Tags / WW2
June 20 is World Refugee Day.
In 2014, global refugee numbers were higher than they have ever been since World War II. In 2015, the problem has only gotten worse.
There are currently over 50 million refugees in the world and more than %50 of them are children. Approximately half of the world's refugees are from just three countries: Afghanistan, Syria, and Somalia.
The response to this massive international crisis has been limited, with most refugee aid programs desperately underfunded. Amnesty International has called the lack of robust international response "A Conspiracy of Neglect." With little help on the way, the future of the world's displaced remains uncertain.
Colonel Mademba fought in North Africa and Italy with British and French forces as an infantryman against German forces.
"On May 5th 1945, I fired my last shell from my Sherman tank at Hitler's Berghof complex," he said.
Lahcen Majid fought as an infantrymen in Italy as part of a Moroccan outfit attached to Free French forces, against the German army.
"On May 11th 1944, right before the last major push for Monte Cassino, I saw the entire countryside light up with an artillery barrage," he said. "By 2:00 a.m. hundreds of Allied soldiers were already arriving at our hospital to be treated."
Joel D. Pasado was a rebel fighter in the Philippines against Japanese forces.
"We surrounded the hospital," he said. "The defenders fought hard, as they had to fight room to room throwing grenades and using bayonets. On one occasion I stormed a room filled with Japanese soldiers. One tried to stab me, but was shot by one of my soldiers and was killed. He saved my life."
The Second World War was fought by an entire generation of men from more than 60 nations. Americans, Canadians, Russian, British, Chinese, South Africans and many others fought the Japanese, Spaniards, Italians, Germans, Slovaks and more, all were embroiled in a war which killed over 50 millions soldiers and civilians alike, making this conflict the bloodiest in Human history. The 1921/22-generation is today often known as a sacrificed generation, which fought for a various array of beliefs all intertwined in self-sacrifice and honor. In Germany alone 5.2 million soldiers were killed or missing in battle in a six-year period, Japan lost over 2 million men in combat, while the United States suffered 409 thousand men killed in action. However Russia holds the morbid record, with more than 10 million killed between 1941 and 1945. These astounding numbers show the brutality in which this war was fought in the air, on land and in the seas.
As a journalist, always in search for a certain historical truth within today’s framework, the stories of each of these men interviewed and photographed is a treasure of human perseverance. The project contains no pretense to judge or criticize the actions or decisions taken by these men, but it is rather a recollection of a period drastically different from ours. Their testimony is relevant in a historical sense, which should not be lost in time, as the next generations to come can and should learn from this generation.
The project itself differs from other veteran type shoots, in the sense that it tries to combine so many different nationalities. This combination was hard to achieve. It took no less than 5 years and travels to over 12 countries to meet, photograph, and interview these men. As a photojournalist, it was not only the photo shoot that was interesting, but also the search to meet these veterans, especially the ex Waffen SS and the foreign elements who fought within its ranks; and the more obscure nationalities who fought alongside major powers, like Croatians or Senegalese.
The photography project deals with as many nationalities as possible, for the simple reason that many nations were involved in the fighting. So far I have photographed Germans, Russians, Armenians, Karabastis, French, Belgium, Poles, Americans, Nepalese, Croatian, Czechs, Latvians, Japanese Americans, Pilipino, Hungarians and more…, which includes 221 men from 59 different nationalities. Each man is interviewed on his experience through out the war. The goal of this project is to reunite as many veterans as possible from most of the nations involved in the Second World War.
FULL ARTICLE AND INTERVIEWS AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST
Sergey Abgorian is an Armenian veteran who fought in the Red Army against the Germans on the Russian front during WWII.
"Chechen fighters placed two captured Russian soldiers into a small ravine as a trick and to ambush my rescue party," he said. "As we arrived to save them, the Chechens were waiting for us and started shooting. A bullet went right through my hair, and I felt it."
Per Mortensen fought during WWII in Denmark against the German occupier as part of a partisan outfit.
"In June 1943 my cousin was captured by the Danish police, so a few hours later I decided to join BOPA," he said. "My cousin was put to jail for a while, but because he acted like a crazy person he was sent later to a hospital. In October, I arranged for his escape."
Agim Karajozi is a Albanian WWII veteran who fought in his country as part of a partisan outfit against the Italian and German army.
"By the fall 1942, I joined Balli Kombetar brigade," he said. "Some of my family members made me realize what the Communists were really up to in my country, so I decided to fight against them."
Otar Gogiashvili is a WWII veteran from the Republic of Georgia who fought with the Red Army on the Russian front against the German invader.
"For over 12 hours the Germans bombed us with Stukas planes, while we were directing artillery fire at German positions," he said. "After my CO left, a Stuka bomb landed on my position, killing everyone except myself."
Atsushi Hamato fought in the Japanese Imperial army during WWII against American forces. Hamato fought in the battle of the Philippines as a company commander.
"We fought for honor and our country against the American invaders," he said.
Hans von Vultejus fought with the German army in Western Europe against the invading Anglo Saxon armies.
"I was given a Waffen SS uniform," he said. "However, I refused to get my blood type tattooed as was common practice in the SS. While waiting in line, I moved discretely to the already tattooed line so I was never tattooed."
Israel Barkuk is a Ukrainian WWII veteran who fought in the Red Army against the German army.
"My division was located on a plateau in central Ukraine, which was under German attack," he said. "They were just right below us and around us. A sniper killed my commander, so I was promoted the commanding commissar of a full battalion of 300 men."
Thomas Louis Gilzean, a Scottish WWII veterans who fought both in Asia as part of a commando outfit and in Europe against the Germans.
"In Benghazi we lived inside a very nice hotel with my unit," he said. "We fought there until March 1941, when the Germans invaded with Rommel. We soon had to retreat but before we booby-trapped the hotel, and took the fireplace with us. It looked expensive."
Ante Vukovich is a Croatian WWII veteran who fought against German forces occupying his country during the Second World War. Ante fought with Communist partisan units as an infantryman.
"During my first firefight I couldn't control my Czech machine gun and almost shot one of my fellow soldiers," he said.
Bernard du Bois is a Belgium WWII veteran who fought with the Allies against German troops occupying his country.
"After being wounded by a Stuka attack, I was picked up by Germans who brought me to a German field hospital in Montreuille-sur-mer, where a German army doctor operated on me atop 12 hundred liter barrel of Champagne," he said. "He saved my life."
Salomon Freidlyand is a Byelorussian WWII veteran who fought within the Red Army on the Russian front against the German invader.
"I was sent back to the 297th division to start training partisans and to gather information on the German positions," he said. "I had my own horse, and would often go behind German lines and meet these locals and partisans."
Thomas Hermann is a WWII veteran who fought in the German army on the Russian front as an infantryman.
"I took part of a counter-attack in late November 1943," he said. "The entire regiment was send forward. The fighting was hard with many close-quarter battles. Two Russian divisions were wiped out in the process. During the fighting, I remember that I could see the white of my enemies eyes."
Herbert Drossler was a loader in a German Tiger tank during the battle of Normandy against American forces.
"Near Vires during a British offensive only 60 meters away, I noticed a dying French civilian between the lines," he said. "He was shouting, 'mother, mother help me' and was wounded in the stomach by shrapnel. I then saw his mother run towards him, so I decided to help her to stop the blood coming out of her son's wound."
Bjorn Ostring is an ex Waffen SS Norwegian volunteer who fought as a platoon leader on the Russian front.
"We arrived to the front near the town of Urizk," he said. "As soon as we arrived at the front, we were thrown into the battle to contain Russian troops attacking the area."
Fernand Kaisergruber is a Belgium WWII veteran who fought in the Waffen SS as an infantryman on the Russian front.
"One day in late 1941, I overheard that two Flemish men had joined the Waffen SS to go fight in Russia," he said. "I talked to my boss and told him that I wanted to do the same. I therefore had the choice between the Waffen SS or the SS Wallonie. I chose the SS Wallonie."
Adolph Straka is a Slovenian who fought as a volunteer in the German army against the Russians in Europe, and with alongside the Red army.
"When the Russian took me as prisoner, I was identified as a Yugoslavian, so I got better treatment," he said. "I remained prisoner of war for only three days, and I then swore to Stalin, my name was changed to Rudy, as I bore the same first name as Adolph Hitler."
Jean Mathieu is a French national who was forced into the German army to fight against the advancing Russians during WWII.
"With the coming of the Germans, I remained at the family home, he said," but because I was a peasant, the Germans left me alone until 1942, when I was sent to Northern Bavaria to a work camp."
Giovanni Doretta who in an elite mountain unit in Russia as part of the Italian army on the Russian front.
"In August 1942 the division was sent to the Russian front, to the Caucasus," he said. "We took the train to the Ukrainian city of Izium, but counter-orders were sent by the Germans, and we had to unload and walked 300 kilometers to the Don front near Stalingrad."
Eugeniusz, a Polish WWII veteran is posing for the camera inside the WWII Polish association near Gramercy. He fought in the British army in Italy as part of an infantry outfit equipped by British forces.
"The Russians took my parents and I to Siberia, because my father was an officer in the Polish army," he said. "I never saw him again. My mother and I were put on a train. It took about two weeks to reach Siberia, with 30 other people in the same train car."
Jack Ukkonen was a Finnish infantry man fighting to defend his country against the Russian invader.
"My regiment reached the front lines on January 1941 by train," he said. "On the way over there, we were sworn in at a local church with our entire unit. Once at the front, I was very scared, but I was young and reckless."