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March 8: The Battle of Sokolovo

March 8, 2014
media_to_thumbnailThe Red Army was joined for the first time by troops from an allied country in fighting the Nazi Wehrmacht at the battle of Sokolovo, which began in the Ukraine on this date in 1943. One thousand soldiers of the First Czechoslovak Independent Field Battalion, fought to stop the advance of Germans across the Mzha river. Of these thousand, six hundred were Jews, survivors of the Nazi onslaught who had fled from Czechoslovakia to Poland to Russia in 1939, some of whom had then been imprisoned in Soviet labor camps. “The battle . . . lasted for three days,” writes Martin Gilbert in The Holocaust. “By the end of it, 140 of the Jews had been killed and 160 severely wounded. Among the Jews in the battalion was an 18-year-old girl, Malvine Friedmann,” one of eighteen Jewish women “who served at Sokolovo. During the battle, she saved more than seven severely wounded men by carrying them out of the danger zone.” Pictured at left, Antonin Sochor, a Jewish officer in the Czechoslovak battalion, who became a “Hero of the Soviet Union.” To see footage from a 1974 Czech film about Sokolovo, look below. “In the battle at Sokolovo, thirty-eight of the one thousand soldiers were women. It was unusual at the time. They [were] snipers, and helped pull injured men out of the line of fire. One Russian general, who was monitoring our operation with a pair of binoculars, couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw our women pull a Russian tank driver out of his vehicle and into safety. Our women were very brave and they were very good friends who gave us courage through their own courage — of course we didn’t want to make fools of ourselves if the women managed the situation so well. There were many times when some of us got tired and they carried our weapons for kilometres and even treated our blisters. A good few valuable marriages came out of this. I myself met my wife on the front, and we’ve been married now for 60 years.” -Bedrich Kopold