A 94-year-old World War Two veteran born in modern-day Armenia has started a Reddit AMA, with the help of his granddaughter, in which he provides a startling look at his time as a conscript in the Soviet Red Army.
Posting under the name OldSoldierOpa, Michael Mirson shared the incredible story of his experiences during the deadliest war in history. Mirson was an ethnic Azeri born in Armenia and was drafted into the Red Army, where he suffered under terrible conditions along the Eastern Front during WWII. Mirson was eventually captured by the Germans and was ultimately liberated by the Americans. Over 3 1/2 million Soviet soldiers died in Nazi captivity.
Mirson now lives in the U.S. His answers in the AMA provide some eye-opening insight into the struggles soldiers faced during the last world war. We have highlighted some of his most interesting responses below.
Mirson shared his dreams and aspirations from before the conflict:
Before the war, I was crying a lot because they took my father away to Siberia. They took over our farm, as part of a the collective farm. We worked many hours in the day, and didn’t have a lot of food; we were starving.
I dreamed to escape to the city, to learn something in school. In the middle of the night, I escaped to the city (a 50-mile walk). I was accepted into veterinary school.
When I came to the United States, I dreamed to buy a house. I wanted to make an honest living. I wanted to work independently, for myself. Not like on the collective farm. I wanted to help my family here, and in Azerbaijan. I wanted to send my daughters and granddaughters to college.
In response to being asked what it was like to serve in the Red Army, Mirson said:
In the Soviet army, they were very poor. Very little food, the boots were poor, and the discipline was not good. For example, we walked in the Caucasus Mountains with blisters on your feet. You could barely walk, and had to go so slow. Officers on horseback would come by with a whip and say, “Comrade, you’re walking too slow, you must walk fast. You must walk fast for this country and for Stalin.” Once someone fought back against an officer, and was shot. This scared us into keep walking, no matter what.
He also explained the fear that members of the Red Army harbored of being captured by the Germans — partly out of a fear being punished for allowing themselves to fall captive if the Soviets ever liberated them:
I did not think I would be rescued by the Soviets. In the Russian army, you were never supposed to fall to prisoner, you were supposed to shoot yourself, instead. When I was in prison camp in Maykop (in southern Russia) the Russians advanced on the Germans. Fearing for my life, I marched on with the Germans.
According to Mirson, the German Wehrmacht Army treated him just as inhumanely as the Red Army did:
At first when I was a prisoner, they didn’t treat us too well. They captured us in the mountains in November, late in the afternoon. There was snow on the ground, and it was cold. Even though we were wounded, they took our overcoats, and covered their own soldiers. A lot of people froze to death at night.
When I marched with them, they treated us pretty well. They were more gentle than the Soviets. They didn’t beat us, and fed us 3 meals a day. They were pretty nice people.
His most intense memory of the war had to do with a single, young victim of its horrors that he encountered during a forced march to a Nazi prison camp:
When I was marching for the Germans, we came upon a village that had been through a big fight. There was one little boy. His face was all wet from crying, and he messed himself, and there was nobody to take care of him. He calling for his mother over and over. All of us, we were so sad for this little boy ([Mirson] is now crying). I thought ‘why do we have this war? Now this little boy is alone, his family killed.’ This was so sad to see. I also had hatred towards the war, Hitler, and Stalin. Why are they fighting? Why are they killing?
Overall, Mirson was astounded by the U.S. when he finally moved to the country:
I couldn’t believe how friendly the people were, and the freedom that we had. We were not afraid of the government! I really appreciated this American freedom. When I wanted a new job, I could change it. When I wanted to talk, I could talk! I am very glad that I am in America. I am a good citizen. I am very lucky to be here.
When Mirson made his way to America, he eventually succeeded in opening his own diner, The Jolly Chef:
I was working as window washer, and I thought to start my own business. In the paper, I saw it for sale for $US4,000.
I liked being my own boss, working for myself. BUT, it was hard work all day and night. We were in charge of everything, so there was a lot of work involved.
Mirson was asked for his view on the current state of the world, and responded:
I don’t know what to say about the future. I think that people are getting a little crazy. There is too much fighting everywhere, for nothing. There is a lot of trouble.
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