BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 9 May 2005, 17:39 GMT 18:39 UK
Veterans: Views from the east
To mark the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, interviewed three veterans of the Eastern Front about World War II. Extracts of the interviews follow.

Two of the veterans, an ethnic Russian born and living in Latvia and a Chechen living in Grozny, fought for the Soviet Red Army. A third, an Estonian, fought on the German side.

Boris Antipenko, Preili, Latvia, Soviet Army volunteer in 1944

I feel sorry for the [SS] legionnaires.

Nowadays people say they were fighting for independence. But I should point out two things. Firstly, there was nothing about Latvian independence in their oath. Secondly, I was at school during the fascist occupation. Latvian was not even taught then, so the Germans weren't thinking about Latvia.

Boris Antipenko
I woke up in a cold sweat after dreaming about those long burning rows, and the smell of burnt human flesh
Boris Antipenko
If I was president of Latvia, I'd have brought together the heads of veterans of the Allied coalition and the so-called national [pro-German] associations and said to them 'Enough! Sixty years have passed! Shake hands!'

I saw columns of Jews marched past my windows, then heard shots, cries and all the rest of it, then - about a year later - someone came, dug them up ... and burnt them.

We boys had to watch, and though of course it was all cordoned off we climbed trees. Recently I woke up in a cold sweat after dreaming about those long burning rows. And the smell of burnt human flesh. That's how they did it, without ovens.

Prejli was a Jewish town, but there was never any animosity towards them. Jews went to both the Latvian and the Russian school. There were no problems...

My three elder brothers were in the Waffen-SS, but only one returned... He didn't commit any crimes that I should be ashamed of. The issue never arose for us. All three of them were mobilised. Why did they join the SS instead of the partisans? Because our father was in the resistance and had to maintain his cover. If they joined the partisans, he would have had to go too...

My brother, the one who survived, ended up in Poland, where a whole group of legionnaires went over to the Red Army. The funniest thing was that the Red Army needed people, so they gave them new uniforms and rifles and they went off to fight, my brother included.

So they fought to the end of the war, and then were sent to a filtration camp to be checked out. But it wasn't a concentration camp - they got rations, they could write letters and their relatives came to see them... After that my brother was appointed head of an interior ministry department.

Ilmar Haaviste, Waffen-SS

I joined the German forces in 1944. There was a mobilisation, and also Estonian units on the Eastern Front were transferred to near Narva, where the 20th Estonian Division of the Waffen-SS was formed.

I had heard from my father, who was a schoolteacher, that in 1943 there was an Allied conference in Tehran where Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to a proposal from Stalin which in effect handed him Estonia...

Ilmar Haaviste
At the end of the day there was no right or wrong side - the war was thrust upon us
Ilmar Haaviste
You have to remember the first year of Soviet power, in 1940-41, in which it showed itself to be so appalling, we'd seen nothing like it. All the deportations, murders, depriving people of their homes, destroying everything - all this turned the overwhelming majority of Estonians against the communist regime...

All those veterans of the Waffen-SS who were guilty of crimes against humanity were found and convicted over the next 50 years. We have to recognise that there were sadists and pigs on both sides... We shouldn't generalise about everyone who served in the German forces or police battalions being criminals...

I can't imagine what would have happened if Hitler had won. His plans were well known and documented. And I ask myself: Would I, as a soldier in the German armed forces, have been happy with that? No. We would have had nothing: no Estonian schools or universities, nothing. In the Soviet era, whatever else you say about it, our national culture somehow survived...

Soviet veterans do not look on us especially favourably. They say, 'well they're fascists'. We Estonians have a go at each other about who was on the right or the wrong side. But at the end of the day there was no right or wrong side - the war was thrust upon us. We were on our side defending our homes. We didn't want the Soviet regime back. We had seen the horror of it. And those who fought on the other side were also right in their way, they wanted to go home...

Imagine if the fallen soldiers could come back to life again, if only for a few hours. Would they be at each other's throats? No. They would ask each other: Why? What was the point of all this? Why did we have this war?

Suleyman Murdalov, Chechen and Ingush Cavalry Regiment

One of my commanders asked me after the war: 'Murdalov, what nationality are you?' I said I was a Chechen. 'Don't tell anyone,' he said... When I found out from him that all Chechens had been declared enemies and exiled, I fell ill. I couldn't eat and lost any interest in life. Why then am I here? I asked myself.

Suleyman Murdalov
How could I imagine that planes with red stars on them could bomb my home, my town?
Suleyman Murdalov
I was surprised that I was meeting so few Chechens at the front. There was no-one to ask about news from home. At the beginning of the war you often saw Chechens. Everyone knew that Chechens and Ingush were good fighters...

I left Checheno-Ingushetia to defend my mother, who stayed behind with my little brother. But I went back to Kazakhstan [where they were exiled]. It never became home for me. Exile is exile. It's humiliating. I missed home. A person's homeland is their most sacred thing...

How could I imagine that planes with red stars on them could bomb my home, my town? How could we, having liberated Soviet towns, then flatten them, towns which had been full of our women, children and old folk?

There are fewer and fewer of us. There are still a couple of defenders of the Brest fortress [in Belarus] left, but they're very old. Their feats have not been appreciated. I was put forward for the Order of Glory, but never received it. I got a medal for bravery only in Kazakhstan after the war. But I don't need anything. The main thing is that there should be peace.

Watch highlights from the ceremony in Moscow


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific