From when I was young, I loved to hear the stories my grandmother told me about her youth.
She grew up during the war and told me stories about her daily life. That’s where my love for stories and interest in the war started. This was all from the Dutch side of my family, as the other side is Russian.
The stories I got from them are more harrowing and tragic; family members trying to stay together whilst evacuations are happening, others passing away during the Leningrad blockade and some sent away to fight.
That’s how I got to experience stories from different perspectives of the war. My great-granduncle Yuri fought in the war and told me about his experience, that he lost good friends. They never got to go back home. And that is for me, the saddest part.
A few years ago, I came across a cemetery for former Soviet soldiers here in the Netherlands. It took me by surprise, I never knew that there was a special place for these men. In total there are 851 men laid to rest, all of them after a terrible journey, far far from home. One small positive thing is that you have the opportunity to adopt a grave of a soldier…
That is what I did. I adopted the grave of Nikolaj Malyshev. Not much was known about him, besides his name. I visited his grave multiple times, like on Christmas eve to place a candle and on the 9th of May to lay flowers. Luckily, I have a cousin in Moscow who works in the archives who helped me get more information on Nikolaj. It took some time, but we were rewarded for our waiting.
Nikolaj Grigoryevich Malyshev was born February 28th, 1920 in Moscow. And in December 1941 he was captured by the Germans. Not much is known about his whereabouts until June 1944, when he was in a camp near Dusseldorf. The red card shows he was admitted to the hospital on June 2nd, 1944 for wounds to his eyes. Sadly, and most likely, he passed away there on June 13th. From other historical sources, I know that the allied forces did not want any of their soldiers buried on enemy territory. That is why Nikolaj was temporarily buried at the Margraten cemetery. Later on, he was reburied at the cemetery in Leusden, with many other Soviet soldiers.
Nikolaj sadly passed away, but his family back in Moscow had no idea what happened to him. If he were still alive perhaps. In another document it was shown that 4 years after his death, his mother was still looking for him. She was told in 1948 that her son Nikolaj is missing. When I found out about this, my heart broke. A mother was looking for her son for years, because he was missing. Not knowing that he passed away in 1944.
Now that we have three generations who were born and live in peace in Europe. It is hard to imagine that Nikolaj, only 21 years old, and many others his age, had to fight in the war. And that many did not make it back home. I am writing Nikolaj’s story down, so we can keep his story alive, so he will not be forgotten.
Written by Sasha Grond from the Netherlands
This article is part of the World by Word campaign. This project originated at YMCA Netherlands and is a multinational cooperation of YMCA Europe Roots for Peace project, and the Dutch former Soviet Cemetery Leusden. World by Word is a prelude to an Erasmus+ funded Youth Exchange “Then, now and later: towards a composite memory”, taking place in the Netherlands in 2022.