Letters to nowhere, hidden graves and old military uniforms
There are only two hundred WWII veterans left in Azerbaijan. Just a year ago there were around eight hundred of them. The less they become, the more valuable their stories are.
Asker Agaev, 1922
In 1940 I entered the Naval Academy. When the war began, we were directly taken from the university to Sevastopol. We had to conduct submarine reconnaissance to determine which objects should be bombed.
In a submarine we never knew where we were going. While going, we were just writing letters, and then exchanging them with each other, saying that, if one of us dies, the other one would take those letters to the other’s relatives.
I didn’t know who I was writing to because I didn’t have anyone to write to – no father, mother, brother or sister.
In 1945 I celebrated Victory Day in the Romanian city of Constanta. I didn’t go back to my motherland because there was nobody waiting for me in Baku. I was then sent to work in Mozdok. I started a family in 1967, and only then returned to Baku.
Ismail Farajov, 1924
I served in the 77th Division. I made it to Berlin.
Once in Moldova, near the place called Izmailia, we were hit by strong enemy fire. Two-hundred-and-four Azerbaijanis perished there, and many were wounded. It was impossible to bury all the dead, so we just dug big pits, dumped all corpses in them and covered it with earth. We did not mark these places so that these ‘graves’ could not be found and ruined.
In 1945 I went from Berlin to Moscow. I lived there for a year, and then returned to Baku and began to work as a history teacher.
Maria Stepanova, 1923
I was born in Russia, in Orenburg province. When the war began, I went to the front as a volunteer. I participated in the Stalingrad battles in 1942.
During the offensive there were nurses who always followed us. In one of the battles we came to a field where the Germans bombed another regiment just before us, and there were a lot of wounded. I still remember one of our nurses was helping one wounded, and he was telling her: “Go, leave me, or else you will also be killed.” She answered: “I have a brother in the war, maybe he too is wounded now, what if no one helps him?”
In 1945 I married an Azerbaijani guy whom I met in the war and moved to Azerbaijan.
Aleksandr Gritchenko, 1922
Because we were in the naval forces we were among the first called to the front. For long periods we did not step on dry land. We had to cope with the existing food on the ship. We tried to divide it so that no one would starve. But honestly, most of the time we just had no time for food.
Most of all we wanted all this to end and we returned home alive. It was very scary.
Seifulla Bahyshov, 1922
I was in the artillery. I participated in battles in Ukraine and Belarus. I was wounded twice.
In 1945, we were staying outside Berlin and were waiting for the order to enter the city. Then came the news of victory and we returned from Germany to Moscow. Yet I could not go home for a long time after that – we were always being told that there was a shortage of soldiers. They only let us go in 1948.
When we were released we were told to give away our new uniforms, and in return they gave us old ones. There was a shortage of uniforms too.