Second Edition (March 2012).
The harrowing true story of a teenage boy who decided joining the Soviet Army during the Great Patriotic War was better than being a slave worker in a Soviet coal mine. This is the story of his experiences during that war, what his family endured, and his survival up to the present day.
From the Prologue: At noon on June 27, 1941, Father declared decisively "Liuba, we have to run immediately!" Mother hesitated, but Father insisted and was not about to give in. With his violin in one hand and a small bag in the other, he led Jaka and me to the doorway. Mother still held back. She was very reluctant to leave our home. Father kept pleading. "Liuba, I know the Germans well and what they're capable of doing. They'll bring death." Finally, Mother relented. The four of us ran toward Riga's central railroad station. When we finally reached the station, the train was already filled with others trying to flee. With great effort, we found a crowded compartment and managed to wedge ourselves in. We sat for over an hour waiting for the train to depart. Mother was extremely anxious and finally could sit no longer. "I need to check once more," she said. "I want to be sure everything is locked." I moved swiftly to the door to bar her way, I was strong enough to prevent her from leaving. But, in her soft manner, Mother begged me to let her go. "I'll be back in ten minutes." Sitting next to me, my Father appealed, "Let her go. She will be back." With that, I unwillingly gave in and Mother left the train. We could only sit and wait anxiously for her to return. A few minutes after Mother left, Latvian Fifth Column Diversionist snipers zeroed in on our train as I was standing outside the car. I was trying to see if I could spot Mother. A Russian soldier fired back as the bullets whistled around him. He protected himself by hiding behind one of the car wheels. I hid behind another. Then a second soldier ran past us and I heard a terrible explosion. The soldier was blown to pieces by a hand grenade. Almost immediately, the train began to move. Shaken and gasping for air, I quickly jumped aboard, as the train's speed began to increase. After traveling almost three kilometers, the train stopped again for about two hours, and then it rolled on eastwards toward the Russian Inland. An hour later, the railroad behind us was completely cut off by the Spearhead of the SS Dead Skull Division. Our train was the only one to leave Riga. Although our Mother told us she wanted to check the house one more time, her real intention was to try and convince her brother to join us. She did not succeed and in the process failed to return before the train left. That was the last time we ever saw our Mother. I should not have let her leave, despite my Father's assurances. This will always be my big tragedy.