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 near us.

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.

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