“Ride into Russia. Go as far as you can. Never come back.”

by Daniel Russ on September 13, 2009

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Max was 14 when he pedaled his bike from a neighboring town into his own town, Wiszniew, Poland. His father met him outside and said “Max, ride into Russia, go as far as you can. Never come back. Go now.” It was later Summer 1941, and German troops were deploying over the border. With a hug, Max drove off onto a single little road that crossed the border into Russia. “I rode until I couldn’t move anymore, about 14 hours. I came upon a graveyard and there were mausoleums. So I parked my bike in between two mausoleums and slept. The next morning I heard someone the other side of the mausoleum, and it was Abe, my brother.”

 

Rejoined by fate Max and Abe signed into the Russian Army. They rode the TranSiberian Railway to a training camp to become soldiers. Here we have a Polish Jew, in his teens, and his brother just a bit older, and they ended up fighting Chinese rebels in Manchuria, a pristine oil and gas and timber rich area bordering both countries. “We had to feed ourselves. We didn’t have a supply line. So we had this giant Russian Army truck and we were driving between two towns in Manchuria. We saw a moose. And so one of the men shot him down with his Mosin-Nagant. It took eight rounds to kill it. So we were going to put it on the truck and drive it to another garrison where we would shecht it. It took 14 or so of us to get it on the truck and we drove a few kilometers and the truck bed collapsed.”

 

“The moose fed the company for a week. On a patrol near Harbin, we saw a small village and a market in the village. We were so hungry and had no money and we didn’t want to be fed by pointing guns.  So I took a couple of Japanese hand grenades and climbed onto the roof of the market. I unscrewed the percussion cap and poured out the charging powder. Then I screwed the percussion mechanism back on, slammed the cap on the roof so it would look like it was set to explode. I threw them onto the ground in the middle of the food market and everyone scattered. Then me and two other infantrymen filled our bags with eggs and chicken and took off.”

 

When I first met my first father in law, he was sitting in his living room and Luciano Pavarotti was on the sofa. You see Max had actually graduated Julliard in Opera. So yes, a Polish and Yiddish speaking Jew, fled the Nazis and fought against Chinese rebels in Manchuria, China. His entire life, a product of war.

 

My own family’s story is just as breathtaking, and also shaped by the vicissitudes of warfare. My parents and their families lived lives you would expect to see on TV. My father’s family walked from Russia through Europe, working their way to the Western coast of Europe and made it to Scotland, then to the United States. Dad was born the son of Russian immigrants, refugees more like; tired, huddled, swathed in threadbare sweaters, holes that once were shoes, inundated with the bloody memories of being Jewish in a place that did not want Jews around, and the dogged determined hope that something better waited for them here under Old Glory.

 

My Mother was a Hungarian refugee, and her path took her into Hell and back. At the age of 19, Nazis took her and the Jewish members of her town and shipped them to a concentration camp in Nagyvárad in Romania and on the way to Poland. After a month there she was shipped in a crowded train car to Auschwitz in Germany. There, standing naked in front of German officers, she and a sister and a brother were sent to the Birkenau munitions factory built onto Auschwitz. The other members died in the storied death camp side.

 

She understood German because she spoke Yiddish and Yiddish is mostly street German. After 8 months, when they could hear the growling rumble of artillery exchanges and they could also hear German guards talk about the forthcoming Russians. Soon, the Hungarian women who were tasked with making these weapons had to travel to Ollendorf concentration camp inside Germany where they would continue their tasks further from the Soviet threat. Again, the plaintiff baritones of heavy gun duels off to the East reminded them that the Russians were still on their way.

 

At the end of the war, the Allied command decided to divide Germany up into four sectors occupied by and governed by precepts from France, Russia, Britain and The United States. My father did not want to come home. He spoke Yiddish and asked to be a part of the occupational force. There he met my mother who was in a displaced persons camp.

 

The photo at the head of this article is their wedding day in Fritzlar, Germany.

 

My brother Harvey was actually born in the 488th Army Field Hospital in Geisen. Harvey ended up back in Germany for many years after he joined the United States Army. He was stationed in Stutgart for  a while in Signal Corps.

 

My brother Stephan was in the United States Navy and served aboard the USS WASP and in Guantanamo Naval Base.

 

History runs in my bloodstream. There is no bigger influence on me than the Spanish poet George Santayana who said “those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it”. Military themes are an ineluctable part of me, despite my proclivities towards peace, I cannot help but recognize that war is a part of the human condition and it always will be. As horrible as war is, as painful in every way pain can be expressed, nothing about war prevents war. We decry it. We curse it. We vow against it.

 

War has also been good for us. There were only 66 years between Kitty Hawk and Tranquility Base.  And what happened in between the time we glided on air and the time we walked on the moon? Well…World War I, World II, the Korean War, the Cold War. Yes, war reaps benefits as well. War forced innovation that was later bequeathed to the public: airplanes, food preservation technologies, emergency medicine, computers, radar, sonar and materials advancements to name a few. The man who built the V-1 and V-2 rockets also put men on the Moon.

 

For seven years I was the creative director on the United States Air Force. I helped recruit tens of thousands of Americans into America’s war making institutions. In fact, while I served in that capacity, we went to war. That was how I served this country. This is when I made a difference.

 

For the last 7 years, I began pouring my heart into an effort that many may have considered pointless. It was Henry Ford who said “History is bunk. The only history worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today.” Very brave words from the inventor. And his creations came off the assembly line, and drove right into battle – something we can’t stop because so many of us agree that history is bunk. That said, I have written over 2500 articles into a massive history website about military affairs.

 

This is what I am meant to do. This is what I want to do because my own history tells me that we have to keep looking over our shoulder. We have to remember where we come from before we can really know where we are headed. I am here to remind everyone that as bad as it seems it is in the world, it has been much much worse. I am here trying to remind readers that as Rod Serling said: “All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes – all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in the Twilight Zone but wherever men walk God’s Earth.”

 

I want to keep reminding people to read history. I want to tell the stories that we have to hear. Stories about the suffering, the nameless faceless people, and the permanent effect on the world that waging war has wrought. Stories about refugees and random senseless and violent destruction. Stories about the struggle for freedom and life. Stories about the technologies that we invent to take precious life.

 

I want to travel the world over and see the battlefields, scout the museums, and when possible I want to meet the veterans who fought these wars.

 

This is what I want from you and what I will do in return.

 

I want you to go to my history site Civilianmilitareyintelligencegroup.com, and buy a subscription. It’s only a few dollars a month, and gives you access to thousands of articles. It would mean the world to me. And I will use the funds to tell more stories, bring you more history, and tap you on the shoulder and remind you how many people sacrificed so much so this world still works.

 

Join us please. I’ll make it worth your while.

 

Daniel Catfish Russ

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