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World War II and The Prison Camp
Monday, March 14, 2022

 From my dad's book My Life: A Story of Survival, An Autobiography of Grischa Bedrosian

World War II     


In 1940 the Germans attacked Russia. They did a lot of damage and took a lot of towns and cities. In 1941 the government recalled former soldiers to fight. They called me too. For three months we trained, going on maneuvers. In October, all Armenian soldiers were brought to Yerevan to the train station, and loaded into train cars. The train traveled two days and nights. Suddenly the train stopped. Armenian officers came and told our battalions the Germans had cut the train line. Almost half an hour we walked along the track past empty railroad cars. The officers told us all these cars had brought soldiers to go fight. Then all the soldiers stood in the line. Each soldier got 35 bullets for his gun, and four pieces of stale bread. The officer told us this track led to a town where the Germans were.


We were ordered to take town that night. Almost half of the night we walked through fields to the town. After four hours the Germans sent up bright flares. The whole army lay down and waited for the lights to go out. When the lights went out it was almost daylight. We were by then close to the Germans. The Germans began to shoot big artillery, big cannons and lots of different guns. The bullets rained down like hail. We couldn't stand up and escape without being killed. About a block away from me a big bomb exploded. The flying dirt covered me. I was not wounded. I crawled into a bomb hole. It was deep. I waited but the shooting didn't stop all day. Finally, the sun went down. After the shooting stopped, I crawled out of the hole, cold and hungry and looked around. I saw one man walking toward me. I was afraid he was a German but when he came close I saw he was a Russian soldier. We recognized each other. He was from the same battalion He was crying. He said the Germans had killed all the army.   


This Russian told me, " I know this territory. Its my neighborhood."  I was relieved to see him. We started walking back, until we saw our battalion. Hundreds and hundreds were dead and wounded. We walked ten or fifteen minutes past the dead. Then we walked half the night. We saw a lot of big haystacks. We saw more dead and wounded around these haystacks. The Russian told me we were close to a Russian town and we should go there. For almost an hour we went from door to door.           


At last, one old lady opened her door. She was alone. We asked for bread. She said she hadn't had bread all week and was hungry too. It was good we had a dry place to stay the night and rest. In the morning we went back to the haystacks. We saw more and more dead and wounded; thousands and thousands! We looked around and found sixteen Russian soldiers alive.  


They said, "We don't know where to go. That's why we stayed here." The sixteen soldiers said they were from Georgia. Nothing to do with the Armenian group. They had been there two days. The hundreds and hundreds of dead soldiers were from their army. After that we saw a car coming. It was two Russian officers. They said the truck was coming to bring food. We stood in line for food and bread. Then they said, "You wait here." The officers and the truck left. All the Russians sat down somewhat away from the dead soldiers. I took my food and sat near the wounded soldiers because I didn't trust the officers. After half an hour a big truck came and picked up all the Russians. 


All day I sat among the wounded hearing their cries. When the sun went down I stood up and looked around. I saw four or five Russians running toward the town. I waited a while and I saw a lot more Russians also heading toward the town. Then I joined them and ran toward the town too. When I got close to town I looked back and saw a lot of German tanks in pursuit. I began running very fast. In front of the second house I saw a big hole and hid inside. It was half full of sunflower seeds. I heard the German soldiers and tanks come into the town. I was so frightened my whole body began to tremble.


Half an hour later I saw a flashlight on a stick and two rifles sticking down into the hole. I came out with my hands up and saw four German soldiers. They put my hands behind my head.  They brought me to a barn, opened the door and pushed me inside. There was no light inside. Then I heard a lot of people talking in different languages. A few hours later four German soldiers with flashlights came inside the barn. We all came outside. Twenty or twenty five soldiers were waiting with rifles. They made us line up in rows of six, one behind the other.


There were about two hundred prisoners. These were what was left of the Russian army after most were killed or wounded. The sixteen soldiers picked up by the truck were among the soldiers who ran back to town. They were brought together by the Russian officers to fight the Germans but were frightened back into town by the artillery.


The Germans took us out of town. We walked all night with not a minute to sit down. Then we came to another town. We sat down under some trees. The Germans didn't want to move prisoners in the daylight when they could be seen by Russian airplanes.


For almost three days I had nothing to eat. I was hungry and tired. Only two days before I had been in Armenia, a free citizen. I could go any place I wanted. After two days I was a German prisoner. What would happen to me?


Then the German soldiers went to town and brought back a truck with round Russian bread. Every prisoner was given a piece of bread. After dark the prisoners started walking again. We walked all night through fields, not on the road. We found another town and stopped there.  We had a little bit of bread at this town too.


When we got closer to the front we had to walk day and night.  One day we would have bread, the next day none.  We walked like that for a week. 


The second week the prisoners began to get weak.  When they couldn’t stand up the Germans tried beating them.  If they still couldn’t stand up they were shot in the head.  I saw nine men killed this way.


The Prison Camp


We walked day and night this way - one day food-one day none, for two weeks until we come to a city called Mariupol in Ukraine. There was a big prison camp there.


They opened the gate and brought us into a huge prison yard. We stayed there all night. In the morning all the other prisoners came out. When I saw these prisoners, I couldn't believe my eyes! I never believed people could became like this. All those who were there a long time had swollen stomachs - and were just bone and skin. Their hair was long and they hadn't showered or bathed for months. Their clothes were dirty and torn.


One time a day everyone was given a spoonful of cold hard porridge. There was no clean water to drink.


Around the prison camp were two ten foot high fences, one around the other so if you escaped one you would fall down into the other.


The building used to be a college. It was three stories high. There were sixty rooms.


I looked around the camp for other Armenian prisoners. I found 32 Armenian people there. Some of them were friends of mine. Some were from Yerevan and some were from town. We hugged each other. They said, " You came to this death place too!"


I'll never tell anyone the names of people I saw there. It is just between me and God.        


When fresh prisoners came, they were stronger than the others. The Germans would use them to put the dead and dying into the trucks to be taken and buried. During my first three weeks there I had to help do this five times. Three times I had to help place corpses on a ramp which went down from windows on the second and third floors to waiting trucks below. Twice we loaded those who had died in the prison yard. Some days more might die; some days less, but every day they died by the hundreds. All the time new prisoners were brought in.


In the sixty rooms there were no windows or doors. Prisoners had broken them up for firewood.


posted by Haik Bedrosian @ 10:37 PM  
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