The division I was in took part in combat only during offensives. When the front was stable we were being held in reserve. By August, 1944, we fought our way to the vicinity of Rumania. By the end of the same month Rumania abrogated its allegiance with Germany and pulled out of the war. By then Germany was in no position. to force the issue as their forces were spread quite thin, having to fight on several fronts. We advanced through part of Rumania without a shot fired and by the middle of September reached Hungary. There we participated in several fierce fights, the fiercest of which was for the possession of Budapest. There, the Germans were ensconced among the ruins of bombed out buildings and held on tenaciously to their positions. It took us a long time to conquer the city, and it involved much house to house fighting. The cost in casualties was very high, to us as well as to the Germans. We even lost a major general there. When I was accepted into the red army the news of my escape and that I was from Czechoslovakia quickly spread among the soldiers. Many of them gave me a very friendly reception and cheerful greetings, affectionately patting me on the back and complimenting me on the escape. This was a true, heart warming demonstration of friendship. Then they offered me a drink. It was a very potent alcoholic beverage brewed in the field. It tasted like turpentine. I took one sip and almost collapsed desperately gasping for air. When after a while I regained my equilibrium they asked jokingly what kind of culture we have in Czechoslovakia. I got along very well with those boys and made many friends. Later I even got used to the brew.

One time in Hungary we were encircled. I was gripped by a terrifying fear of falling into the hands of the Germans. It was so bad that I seriously considered putting a bullet through my head rather than become a prisoner. Later, reinforcements arrived and helped us break out of the circle.

One dark night in December, 1944, we were advancing when suddenly all hell broke loose. A German rear guard met us with machine gun tracer bullets and a shower or grenades to hold us up to enable their main force to retreat in an orderly fashion. In a split second, before I was able to drop to the ground, something hit me in the lower jaw knocking out two of my teeth. As I felt no pain and the frost quickly causing the blood to coagulate I didn't seek medical help. The wound healed by itself in a short time, leaving a scar which I carry as a war souvenir.

After the conquest of Budapest we pushed on to Austria encountering few obstacles. Those were minor engagements, mostly with rear guards. It was evident in Austria that the living standard of the population was quite high judging by their nice homes, furniture and many pianos. One Russian soldier said to me "The government deceived us, claiming that we had the highest standard of living". We stopped in Vienna for a while and then moved further west until we met up with the American forces at the end of the war. That scene is as vivid in my memory as if it happened yesterday. A U.S. soldier walked over to me, whipped out a small notebook from his pocket and greeted me in Russian with a heavy American accent. His greeting translated into English was "Hello Soviet Union" following which we hugged and started conversing in German. The atmosphere was festive, there was great jubilation and camaraderie. It was a rare historic moment. I felt as if I participated in making history. All of us were elated that the terrible slaughter was over. It took me a while to get used to the absence of the din of war. The eerie quiet was hard to get used to.

When we entered Hungary and later Austria, the order of the high command was read to us. In it the commander of our forces admonished us to conduct ourselves in a civilized manner, not to mistreat the civilian population. This admonition was disregarded. There was wholesale looting, burning and rape. Rape I did not witness but I heard many of the soldiers boast about it and I saw many women in tears. When some of the women asked me why the rapes, I had no answer and I was thoroughly ashamed. When I asked a lieutenant why this was going on he had a one word answer -"Folk." The plunder and burning I saw. Watches were a particularly hot item. There were very few civilians left in possession of their time pieces. I considered the burning especially stupid, defeating the purpose. Trucks filled with ammunition were hidden from the enemy air force behind walls of buildings which when set on fire made a good target at night. Most of the time the soldiers were drunk, which caused unnecessary casualties. One time in Hungary, I walked into a basement and found several soldiers floating in a pool of wine, dead. They opened the spigots of the wine barrels, drank and drowned.


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Boris Segelstein