Here, Roza recounts her actions in the Struggle for Vilnius in mid-July, 1944.
October 12th, 1944.
I began my journey in July. We held the path to Sberki, 20km to the left of Slabado and the river Shoshopo1. Without permission we got in a car. It broke down near the 184th ID, and all went back to friends, in the evening. We spent the night with the head of the Political Department. Was with Kaleria Petrova, ate general’s dinner, they wanted us to pay for it, but we would not. In the morning we were taken to a Willy’s jeep. Going where? In that army car, we learned everything. Girls spent the night on the front, attacking, fire, but they have seen the boys. Yes, I want to be at the front, it’s simultaneously interesting and dangerous, but not frightening to me for some reason.
Lithuania in 1941; Slabadai is where Roza’s unit was fighting. From Lithuanian Maps
I remember the day when I went on the attack with Solomatin, who I loved, but I did not believe in his love. He did everything for me. And I watched him look death in the eye, like everyone, and he had the power to do everything, perhaps, because I’m a girl and have been fighting valiantly. But I left him, just as a remarkable regiment commander was killed close to him. Nikolai S [Solomatin] became the regiment commander.
I went to the front. I met the guys, friends with our girls Shura and Duce: the battalion commander and the deputy. We got along great. I fell into the company of a good uncle, a senior lieutenant, company commander. Took me under his wing. I went with him to the attack, running across the rye, Blokhin2 not there. I learned they had an offensive that night, went to it.
Roza and “Duce” Krasnoborova
At 3 in the morning we went on the attack, fire all around, and I was at the front of combat formations. Seeing this, Blokhin got my attention and said: “Come now, little girl, in the rear.” Shapiro, the Jewish political commissar3, chased me away. Day breaks. Walking. Freezing: in my underwear, bra and camouflage, and that’s all. Where we are, Fritz is on three sides. I see a guard looming in the distance. But whose? Through the rye I crept closer: our soldiers, outposts, tired, sleeping in formations. I run up to the guard. He sleeps standing. I learned that it’s Solomatin’s battalion. He told me to go to sleep. I lay down under my jacket and camouflage and immediately fell asleep. In the morning we woke up and they wondered how I found them. We sit.
Suddenly a German plane strafed the ground 100 meters from us. Tairov4 said: “After 10 minutes, we will counterattack the enemy.” And there it is. My team was commanded to take the hill, we took it in minutes. I was at the front. At first I did not see, and then I see: from the hills, 100 meters off, climbs self-propelled guns with troops. It was the enemy manpower. Just to the left of me, 8 meters away, a tank crushed a lieutenant and a captain, and other soldiers. My rifle jammed. Quickly, I cleared the jam and shot again.
Here comes the tank directly at me, 10 meters away. I feel for my grenades – but they were lost while crawling through the rye. And I was not scared. 7 meters out our 76mm artillery hit the tank. Tanks passing by, soldiers throwing grenades at them, all kinds of fire (machine gun, shells), 8 shot down, and the others retreated. After everything, when I saw the dead and wounded, it was terrible. Before his death, the captain gave me a watch.
Got trophies, NZ [emergency rations]. I had long treasured a blue scarf made of silk which, like a memory, is lost. Tairov said: “When the attack begins, remember where you are, and what lies ahead, and how very much you have gone through.” Tairov and Solomatin quarreled. Tairov – old soldier, ordered to hold on until the end, and surrounded by morning, but Solomatin “I am in charge here.” Sent on watch – General Babayan5 – I hide, so as not to get sent to the rear. By night I arrive on horseback with the cavalry. All the Lithuanians were taken under guard. Well, it turns out that a peasant woman was taking a horse to the meadow when she was ordered behind the lines for safety. But when we occupied the village, where Fritz was, the horse was found again.
At night we were surrounded. Stayed with Solomatin. He was overcome: “death is all the same.” I didn’t blame him: he is young, and it was his right to think like that. I was not afraid to die, but I began to cry because, well, they say, a girl blames herself for everything, when the whole situation allows it, at every opportunity. I sat up until late.
Fortunately, two days later another division liberated us. Solomatin continued to make passes at me. I took my rifle, grenades, and went to seek a place with room for outraged feelings.6 Around the Germans, to the right and left. I asked the artillery guys – where? I was told “Come on” – they say – “with us,” and I went. Was good with them. We went on big marches, I went to the guns. I got a letter from Blokhin, saying, I am now in charge, go. 60 Km march. Tired, I had to go through the mountains, I lay down. I thought I would run away when the guys fell asleep, but the guys were so good, it was hard to leave. They fell asleep and I, exhausted, could not resist.
A kick wakes me up. Before the eyes of the two machine gunners from my training company. I am sent to the rear, orders are orders. Next time. Near the village Obukhovo, to the north and further west, spoke with Blokhin, the training company was gone from where I had left them. Went with the 1136th Regiment to the surrounding groups. Spent the night, the next morning went on patrol. Saw 30 Fritz run up and overtake the scouts. Skirmish. Two Germans came out of the bushes and killed our captain. We caught 6, but lost them in the thick bushes. The two that killed our captain we caught and shot.
The Germans split into 2 groups and ran off in opposite directions. Our boys pursued them, but I had to go “home” to my company. Along the way, saw one wounded. He asked me to shoot him there again, he crawled. I moved along. Going along in my daydreams, I had forgotten that I was in a dangerous place. Walked on a bridge, casually I looked to the side in an overgrown ravine. I see: what on earth? Fritz sitting there. I shouted: “Hände hoch” and up went 6 hands: three of them. One mumbled something I did not understand. I only knew the how to say the words: “Quick,” “forward,” – and shout. They crawled out of the ravine. Secured weapons, watches, grenades, binoculars, etc. Walked 1.5KM, I saw a German had only one boot on. That’s what he was mumbling about in the ravine, asking for permission to retrieve the other boot: I did not understand. I met a fellow soldier: “Do you have the time?” I say: “Here.” “To see?” he asks, “take it,” and he ran off with the watch. I led them towards the village. One starts feeling bold, and asks their question: “Good or kaput?” I say, “will be good”7 – and they all turned to look at me. I go through the village, this is in Poland. In camouflage, with a Finka8, grenades, rifle at the ready – a real bandit woman. Then called out everyone from dinner. So many cheers!
There I met Sasha Schekachikhin, who likes me. First we went with Kali Petrova to dine with Blokhin, drink milk, etc. And later, I liked him and began to hesitate to say goodbye. Sometimes, we’d call to Blokhin while he was with Sasha Sch., to say such-and-such, as both Kali and I liked Sasha. Blokhin, knowing this, would reply “he’s busy,” – although he was glad that we came. Sasha I confessed to love first in a letter, and he replied that he could not say for sure if he felt the same – shame. Oh, I cried. When I left, when I captured three Fritz, and because I think he does not love me. I got used to it, and thought: this is the last time, kill the Germans, etc, because this is a serious situation.
Almost at the same time as Blokhin and the others, I was fooling around with Solomatin, but I know that all this is only temporary. Now no one to love, although I do not believe Solomatin, but I dream about being with him, being beside him. Blokhin is already calling me back to the rear. I’m sure: Tanya had been there, with a letter I was not allowed to read. I corresponded with Grisha, Dima, Kostya, and Nikolai, but this is something else. It’s just – first you are comrades, now guys start dreaming about something, they get bored on the front, you don’t want to offend. Dima wrote me 3 dull short ones; I requested he send all my photos back. 3 years… They were both experiences, nothing to write about them, and already wrote everything interesting. How do you explain that the guys so quickly disappoint? They cheat, sometimes I get up the nerve to say – leave me alone.
I would like to have a girlfriend. I often wonder about Anna Smirnova and Masha Tisanova, they really like me, but I don’t know yet. Not our division. Why is it that in this mass of boys I’m always alone? I don’t know. Even if you have a man, absences will happen and always be unpleasant. One fella in 215th ID, K., offered me perfume and everything, whatever, but I’m not selling. Could be foolish, but not necessarily: will be trouble, he’s a high rank.
A photo of Roza with an unknown captain, which she had with her on the front. On the back was written: “…War has stolen all the precious time from me.”
1 The village of Starkai, Lithuania – near Slabadai and on the bank of the Sesupe river. Throughout the diary, Roza uses German place names spelled phonetically in the Cyrillic alphabet. It was very fun to figure out what they all were!
2 Paval Blokhin, who Roza had something of a relationship with. It’s unclear how serious it was, but she mentions it several times in the diary.
3 The Political Commissar had been something like a co-commander of each unit, making sure that soldiers embraced proper Communist ideology. Initially, they had broad powers, even extending to court martial and execution. This hurt morale, though, and by 1944 they were mainly symbolic.
4 Captain and Political Commissar Isaac Tairov, 1916 – August 19th, 1944
5 Hmayak Babayan, August 15th, 1901 – April 21st, 1945, Hero of the Soviet Union
6 This line is a reference to the play “Woe from Wit” by A.S. Griboyedov: Act IV, Scene 14
7 A German-speaking reader wrote in about this exchange. In German, they were asking “good or dead?” as in, “are we prisoners or will we be executed?” Roza responds “will be gut,” and I think she meant “it’s good.” The German word “Gut” also sounds like a Russian army abbreviation for the rear divisional command, and it’s possible she thought that’s what they meant, since she was taking them to the rear command post anyway.
8 A Finnish dagger, slang term for the Soviet NR-40 combat knife.