As we approach what would have been the hundredth birthday of my father-in-law and the subject of the Eastern Front trilogy, here’s a sample that describes life during the Nazi German occupation of Ukraine, 76 years ago.
Kalush, western Ukraine
The first Friday night dance was held at the newly established Prosvita Ukrainian Reading Society, which set up in a hall that had belonged to a Polish association before 1939. Maurice joined a group of local men and women in the evenings to repair and clean the hall as much as they could, and by Friday night, it looked a little less depressing than it had before. There was no glass to be bought, so they had boarded up broken windows and decorated the insides of the window frames with colourful embroidered cloths.
A small orchestra set up: three old men with battered fiddles, two women who sang and a thirteen-year-old boy who knew a few chords on the bandura. When people began to arrive at around eight o’clock, the band struck up an old Volyn tune.
Not a bad crowd for the first time, Maurice thought. The hall was three-quarters full. A few older men danced with their wives, a group of teenage girls and young women danced together. There were almost no young men. How many are still serving in the Red Army, how many are imprisoned by the Germans. How many are dead? Maurice wondered.
Both the local Catholic and Orthodox priests came. The dancers sat and sipped tea until someone gave the priests a glass of vodka each. The fathers toasted each other, raised their glasses to the band and shot their drinks back simultaneously. The band struck up a lively polka, the young women jumped up to dance and everyone else visibly relaxed.
The city administrator arrived at nine, precisely, with a rifle-bearing guard. He stood in the doorway to survey the crowd. “I know this tune,” he said. “It’s Russian, isn’t it? Not Ukrainian.”
“It’s universal,” Maurice said, pressing a glass of vodka into the administrator’s hand. He gave another to the guard, who smiled and downed it immediately.
The administrator looked at each person dancing, sitting, standing or playing in the band. He swallowed his drink and held out the glass. Maurice refilled it.
“It seems all right, Bury,” the administrator said. “Music, food, drinks. The people do seem to be enjoying themselves. Good job.”
“Thank you, sir. Will you join us?”
The administrator continued to scan the hall. He sighed. “No, I do not think so. Not this time, anyway. I want a report about the event on my desk tomorrow morning, however: names of everyone who attended, the music played, any other activities. Good night.”
He drank his second glass of vodka and left.
When the door closed behind him, Maurice let out the breath he had been holding for longer than could remember. He drank a shot of vodka and went to join the party.
Under the Nazi Heel
is the second book in the Eastern Front trilogy.
For Ukrainians in 1942, the occupying Germans were not the only enemy. Maurice Bury was drafted into the Red Army in 1941. Captured and starved in a POW camp, he escaped and made his way home to western Ukraine, where the Nazi occupiers pursue a policy of starving the locals to make more “living space” for Germans. To protect his family, Maurice joins the secret resistance and soon finds they faces multiple threats. Maurice and his men are up against Soviet spies, the Polish Home Army and enemies even closer to home. Experience this seldom seen phase of World War 2 through the eyes of a man who fought and survived Under the Nazi Heel.
The true story of Maurice Bury, a Canadian drafted into the Soviet Red Army in 1941, just in time to face Operation Barbarossa, the greatest land attack in history—Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. It comprises Army of Worn Soles, Under the Nazi Heel and Walking Out of War.