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The Day Hitler Invaded: One Woman Remembers

German Invasion of U.S.S.R

Nazi Propaganda Photo
"The Murderers have bolted and are not returning"
Nazi Propaganda Photo Courtesy of J. Edgar Hoover Archives

June 23, 2001 - Sixty years ago this week, Hitler's forces attacked the Soviet Union -- and Tatyana Artemyeff, a young wife and mother, recorded it all in a notebook. Scott Simon speaks to Artemyeff's daughter, Helen Charov, about her mother' s experiences in the early days of the German invasion and her translation of the memoir into English.

In an introduction to the memoir, Helen writes, "June 22, 1941 -- the day that Hitler attacked his ally, the Soviet Union, in the operation called Barbarossa - was a day that changed the course of my mother's life forever. If her life prior to that day had been characterized by events internal to Soviet Russia, the shocking arrival of Hitler's war on her doorstep irrevocably changed its direction, separating her from her husband, Shura, and leaving her to fend for herself and her two children.

"Like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hitler's invasion of Russia began early on a Sunday morning in June, and took the Russians completely by surprise since Germany and the USSR had signed a mutual non-aggression pact in 1939. The invasion had been planned months in advance and Hitler was known to have said to one of his generals, "We have only to kick in the door, and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down." The entire 1800 kilometer border, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, was attacked by a 3 million-man deployment of German aircraft, tanks and ground troops, bombing major cities with the intent to drive toward Leningrad and Moscow in the north and Kiev and eastward in the South. The advance of the German troops was stunning, meeting virtually no opposition along the line.

"On that day, my mother, a young wife of 23, was preparing to travel to a sanatorium in Odessa to pick up her 6-year-old daughter, my sister Natasha. With the noontime announcement by Foreign Minister Molotov of the invasion, she found herself with no choice but to travel into the direction of the advancing army and hope that she could somehow rescue her child before Odessa fell. "

Scott Simon talks to Charov about her mother's experiences in the early part of the war, and listens to excerpts from her mother's memoir.

Read Helen's English translation of her mother's entire memoir.