In times of war, heroism blends with the tragic, the comic and the absurd.
In times of war, heroism blends with the tragic, the comic and the absurd. They are all
intertwined, much in the same way as it happens in times of peace. But unlike
peace, war is a time when no rules are observed and reason no longer works. In
World War II, on the eastern front in the Soviet Union, the Romanian soldiers
were faced with countless such absurd circumstances, life-and-death situations
in which everything hangs by a thread.
a sub-lieutenant at that time, fought on the anti-Soviet front in 1942. In a
1955 interview to the Oral History Centre of the Romanian Radio Broadcasting
Corporation, he recalled the battle of Sadovoy, near the Russian town of Oryol.
Vladimir Boanta: "At some point, I was in the trench, next to the guy who was handing the
ammunition belts to the machine gunner. One of them was called Velicu, I don't
remember the name of the other soldier. The fire coming from the Russians was
tremendous, I think I can say it was the most terrible shelling we had ever
seen. Now, this soldier who was feeding the ammunition belts into the machine
was very eager to see the Russians approaching. So he was squatting, his back
leaning against the side of the trench, and looking forward. I warned him, 'Be
careful, boy! Can't you see the shelling we're up against?' At some point, we
only heard one sound: 'Ouch'. And when I turned to look at him, a bullet had
crossed his skull, from forehead to the back of his head, and blood was gushing
from his forehead on my boots, as I was lying face down. When he saw this, the
other soldier was shocked and started crying. So to quiet him down, I told him,
'Shut up! Don't you dare cry over this! He had it coming'."
also heard of nightmarish scenes, in which inhumanity reached atrocious levels.
The killing of prisoners was just one of the grotesque facets of such
Vladimir Boanta: "When we took
back Sadovoy, we found a well, where the bodies of a large number of officers
from our corps had been thrown. They had been marched there by an officer who
apparently was speaking Romanian, although of course he was not Romanian. He
may have been from the south of Bassarabia, a Gagauz perhaps, and he told our
people, 'Now, you Romanians, it's time for you to die!' He would show them his
pistol and ask each of them, 'Where would you rather be shot?' And he would
shoot them as he pleased, in the head, or the heart. He then walked to a
moustachioed captain from the artillery troops called Panaitescu who asked him
to shoot him in the heart. The Gagauzian told him: 'No, I'm going to shoot you
in your moustache.' He shot, the captain fell, and then they were all thrown
into the dry well. When our troops arrived, they fished everyone out of the
well, everyone the officer in the Soviet army had shot in such a cowardly way.
Surprisingly, the man who was shot in his moustache had survived, but was in
In war, survival was
often a matter of luck or the result of a sudden change in someone's state,
Vladimir Boanta recalls:
"A former University colleague of mine, called Mircea Stefanescu, who had been taken
prisoner, was put in a line together with the other officers. A drunken officer
who didn't speak Romanian showed them his gun and asked them: 'What's this?"
And if they said it's a gun, they would be shot. The question was only a way of
making fun of people, he would shoot them anyway. My colleague told me how he
saw one of the eyes of a man who had been shot next to him pop out of his head.
When the Russian asked my colleague "what is this?', referring to his gun, my
colleague started calling him names, thinking he would be shot anyway. The
Russian, who was drunk, asked his translator what my colleague said. The
translator told him and the Russian himself started calling my colleague names
in Russian and walked away, staggering on his feet, no longer shooting
For 45 years, the
Soviet propaganda only highlighted the barbaric behaviour of the Romanian
troops passing through Soviet villages. In reality, however, the interaction
with the local population was as good as could be expected in wartime.
Boanta: "The locals were
all impoverished people, so our troops could not possibly covet their goods,
given that they were coming from a place where things were much better. How
could they possibly steal from poor people? On the contrary, the locals were
hoping the soldiers would share some of their limited supplies with them. So
our soldiers sometimes shared some of their food with the locals. Many of our
troops were in fact people from the countryside, as were the locals. A natural
relationship thus developed between the soldiers and the locals, given they
shared the same social background and the same way of life."
One conclusion we
can draw from all these accounts is that day-to-day life during the war is
sometimes more complicated than historical sources may reveal.