At the age of seventeen, “I was forced by German troops to travel to a work camp in Austria to aid in the war effort,” remembers Adolph Straka. Born in 1925 in Duplje, Slovenia, at the time part of Yugoslavia, Straka worked in a steel factory for a year before being sent to the outskirts of Munich for artillery and anti-tank training. Five months later, in June 1943, he went to Dijon, France as part of a tank-hunter unit with other Slovenians and Austrians, then traveled by train to the Eastern Front in Belarus.
Thus Jonathan Alpeyrie opens on the first of ten short profiles of World War II survivors from across Europe and the United States. The piece, entitled “The Many Faces Of The Great War,” was published by Narrative.ly and was published together with Alpeyrie’s photos. In text set beside their already telling faces, the 90-year-olds tell their stories in this incredible record of men who fought the same war in very different circumstances and across various countries. And they didn’t just fight for their countries in World War II. Caught in the biggest war of human history, they fought for their own survival no matter what uniform they were wearing. Straka himself fought for three different sides in order to preserve his own life.
War is the worst thing that can happen to a human. It breaks human destinies and human talents, destroys lives, and displaces people around the globe. Not one of these 10 survivors talks about the ideology or patriotism that made him grab a gun and fight the other side. They were caught in the crossroads of a terrible war designed in the rooms of the politically powerful. They fought and traveled and came back to tell us their stories. Like Mr. Straka, who, while in Russian prison camp, had to change his first name because it was the same as Hitler’s. By the time he joined his third army, the Yugoslav Liberation Army, he was able to compare. “The Russians drank too much vodka and were poorly disciplined compared to Germans,” Straka said.