Tag Archives: World War II

Valeriy Shtrykov, R.I.P.

I had met Valeriy Shtrykov Oct. 2012 while being in Volgograd, the former Stalingrad, looking for the burial ground of one of my fallen uncles during the battle of Stalingrad at WW II. My guide and organizer Mike (Mikhail Shuvarikov) made connections with Valeriy, knowing that this guy had helped the Volksbund (German organisation for finding and excavating fallen and missed german soldiers during WW II) and that only this guy would find the place where my uncle Martin has been shot dead somewhere along the still existing rail road tracks,  west of Volgograd. That day we picked up Valeriy at his house and he showed me all the stuff he had collected during the years he was digging and searching missing soldiers (he has also worked for a lots of other organizations and governments). We instantly became friends and on the way out to the fields/steppe, he drew me a sketch of the former burying grounds which were made during the war/fights and where soldiers only had been thrown in and left there with no trace. Valeriy knew all those places and we have spent the day out there in the steppe, digging and looking for relics of the war. I owe him that much for showing me that place, I can´t be  thankful ever enough. Early May, he got murdered by his own uncle in his house, for reasons unknown. Rest in peace, Valeriy, I´m very glad I have met you!!

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Valeriy in front of his house, Volgograd…

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The sketch Valeriy was drawing for me…

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Finding the way through the steppe…

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Let´s go searching…

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Valeriy and me with a piece of a human coccyx we just found…

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A piece of a human cranium and Valeriy´s tattooed hand…

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Valeriy along the rail road tracks…

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Me, Valeriy, Sergey and Mike, out in the steppe…

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Valeriy was digging everywhere, even if the sign says: “No Digging!”…

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Concentration Camp Memorial Site, Dachau, Bavaria

Warning: This post is nothing for the highly sensitive!

The older I get, the more I want to know what have happened back in those days – before and during WW II. Almost every family in Germany had losses at that time; three of my uncles had died in exact one year of time. After visiting the grave-site of my uncle Martin at Volgograd/Russia a couple of weeks ago, I got the urgent feeling to travel to the only 70 km away situated memorial site of the concentration camp at Dachau, just north-west of Munich. I have been there as a teen some 30 years ago, but the trip this time was “more personal”. It´s been a cloudy, cold, windy and snowy day that sunday, but sometimes the sun made it through the clouds and the very depressing scenery was lit up a bit. I could hear voices of Italian, Spanish, French, American, Swedish and Swiss talking visitors; people from all over the world are coming to this place to learn about the past and to honor the ones who endured so much here. It´s a very impressive and informative site, and by reading all those signs and looking at the images and walking through the different buildings, you really can understand what have happened here between 1933-1945. But it’s no easy-going. I watched a 18-year-old girl of an American group first being overwhelmed and then kneeling down while listening to her tour guide describing the “Pole-hanging” of the prisoners. While walking back from the last stop, the crematorium area, I got a feeling that I was going home from a funeral, like when my mother has died a couple of month ago. This visit has been very intense, and editing the images too, but it helped me a lot coming to terms with the past and to understand. Everyone should visit such places once in a lifetime to understand about the war and to honor the ones who lost their lives during that time.

More info can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dachau_concentration_camp , and here: http://www.kz-gedenkstaette-dachau.de/index-e.html. Click on the images to enlarge them if you like to better read the words.

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A group of American visitors listening to their tour guide…

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Prisoner´s camp sign…

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Roll call ground…

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“Pole-hanging”; notice that the arms are bent behind the back, not in-front…

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The Bunker, centre of terror…

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Two of the most brutal and feared members of the SS…

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Inside the Bunker building…

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Writing of a prisoner…

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Another part of the Bunker – closed to visitors…

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A visitor watching the information of the day when the American troops freed the camp, 29th of April 1945…

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Visitors at the exhibition hall…

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The Genocide of the Jews…

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View through the window towards the monument, the roll-call area and the reconstructed barracks…

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to the right: the “washing room” for the prisoners after taking down their particulars and before getting their prison clothing, called “zebra-dress”…

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The international monument…

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Inside one of the reconstructed barracks…

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View towards the so-called “Jour-house” (center right), the entrance to the camp…

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Map of the prisoners infirmary…

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Every two poplar trees mark one barrack…

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No chance of escaping…

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” To honor the dead, a warning for the living “…

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Inside the crematorium…

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The crematorium, hell on earth…

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Describing the gas chamber…

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The most cynical description ever: “Brausebad” for Gas Chamber!

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The crematorium building…

Conclusion: No words can describe the cynical and inhuman actions the Nazi regime did during those days. It´s on us to learn from that and to never let that happen again…

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Volgograd, Russia: The Past And The Present, Part One

“What the fuck am I doing here?!” was my first thought as I was arriving at the Gumrak Airport in Volgograd (the former Stalingrad), on the 13th of October. The flight from Munich to Moscow and then to VOG was delayed and the cold, windy and dreary weather did the rest to my lonesome journey into the past. The one and only reason to get here  was the death of one of my uncles, Martin Priller, during one of the most fiercest battles of WW II, the fight for the city of Stalingrad. While booking my flight a couple of weeks ago, I did not realize then, that my intended travel time from the 12th-19th of October coincided with the 70th anniversary of the death of my uncle – the 16th Oct. 1942! Just five days before I had left home, I have found a website of a local travel agency, and after making contact via Facebook, I had a very reliable, english speaking tour guide – thanks again Mike (Mikhail Shuvarikov). While touring with him, there is no car rental in VOG, I got around places I could not even have dreamed about before. Like having a “scout” who knew all the former cemeteries of the German soldiers and doing some digging there, getting in touch with a patriarch of a once bombed orthodox church or an old lady who were talking about the bombings of Stalingrad of the German Army when she was a child. So many doors opened up, again and again, and time went by like there would be no time at all. Even the weather was cooperating and I had a fantastic last night, spending it at the Mamajey Kurgan Memorial Complex. To be continued.

If anyone is interested in doing a photo tour to VOG, please let me know; I could arrange something like that. Going out to the battlefields and do some digging, visiting the German and Soviet Soldier Cemetery at Rossoschka, doing a city sight-seeing-tour and spend an evening/night at the Mamajev Kurgan Complex. Enjoy!

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The battlefields of Stalingrad, out in the steppe; the supposed area where my uncle has died/was shot; the positions and emplacements are still there, also you can still find – without digging – relics like bones, bullets, shrapnel, buttons of cloth and tents….

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Bones, buttons and shrapnel…everything is still there…

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One of the very few buildings that got out from WW II; some 95 % of former Volgograd was destroyed (bombed)…

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The Orthodox Church at the Mamajev Kurgan Complex during twilight; the stars belong to the constellation of Sagittarius…

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The crescent Moon, Mars and Antares over the city of Volgograd; Mars is about 1.7° separated of the setting Moon…

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The Mamajev Kurgan Memorial Complex at night; the statue “Mother Russia is calling”, standing 85 m tall, is the main attraction, while “The Lake of Tears” smooth surface is reflecting the lights…

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“You must be the change you wish to see in the world!”

(Mahatma Gandhi)
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I did not see Him…

…for a very long time!! Today is the anniversary of the death of my father, who has died on 27th of Dec. 2007. “I did not see him for a very long time” means I didn´t recognize his true love and spirit until I went to Australia for the second time, Dez.1999. At this time he has been 72, me 31!! Pretty long time you may reckon. That´s right, because we had a very dominant mother and my dad had a lot of his own problems. Suffering from depression in his 50th and asthma in his 70th, not to mention two new hip joints in between, and a few other stays at the hospital, he never moaned. The older I became, the more I understood his feelings and reasonings he had in those days. Being most of the time grumpy, edgy and not interested in what we children were doing, we turned to our mother, asking her what we should do, when we had something to discuss or how we should react on certain situations. So our mother played the main role in our lives and my father was the weak one, we did not understand his behavior for so many times. (Not having a strong male part in your adolescent would be another long post-just have a look on Robert Bly´s “Iron John”). Since I have children myself and I´m now in my 40th, I realize so many things. In my opinion, the main reason is, that three of his elder brothers died at World War II, when he was a teenager. As one of his sisters died, he found all those letters from the front, from the days of WWII, exploring what have happened back then, not knowing the circumstances of his brothers deaths for more than 47 years! This is something you truly have to work on  a long time. (I try to figure out this theme on my recent blogs ” Dealing with Russia…”). Things changed then  when I got divorced from my first wife in spring 1999. This was the first time I can clearly recall myself that he was interested in what I did. This was the moment I started to see him a bit, just a glimpse in the distance. This tiny little dot became a bright sun, until now,even  he has died three years ago. Not being a man of many words, he just huged me when I was on my way to Australia in December 1999. I wasn´t prepared for that. I started crying like a baby and went away, while my brother was waiting, taking me to the airport. We grew up  without showing emotions and feelings in our family, so this was something I didn´t expected at all. Wow. So we had at least a couple of years left we could share together, talking and acting on the same level! In the end, he became the role model for me he was meant to be! I hope I´m up to this for my own children too! Even my mother, who has condemned so many things my father did and said, is taking over now most of it. The death of my father was hitting me hard, but somehow I was prepared for that. He almost died in my car of an asthma attack two years before. It´s a great pity he is gone, but the next generation is on its way-and to speak of-my youngest son Jakob reminds me in so many ways of my father. I remember my father so many times what he would have said and done in particular moments, and I know that he wants me to do what I really like to do and not what someone is expecting from me to do. Instead of becoming a mechanical engineer, he had to overtake my grandfathers farm. My decision to give up my work as a joiner/workshop, is in some way a further development of what my father hasn´t been able to do. I know he is standing on my side, even though he is gone. I´m blessed to have a father like HIM.

Dealing with: Russia Part II

After crossing the ukrainian border, it was like driving through an unseen curtain!! Feeling this “negative aura”, I was just not  prepared for that! At least Jakob was cheerful the whole time.

Taking a short-cut drive from Cop via Dobrin to Mukaceve wasn´t a good idea either – poor roads and no roadsigns,  we didn´t knew for about 50 km, if this is the right direction or not. Seeing those people driving with their horse-drawn carriages and their very poor lifestyle wasn´t something I expected from a land who wants to belong to the EU in a couple of years and also is the co-host (with poland) for the european soccer championship 2012! After getting the right direction onto our next destination L´viv, we travelled through the Schidny Carpathians for about 140 km.

Nice countryside, good roads – my mood was getting better and better. After a heavy rainstorm from Stryj on, we arrived at the suburbs of L´viv in the afternoon and got right into our second police control, since we´ve been in UA. The cop was nice but the roads got miserable and a change to the worse followed again.

After being controlled for third time near Zboriv, I have had my share of the day! Sitting in the police car out of nowhere and leaving Jakob by himself again, I payed them cops 5o € under the table for not being hassled anymore. The offence was: driving 300 mtr. on the left side on a two-lane highway while no traffic was on the right side! O.K.! After a 3 h´s drive (for 130 km!), we arrived at the suburbs of Ternopil´. It got dark already and I didn´t know where to turn to, because of the horrible roads I didn´t wanted to drive by night and I also  didn´t wanted to stay over night somewhere out on the pampas. Jakob and I decided to find a petrol station where we could stay for the night. We also decided to turn around the next morning and travel back home for good. Because we had a deadline visa for Russia, we knew we wouldn´t make it in time to Wolgograd. After two days driving  about 1400 km, the decision was hard, but having the same distance still to go on those poor roads, there was no realistic chance to make it.

After finding a place to stay for the night (which is a story for itself in Part III), I remembered myself why I was doing this?! Yes, my uncle Martin died at the battle of encirclement during world war II close to Stalingrad (today Wolgograd), but I still don´t know how they made it so far and even for what reasons? Imagine if you are not even 22 years old, being away from your family for a long time (my father has been 15 years old this time) and being away about 3000 km in an foreign country, which is still strange (for me) these days? How must they have felt? how they have survived every day? not knowing if they would survive or not? for a war that was  the idea of an dictator? These things I tried to puzzle out – but it should go worse the following night!     End Part II

Dealing with: Russia, Part I

What brings me to think about Russia? Becoming older (wiser?) with time, I remembered those very few times when my father talked to me about his three brothers who have been killed during world war II. Two of them died in Russia – Xaver nearby Nowgorod and Martin close to Wolgograd, at that time named Stalingrad. Some 15 years ago, I wanted my father to come with me to Wolgograd and see the place were his brother has been buried at the military cemetery close to Wolgograd, called Rossoschka. Well, this didn´t worked out this time for  some reasons – I think my father was very scared about being faced with his dead brother, he had seen last time when he was 15 years old!

After my father´s death almost three years ago, I decided to travel to Russia by myself! This time, my youngest son Jakob (almost 7), accompanied me! We organised Visa, Insurances and all that stuff you still need for Russia and packed our trusty Mercedes Benz Sprinter with food and gear. This journey should last about 10-14 days and a one way distance from about 3000 km. Driving through Austria and Hungary was cool but no-

thing to write home about. There have been very few sights for photographing, because we drove ahead to our main goal. After sleeping the first night some 50 km east of Budapest, we went on our way further to the Ukrainian border. And there the dilemma began! It took us almost 3 h to cross the hungarian/ukrainian border over the Tisza River! Not understanding a word what these customs officers are talking about. Jakob was brave waiting in the car, while I dealed with the customs some 100 mtr. away from our van, where Jakob couldn´t see me! The whole brigde over the Tisza river in direction to Hungary/Europe was full with Sprinter´s like mine, on their way to buy a lot more of them in western Europe. Finally, we did the customs and went our way on into Ukrainia. But we haven´t been prepared, what would await us there! End Part I !