Lieutenant Colonel Hienadz (Геннадий) Barzilau (Борзилов)

* 1938

  • “So he left to join the army. Then they were surrounded, defeated, and scattered. My father was captured. Somewhere near Dzerzhinsk. They took them there and put them to work. Then my father fell ill. It was probably dysentery or something of the sort. So they took him somewhere... In short, he was to be shot. They led him away to be shot. With some fifty or so other men. They didn’t shoot them with machine guns but with rifles. They stood them beside a ditch. My father either fell down before the shot came, or someone shot elsewhere. Hard to say. Either way, he fell down and the dead bodies piled on top of him. He was under this one Pole who hadn’t been shot completely. He had these spasms... Dad said. And so they lay there from evening till night. In the night, the Germans came along with torches to finish up the survivors. So they shot the Pole on top of him, and he staid there underneath. And they left. My father was weak from his sickness, but he dragged himself out of that pit somehow. The whole place was closed off by a three-metre high fence. He somehow climbed over the fence and cut his hands while doing so. He fell down and crawled along. In short, he crawled all the way to a nearby village. Some old people took him in. He spent about a month holed up away in some shed, recovering. The oldies gave him milk to drink. He then left to join a partisan group.”

  • “We didn’t have any work inside the camp. Mum would go to work at seven or eight in the morning. What kind of work was it... mostly spadework. Digging things hit by bombs. It was about the 44th when they started bombarding Königsberg. She had to work during the bombardment. The Germans had no consideration for the labourers. They drove them out to dig trenches and anti-tank ditches. Supplies were struggling by then. Mum said: ‘We’re digging away. Bang, a shell fell nearby. They used horses and carts as transport there. The shrapnel killed a horse, and we climbed up there with knives, cutting out chunks of the meat and coming back with horse meat.’ I still remember the taste of horse meat. With some hooves. They made a ‘jelly’ out of it. All in all, we survived as best we could.”

  • “Then came the assault on Königsberg. I remember the air raids, the bombings. It happened many times. They bombed our camp as well. There were no air raid shelters back then. During one of the bombings, we hid under some planks. They were stood leaning against the wall of a building. It was my mother and us brothers: the oldest, me, and the youngest, who was born during the war, before the Germans took Vitebsk. We were wearing brown woolly bashlyks. There was shrapnel flying all over the place, and Mum pulled them out afterwards. Each of us had two or three splinters of shrapnel stuck in our ‘hoods’. I don’t know who did the bombing. But it was dense. The children would run around, looking at the craters left by the bombs. Later, before the assault was launched, the Germans built air raid shelters. A ditch with a metal structure inside it, about 50 metres long. They would herd us inside it during air raids. Before the start of the assault, the artillery initiated fire, if I remember correctly, it was an intense bombardment. They herded us into the bunkers before the assault. We went inside and Mum sat down by the entrance. Then a neighbour came up and offered that we could sit further in. So we moved up and sat at the very end. So we were sitting like that, with just very faint lighting. And suddenly such a flash, I remember it as if it was today: a huge flash... and light. Everything was drenched in light. A shell had landed into the very centre of the bunker. And that was all. And silence. We all survived it, but those who were at the front all died. We got up. Some of the wounded were still groaning. We climbed out over the dead bodies into the street.”

  • Full recordings
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    Барановичи, 27.02.2021

    duration: 02:23:14
    media recorded in project Rozvoj historické paměti Běloruska
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

I had no childhood

Hienadz Barzilau in the 1960s
Hienadz Barzilau in the 1960s
photo: archives of the witness

Hienadz Aliakseyevich Barzilau (Russian transliteration: Gennady Alexeyevich Borzilov) was born in the city of Vitebsk in the former Belarusian SSR on 28 December 1938. His father, Aliaksey Pyatrovich Barzilau, fought in the Red Army during the Winter War (1939–1940). He continued to serve in the Red Army during the Great Patriotic War (1941–1945), when he was captured. By a miracle, he survived execution by a firing squad and escaped; he joined a partisan group and continued to fight against the Nazis in western Belarus. Hienadz’s grandparents, Hanna Antonauna and Pavel Iosifavich Zaremba, were deported to Austria for forced labour. Little Hienadz and his two brothers, the older Uladzimir and the younger Emil, and their mother Mahdalina Paulauna, who was also fortunate to avoid execution in Vitebsk, spent most of the war doing various jobs and were incarcerated in Nazi labour camps in Lithuania and Prussia. Hienadz himself nearly died several times during the war. Afterwards, the family moved to the town of Baranavichy in western Belarus. Hienadz grew up in rough post-war circumstances. Aged 16, he moved to the Kazakh SSR as part of a specialised development programme for the region, where he helped build industrial complexes. In 1959 he was drafted into the army. After completing military service in 1961, he enrolled at a military school, becoming an officer in 1962 and going on to serve in the Soviet Army in various parts of the USSR and abroad. He was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He left the army in 1986 and went into retirement. As of 2021, he lives in Baranavichy.