Sergey Abgorian
“All I wanted to do was to join the Red army and get out of Armenia. I lied with my age as I was only 17 years old. I was lucky as the recruitment officer decided not to worry about this little detail and made me sign the official recruitment document.” —Sergey Abgorian in Yerevan, Armenia, spring 2007. (All photos: Jonathan Alpeyrie)

Born in Bert, Armenia, on Nov. 16, 1924. Abgorian volunteered in June 1941, but was turned down because of his age. A year later, aged 17 and nine months, the recruitment office agreed to take him. He had four brothers, all were drafted into the army. The oldest one disappeared, the second fought in Austria, the third fought in Germany during the end of the war, and later in Manchuria, the last worked for the police.

Abgorian was sent to Tbilisi at the Avechala for infantry training, three months in the infantry, as part of the interior forces. He was sent to Grozny in November 1942, where he fought against Germans and later fought against the Chechen brigade trained and organized by German paratroopers who were dropped in Chechnya to help the rebellion. He fought as part the 60th regiment, 30th division.

In late 1942, during an ambush, two Russian soldiers went missing. Abgorian was chosen along with one other soldier on horseback to go search for them. After a few hours they heard screams. Chechen fighters had placed the soldiers in a small ravine as a trap. As Abgorian and his partner arrived to save them, the Chechens were waiting for them and started shooting, and a bullet went right through his hair. Soon after, a grenade wounded his hand. He fought in the region until the end of 1943, and then he was sent back to Armavir on the Black Sea shore where he was promoted to Sergeant. He stayed there until August 1945. During that time in Armavir he guarded a bridge, storage facilities, and train convoys. After he was sent back to school for border patrol training until 1947, he was trained to guard the Southern borders of Russia in the North Caucasus. He stayed in the army in Siberia until 1961, and was sent to Yerevan, where he worked for the ministry of interior until 1966.

Mrav Hakobyan
“During close quarters fighting inside an apartment room, a German soldier rushed me with a shovel and hit me on the lower arm right above my hand, cutting it clean off. The war was over for me.” —Mrav Hakobyan in Getavan Nagorno-Karabakh, spring 2004.

Mrav Hakobyan was born in the village of Getavan in Armenia, sometime in 1920. (Hakobyan does not know his birthday.) He fought during the battle of Moscow during the winter of 1941/42 as an infantryman. In the summer of 1942, he fought in the battle of Stalingrad and saw very heavy action in the rubble of the city, fighting off advancing German troops as part of a rifle division. He claims to have seen General Paulus when he surrendered on Feb. 3, 1943. After his injury, he was taken out of the battle zone for treatment in Moscow. He them returned to Armenia and remained there until the end of the war.

Julia Barsuk
“I remember interrogating many German soldiers during the battle of Stalingrad. Many were shaken and scared that we would just kill them outright.” —Julia Barsuk in Brighton Beach New York, winter 2006.

Barsuk volunteered in the Red army as a translator because she spoke German. She was transferred to the Stalingrad front to interrogate German prisoners. She lives in New York with her husband.

Israel Barsuk
“My commander was killed in front of me by a German sniper. One moment he was giving orders, a moment later he was no more, face down with a bullet in his head.” —Israel Barsuk in Brighton Beach New York, winter 2006.

Born a Ukrainian Jew in Kremenchuk Ukraine, on Mar. 1, 1919. Barsuk’s father was an accountant, and the family moved around a lot, including to Moscow, where he went to school and then worked in an automobile factory. In the fall of 1939 he was drafted into the army and sent to Komsomolsk-na-amure in Eastern Russia as part of the 220th division. He was a vice commissar, dealing with the political aspect of the division. He stayed in that location until end of 1940, when he was transferred to Moscow, where he studied until June 1941. With the outbreak of the German invasion he went back to his division in Zaporizhia in Ukraine.

When the Germans invaded, the division was stationed on a plateau. A sniper killed his commander so he became a commanding commissar of a full battalion of 300 men. They remained there until September 1941 when he was wounded in the hands and legs during an assault on his position. One of his soldiers Bodurchuk carried him to safety running a mile and a half. He spent four months in a hospital in North Ossetia, where he received papers saying he was no longer fit for active duty. After he convinced his superiors to let him return to the front, he was sent first to a reserve division in Gorky, then to the North Caucasian front and became part of a tank division in early 1942. Casualties were very heavy. He says that the work consisted of concentrating on killing as many Germans as possible. He stayed in the North Caucasus until end of 1942, then was sent back to Moscow to the department of military for technical support of armored units, and worked there until the end of the war. He went many times to the fronts to make sure armored units had the proper replacement parts, and he also went to factories to make sure they were working properly.

Barsuk says he cannot describe his feelings when the war ended. He remembers standing in Red Square on May 8, 1945. He immigrated to the United States in 1985; he could not leave Russia earlier because he “knew too much,” and his applications were routinely turned down. His daughter left in 1981.

Leonid Rozenberg
“It purely was by accident that I met my father at the front line during heavy fighting near Warsaw in early 1945. I could not believe my eyes, and quickly embraced him.” —Leonid Rozenberg in Brighton Beach New York, winter 2006.

Born on Sept. 3, 1921 in Iziaslav in Ukraine, Rozenberg graduated high school in 1939, then went to Kiev to serve in the artillery as a lieutenant until June 6, 1941, when he was sent to Western Byelorussia, as part of the 20th division. He had 40 men under him, with four guns of 76 mm.

At 4 a.m. on June 22, 1941, his unit was engaged at Lida on the border. Three days later he was in a field with Germans three yards away from him, and was given instructions to fire his guns. The Germans noticed him, so he took his gun and killed two Germans. He was then wounded by a German machine gun after throwing a grenade at them. He was hit in the leg, and two of his men next to him were killed. He took his remaining wounded men on a horse, and they both escaped. They were looking for their own division as Messerschmitts fired on them with machine guns. They later resumed their search on horseback. At night he found his division. At headquarters he fainted from his wounds while reporting to his superior officer about the situation on the ground.

The next day all wounded including him were sent to Minsk on trucks. The driver was able to escape the Germans who were already in the city of Minsk who were firing on them. Instead they were sent to Rostov, where Rozenberg stayed for 22 days in the hospital. He then escaped, as he wanted to return to the front. He returned to North Caucasus front but as part of the 339the division, and was promoted to artillery company leader. He then went back to Rostov near the Black Sea, and stayed at that front for two years until 1943. He fought at the battle of Rostov. He also fought at Bielgorod. In 1942, he fought at Taganrog on the Mius river, which was a very difficult experience for him, as many SS units were fighting there, and many Russians died. During a river crossing, one-third of his men were killed.

On Nov. 6, 1943, he participated in the liberation of Kiev, where many of his men were also killed.

Rozenberg participated in the liberation of Ukraine in 1943/44, then Poland, where he fought in the liberation of Warsaw and received a medal for coordinating fire to prevent a German tank counter-attack. In 1944 he met his father who was also fighting on the front, and found out that the rest of their family had been killed by German troops for being Jewish. His youngest sister was killed in her bed at night. His father and he promised to each other that they would kill as many Germans as possible. He fought in the battle for Berlin, and then remained in Germany until 1950, in Dresden. He then went back to Moscow, and remained in the Red Army until 1968. He immigrated to the United States in 1991.

Josef Krulyak
“It was never really peaceful on the Black Sea. The Germans often attacked us with their dive-bombers, dropping bombs on the decks of our ships. I did my best to shoot them down with our guns but they were like flies hovering over our positions.” —Josef Krulyak in Brighton Beach New York, summer 2006.

Born on Apr. 18, 1927 in Plotzk, he remained in his hometown until the war started in June 1941. Krulyak and his parents left the town because they were Jews and the Germans were advancing. They walked East to the Russian city of Rzhev, then traveled by ship to the Kirov region, a journey that took about one and half months. They worked on a collective farm for two months and then in horse stables. They did not get any news from the front until the new year, when they heard that the Germans were very close to Moscow.

Krulyak was drafted in early 1944 when he was only 17 years old. He was trained in the Russian Navy in the port of Sebastopol and sent to a destroyer, the Krasnyikrym, where he became part of a crew on an anti-aircraft gun. He first saw action in April 1944 and fought with the Black Sea fleet against retreating Axis forces. In early 1945, he took charge of the watch for the destroyer, and saw a moving object in the water. He reported it to his captain; the ship was stopped and searchlights were turned on. It was a floating mine. He believes he saved many lives that night.

In October 1944, he took part in small battle by shooting at German positions supporting the Russian infantry advancing inside Sebastopol This kind of action lasted until December 1944. After December the ship was moved to Poti in Georgia, where it remained until the remainder of the war. Once an aircraft bombed the water near the boat. He remained in active duty until 1951, not by choice, but because it was required by the Soviet Navy.

Salomon Freidlyand
“I was better educated then most of the men around in the division. My commander asked for volunteers to join a chemical unit. I agreed.” —Salomon Freidlyand in Brighton Beach New York, summer 2006.

Born in Orsha on Sept. 3, 1921, Freidlyand moved with his family in 1925 to Leningrad, where his father found a new job repairing watches. He studied in Leningrad between 1929 to 1939. After school he went to technical university, but he was not able to continue his studies because of preparations for the war. In 1939 he was drafted into the Red army and was sent to a special school for cadet training in Ukraine to the city of Oleksandriia, where he trained for 6 months. After his training he was sent to Western Ukraine, and became leader of a 45-mm artillery battery as part of the 227th division.

When the Germans invaded, Freidlyand was in Slavyansk in Eastern Ukraine. His unit was ordered to move East to Vsapniarka, and as soon as they reached it they were transferred to Kiev, where they were attacked by German tanks trying to take the city. Eventually they were surrounded by the Germans troops. With no food, and little equipment, they were finally able to break free into the Kursk area, though very few of his fellow soldiers from the division arrived alive. The survivors were transferred into the 21st army division.

After that battle he was transferred to the 297th division near the Siversky Donets river. As he arrived the commander asked the soldiers who was educated. He stepped out, and was sent to a special chemical division, as the Germans were expected to use such weapons. Later he was sent to the city of Voronezh, in the Southern front, to attend officer’s training school. He graduated in February 1942 and became a Lieutenant. After his promotion he was sent back to the 297th division, then soon after started working with partisans and local spies to gather information on Germans troops in the area. He had his own horse, and would often go through behind German lines and meet locals and partisans. He never found evidence the Germans were using chemical warfare. He continued to gather information until June 1942.

On June 25, 1942, the Germans started the Stalingrad operation, and he was ordered to go there on horseback, but was wounded by artillery fire that very same day. With serious wounds on two legs and his right hand, he was sent to a hospital where he was treated for his wounds until October 1942. He stayed in three different hospitals until he was told that he could not continue as a soldier, and was sent back to Leningrad, where the Germans were still fighting. Instead, he went to Tashkent, as many factories were present there and he imagined that he could find work. Instead, he found out that there were no jobs, so he moved to Andijan where he worked for the government until the end of the war.

Alexander Turetsky
“My company was used for reconnaissance. My CO would often send us on the German front lines to try to capture a German soldier and collect information. It was a very dangerous type of mission, but necessary for our victory.” —Alexander Turetsky in Brighton Beach New York, summer 2006.

Born in Moscow on March 6, 1924, Turetsky grew up in the capital and was educated there. At the age of 14 he entered a military school, from which he graduated in 1941. Then he went to another military institute for officer training. Three days before the war started, on June 22, 1941, he was sent to Leningrad to continue his studies. Because the war started, his training lasted only 7 months and on January 1942 he graduated as a Lieutenant before his 18th birthday. He saw heavy action in Leningrad when the Germans were still trying to take the city.

In February 1942 he was wounded while looking for a position for his soldiers to take cover. The snow was very deep. Turetsky was with another soldier. They heard an explosion right behind them, and shrapnel hit him in the legs and the back. He was sent to the hospital for treatment, but the wounds were not too bad. Because he refused to be sent back, he remained for two days in a small hospital near the front. In April 1942 early in the morning waking up he remembers seeing a red flag rising from a village that was still occupied by Germans, and he asked whether the war was over. His commander told him it was Hitler’s birthday; he could not see the Swastika from so far away.

From January 1942 to January 1945, Turetsky served as part of the 344th Roslavskaya division. He saw action again in the village of Solvyovk near Moscow, as a company leader. His unit was often used as a recon outfit looking for Germans to capture and bring back to HQ for questioning. He had about 100 men in his company. Once they ran into heavy German resistance and were ambushed; only four of his men survived. He fought the entire campaign of Byelorussia. He fought a heavy battle at Smolensk. He also saw heavy action in 1944; he took part in Operation Bagration to destroy the German army group center. He fought around Minsk area in an artillery unit within the same division.

In mid-1944 his division did an operation with Polish troops near the town of Lenino. During an assault, Turetsky jumped out of the trench and saw a young German soldier. Turetsky shot first and killed him; he remembers seeing the eyes of the dying man. He thought of the Germans as very good soldiers. During the first winter he even felt pity toward these Germans who had nothing to wear. That winter he captured a German soldier who was afraid. They give him vodka, which he first refused, then started drinking and felt better. After the war Turetsky went to military academy, and retired in 1967 as a colonel. He immigrated in the United States in 1995.

Gregory Gurtovnik
“The street fighting inside the city of Lvov was something I could never forget. Our men were dying by the thousands, littering the streets, and the rooms inside the gutted apartment building that we were defending. The Germans kept on coming and coming.” —Gregory Gurtovnik in Brighton Beach New York, summer 2006.

Born in the village of Salnitza in Ukraine on March 22, 1925, Gurtovnik moved to Odessa at the age of 7 with his entire family, ethnic Russians born in Ukraine. They remained in Odessa for 10 years. When the war started, the family moved to Samarkand. On Feb. 3, 1943 he volunteered for the Red army, not yet 18 years old. He joined a tank outfit, and went to military school in Tajikistan, where he trained for 6 months as a loader on a T34 tank. After the training he was sent with his unit, as part of the 3rd tank corps, to Ukraine. They joined the front on Sept. 22, 1943 in the area of Kiev, and participated in the major offensive to take the city from the Germans.

During that battle Gurtovnik and his unit were brought to a railroad station about 100 miles east of the Dnieper River. They arrived in the late afternoon, while hiding in a nearby forest; at night they used local fishermen to lead their tanks to the Western shore of the river. They fought their way to the nearby village of Zarvanytsia. The Germans were caught by surprise and were soon defeated. The unit was able to take refuge in that village, and wait for reinforcement. During that time the Germans started bombarding and brought in reinforcements to try to cross the river and reclaim the town. The Germans failed and more Russian units poured in. A wooden bridge was built to help the crossing about 40 miles south of Kiev. After 4 days the entire army had crossed the river and a major engagement soon followed between them and the Germans.

Gurtovnik was wounded on Sept. 26, 1943 while defending a position with his tank. In front were the Germans and behind him was the river. They were ordered to dismount their tanks and fight as infantrymen. During the fight he was hit in the leg by a bullet. He was taken to a local field hospital and was treated for the light wound. He was told that he had to be evacuated back further. He refused and after two weeks was sent back to the front. The soil was too soft, which made tank movement very difficult to move, so they were transferred to the eastern shores of the Dnieper. His unit was ordered to move closer to Kiev while counterattacking Germans who had just retaken parts of the Kiev suburbs. The fighting was very difficult with heavy casualties. He lost most of his friends from the military school during that fighting. His tank was used for infantry support. The 3rd Guard tank division, 9th tank corps, was engaged mostly around the city. After the battle of Kiev he fought in Western Ukraine and then in Ternopol and Lvov in July 1944. Before the battle of Lvov, they were resting nearby to get new tanks, but were summoned to go back to the front to stop the Germans from escaping the city.

The battle of Lvov was a hard-fought affair as the Germans had a big army there, and this was their last possession. In September 1944 Gurtovnik’s unit reached Poland and crossed over. He fought in Krakow, which was also a hard-fought affair. The Germans there tried to destroy the city, the Russians tried to prevent that. In order to do that they moved closer to the city at night for surprise. After the Polish campaign, Gurtovnik fought his way through Germany until reaching Berlin, where his division saw heavy action until they reached the Reichstag. The Germans were in every building, basement, causing enormous casualties. It all ended on May 2, 1945. After the battle, his division then moved to the Czech capital of Prague to restore order. He retired from the military in 1980.

Semen Vaidman
“One morning we left the line with my company of 100 men, but by the end of the day only seven of my men and myself came back. The Germans had ambushed us. My men were falling all around me. This was one of the hardest days of my life.” —Semen Vaidman in Brighton Beach New York, fall 2006.

Born Aug. 20, 1917 in Suvorovo, Ukraine, Vaidman spent his entire childhood in that village. In 1933 he went to Odessa to study in a technical college. He worked in Donbas area until 1938, in a bakery factory, as part of the chemistry division. In early 1938 he went to Leningrad to study in military school. He graduated in February 1940, and was sent to Byelorussia as part of the 318th division, as a lieutenant. He was an artillery company leader, with 112 men with 203-mm canons.

Vaidman fired his first shot on June 26, 1941 while defending the city of Bobruysk. One night he was approached by 14 doctors who were sent from a medical college in Moscow. They were lost, so he took them with him to start working in the division. His company was soon encircled. They escaped on Sept. 9 with 82 men and then located the remnants of the division near Gorky. After the battle, Vaidman and his unit were questioned for four months by the NKVD. In early 1942 he was sent to Stalingrad with the rest of the division.

When the battle of Stalingrad began, he was a commander of a company of a 203-mm cannon. At the beginning of the battle, at 4 a.m., his superior officer asked him and five others from his unit to find a better defensive position. Two of the men were killed by snipers, but they were successful. At the end of the battle he had only seven men left in his company.

In June 1944 he went back to the front as part of the 112 artillery Brigade and was promoted to captain. He fought through Poland then to Germany. After the war he remained in the military in Brandenburg, Germany, where his son was born. In 1948 he returned to Moscow, where he stayed until 1959. He immigrated to the United States in 1993 and rejoined his children, who had immigrated earlier.


Read more May Day coverage in Tablet magazine here.