Boris Serafimovich Kryzhanovsky

Boris Serafimovich Kryzhanovsky, born in Stalingrad in 1930, was twelve years old when the Germans stormed the city. The house in which the family lived was destroyed in the massive aerial attacks of August 1942. In October the Germans deported Boris, his parents, and his little brother to Ukraine where they performed slave labor for the occupiers. Today Boris Kryzhanovsky lives in Moscow. He is on the board of “Children of Stalingrad,” an association with branches in several Russian cities which seeks to raise public awareness about the plight of Soviet civilians during the Battle of Stalingrad.

In two days the city was destroyed.

The massive bombing of the city began on August 23, 1942 right after dinner. In two days the city was destroyed. The Central district where I lived was the first to be destroyed. It was one of the most horrible days: the earth literally trembled. It was terrifying. We took cover in a bomb shelter. The next day our house was gone. I had nothing but underwear left.

I remember a day in October. The bombing raids had become rarer. I remember hopping around the ruins when a German plane suddenly appeared. It was flying low so I could clearly see the pilot’s face: a young man, sitting in his cockpit and smiling. I can even remember that smile. He was firing away with his machinegun. I ran, he missed me. It hadn’t occurred to me to just lie low. But he missed me…

Here’s where we were hiding. The last shelter was an excellent one – the one of [Alexei] Chuyanov, Secretary of the Regional Party Committee. That shelter was one of the best. It had a kitchen constructed in depth, a passage deeper still and then a hall. Then there was the trapdoor of the back exit. That is where we hunkered down right till the Germans arrived. That period was marked by terrible fighting. We were right in the middle of it: I witnessed it all. It was my first experience of battle. And then, one early morning the Germans arrived. Some woman had ventured outside in the morning, and there were Germans there. They asked her: “Are there soldiers there?” She said “No.” I still remember the German I saw. He had a pistol; he entered, like all of them covered with dirt. For some reason, perhaps to scare us, he fired into the floor. We were all afraid.

Later I saw their small tanks and motor-cycles in the courtyard. In the evening other Germans arrived. They began robbing us. They took the bundles with whatever possessions we had managed to salvage and emptied them. I remember that my mother was crying and saying “Kinder” [German: “children”]. I was of a small size, and my brother was even smaller. And I still remember with disgust how that German was taking the items one by one and saying: “Mir” [German: “for me”], and “for you” – as he was sorting out our salvaged possessions. Then they came a second time.

In the evening other Germans arrived. They began robbing us.

Afterwards, while they remained there, they were going around with some kind of wire skewers, wandering around the destroyed houses, looking what else to ransack. Before the war Stalingrad was largely a wooden city – very different from today’s. Our two-storied house was a wooden one, too, and like others, it burned easily. So with their skewers they were looking for whatever was left. Sometimes they even found and took the items that had been hidden in the ground.

Towards the end of the month the Germans issued an order to chase out and deport somewhere all the civilians. So they marched us under guard to Kalach – that’s about 100 kilometers. I don’t know how many days it took us to walk there. …  Even though it was an open field, it was hedged off with barbed wire so I call it a concentration camp. There were only civilians there. Then a part of us was sent to Belaya Kalitva [name of a village and a Nazi labor camp in the Rostov region], and a part was put into boxcars and taken in the Western direction: don’t know if they were planning  to take us to Germany or someplace else.  It was me, my father, mother and little brother; no little sister at that point [shows pictures].

Father and I came down with typhoid and were running up a high fever, so in Ukraine, around Mirgorod or Poltava, they kicked us off the train because we were contagious. So we rested in Ukraine and the others were taken further. We still would have to work under the Germans.

German troops were everywhere, especially before the front had neared Ukraine. When they were retreating they planned on taking us with them by force, but we hid at the cemetery.

Let me tell about good Germans.

Let me tell about good Germans. In our Ukrainian cob house there was a German. And he’d say “Baden!” – “let’s go for a swim!” And we’d go. He had a motorcycle. Another one invited us over once: me and a girl of 12 or 13. He sat each of down on his knee, hugged us, was telling us something for a long time. Then he gave us chocolate bars. He was visibly moved. You could see he had Kinder: a Knabe and a Mädchen – a boy and a girl. That goes to show that I saw some good Germans in Ukraine. But I also saw bad ones there.

In Ukraine they were in general merciless. I saw people hanging from gallows: both partisans and civilians. What was their crime? The placard would say “partisan” and something else. I saw that. Right next to the church.

So, before the front line had reached us in Ukraine, the Germans arrived and told us “We’ll be burning down houses now.” And Mother was crying: “We have Kinder.” A German told us, “Come with us!” And imagine how naïve I was: I am walking across the village with them, and they are with their helmets and submachine guns. They are jabbering something in their language. They stop by some cob house and say “Chicken give!” And then one grabs a chicken from its perch and hands it to me, saying “Chicken yours!” I say, “Nein, nein.” And he throws this chicken down, so that the feathers fly… Then we get to German headquarters. The village is empty. I’m walking with them alone! Without fear! There was no fear. At the headquarters the German poked around somewhere and brought out some bread, a loaf or two, and I saw some bread lying on the floor. I asked him “Can I take it?” He said, “Take it, take it.” And then told me: “Nach Hause!” I went home loaded with bread. Brought it to Mother. Imagine that!

Then our troops arrived. They drafted Father. And we had to stay and work. That’s why I’m considered a laborer of the home front, and a veteran of the Great Patriotic War… All these awards I received at the end of the war because I was working: working for the war effort, contributing to the victory in a way.

In 1945 we returned to Stalingrad. The time was hard, very hard. I’d say it was probably no easier than during the war. The city lay in ruins. We were living in some pathetic dugout. There were loads of German POWs.  By the way, about the Germans. I saw several of them who walked freely without a guard. Some were actually well-built and well-fed. They were working on rebuilding the city and maybe something else, but I did see Germans who had a neat, decent appearance.

Saying that 42, 000 civilians died in Stalingrad. That’s a damned lie.

Before the war there were 500,000 people in Stalingrad. Add to this 227,000 wounded soldiers who were quartered in various hospitals in and around the city. About as many had been evacuated from Leningrad, Ukraine, West Ukraine, Belorussia. Jews running away from the Germans, understandably, were particularly numerous.

I’d like to dwell on some of the figures that are being published. It’s a pack of lies! Saying that 42, 000 civilians died in Stalingrad. That’s a damned lie. Because Stalin had forbidden evacuation. They evacuated factories and some specialists with them; some people had left, but the majority stayed in Stalingrad. That majority was running scared and getting shot at. Who would count them? They weren’t even counting soldiers, and to think they would count us, let alone precisely, to the man: 42,195! That’s a barefaced lie!

There have been more accurate figures, for instance, in an article in “Pravda” that during the battle of Stalingrad about 200,000 civilians died – that’s as many as in Hiroshima.

I’ll grouch a bit about how they say that Stalingrad was supplied with provisions during the battle. Fat chance! Stalingrad was hungry! The soldiers would occasionally give us something, something we would procure by shifting for ourselves. I remember we went down to the Volga to rescue wet wheat from a broken barge. Mother and I would traipse around the ruins looking for dead horses and slice off some meat. There were no rations or anything during the whole period…  Well, the Germans wouldn’t feed us either. Although they would sometimes offer us a treat. I remember when they arrived they offered us some margarine and something else.

When after the war it was necessary to find our Stalingrad documents, Father was requesting them from the Stalingrad archive. And he was told that there were no papers concerning our family whatsoever! As if we had never lived in Stalingrad or had never been taken by the Germans. Nobody knew anything. So there is again the point about 42,000 killed: who could have really counted them if the Archive has no information even about us?! How many of us had been evacuated? How many had been deported to Germany or someplace else? There are no exact figures!! So when they broadcast these figures, I have no idea what it is done for. Archive materials are gone; they only have fake figures.

I always knew that Stalin was everything

What is the significance of the Battle of Stalingrad for you personally?

The significance is great. You know what Grigory Afanasyevich [Zverev] was saying about this significance? For us Stalingrad is of paramount importance. We are simply proud of it! I, for example, can’t say anything bad about Stalin’s rule either before the war, during the war or after. I always knew that Stalin was everything, Stalin was Victory. With Stalin we lived and worked up until 1953. With Stalin we became pilots. After Ukraine, I studied at a special Air Force school and became an officer. [Zverev] and I are, as they say, brothers in aviation. That’s it. And that’s why Stalin is for me what he is…

I am a Stalingrad child and deputy chair of the organization “Children of Stalingrad.” We have our diaspora in Moscow as well, and I’m to a certain extent in charge of that team. We organize events: The City Day, the Day of routing Germans from Stalingrad, and others. By the way, I recently called City Hall to remind them that November 19 was nearing – that’s the date of the counter-offensive. Last year it was an observed holiday. But this year they told me at City Hall: “You know, we are simply dropping this holiday.” Either because of the economic crisis or something else. You can verify it yourself: such holidays simply disappear from the press. And even August 23, the day Stalingrad fell, the day of remembrance of the perished Stalingraders is not mentioned anywhere in the press.

2014 © Facing Stalingrad. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise stated, all text by Jochen Hellbeck, photos by Emma Dodge Hanson.
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