October 1942, In The Suburbs Of Stalingrad
It is about 400 meters from the medical battalion tent where I am lying on to the Volga river, but for me it is really a long distance. Shrubs and bushes with their spikes, dry from the super heat, make me stumble every step I make. I try to use the crutch, but it does not help, so I put it under my armpit and start hopping, but not far --I lose my breath and stop and listen. I hear now escalating and then diminishing cannonade of the continuous battle. Molokh of the war never stops for a second-it crashes, smashes and destroys everything alive or dead or it seems that it will not stop till it turns everything into a dust and then into a TNT smear. How did people survive all this and how about you? Have you forgotten all this? No, I have not forgotten anything. On the contrary, I am rushing to the Volga river, to answer the call of the dying city of Stalingrad. I know its wounds, pains and moaning. I left my Teacher there-how can I help him and save him from death? I can't believe I knew him only for more than twenty four hours. It happens that the uniqueness of the bright ray of the unexpected encounter would shine your path of eternal thoughts, reappraisals and reevaluations. I think I was lucky with this. In my mind I go back to that night in that tumble-down house, surrounded by the Germans. He had a tall posture, bony and clumsy, worn-out and unshaved face, thin lips and hooked nose. I looked into his eyes only in the morning after our conversation-they were sad and he squinted. His eyeglasses broke and he could not see far. In our platoon there were 15-17 soldiers and the lieutenant, my Teacher, and two of us, from our damaged "KV"/"Kliment Voroshilov" tank. A group of soldiers dragged the loading gunner and myself from the burning tank and carried us somewhere in the darkness. They had their combat assignment and it took them twenty four hours to accomplish it and the loading gunner and I stayed with them.
But before this encounter we had one more night and day in the ambush with our "KV". I am trying to reconstruct all the details of what had happened. Nazi Germans broke into the city and only five or six tanks from our tank brigade survived, judging from the reconnaissance man's report. The tanks were scattered along the perimeter of the Germans breakthrough and they are the foothold of the uncoordinated and resisting groups of the infantry. The recon man could not tell us anything certain about our war buddies-he barely made his way to our sector and it is still a puzzle how he made it in the pitch darkness--no clue. He laughs: "I smell our "KVs." I see no reason to laugh here-he was wounded in the shoulder and his partner with whom he was crawling, was killed in action close to our position. We got some useful information from our recon man: with the help of flares Germans try to make an impression and misinform us that their frontline is thick and unbroken and those of our groups and brigades that were in the Germans' rear and fighting back for their life, are cut off and doomed to failure. Not really-in any case, for this night the frontline was not yet solid and the oral orders were issued from our commander of the brigade, Rodin,-use your judgment and act according to given circumstances. The main message-do not retreat without the order. If you do not have any ammunition-ask for some from the artillery battalions."
"It is impossible to describe the horror of the approaching you bomb and then howling and growling and cannonade that follow it. You start feeling immediately like a dead body. All your senses, thoughts, faculties, capabilities turn off
and you feel nothing but horrendous moments of immediately losing your life, last minutes of your being…"