The following is from George Orwell’s “As I Please” column in the London Tribune for October 13, 1944
Recently I was told the following story, and I have every reason to believe it is true.
Among the German prisoners captured in France there are a certain number of Russians. Some time back two were captured who did not speak Russian or any other language that was known either to their captors or their fellow prisoners. They could, in fact, only converse with one another. A professor of Slavonic languages, brought down from Oxford, could make nothing of what they were saying. Then it happened that a sergeant who had served on the frontiers of India heard them talking and recognized their language, which he was able to speak a little. It was Tibetan! After some questioning, he managed to get their story out of them.
Some years earlier they had strayed over the frontier into the Soviet Union and had been conscripted into a labor battalion, afterwards being sent to western Russia when the war with Germany broke out. They were taken prisoner by the Germans and sent to North Africa; later they were sent to France, then exchanged into a fighting unit when the Second Front opened and taken prisoner by the British. All this time they had been able to speak to nobody but one another and had no notion of what was happening or who was fighting whom.
It would round the story off neatly if they were now conscripted into the British army and sent to fight the Japanese, ending up somewhere in Central Asia, quite close to their native village, but still very much puzzled as to what it is all about.
Here’s a similar story told a few weeks ago in The Daily Mail of London.
American paratroopers in Normandy in June 1944 thought they had captured a Japanese soldier in German uniform, but he turned out to be Korean. His name was Yang Kyoungjong.
In 1938, at the age of 18, Yang had been forcibly conscripted by the Japanese into their army in Manchuria. A year later, he was captured by the Red Army after the Battle of Khalkhin-Gol and sent to a labor camp. The Soviet military authorities, at a moment of crisis in 1942, drafted him, along with thousands of other prisoners, into their forces.
Then, early in 1943 he was taken prisoner at the Battle of Kharkov in Ukraine by the German army.
In 1944, now in German uniform, he was sent to France to serve with one of the Wehrmacht’s eastern battalions made up of Soviet prisoners to defend Normandy at the base of the Cotentin peninsula. After time in a prison camp in Britain, he went to the United States. Yang settled there and died in Illinois in 1992.
via Mail Online.
Hat tip to SLICETHELIFE for Yang’s story.
I don’t draw any particular conclusions from these stories, except to take note of the tens of millions of people in the 20th century who were dispossessed, conscripted, uprooted, exiled and killed by totalitarian governments and global wars, and to be thankful I lived where I did when I did. I hope that Mr. Yang had a good life in the United States.