IAmA 92 year old Azerbaijani World War II veteran. I was conscripted to fight for the Soviets, captured by the Germans, surrendered on the Western front, married a German woman and started a new life in the US. AMA
We're Matt and Mouna, and we'll be typing out the answers for Mouna's Opa (German for grandfather), Michael Mirson (born Mikhail Mirsayef - or as other family members in Azerbaijan write it Mirzeyev). We'll answer the questions in the first person (and where possible we will quote him verbatim to give you a feel for his level of English), and get to as many as possible. Opa gets tired pretty easily, so we will take breaks throughout the day, and if necessary we'll answer more tomorrow. Here's our summary of his story:
Born on a farm in Armenia, my father was taken to Siberia never to be seen again when I was 10 years old. The Soviets used the farm as a collective farm, killed our honey bees, and confiscated all of the livestock. At 16, I escaped from the farm and fled to Yerevan, Armenia. I managed to enter veterinary school, attended for three years, and was conscripted into the Soviet army in 1941.
War in the Caucasus
The Germans soon pushed into the Caucasus Mountains, probably heading for oil-rich Baku, Azerbaijan, and the Soviets defended fiercely. While fighting in the mountains I was injured from a hand grenade explosion, with over 26 shrapnel pieces in my body. I was transported to Sochi on the Black Sea to a hospital and in November I was sent back out to fight back in the mountains.
While fighting again the Germans surrounded our battalion, with fighting on all of our sides. I remember an explosion while I charged with my rifle and I was knocked out, awaking to a German kicking me in the back. My finger was hanging from my hand and was bandaged. Germans took our overcoats, and we suffered heavily through the night, with nearly half of my fellow soldiers freezing. Somehow I survived. We marched for four days into a valley that separated Georgia from Russia.
I was marched to a prison camp in a small city in southern Russia called Maykop, where I stayed for about three months. The Russians were advancing on the German position and we were given the choice of marching with the Germans or facing our Russian comrades who would, in our eyes, most definitely kill us for surrendering. Most chose to march towards German lines, though many died during that march. With so many wounded horses I was given the chance to show my veterinary skills and was given a position as an assistant veterinarian for almost three years with the German veterinarian.
The War Ends
Eventually we ended up in Austria, where we were fighting the oncoming Russians. A high ranking German officer came to speak to us. He told us the war was over. He told us we were on our own, and that the American line was about 50km west. He warned us that the Russian line would be more dangerous, but we only had about 5 or 6 hours to make it to the Russian line.
Fleeing to the American Lines
Taking my time and giving my horse plenty of rest, I made it to the American line and was put into a camp as a German prisoner. With other Soviets, I convinced the American commander that we were not Germans, and just like that he let us go. I found work on a farm in Austria. When we learned that the area of Austria we were in was possibly part of Czechoslovakia, which would be Soviet territory, and fearing for our lives, we fled to an UNRA refugee camp in Germany and sought work.
Post-War and moving to the US
As a free man, I eventually met my wife in Amberg, Germnay, married in 1946 and had two children (including Mouna's mother). After that we came to the US by boat in 1951 in hopes of something better (my first choice was actually to move to Australia, but at the Australian consulate I was rejected because I am a Muslim). We had another child, lived and worked on farms, lived in New York City, worked any job necessary, moved to Boston, owned a diner, had a stroke, and live happily with our three daughters, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
(Whenever someone asks Opa how he's doing he says "I'm doing OK - I'm an old soldier," hence the account name!)
EDIT: Proof of identity sent to mods
EDIT: Taking a break for lunch. This is amazing. Lots of tears shed from all parties over here, especially when he's describing his mother and thinking he was dying. Opa is so grateful for all of your questions. He loves answering them. He said, "I'm all over the world? Great!"
EDIT: Taking a nice long break, Opa needs a nap! Keep them coming though, he wants to answer them all. EDIT: We're back (6pm EST) EDIT: Taking the night off, Opa's off to bed. See you at 7am EST
EDIT: Hey guys! We're going to look at a few more questions this morning, but Opa has requested a lighter day. He is loving this, and is eager to catch up with you all, tomorrow! EDIT: 9:45am EST and we're done for the day. He'll be back on tomorrow morning. Thank you all!
"Thank you all very much. I appreciate your interest. If you have more questions, I answer tomorrow (saturday)."