Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (5)

About a year ago I bought a DVD with more than 12,000  images of World War Two . Most of them were either Russian or German.

This first photograph shows a little Russian boy who appeared in one of the previous photographs in the Blog Post “Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (4)”. Both he and his grandad stand in the smoking ruins of their house, and of their village. We can only guess at the circumstances. Personally, given the fact that the two individuals do not look particularly shocked or desolate, I think that the Germans have set fire to their village as they retreat back to Germany with the Red Army keenly pursuing them.

In this winter scene, Grandad and grandson are planning the future, perhaps where they will live, or where they hope a neighbour will help them rebuild their house and so on. Grandad is carrying his cane, but what’s that in his left hand? Incidentally, after much careful examination with Blog Post No 4, I do not think these two are the same individuals featured there, although, of course, you may not agree.

With victory in sight, though, and the tide of war now relatively far away, the refugees gradually came back. Here’s Granny, with her two daughters and five, perhaps six children. Everybody is barefoot, but they’re going home, so walking’s easy. And the two fathers? Well, they could have been starved to death in a POW camp, or worked to death as slave labourers in Poland or even in the Channel Islands.

This careful close up excludes any adults and focusses on the children with two brothers making manful efforts to carry as much as they could on a handcart. The baby sleeps the sleep of the innocent little child. Notice how she may well be strapped in for safety.  We will never know if the family’s house was still there when they arrived. In Byelorussia alone, up to 1500 villages were razed to the ground.

As the conquering hero returns, it’s the village kids who spot him first. He has a smile wide enough to indicate that he has already asked somebody whether his family is still alive. Under the German occupation, nobody was safe.

If I were going to give this photograph a title, it would be “The Love of a Mother”. Ordinary young soldiers walked back home, starting as a group which lost a member or two as they passed by each village. These were villages where the inhabitants would not have known whether a particular young serviceman was alive or dead. Yuri Gagarin’s two brothers performed slave labour in Poland, escaped and the Red Army conscripted them. The rest of the family thought both of them were dead, and Yuri became seriously ill with “grief and hunger”. They got back home in late 1945:

And still the refugees stream westwards to their homes. These bring two cows with them and a sturdy cart with substantial wheels. There are eight people, with, for me, two grannies, two mothers, two boys and a young woman. They all have boots and one boy has a Red Army infantryman’s cap. Did they find their house even vaguely intact? And what about at least two husbands?

Even more so, what about the bear who appears to be asleep on the back of the cart? Or have I got to take more water with it?

Most stories in Russia, though, had a sad ending. A house smashed to pieces by a German tank, because the crew wanted to use it as a hiding place. A woman with perhaps five mouths to feed and no husband in sight. It’s enough to make even  tough little Russian lads burst into tears. But don’t worry. Everything will be made good within a few years.

Indeed, things did get better ! So smile and enjoy being alive, enjoy sitting in the summer sunshine of 1945. As many as 20 million Russians were not able to say that.


As far as the present war in the Ukraine is concerned, I would expect the Russians to remember the destruction wrought on so many towns, cities and villages of the old Soviet Union, and to begin face-to-face discussions before resorting to the senseless violence they have evidenced so far. But, as we know in the West, hardly any people who witnessed the Second World War are still alive, and that must have been enough for a glory seeking politician to forget the ways of peace and to take up the pointless violence of the invader.



Filed under History, military, Politics, Russia, war crimes

28 responses to “Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (5)

  1. A very appropriate post, John, as we witness destruction of people’s homes and possession for the personal aggrandizement of a vain and selfish politician. His actions are those of a cheap dictator of a third world country rather than those of a proud country.

    By the way, where did you purchase the DVD with the World War II images?

  2. Your thoughtful captions enhance this wonderful addition to your series of photographs; the link with Ukraine is so appropriate

    • Thank you, Derrick, you are very kind. I do understand Putin’s thinking about the Ukraine, but why on earth he could not seek talks about his worries simply eludes me.
      Perhaps he thought the Ukrainians wouldn’t bother fighting for their homeland. If that was the case, he sadly underestimated them.

      • Surely he simply wants to rebuild the old USSR

      • I really don’t know. That is clearly a ludicrous aspiration to have with the various “…-istan” countries of central Asia, the Baltic states (in NATO, of course) and Moldova, which has nothing really to do with Russia.
        Personally I think that he is more worried about being encircled by NATO countries, all armed with advanced weaponry and well capable of overwhelming Russia’s poorly run army.

  3. GP

    When I finish my blog, you have shown me just how much I need to read up on the ETO part of the war. I know during that time I will be bouncing back here to your site!

    • Well, to be honest, most historians in England, myself included, are largely ignorant of the war on the Eastern Front. Likewise, for many of us, the Pacific remains a list of faraway islands with strange sounding names.
      And ignorance is not always a bad thing. It is what drives us on to explore new horizons, such as, for example, the forgotten events after the war ended,.This was the time when the Czechs and Slovaks killed every single German person they could find, resulting in a mini-Holocaust which killed tens of thousands of civilians, more or less all of them old men, women and children.

  4. Pingback: Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (5) – Lest We Forget

  5. John, thanks for sharing these reminders of the devastation of war on the civilian population; on women and children who must find a way to begin again with little to nothing but their lives and willingness to work hard.

    • Yes, we forget the women who repaired the shattered cities of Germany or who ploughed the neglected fields of the Soviet Union. Many of them, of course, would never get help from a returning husband because he, quite simply, would never return.
      But somehow, they all triumphed over the almost impossible situations that the madness of men such as Hitler had left them to deal with.

  6. H.J. for avian101

    It’s so sad to see families with no home and children without parents. Wars are not good for anyone. Why some countries are dedicated to destroying others Societies. Great post, John.

    • I’m really pleseed that you enjoyed it. Somebody asked me the other day “Why do the Russians think that everybody owes them something?”
      By that he meant that if Russia doesn’t like the Ukraine, they think they should be allowed to invade the country and destroy it, and nobody will be bothered.
      Clearly that was not the case, and with a little bit of luck, perhaps Russia has now learnt that even between countries what is important is talking to each other, and even more important, showing some respect.

  7. Chris Waller

    This is a particularly harrowing post given the current situation in Ukraine, albeit today we see it almost immediately on the television news. Beyond that the victims are the same, decade after decade.

    • Yes, they are, Chris. Old people, women, litle children, schools, bakeries and so on. The Russians are a real set of pigs, targeting things which in previous years have been immune from attack, such as hospitals or public buildings. I think now we can see that their activities in Syria were just a practice for a war which was more important to them.

  8. If only these photos could talk; the stories they could tell us about the lives of those people in them. I’m sure they are just as fascinating as the photographs themselves.

  9. I’m sure they are! Certainly, most Russians in areas over-run by the Germans had a savage tale to tell. And when the war came to an end, they had a huge repair job to do. The Germans were in the habit of destroying everything they could as thjey retreated westwards.

  10. The horrors of war and the tragedy is that it is still going on. Thank you for sharing.

  11. We who have been most fortunate untouched by war don’t even know the extent of human suffering so many others have gone through. My heart just wrenched at the picture of the woman with five children. And still war continues to this day. Man evidently has not learned PEACE is the way NOT war!

    • I rather suspect that the problem is that the people deciding whether to have a war or not are men, with all their macho hang-ups, and their belief that fierce and tough is good.
      Just let their wives meet together, lots of teas and coffee, lots of cake, and I’m sure we could shorten the list of pointless wars a little bit!

  12. Thank you for sharing!!.. it is sad that those that conflict affects the most are those that do not wish conflict as you have done a excellent job illustrating!!.. also the fact that most of those that choose conflict over peace, the sword over the pen rarely have to face the consequences that the people you have shown had to face… “What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?” ( Mahatma Gandhi)… 🙂

    Hope your life’s path is paved with peace and until we meet again..
    May your troubles be less
    Your blessings be more
    And nothing but happiness
    Come through your door
    (Irish Saying)

    • You are so right! It is the unthinking, heedless, warmongers who destroy other people’s houses and communities and, frequently, families, yet they seldom suffer the consequences of their behaviour.
      Your quotation from Gandhi says it all. Those words should be inscribed over the entrance doors at the United Nations building.
      Still, you have to keep believing that one day they will all understand and wars will be over for ever.

  13. Pingback: Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (5)

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