Home > Soldier, legionnaire, partisan: A Tajik’s experience of the Great Patriotic

Soldier, legionnaire, partisan: A Tajik’s experience of the Great Patriotic

An excerpt from Ashur Haydarov, Zhizn' v iskusstve  (Dushanbe, 2001).


Ashur Haydarov (1916-1988) was a Tajik artist. Born in Samarqand, he studied with Pavel Benkov, then went to work at the newspaper Lenin Yuli, where one of his colleagues was the future First Secretary of Uzbekistan, Sharaf Rashidov. After the outbreak of war in 1941, Haydarov volunteered for service and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. He was taken prisoner but escaped and joined partisan forces in Poland, eventually joining an NKVD detachment. After the war in 1949 Haydarov was arrested for supposed collaboration and imprisoned until 1955. He subsequently made a successful artistic career but was not formally rehabilitated until 1989. After Haydarov’s death, his family published his unfinished memoirs in a volume along with essays by colleagues and friends. The memoir portion focuses on his youth, education, wartime service, and imprisonment.

The following fragment is taken from a section covering what happened after he was taken prisoner. While it is impossible to verify all of the details in this account (and indeed the text contains some internal inconsistencies) it provides a unique perspective on the dilemmas facing prisoners of war, especially non-Russian ones.


The next morning, after cleaning up, we were lined up in groups of 50 in the schoolyard. In front of us were several officers and among them a man in civilian dress, who started speaking Russian with a Ukrainian accent. “Soldiers of Turkestan, a representative of Great Germany, ober-Liutenant Bekesh, wishes to meet you. He will be your commander.”

[Bekesh] said to us: “Today you are Russian soldiers. Our command contacted Moscow to discuss the exchange of prisoners, but Mr. Stalin refused, saying that there were no [Soviet] prisoners, only traitors; then our command turned to the Red Cross to save your life from hunger and your command agreed. You will be soldiers of Great Germany, and your commander will be your countryman from the city of Tashkent, Vali Kaiumhon.”[1] He [Kaiumhon] was a member of the Turkestan committee,[2] an Uzbek by nationality, from the city of Kokand, of average height, about 28-30 years old, with black eyes and a moustache, wearing a German uniform and patent leather boots. He started by saying that our motherland had abandoned us and that if we did not agree to the conditions offered by the Germans we were surely going to die. Then [they] started asking us [if we agreed to join] and writing down our biographies. The next day we were lined up for roll call and when my name was called, I stepped forward and they announced that I would be the commander. In my soul I thought that this was betrayal: that I was going to be not just a soldier but a commander, and this was a violation of the oath I took in the military academy, and deep in my soul I also thought that maybe [being a commander] was good, because at the first opportunity I could organize an escape and take up to 200 people with me. Later that night after dinner I and my wounded comrade Komiljonov analyzed the events that happened to us. He said that we could not risk it now, but that he was also thinking about escape…(81-82).

Allow me to say something about meeting the President of the Turkestan Legion in Neuhammer. His name was Vali Kaium, he was from Tashkent, from an intellectual family, he was over 40 years old, above average height, slim, with an upright figure, he was a good-looking man, with big eyes and a slight bump on his nose, a white face and plump lips. One Sunday morning I and the other commanders went to meet him. I and my friends took the third row from the stage, where there was a table, and in the center was Vali Kaiumhon, and on either side of him were Uzbek and Kazakh officers, 7-8 people in total. When he was given a chance to speak, he first spoke against the communists and the Jews. He said that Turkestan was a colony of Russia, and that Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Tajiks, Kirgiz, and Turkmen were the slaves of the Russian communists. He assured us that with the assistance of the German Reich and the army we would be the owners of Turkestan, and that the war would end with German victory. Listening to him I wanted to take a gun and shoot him, even knowing what would happen to me, but unfortunately this was not possible. Many times he praised the Turkish government, which he said would provide us with the necessary specialists and economic resources. Many of the legionnaires did not believe him, because they knew that there was no going back to the past, that what he was saying was truly stupid; many thought it was funny to listen to him. After this meeting there was a dinner in honor of this scoundrel “President.”

Later, in 1944-1945, many legionnaires escaped west to the Italians, to the French partisans, to Czechoslovakia, to Yugoslavia, to Poland, and so on. But I must say that there were also true traitors who carried out savage crimes, stayed alive, and did not return to their motherland, but instead found shelter in Germany, [and] many went from France to America and Canada. (90)

We were housed in wooden barracks, ten people to a room, in bunk beds. The mattresses were filled with straw, and the blankets were flannel. We prepared our own food and were not allowed to leave; leaving was considered an escape attempt and one would be shot on the spot. That never happened in my platoon. I promised the soldiers that they would be safe with me and that it was risky to try to escape on your own, one had to think such things through. Soon I started to get to know some Poles who lived in the area where we were guarding the railroads. Twice while we were there the railroad was blown up by Polish partisans with my help. All in all, I was in Zembowice for 4 months. … (91)

On the night that we had set for the escape, I brought together my platoon, dressed them warmly and told them to bring extra food, water, and bullets, and told the commanders that they were free until 23:00 hours. In the evening, I lined up the platoon, checked everyone, and left one person on watch. At that moment a feldwebel [a non-commissioned officer] approached and asked us where we were going. I told him we were going to patrol the railroad; this was around 19:00. When we passed by the station, Tamara[3] was there waving a handkerchief, wishing me good luck. I don’t know what she was thinking about, but I was wondering if I would ever see her again. These thoughts were on my mind as we hid in the darkness. After a kilometer we turned towards the forest and over a bridge. I carried a machine gun and kept my finger on the trigger in case anyone proved himself a coward and tried to run away. In the forest, where we arrived a half hour later, we were met by our partisan friends, led by Aleksandr Chistiakov, and from there we drove another 30 kilomteres. When we were in the forest and climbed into the cars in Zembowice there were flares and machine gun rounds. There were 30 people in our platoon, we had French guns with long barrels and one German machine gun. That’s how my escape took place. (97)


After a filling lunch, Aleksandr and pan Romanowski came to me and asked me to gather my boys for a talk and asked me if all of them were loyal to me. I said that all the traitors had stayed with the fritzes [Germans], the ones with me were those in whom I had no doubts. I lined up my platoon and after greeting them, Chistiakov started to speak: “Comrades, you took an enormous risk and bravely followed your commander Haydarov, whom you knew before, but you are not yet partisans; to become partisans you have to carry out an act of sabotage. You must derail a German train or blow up an important building belonging to the enemy, only then will you be known as partisans….” (99)

-Translated and annotated by A.M. Kalinovsky.

[1] Vali Kaium (also spelled Veli Kayyum or Vali Qayumjon) was an Uzbek émigré who was entrusted by the Nazis to lead the Turkestan legion. Born in 1904 in Tashkent, he was sent to Germany to study in 1922 and never returned, instead becoming involved in anti-Soviet exile politics. He was arrested by American forces in 1945 and eventually released, spending the rest of his life in West Germany. He died in 1993.

[2] The Turkestan legion was a volunteer army organized by Germany military intelligence and composed of anti-Soviet emigres and POWs. They were promised an independent Turkestan after the defeat of Soviet forces. The legion’s units were largely assigned to guard duty.

[3] According to Haydarov, Tamara Frank was the daughter of Mikhail Frank, the manager of the local railroad station. Tamara’s husband had been killed by Nazi forces in 1939. According to the memoir, Haydarov and Tamara developed romantic feelings for each other but the relationship remained platonic, and Tamara helped Haydarov establish and maintain ties to the partisans. (pages 93-94).