. My commanding officer called me and told me, "You're going to Asia. Burma." I didn't know where it was, but I thought it was a great idea. We travelled southward from England, all around Africa by boat and landed in India. I reported in and was sent onward to Burma, where I stayed for six months doing fighter pilot courses.

    It was an interesting experience arriving there, because I had to cross a body of water to get into Burma and then I was supposed to take a train. When I arrived at the railway station, it was just getting dark, and someone was supposed to meet me. I sat at that railway station by myself all night, listening to the tigers and lions howling nearby. It was frightening, but at 8 o'clock the next morning someone came to pick me up and took me to the base. I ended up at a training camp with four other people also just coming into Burma. We did exercises flying the Hurricane fighters that would be used in operations. I was there for about six months or so before, with the luck of the draw, I was posted to the RAF Number 11 squadron. When I arrived, I reported to the squadron commander's tent and introduced myself as Harold Holland. The commanding officer said, "I have never known a Holland that wasn't called Dutch. Your name is Dutch." That was a long time ago, but I've been Dutch ever since.

    The first night I arrived at the squadron I had one of the best dinners I ever had during the war. Someone, a New Zealander, had gone out with his rifle and brought back a couple of dozen ducks. I think they were farmer's ducks, but we had a great dinner - the best during the war. From there on in, the food was lousy. But we ate better than the Japanese. They ate us, I was told. We were given poison to keep in case we were ever caught. I almost got captured by them once and I remember thinking, "Oh God, I don't want to be a prisoner of war." But fortunately, I got out of that situation.

    I spent the next three years initially training with Hurricanes, then fighting the Japanese on the Burma front. I was flying once when my engine failed. I was about a hundred miles into the enemy territory when I saw my instruments indicate that the engine was starting to fail. So I flew a hundred miles back toward our lines. I didn't have many options on where to land. I was going to land in a lake that I saw, even though I had never learned to swim. I would have drowned landing if it hadn't been for a voice on the radio. Someone directed me to fly up a bit higher, over some trees, until I saw a swamp. With wheels retracted, I landed right at its edge. It was a frightening experience, but I got out of it without a scratch. I never found out who it was on the radio that told me where to land.

    For two days and one night, I ran like hell from the Japanese. I was near the British lines and several British soldiers from Nepal, the Gurkhas, helped me back to their camp. I had gone two days without any food before arriving there. It was just after supper, around 9 o'clock. I went straight for the kitchen and found the cook. I think I slept for about two days after that. But I survived it and then returned to my squadron, hitchhiking back. It was a hell of a long way, but I eventually got back.

    I remember one mission, when we were flying very low, about 500 feet, when one of my boys suddenly said, "Oh, I see a target!" And immediately he turned his craft over, stalling the airplane, and crashed, killing himself. That was a real shocker. I was leading this flight, leading him, and I didn't have a chance to say anything to him. That shook me quite a bit. It wasn't a valid target, but a derelict truck I had destroyed a few days before. I knew that as soon as I looked at it, but I didn't have a chance to tell him before he killed himself. He had been a good friend.

    I was near the British army another time, when we had to help them get supplies across a valley. They were stuck because at the both valley ends there were Japanese soldiers. They had guns and were shooting into the middle. In order to get the army through, I flew out from my squadron, into the middle of the valley and set myself up as a target. It was a foolish thing to do, but while I was out and they were firing at me, the remainder of the army were able to sneak through. I had to do this several times because even though I told my team what I was going to do, they began shouting, "They're shooting at you! Get out of there!" They were so intent on watching me instead of looking for the Japanese gunners on the ground, I had to repeat my action two or three times before everyone passed through safely. So, the British got through, and that's why I think I later got my Distinguished Flying Cross Medal.

    In March 1945, we stopped the Japanese who, up to that point, had been advancing. We avoided the need for a huge battle and started driving them back with our support in the air.

    Before the war was over, I was sent back to an army base in Vancouver to be demobilized. Once they discharged me, I went straight over to the University of British Columbia and signed up to become an engineer. I spent five years there and, one night, while on the bus heading home, I met my future wife. When I met her, I was still in uniform and I asked her for a date. We hit it off very well, and a year later we were married.

    Once the war ended in 1945, I re-joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) because they offered to pay for my university education. I was employed as both a pilot and engineer, managing the maintenance of the aircraft. In 1955, I was sent to England on a course for guided missiles. I was one of the first of people to get involved with this in Britain.

    After retiring from the RCAF, I got a government job and went back to Burma. Burma had tractors and other equipment for their timber operations, but they were rusting away. No one in Burma knew how to fix them, plus they didn't have the necessary parts for them. I was brought over with a bunch of maintenance people to get all of this equipment back on the road. I developed a complete scale of tooling for maintaining the vehicles. I spent about three years there, managing and training young engineers and mechanics before then going to Tanzania on another project. I taught and trained mechanics there too before I came back to Canada.

    I am now involved with adult day programs with other veterans. Until the end of last year I used to recite "A pilot's prayer" at military ceremonies. I had the whole prayer memorized and would recite it at annual gatherings such as the Battle of Britain parade. For a while, I was involved with the Air Force Museum. I also like to play golf ...when there is no snow.

  • JP Jayasekara,
    Kandy, Sri LankaMORE...

    My name is JP Jayasekara; I was born on the 21st of April in 1921 in Teldeniya, Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka back then was known as Ceylon, and we were a colony under the British Empire. After the outbreak of the Second World War so many British troops came and established their camps here. I joined the Civil Defense in 1941 once I finished school. At that time the purpose of the Civil Defense was to aid as a service for casualties, attending to victims of the war. And from there I joined the army - the Ceylon Signal Corps.

    When Hitler attacked Poland and the Japanese sunk two of Great Britain's most powerful battleships, the HMS Repulse and the HMS Prince of Wales near Singapore, Great Britain was quite shaken up. They appealed to all of the Commonwealth countries for help.

    Ceylon was a poor country with no money to give, but we were able to provide the men power. Forty thousand youth were recruited from Ceylon; some of them were sent to the Middle East, some to Singapore, some served in Burma, and others joined Ceylon's Naval reserve. Most of the men were still schoolboys at the time.

    On Easter Sunday, April 5, 1942, at 7am, we heard cricket noises. Or at least we thought they were crickets. They turned out to be gunshots. We all ran out of our barracks and saw Japanese planes coming at us. They were coming in groups of four, bombing and shooting at us. First people panicked, but then our artillery started working and we all scrambled into action. That was the day they attacked the Harbour of Colombo. The fighting went on for a couple of hours, and a lot of people died on both ends. It was a tragic day for Colombo and all of Ceylon. After that the capital became a dead city. All of the schools closed, and colleges moved inland. There was not even a place to have a cup of tea.

    After that I was reassigned to Trincomalee where I was still a part of the Ceylon Signal Corps. My job involved operating wireless radios and being responsible for communications between the navy and army bases. That was in 1943. During that time more and more British soldiers were coming and putting up bases all over the island and digging trenches - from Colombo to Trincomalee, from Trincomalee to Kandy; they were laying down underground cables for communication.

    At the same time the British established the South-East Asian command unit, and Lord Louis Mountbatten had arrived in Colombo. He was a member of the Royal family and was made the Supreme Elite Commander of South-East Asia. Recruitment centers were opening all over the place. Their advertisements said, 'Join the Army and see the World' to attract the youth.

    In March 1942 Sir Geoffrey Layton was summoned to overlook the Defense of the Civilians. There were a lot of things done to defend the civilians in case of any air raids. Underground shelters were built, fire brigades were organized, and many people were recruited for first aid purposes. Every time the Coast Guard would sight Japanese planes they would inform the Central Command and activate alarms. The marketing department was reorganized; food items were rationed and coupon books were issued to the people. Co-operative stores were also opened throughout the island where people drew their rations without any difficulty.

    'Looting is punishable by death'
    'Black marketers will be jailed'
    'Grow more food'
    'Growers are winners'

    These were some of the slogans written on parapet walls; they were better than the election posters of today.

    The British did a lot of things at that time and they looked after the affairs of civilians well. I was fulfilling my duties with the Signal Corps where we had a phone, radio, wireless, and pigeons. A lot of messages between stations were coded.

    For us, the remainder of the war went by quietly. There were a lot of foreign units brought from all over - American, British, Indian, South African, and Australian - that set up their camps on the island. There was one particularly interesting set of people, African Negroes, who had their mouths padlocked. They were man-eaters and the British would put locks on their mouths.

    The war ended with Japan unconditionally surrendering. When we heard the news we were of course all very happy. But details from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki all shocked us. It shocked the entire world.

    After the war ended, we had a lot of rolling stones. My family had a business, a bakery and a hotel, so I was lucky to have a job. Then I became interested in agriculture. I was always active in sports and still to this day take part in competitions in my age group. Look at all the medals. I was also involved in social services and in prevention of cruelty to animals. I also took part in some politics and was a village counselor for a while.

    I got married and had one daughter. My wife has passed away already. Now I have grandchildren so I stay active. I also wrote a book about the graves of the perished servicemen in Ceylon. I got the idea to do this because so many tourists come here to search for graves of their relatives but can't find any information. I did it for their benefit.

  • Surjan Singh,
    New Delhi, IndiaMORE...

    My name is Surjan Singh, and I was born on July 29, 1921 in Kharia, Delhi. I had a pretty good childhood. India didn't have a great education system, but I made the most of my formative years. I was a playful, energetic child, always interested in having fun in my village.

    When I reached 15, my family believed it was the time to begin working on the family farm. The fun of my childhood was over when I realized just how bad things truly were. The British were in control in India, and they were basically pillaging our land.

    So many people across India were forced to work in the agricultural industry, but eventually it got to the point where so many were doing this so that it was very hard to actually succeed. Besides that, there was mass malnourishment across India, and my family felt it as bad as everyone else. What little farmland we had, it wasn't producing enough to keep us properly fed.

    How would I survive if I was literally dying of hunger? So by the age of 18, I felt my best option was to volunteer for the Army. They paid 15 Rupees a month, which was vital income for my family. Additionally, I wanted to serve my country in this terrible conflict that was going on.

    Upon enlistment, I was sent to Madras for basic training. My memory is a bit hazy, but I can remember learning how to drive, how to conserve my body, and how to be an effective soldier overall. We used to run for kilometers at a time. In the military, I also became familiar with pistols, hand grenades, and rifles. By the time I had graduated basic training, I felt like I was suited for combat.

    We Indians were the lowest rank in the entire Allied Forces. Our entire command was British. They didn't even have the decency to learn our language, we had to learn theirs. We would be in the trucks, training, and they were saying, "go left, go right". As we had such a poor education system, we had no idea what they were saying sometimes, but we soon had to learn or risk catastrophe. A misunderstanding in a combat situation could be fatal.

    We got deployed to Burma first. Japan was a formidable enemy. We had tanks, machine guns, rifles, and even horses for combat. All of us were prepared for the worst, but it soon became apparent we weren't prepared for the Japanese tactics. The Japanese were waging aerial attacks against us, shooting and even throwing bombs out of planes. Our regiment spent most of the time hiding in the mountains and forests from overhead attacks. We had weapons that were capable of many things on the ground, but not in the air. So we couldn't even use them! What would a rifle or even a machine gun do against a plane?

    I can remember once, we were traveling through Burma and I was eating in the car. Our cars were relatively low quality. Instead of windows, we put up bamboo sticks to shield us. The car made a sharp turn and I was flung from the car like a cartoon character! It's funny in hindsight, but my fractured knees and one month stay in the hospital wasn't very funny.

    One story that's not funny at all is what happened to a gentleman from my village that was also in the war. He, along with a few other soldiers, was arrested by the Japanese, and kept as POWs for six years. Many in the village thought he was dead as there was no trace of him. He very nearly was, as he told us later Japanese were going to kill him. They had thousands of POWs, but after losing the war were in no condition to feed and maintain all of them. Their initial plan was to mass murder the Indians, but the revolutionary Subhas Chandra Bose's affiliation with Japan got him and the others spared. On his say, all Indian prisoners were released and sent back to India.

    In 1945, we heard the atomic bomb was dropped. As devastating as the effects were in Hiroshima, people a hundred kilometers away were also getting sick. Our commanders gave us masks, so we wouldn't be affected by the radiation. After we heard the news about Japan surrendering we were ecstatic. We all chanted, "We're saved!" and rejoiced in the possibilities of going back home. Not long after, we were sent back to India.

    Once I got back to India, I was faced with the same issues of my past. I wasn't educated, so I couldn't get a decent job. I went back to the family farm, and lived off my pension from the Indian Army.

    Soon, India was divided, and the Muslim portion of the country was renamed Pakistan. There was a lot of tension that grew into a conflict, so splitting the country was seen as the best alternative.

    After retiring from the Army, I married my wife Khajini Devi in the 1960s, and had four sons and one daughter. Today, I mostly spend my time relaxing with family. This life is much better now.

  • Ye Yuliang,
    Beijing, ChinaMORE...

    My name is Ye Yuliang. I was born in March 1922 in Beijing. My ancestral home is in Fuzhou city of Fujian province. My grandfather was a Jinshi in the former Qing Dynasty. Which meant that he was an advanced scholar who passed the triennial court exam, a very high honor. But after the Nationalists took power and Qing Dynasty collapsed my dad lost his job and the family moved to Beijing, where I was born and went to primary school and middle school.
    When the Marco Polo Bridge Incident happened on July 7, 1937, I happened to be on the way to Nanjing. I left Beijing on 6th of July and arrived in Nanjing on the 8th. I had an uncle there and we were afraid the war would come to Nanjing too, so together with the wife of my uncle, I fled to Fuzhou, my ancestral home.
    In Fuzhou, I continued to go to school. Back then, the Sino-Japanese war has already started. The leader of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-shek, announced that all Chinese men, no matter how old or young, living in North China or South China, must take part and fight the Japanese. I was too young to join the army still, but we had military training as part of the school program and propaganda lessons, where they would prepare us to fight the Japanese in the near future.
    I stayed in Fuzhou for one semester before I was able to get in touch with my family in Beijing, which was then called Beiping. They sent money to me and asked me to go back to Beiping. After I received the money I went to Tianjin first by ship and after that, I needed to take the train to Beiping. Back then Japanese Army already occupied Beiping and Tianjin and when I was trying to get on the train, it was very crowded so I clung to the door of the train. A Jap was trying to get on the train and I didn't make way for him. He gave me a hard kick and himeslf got on the train. I wanted to fight back but was stopped by a Chinese man that was standing near by, who told to me: "he is Japanese. He can kill you and receive no punishment. This is the world of Japanese now." So I endured this humiliation and had always borne grudge against the Japs since then.
    After I came back to Beiping, I continued my education. My classmates all hated the Japanese but didn't dare to talk about it in public. I had a relative who was a member of the underground resistance and it was basically a secret unofficial organization made out of volunteers for assassination of the Japanese and local traitors. As we talked a lot about anti-Japanese movement, he sensed strong sentiment in me and asked, "Would you dare to join the resistance?" I said, "I would." That's how it all started.
    The underground resistance started in Tianjin and our organization in Beiping originated from that movement in Tianjin. Originally, I was responsible for communication and investigation. Later, I took part in assassinations.
    After joining the organization, I had only one contact, Li Zhenying, who was the leader of Beiping underground. We called him the "principal". He was kind of my mentor, teaching me how to do investigations and gather information on collaborators. Later, he also taught me how to use weapons, bringing a real gun to teach me how to assemble and clean it, how to aim and shoot targets.
    My first assignment was to investigate the president of the chamber of commerce. Incidentally, his nephew was my classmate so used this connection to visit his place, and came to know how to get to his home, when he went to work and got off work. After I'd collected all the information, I passed it to Li Zhenying. Together with another killer, Li Zhenying planned the assassination and scheduled a day. On that day, when the chamber president drove away from his home, they shot at the car twice. However, when the news was published in a newspaper, we found out that the bullets missed him but hit his wife instead. We killed the wrong person.
    Another assassination was targeted at Shu Zhuanghuai in Beiping, who lived very near to me. He was the director for the department of public works. The responsibilities of this department included building barracks, trenches, etc. His daughter was my schoolmate in primary school. I was asked to find out where he lived. After my investigation, Li Zhenying brought another two killers to carry out the assassination. As soon as Shu Zhuanghuai came out of his car at the gate of his house, they shot him. The traitor was shot in his eye but wasn't killed at the scene. He died afterwards in the hospital.
    We also attempted to kill Yoshiko Kawashima and that was my first assassination assignment. It was on her birthday. Yoshiko Kawashima was a Japanese spy and a puppet of the Imperial government. Well, she was a Chinese princess but was brought up in Japan and was collaborating with them. Anyway, she was going to celebrate her birthday in Xinxin Grand Theatre. She booked all seats upstairs. Tickets for seats downstairs were still being sold. That day, Li Zhenying led me there to kill Yoshiko Kawashima. I followed Li Zhenying and we bought tickets in the front row, from where we could turn back and see what would happen upstairs. The opera that day was quite famous and was played by Yan Jupeng and his daughter. Yan Jupeng's daughter was Yan Huizhu. That was her first time on stage so there was a big buzz about this and many people in the audience.
    We waited. The opera had started but Yoshiko Kawashima hadn't arrived. Later, we heard some noises, turned back and saw her and her posse settling down. She was upstairs and sat in the middle. She was wearing men's clothes, a long gown and a Mandarin jacket, a pair of shades. We had to wait for a while, as it was too crowded. Then we heard some commotion again, turned back and realized that she was gone - went downstairs and left. We rushed outside, but she was already in her car driving away. We failed.
    On 7th of July 1940, the Japanese celebrated Third anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. They set up a stage at the Altar of Land and Grain in Zhongshan Park to make speeches and a lot of people went there to listen. The event was co-chaired by Wu Juchi and his Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Chen. Wu Juchi was the Editor-in-Chief of Xinmin Bao newspaper, which was an official newspaper for the Japanese puppet regime. And we decided to kill them.
    This assassination was very significant. Li Zhenying brought Feng Yunxiu, Liu Yongkang and me. We were in the crowd listening to the speech. When the speaker was condemning anti-Japanese armies and people, one of our guys was getting really worked up wanted to shoot him right on the stage. Li Zhenying quieted him down and said, "We can't take action here. There are too many people around and among them traitors, spies, special agents, policemen, and plain-clothed police... It's too dangerous to shoot here."
    Later, when the ceremony ended and the crowd was dispersing, we followed Wu Juchi and Chen. They went to a restaurant at Qianmenwai so we waited outside. After a while, Wu Juchi came out. Li Zhenying and Feng Yunxiu followed him outside to the South Xinhua Road. And all of a sudden, there was a funeral procession passing by, playing horns, gongs and drums. This was a perfect distraction and Feng Yunxiu rode his bicycle towards him and shot Wu Juchi in the head twice. He was instantly dead. Then they ran away. The policemen came immediately. The whole city was searching for the killer. Meanwhile I was still waiting for Chen with Liu Yongkang. Li Zhenying sent someone to inform us of the search and tell us to abort the mission. So we left and Chen was not killed. This assassination caused a great sensation and none of us got caught.
    Soon, we were planning another mission - to assassinate a newly appointed officer in the general office of construction, Yu Dachun. Liu Yongkang and I were assigned to execute the mission. Our investigator gave us his exact location at Fengsheng Hutong and the time he will be arriving. We were both on the bicycles, Liu Yongkang was in front and I was behind. Liu approached him first and shot him from behind. I was following and was supposed to make sure he's dead. But he wasn't - when I approached him he was laying down bleeding out, but still mumbling something. So I shot him. And I killed him.
    Immediately after this assassination, the military police launched a large-scale search. Liu Yongkang was arrested. As he had the list of members on him, our underground organization was almost fully exposed. All members were arrested, including our leader, Li Zhenying.
    When the Japanese military police came to my door to arrest me, my family had no idea I was part of the resistance. I hadn't told them. After the trial in the Japanese court, I received my sentence - life in prison.
    Then I was sent to a prison specially set up to hold anti-Japanese and resistance people, under the supervision of Japanese Army but administered by Chinese. It's called the First Prison for Asylum of Entrusted Prisoners. As the prison wasn't well armed like Japan's, to prevent us from running away, each of us had chains on our feet. We had to walk and sleep with those chains on, they never came off.
    In the beginning of my sentence the food wasn't bad. But around January 1942, after the Pearl Harbor Incident, Japan started war with US. They needed more food for soldiers. So at that time, outside of the prison, rice was for Japanese, while Chinese could only have wheat flour. In the prison, we didn't have wheat flour but ate steamed corn bread. Afterwards, we even ran out of corn flour and started to eat sorghum flour, bran and potatoes. Many prisoners died of malnutrition or hunger. I was luckier. As my family lived in Beiping so they could send food to me in the prison.
    Since I was sentenced for life, there was nothing for me to be afraid of... The Japanese translator came to talk with us on behalf of Japan and told me we shouldn't argue with the prison guards and fight against Japan. I told the translator, "You are wrong. You invaded our country, sent forces to China and transported resources back to your own country. You are invaders." We didn't reach any conclusion in the end. I remember, here was a Chinese guard beside us that said to me: "Are you crazy? If he came back and told others, you might be shot by them." I answered, "I'm not afraid of him. I'm not afraid of death now." However, nothing happened after that.
    The most difficult period in the prison was when I got ill. I was sick for 35 days. I got typhoid and had a severe fever. I recovered naturally after 35 days, but almost died. It was tough in prison. Food was getting worse,
    Finally, on 15th of August 1945, Japan surrendered unconditionally. After I knew China won the war I was so happy that I jumped up. We broke the chains on our feet, dashed outwards but were stopped by the guns of Japanese soldiers. So we came back and waited inside the prison. While we were waiting, we were treated better. People outside were sending food to us. We didn't have to eat bran or potatoes any more. We got better food, like steamed corn or millet bread. People from some patriotic organizations also sent some dishes to us. Some traitors also sent something in order to please us.
    On September 3, I was released. On 10th of October, the surrender ceremony in North China was held in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony of the Forbidden City. Commander Sun Lianzhong accepted the surrender of Nemoto Hiroshi, the Japanese commander in North China. I attended the ceremony and was sitting behind Sun Lianzhong.
    After being released, at first, I worked in the Beiping Guard for one year. Then I came back to Fuzhou, my ancestral home, and worked in the tax bureau for another year. After that, the finance ministry transferred me to the financial management bureau in Wuhan. When the communists occupied Wuhan, I didn't leave my position but was re-employed by the communists. All of us in the financial management bureau were transferred to a financial management department in the People's Bank for Middle and South China.
    When the communists started to suppress "anti-revolutionary", I was arrested to receive reformation through labor in March 1951. After completing the sentence imposed by the communists, which lasted 11 years, I could visit my families in Beijing every year but was not allowed to return back.
    In 1975, after the special amnesty, I came back to Beijing. Because when I was in the Japanese prison and when I was receiving this reformation through labor, I was manufacturing clothes, I got a position in a clothing factory in Beijing too. I retired at 62.
    Now I'm staying at home enjoying my life. There's nothing much for me to do. I love watching TV, chatting with friends on WeChat and playing on my computer. I use iPad when there's Wifi and I use it to communicate with my friends and relatives. I even got in touch with my former classmates.
    Looking back at the days when I was in the underground organization, I feel I have fulfilled the responsibilities as a Chinese. We should be patriotic but in different ways. I wasn't able to go to the battlefield so I took part in those underground activities.

  • Hakushu Kikuchi,
    Tsukuba-Shi, JapanMORE...

    My name is Kikuchi Haku. I was born in the Ibaraki Prefecture on June 10, 1929. I was born into a family of farmers. I didn't find much difficulty in getting food. Generally, the quality of life was low in Japan. It must have been hard for others. My father was a fisherman, before he was married. He sailed on a big ship, traveling all over the world, to America and Great Britain. He married a woman from the next town over. I was the fourth of six children and the only boy. We mostly farmed when we were young. The other men in the area went on to be soldiers.

    I began training in 1941, in Kashima City, at twelve years old. I was young. I wanted to help out Japan. I had no fear of death. We had been taught that we should be honored to die for the country. Everyone was brainwashed. We all thought it is noble to die for Japan. So I applied to become a child pilot when I turned fourteen.

    All these American planes would fly over and bomb us. When the Japanese airplanes met them in the air, the Americans would shoot them down. I do remember being very scared then. Once, a bunch of B-51s flew over. There were so many I couldn't see the sky. They shot up everything.

    Emperor Hirohito had the ultimate power over all the citizens. When I heard the war was over, I thought everything was ended. I didn't even think about what would happen next. We had been told we were winning. We couldn't believe it at first. Then again, we were brainwashed to believe the Emperor was god. After we heard his admission that he wasn't god, we lost our will to fight. There were so many people that died for nothing in the war. We were embarrassed.

    The Americans came and made bases where we had our training centers or where our old bases were. They were waiting to see if the citizens would do anything against them. But I never thought to attack. They didn't really affect our lives directly after the war.

    My father, having traveled so much, spoke a little English. Some Americans would come to our place and they'd meet to go hunting with him. He found them very friendly.

    The biggest problem was poverty after the war. Even the people with good jobs had difficulty. There was so little distinction between the poor and those who used to be rich. I only saw some difference in the 1960s. Industrial progress began to pick up then.

    After the war, when I reached adulthood, things were still difficult. This was a time when if you were stronger, you got to survive. I fell under the influence of some people I knew and became a Yakuza. I realized later that the government should be the most important aspect of society. I started to work for a politician, in government. I retired when I turned fifty.

    Now I'm much older. I've given up many hobbies. I have a weekly group I meet with young people and listen to their stories, and give advice.

  • Urszula Hoffmann,
    Poznan, PolandMORE...

    My name is Urszula Hoffmann. I was born on June 15, 1922, in Poznan, Poland. When I was young, I was homeschooled. I really wanted to go to school where there were other children, and eventually my parents allowed me to attend one with my sister, Elizaveta. At the time, we all lived in a three-bedroom apartment on Wiankowa Street, in one of the houses the Germans had left behind after the First World War. But my mother wanted to move to a bigger place, so we moved into a six-bedroom apartment on Ogrodowa, where I began middle school. The war started in my fourth year.

    At the time, I was part of the Zwiazek Harcerstwa Polskiego Polish Scouts Organization. We were mostly older kids, even some who finished school already and were attending university. One of them was Irena Petri - a girl who took lead and helped to organize the scouts. Once the war started, we decided to take boys into our circle. Then some of our members brought their friends. It was important that we could trust everyone in attendance.

    We were a group of thirty scouts. We called ourselves The Beavers, and we soon integrated into the Gray Ranks - the underground resistance. We had decided to name ourselves The Beavers because we gathered every week near the river, in a small town near Poznan called Lubon. We would build a small camp near the river each week and when we returned it would be destroyed. We couldn't figure out who was doing this, it was such a desolate place, but we soon realized it was the beavers. So we took the name.

    The functions of our organization were broad. One thing we did was provide basic education to Polish children. During the occupation, children weren't able to have a basic Polish education, so we would go to houses and teach the school program. And we tutored one another as well - geography, history, writing, literature. No one wanted to learn mathematics because it was just such an awful subject. We were hoping the war would end soon and we could go on with our normal studies. We also taught some foreign languages, including Russian, as many of us understood that sooner or later the Russians would come. We organized small celebrations of Polish holidays as well. For example, May 3 was our Constitution day, November 11 was the Independence of Poland, as well as some religious holidays. All of these were banned.

    The funny thing is that we moved our headquarters across the street from the Imperial Castle in Poznan, where in the same building was the office of Poznan Gauleiter - Arthur Karl Greiser, who was responsible for overseeing the German occupation of Poland. His office was on the second floor and we were on the first floor. We were very brave back then.

    Before the war, my father worked in a company that sold coal. During the occupation, the Germans took control of the company, and the man named Erich Steffen was appointed director. He left my father employed there, but soon they began to send Polish men to labor camps in Germany. My father managed to escape this fate by agreeing to become house help for the new director.

    In 1940, the Polish resistance was becoming more organized. Our group that was already part of the Gray Ranks began reporting to Armia Krajowa, which was the primary resistance force at the time. Our functions soon varied from underground parcel and mail delivery to sabotage. We were young and very reckless and some of us were caught and killed. The Germans didn't tolerate or spare anyone they suspected as taking part in any resistance. Some, like myself, were lucky to survive. We had a simple phrase in the Gray Ranks that said: ''Today, Tomorrow and the Day After.'' Today meant the fight for Poland's independence. Tomorrow meant the liberation of Poland from any occupants. The Day After stood for rebuilding the country to its former glory.

    At the end of the war, we moved to the basement of a house in one of the Poznan neighbourhoods, called Gorczyn. The Russians were coming through Poland at the time. I remember them knocking at our door and very uncomfortably asking for some coffee.

    In January of 1945, I returned to my house here. The condition of the place we were staying in had become intolerable. My house had also been destroyed, and was without heat and water, but my father used his connections to bring in a firm to help us restore some parts to the house to make it livable again.

    I started work at a print company - one of the few around here with a printing press. I wanted to continue my education, but most of the schools had been destroyed. I occupied myself with work. I remember my boss joking that after I'd go and get my diploma, I'd be better than him because he never had a chance to finish his studies. The following summer, I intended to study French philology. But sometimes things don't turn out the way you plan. I had gone on vacation with some friends, where I met a professor of the Merchant Academy. He persuaded me to switch my interest to the academy he taught at, so I did. In February of 1946, I continued my studies there. In 1948, I finished my education, something I had been dreaming of for so long. I started to work and teach at the University of Economics in Poznan.

    Later, I became the secretary of the World Organization of Armia Krajova, and kept in touch with many of the people I knew through the war. In fact, I saw some of them at my 90th birthday. With some people, you share something so precious that you want them to stay in your life forever, cherishing it.