How I Lived Through the Beginning of the War in
the Kutschurganer Valley
Lingor, Josef. "How I Lived Through the Beginning of the War in the Kutschurganer Valley." Volk auf dem Weg, August 1991, 8-9.
Translation from German to English by Alma M. Herman
When the war broke out, I was in Odessa taking the last examination
of my teacher training. Since I was always an early riser, I got up
early also on Sunday morning, June 22, 1941, to go for a walk. When
I got to the street I noticed immediately that something had happened.
There was a restlessness among the people going here and there. Some
women were screaming and crying as they called out to each other.
Men who hurried by hardly spoke. Their faces wore unusually serious
expressions. There was no laughter, as was usual.
I went on my way until the strange behavior of the Odessa citizens
became too odd. “What is the matter?" I finally asked
the women standing around, crying. One woman replied with the question:
"Don't you know that since early today we are at war with Germany?"
I knew nothing. Who attacked whom? I did know that the USSR was
extending and strengthening its western borders, bringing more and
more troops in camouflage. Actually, I wasn't sure that the Soviet
Union was not the attacker, for since my recent observation, I held
that quite possible. Later it was proven that Hitler was the aggressor.
Stalin was caught unawares, his aims had been detected, I thought
to myself. I went back to the dormitory of our school. My fellow
students were all still sleeping peacefully. "Get up! There
is war with Germany!"
Some grumbled; others blustered that I should leave them in peace
and stop my nonsense. It was not the first time that I had not let
them sleep in the morning. As I continued to insist that I was really
bitterly earnest, some got up and went to the windows to make ascertain
if the war was already there and they might wave to it from the
windows. But seeing the unusual activity in the street, they were
all on their feet quickly. In formation like privates we marched
in the direction of the train station, where at 10:00 o'clock the
bass voice of Levitan was heard over the loudspeaker, announcing
that at 3:15 o'clock Fascist troops had invaded the Soviet Union
without a declaration of war. Subsequently, the corresponding government
declaration was made by foreign minister Molotov. Now everything
was clear. We also learned that all military servicemen were to
report for duty. All of us were in that age group. The rest of the
day and night of June 23 was spent restlessly. German aircraft flew
over the town and seaport of Odessa. Bombs, however, were not dropped
On Monday, June 23, 1941, an Information Rally for all teachers
and students was held at 8:00 o’clock in the courtyard of
the Institute. The Party Secretary ordered all to return to their
home communities and report to military personnel. That same day
we tried to return home as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this
was impossible by train to Kutschurgan, since the main train station
at Odessa as well as all trains going west were overfilled with
military personnel. So we decided to walk the 65 kilometers to our
homes. Four of us started on our way together. I left my suitcase
with my belongings behind in Odessa. We were still young and athletic
enough to cover the mileage in one stretch, with something edible
in the pocket. In Neu Kandel (Karl-Liebknecht) I rested with my
wife it in order to cover the remaining 10 kilometers to Kandel
the following day.
In Kandel I was told that on the day before, two strange men were
seen. They spoke High German to the people and asked many kinds
of questions. Since the specters of spies and Diversanten (infiltrators?)
had been circulating for a long time, it was assumed that these
were spies to investigate locations. A so-called Action Group was
formed to find the two men, but they were gone. Soon after, the
order came to surrender all radio equipment. Also, all bicycles
had to be recorded so that if need be, they could be confiscated.
On a later day I did my citizen's duty. I reported to my employer,
the school board and the recruiting office. There I was assigned
to a special commission on a district mobilization committee. My
leave was blocked and I had to return to Neu Kandel where I awaited
further orders from the Kolchos officer of the organization Harvest
Delivery under air protection where I was to stand by. For protection
against air attacks all buildings had to be whitewashed with ashes.
Guard commandos and patrols on horseback were posted to arrest every
suspicious individual in the village or the fields and turn them
over to the Special Committee.
Nearly three weeks were passed in uncertainty. No loud voices were
heard. Discussions were silenced. Fears of the "Thirty Years
War” still stuck in everyone's bones. One was afraid of saying
the wrong thing with every spoken word. Everyone worked quietly
and calmly, yet very diligently, in order not to be conspicuous.
A large percentage of the young born in Soviet times and grown were
patriotic and rebellious against the attack, while some old people
still dreamed of release from the Communistic yoke and a return
to the earlier free colonist life.
On July 15 the Special Commission ordered that all agricultural
machines and cattle be transported to the east.
The people involved had to be searched out and be prepared for
the trip. Soon after this order was carried out I received an order
to prepare for evacuation and departure.
On the 20th of July, 1941, all the men departed from Kandel in
several vehicles going in the direction of District Center Rasdeljnaja
about 35 kilometers from Kandel, to register at Rajwojen headquarters
with the district area commander Rasdeljnaja is an important railroad
station point through which many trains passed carrying military
goods, gasoline, military equipment, attractive bait for air attacks.
On July 1 we saw one such train as far away as Kandel and Neu Kandel.
Since that day, all military offices of Rasdeljnaja were transferred
to Ponjatowka. To oversee the new mobilization only one lieutenant
stayed behind. We met him. He chose one man from each of our groups
to collect civilian and military visas and prepare lists. From Kandel,
teachers, Seibert, Kohut, and I were selected. We received the order
to report on the same day in Janowka, a Bulgarian village 40 kilometers
away. We three, responsible for the punctual and complete-count
arrival of the groups, gathered our personnel and promptly left
from our departure point. We belonged with the younger ones and
were convinced that we had to carry out the orders exactly. But,
as mentioned before, there were several more mature men who saw
the situation differently. My Uncle Bernhard was one of those in
my group. He gave me the advice to travel southward and reach the
nearby German settlement of Schwetschenko, where we might spend
the night since it was not possible to reach the specified destination
in one day. I left the leadership to my uncle. At 8:00 p.m. we arrived
at Schewtschenko, where we found shelter with Germans and quickly
fell asleep. Already at 3:00 o'clock my uncle was again at his post.
I was awake, thinking about our hopeless situation. My uncle said
I should give each man his papers and let him decide how to travel
on. What else could I do?
At 5:00 o'clock in the morning our 25-man group changed direction
and traveled instead toward Siberia in the southwest direction toward
our home of Kandel. The hardest part of the way was the line at
Tiraspol-Odessa, where unbroken military columns patrolled the area
back and forth. After we had escaped these barriers, all went well
along a little wood area until we came to Kandler Field where we
took over a feld haüschen (cabin) about 10 kilometers from
the village of Kandel. It was surrounded by fields of corn and sunflower.
We left the horses in the open. There we spent about one week in
uncertainty and fear, shut away from foe and friend.
Near the end of the month we decided to send a spy group to our
home community. My neighbors Johannes Marquart and Anton Bullach
were to check whether the village had been occupied by the Germans.
At midnight we drove to about two kilometers from the village, tied
the horses to the wagon with long reins and on foot made our way
through corn and sergho fields toward Kandal. Across from our house
was an old neglected cemetery surrounded by a ditch. We crept along
the edge and when we were sure that no one was watching us, ran
into the street. As I softly tapped on the window, my wife and mother-in-law
were greatly surprised because they knew nothing about my whereabouts.
My wife was well informed about the situation in Kandal. We learned
that no officials were there - only a few Red Army members. With
this information we returned to our anxiously waiting comrades that
same night. Our report was well received and we made preparations
to return home the following day. When darkness came, we packed
and arrived at home at 1:00 o'clock. We had agreed that we would
all refrain from giving any endangering explanations about our situation.
In the event he was discovered, one would betray another. In our
hideout we remained unmolested until August 5, 1941. The dangerous
officials had disappeared and the soldiers had their own worries.
On August 5, my neighbor Johannes Marquart could no longer endure
hiding in the attic and came to us. We had talked hardly half an
hour when several aircraft appeared and aimlessly dropped bombs.
We took shelter behind the stove just as one bomb exploded very
near our house. Window panes were shattered and flower pots lay
in pieces on the floor, but no one was harmed. When I saw from the
window that the street was filled with people, many of whom were
men appearing only after the bombing, we ventured out. Several houses
were on fire, one was completely demolished. Scattered bombs were
burning in our yard and garden, some in the cemetery. Everyone helped
in putting out the fires.
On August 8 we made our first visit to the home of my wife's relatives
who lived about two kilometers away. We didn’t yet trust ourselves
to go out in the open so we chose to take the narrow footpath between
the gardens of the upper and lowers rows of houses. The joy of meeting
them again was great, but our reunion was suddenly interrupted by
an alarm coming from the street. Me wife and her sister went out
to investigate. When they saw horsemen in uniform, they assumed
that we would be arrested. When the riders were surrounded by Bessarabians
who applauded them, it soon came clear to us that these riders were
not from the Red Army, but were friendly Roman soldiers. Now everyone
rushed into the crowded streets.
In explanation, I would like only emphasize that in the summer
of 1940 when the Soviet Union occupied Bessarabia, many Bessarabians
(Moldauers closely related to Romanians) were bodily stuffed into
the coal shafts in the Donetz Basin. From there many could flee?
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Appreciation is extended to Alma M. Herman for translation
of this article.