Sergeant Manole Zamfir - War memories
On February 15th 1941, solider Zamfir Manole’s training began at the Petru Rares military school, near Cernavoda. After graduating, he was assigned to the Pioneers Company of the 36th Regiment from the 9th Infantry Division (Battalion commander: major Secareanu; regiment commander: colonel Vatasescu; division commander: general Panaitiu).

On 1 September 1942 the unit was sent to the Eastern front, in the Don sector. They were transported by train to the Stalino rail station and then marched for 6 weeks to reach the front line. At their arrival, the front line was quiet, so they were assigned to build fortifications and winter shelters.

The first serious Russian attack on their positions started on 9 November. It failed and the Russians suffered heavy casualties. It was followed by about a month of heavy fights, with attacks mounted by both sides, without any side gaining any decisive advantage. It was a pointless massacre, both sides registering heavy losses.

Pushed foreword by their officers, the Russian soldiers were yelling (in Romanian): “Brothers, why are you killing us? Antonescu and Stalin drink vodka together and we’re killing each other for nothing!”

Romanian attacks were mounted as frontal infantry assaults, preceded by an artillery bombardment of the enemy lines. One problem was that Romanian artillery had little impact on enemy strong points, partially due to the small caliber guns and partially to the poor accuracy. Another weak point was the obsolete weapons. Most soldiers had ZB riffles, with attached bayonets. There were only 2 machineguns and one Brandt mortar per company and 1 or 2 sub-machineguns in each platoon. That led to very heavy casualties, sometimes up to 90%. During this period Zamfir Manole was promoted to sergeant for his bravery and to cover the losses. After one unsuccessful attack, he recalls that there were only 7 survivors from the entire company, including him. The young officers leading the Pioneers Company were being killed so often that sergeant Zamfir did’t even got to know their names. They were leading the attacks in front of their men, so were often among the first to die.

After a few fights, the Romanian soldiers started to use captured weapons and equipment. Sergeant Zamfir took a Beretta sub-machinegun as his primary weapon. As for the anti-tank weapons, the situation was even worst. The grenades were ineffective and they had no mines or special AT weapons. They used Molotov cocktails, with pretty good results. Tank crews surrendered after their tank started to burn. But there were few tanks in that sector and the Russians were rarely using them to support their attacks. Those tanks were kept behind, for a kind of pointless artillery support. Romanian pioneers engaged tanks mainly when they were gaining ground in their attacks.

Most fights were WW1 style, infantry assaults with close bayonet fighting in the trenches. In one of these ocasions, sergeant Zamfir killed a Russian solider with his bayonet. Before he died, the Russian told him (in Romanian) that he had 5 children at home. To this day Nea Manole regrets that, even if he knows he had no choice.

Another “amazing” thing that happened on that front was the order (from the German high command) to kill all Russian prisoners. Romanian officers hated that, so they quietly suggested to the troops to “loose” Russian prisoners after taking the weapons and equipment. Many times there were Russian prisoners running through the “no man’s land” after a Romanian successful attack, while the officers were “looking the other way”. Sergeant Zamfir recalls one occasion when his platoon captured 4 women officers (supply officers, caught accidentally in the front line). The company’s commander ordered him to take them behind some thick bushes and shoot them. In that bush, he asked them if they knew Romanian language. To his surprise, they all did, they were Moldavian. He told them: “Now, you know where your positions are. I’ll shoot in the ground and I hope I’ll never see you again around here. Women are meant to be mothers, not soldiers!” The prisoners kissed him and melted in the forest. Than he shoot a few rounds in the ground and returned to the platoon.

There were also some Romanian soldiers that raped Russian women when they had the occasion. Sergeant Zamfir was very upset by that, he believes that is one of the greatest sins. If an officer saw such an act, he’d shoot that solider on the spot, but they weren’t around every time. The punishment came often from their comrades. A rapist was never recovered from the field if he was wounded.

One day, the commander ordered sergeant Zamfir to ask for 5 volunteers and conduct a search and destroy patrol behind enemy lines, in a forest about 2 km. away. There were reports of a tank unit deployed there. He took a corporal and 4 soldiers and infiltrated through the enemy positions. In the forest they discovered one tank without its crew around (empty). A few meters away he saw a pipe rising from the ground, with smoke coming up through it. No sentinels, no enemy activity around. He ordered his men to throw grenades through the pipe and inside the empty tank. To his surprise, the underground bunker’s explosion was far grater than the grenades could have done. It was a munitions store. After such a loud explosion, he decided it is wisely to return to Romanian lines. But in a few minutes 3 Russian tanks got out of the trees and started to chase them. Fortunately, the Russians used only the canons to shoot them down and not the tank’s machine-guns. They would have got away, but the Romanians thought that the Russians were starting a major attack, so Romanian artillery opened fire with all they had. The patrol was pinned down in between and they lost 4 men. Fortunately the 3 tanks got scared by the artillery barrage and withdrew, so sergeant Zamfir and the surviving corporal got to safety just in time.

On 30 December [most likely around 19 November 1942], 4 German high officers visit the Romanian lines. Although after weeks of heavy fights they gained just 2 or 3 kilometers, a German general proclaimed: “Until next Christmas we’ll march together on the streets of America”…. Sergeant Zamfir did not even know where America was, he was fighting to exhaustion in the cold Russian winter, hoping to see the next Christmas in one piece.

After only 3 days, the Russian started a devastating attack, supported by heavy artillery fire, masses of T34 tanks and dive-bombers. In just one night the Romanian front collapsed and a hasty retreat begun to avoid being surrounded. The Russians were shouting: “Romanian brothers, we’ll see you in Bucharest”.

The retreat got more organized after a few days, but the contact between the units was lost or very poor, each company (and in some cases each platoon) making its own strategy to avoid capture and secure the retreat. The orders from the high command were often contradictory, arrived too late and were delivered only to some units. The 36th Regiment managed to keep a degree of unity and order mainly because it was under the direct command of major Secareanu so they had the advantage of a proper leader. Other strained platoons joined them along the way.

In the first week, the retreat was hasty and desperate, leaving behind the wounded that could not walk. Sergeant Zamfir couldn’t forget the desperate calls of the ones left behind and the hands of the wounded trying to reach for their comrades. The Soviets were shooting any wounded prisoners.

After that, the 9th Division got a little more organized and started to mount limited operations to slow down the attack and allow a proper retreat. Most of the heavy artillery pieces were lost, together with most of the heavy equipment and transport means. So the men retreated on foot, separated in platoons or companies to avoid being located and attacked by the enemy bombers or surrounded by tanks. The pioneers were used to attack Russian tanks in order to create the impression of a much larger force arrived as reinforcements. They were also preparing booby-traps on the roads and in the villages. Occasionally one or 2 companies were digging trenches and resisting the attack of a smaller Russian unit for a while, to gain time and divert the enemy’s attention from the route used for the main retreat. These missions were only partially successful, as the Russian advance continued even if these small Romanian units caused severe losses to the enemy compared with their real strength.

The supplying of the troops was almost zero, so they had to use captured weapons and ammo and eat whatever they could find along the way. There were times when they were eating dogs, dead horses or even raw cereals and potatoes found in the villages. Captured provisions were the most appreciated, so a few “attacks” were mounted (as guerilla infiltrations) to reach to the enemy’s supplies. Soon, the Russians began to be more careful, protecting their supply units.

On May 2nd 1943 sergeant Zamfir was wounded by splinters from an artillery shell, in one of the many skirmishes with Russian infantry. He was lucky to be evacuated in a field hospital, so he survived. After a week, the field hospital was retreated with all the wounded in Sevastopol. He was taken on board of a German hospital-ship together with 700 other wounded, both Romanian and German and evacuated towards Constanta harbor.

Even if the hospital-ship was painted white, with the Red Cross on it, Russian bombers attacked it immediately after leaving the harbor. It sunk after just 12 km. (about 7 miles). Only about 200 men survived, including the crew. They’ve spent the night in the water, because the rescue boats of the ship were lost in the attack. In the morning less than 100 were living. They were saved by a German U-boat that was leaving Sevastopol, but submarine’s commander couldn’t change his route to leave them in Constanta. Many men died on the way, as the submarine had no medic on board, just a crewman with nursing training, and only 30 survived.

Sergeant Zamfir was taken in a big hospital in Vienna, where he recovered properly. After 2 months he was sent to Constanta (Romania) by plane to rejoin his unit. The 9th division had been relegated to costal defense of the Constanta area to recover after the huge losses on Eastern front. It was a quiet time for them, as the enemy made no attempt to land on Romanian shore.

During the fall of 1944, the 9th division completed its recovery and rearming and was moved by train to Tarnaveni, than marched on foot to Oarba de Mures. There they’ve met with some Russian units and received the order to cross the Mures River and attack the Germans by surprise. Romanian soldiers had to attack directly, as the Russian troops “supported” them from behind. Colonel Vatasescu addressed his men, telling them the truth about the situation: “We have to do this to stay alive and protect our country. If we don’t attack the Germans, the Soviets will shoot us as prisoners and burn our houses and kill our children. And the Russian units you see here are not supposed to support us, but to shoot us if we retreat, so don’t count on any help from them. If any of you survive this war, remember that we did it for our nation”.

They crossed the Mures River in rubber boats and mounted a frontal assault at the German troops across. The attack was successful mostly because the men fought desperately, as they had little artillery or armor support. The Germans enjoyed proper artillery support and had even a few tanks, so the Romanian losses were significant. But the Romanians broke through and they continued the attack almost without brake, liberating all Hungary. Sergeant Zamfir remembers a German officer saying after was captured: “You, Romanians, f***ed us in ‘16 and now you’ve done it again, you’re the reason for us losing the war in the East”.

Russian orders were for a continuous attack, without any rest or reinforcements. The first stop was only in Debrecen, when the 9th division was too weak to attack anymore with any chance of success. Even the Russians realized that reinforcements (from Romania) were needed if they wanted to gain more ground.

During the entire western campaign, Russian troops came behind Romanian troops, which were decimated in frontal desperate attacks registering huge losses. They were also receiving few supplies and equipment and were often refused proper artillery and air support. Russian tanks engaged German armor only when this was counterattacking through the Romanian infantry and Russian troops preferred to “secure” conquered objectives than attack in the front line. The German prisoners were shot immediately by the Russians, as the Romanians often refused to execute the “no prisoners” order.

The attack was restarted after the short break in Debrecen, in similar conditions. The heaviest and most horrific fighting took place in Tatra Mountains, where the fights often degenerated in hand to hand combat in the trenches, with knifes and sticks. It was a true massacre on both sides. Here sergeant Zamfir was wounded again, getting 3 bullets in his right hip. He was evacuated by plane to Mediash (Romania), where he was operated. Fortunately for him, the bullets were fired from a great distance and the hip bone wasn’t crushed too badly. After only 2 weeks he was sent back on the battlefield, incompletely recovered, but “able to fight”.

At some point, a Russian officer addressed the Romanian troops: “We must completely destroy Germany, shoot anybody, from children to old men and the women as well. Germany must remain completely uninhabited” (the place of this event is unknown, many soldiers were not informed on their location). Most Romanians were shocked by this order and very few followed it. But the Russian’s attitude encouraged some of the men to rape German women and steal from German houses alongside with the Red Army.

Sergeant Zamfir remembers women covered themselves in dirt and excrements, so the invading soldiers wouldn’t rape them. Mothers were sometimes giving themselves to the soldiers to spare their children. German men preferred suicide to avoid being captured and tortured by the Russian soldiers. It was a sub-human behavior, a horrible time. Sergeant Zamfir thinks that only his faith in God saved him, as the Christian teachings were the only law he was respecting in those days. He is ashamed by the behavior of some of his comrades and sometimes preys for the German civilians that were killed then.

Romanian troops stopped as the war ended. For the next month they patrolled in the occupied territory, under Russian command. After that were sent home by foot, as the Russians refused to transport them on the railroad. They’ve reached Romanian border on July 19th and were sent to Brasov. There they were disarmed by the Russians and sent home. They did not receive any payment for the time spent fighting against the Germans and they were sent home with nothing but their clothes. However, they were glad to be alive.

Today Sergeant Manole Zamfir is an 86 years lonely old man living in the village of Sinesti at 25 km from the Romanian capital Bucharest. He is known as “Nea Manole” and few people know he’s a WW2 veteran. His wife died last year of old age and his son is almost 60 and lives in Bucharest. He owns an old house of 3 rooms made from dirt and sticks, a goat and a 2000sqm garden. On this small piece of land he has the most beautiful garden in the whole village and he lives from the vegetables and grapes he cultivates here. Many young peasants came to him for advice regarding the work of the land. My country holiday house is near his garden and so I came to meet and know him in the last 10 years. I have the privilege to be his friend and I wanted to write his story here because such a man deserves not to be forgotten.

User Comments Add Comment
dragos panaitiu  (19 August 2010)
buna ziua 
sunt nepotul generalului constantin panaitiu 
sunt foarte curios daca "nea manole" mai traieste 
mi as dori mult sa imi povesteasca de strabunicul meu 
,daca ma puteti ajuta cu informatii ,va stau la dispozitie .

Scarlat Dragos  (29 January 2010)
M-a emotionat foarte mult...Memoriul acesta arata frumoasa fericire a tineretii trecuta prin noroiul, gerul, sarmele ghimpate, ploile cu fier, infatiseaza frumoasa tinerete trecuta prin cruzimea razboiului si cum toate astea n-ar fi de ajuns mai trebuie sa indure si uitarea, si nepasarea din ziua de azi...
Revenind la subiect, fratele bunicului meu(Fie-i tarana usoara), era Sergent-Major Scarlat Marin din regimentul 90-Vanatorii de munte,contingent 1943, a fost ranit de multe ori(probabil de 3 ori) in lupte, de fiecare data revenind complet refacut la datorie...Insa a fost ranit fatal de o grenada care i-a explodat in spate in timpul luptelor grele din m-tii Tatra chiar in noaptea trecerii in anul 1945. A fost trimis la spitalul de campanie din localitatea Miscolk unde a decedat 2 zile mai tarziu in dureri cumplite.
Tin sa mentionez ca, el era cantor-bisericesc in comuna Radomiresti-Olt, avea chiar si o biblioteca personala, avea idneosebi un dar al poeziei, multe din scrisorile lui fiind sub forma lirica... 
Mai mult de atat pe patl de moarte si-a scris..o balada scriind despre cum a ajuns pe patul de moarte..

Florin  (20 January 2010)
Respectele mele,

Bunicul meu a luat parte la luptele pentru eliberarea Cehoslovaciei(m-tii Tatra), ajungang pana in Berlin apoi , cu trupele pentru eliberare.Povestirile lui m-au facut sa cer voluntar sa imi sadisfac stagiul militar, cu toate ca eram scutit.
Adevarati eroi, care nu ar trebui uitati niciodata.Pacat ca nu am avut ideea de a-i scrie memoriile.....

Doru Deboveanu  (20 October 2009)
Amandoi bunicii mei au luptat in al doilea razboi mondial si au fost raniti amandoi. Nici unul dintre ei n-a vrut sa spuna despre cum a fost. Numai atat mi-au spus: "Nu vrei sa stii". Acuma sunt amandoi dusi de la noi, adormiti intru Domnul. Bunicile spuneau ca a fost nenorocire cu rusii, cand au venit. Erau mai mult beti si pusi pe pradaciune si viol, decat pe lupta. Satele s-au umplut de paduchi cand au venit ei, erau rai, nespalati si salbaticiti.

eliana  (15 March 2009)
Am citit cu adanca emotie despre sergentul Manole Zamfir . De ce uitam oare de eroii nostri . Tata a fost pe front ,a fost luat prizonier la rusi . Fratele lui a murit in urma ranilor capatate la Tiganca . Bunicul meu a murit pe frontul primului razboi mondial . Am tot incercat sa aflu unde a murit bunicul meu , dar nimeni nu a putut da relatii , autoritatile sunt nepasatoare . Am constatat ca nu s-a tinut o evidenta clara a celor cazuti sau disparuti pe front , de parca nimanui nu i-ar fi pasat cati au plecat pe front , cati au murit si cati au ramas . Bunica mea nu a stiut niciodata unde a murit sotul ei ,si nici despre fiul ei nu a stiut . Vaduva fiind a crescut singura trei copii , iar toti , trei , au fost luptatori pe frontul celui de-al doilea razboi , caruia i-a supravietuit doar tatal meu . Acum nici el nu mai traieste iar eu am ramas doar cu amintirile , cu povestirile lui despre acel razboi .

luke murphy  (28 April 2008)
19 year old from ireland here, thanks for writing this, it is true history, horrific but true.

Sicoe Corneliu  (24 February 2008)
Sunt nepotul prof de limba si literatura romana SICOIE C.OCTAVIAN veteran de razboi ,decedat in anul 1997,fost ofiter-sublocotenent in cadrul Regimentului 36 Infanterie,DIVIZIA a-9-a,din care a facut parte si sergentul Zamfir.Mi-as dori sa pot lua legatura cu cei ce se ingrijesc de acest site,pentru a le pune la dispozitie si alte amintiri pe care le-am retinut din povestirile bunicului meu ,legate de atrocitatile Armatei Rosii,Oarba de Mures,muntii Tatra,Iuliu MANIU(in perioada razboiului),precum si ce s-a intamplat cu veteranii de razboi imediat dupa 1945.Multa sanatate sergentului Zamfir!Adresa mea de e-mail este multumesc pentru aceste pagini de adevarata istorie,care DIN PACATE,NU S-A INVATAT LA SCOALA !

Laura Ion  (16 November 2007)
Si bunicul meu a ajuns in muntii Tatra.. stiu asta din povestile tatalui meu ... si mai stiu ca a fost prizonier la rusi. Citind povestea lui nea Manole, am prins gustul de a afla mai multe despre bunicul meu care a murit cand aveam abia 5 anisori. Sunt mandra insa de el si de faptul ca a luptat pentru tara, cu credinta in Dumnezeu, cu speranta ca romanilor le va fi mai bine. Nea Manole este unul dintre cei din ce in ce mai putini care ne mai pot povesti trairile lor prin viu grai. E pacat ca sunt putini cei care mai au vointa si timpul de a-i asculta!

Kalenda Andrei Florin  (3 February 2007)
Doresc sai urez multa sanatateomnului Manole Zamfir.Si bunicul meu a luptat in Muntii Tatra, dn pacate eu am fost prea ´mic ca sa imi mai apuce sa imi povesteasca.Numele bunicului a fost Curian Simion Bistrita Nasaud, un om credincios si foarte talentat la vorbirea a mai multor  limbi straine, care a luptat in primul si al doilea razboi.A murit neinpaca de cea ce sa intimplat cu Romania dupa razboi.
Cu respect Florin

Rusu Maria  (9 January 2007)
Tatãl meu, Iordachi Vasile din aceeasi zonã cu serg. Manole Zamfir (jud. Iasi), are ~ 87 de ani, si m-ia povestit multe din viata lui de prizionier de rãzboi. A fost împuscat în piept si a avut un picior rupt; slavã Domnului cã mai trãieste. I-am tipãrit toate memoriile si i le trimit sã le citeascã ...sã "retrãiascã". Citeste (doar cu un singur ochi) tot ce- legat de istorie si mai ales de evenimente din al II-lea rãzboi mondial. De atâtea ori l-am rugat sã punã pe hârtie ceea ce-si mai aminteste. Pentru mine TATA este un monument al naturii prin cei 6 ani de rãzboi pe care i-a trãit pe viu, istorie trãitã nu cititã. 
De mult caut ceea ce azi am gãsit - VA MULTUMESC !!!

dragos panaitiu  (2 January 2007)
referitor la strabunicul meu generalul panaitiu ,detin niste jurnale de razboi multe poze cu strabunicul meu ...
as dori o cumunicare cu administratorii site-ului ,daca pot ajuta cu ceva 

Radu von Klausenburg  (16 December 2006)
Sunt uimitoare si extrem de relevante aceste memorii de razboi.Pur si simplu,pentru noi, cei care am trait numai vremuri de pace,astfel de intamplari secventiale si disparate,dar nu mai putin veridice,ni se par desprinse dintr-un scenariu supra-realist !

Daniel Popescu  (14 November 2006)
Bunicul meu, Gheorghe Popescu din Creteni - Valcea  a ramas fara un picior la Cotul Donului! Avea 19 ani si apoi o viata a dus-o intr-un picior de lemn! Si a dus o viata mai mult decat onorabila de care sunt foarte mandru! Pe cand eram un copil imi povestea atat de multe despre acest razboi crud! Citind aceste randuri ale Domnului Zamfir Manole mi-am adus aminte de povestile bunicului...! Si acum imi e dor de el! S-a stins si a dus cu el pe piept, decoratia Virtutea Militara! Dumnezeu sa ii odihneasca in pace pe acesti eroi care au cazut pentru tara!

Grigore Tirli  (18 July 2006)
Din pacate realitatea este sumbra...Ne pierdem "vana" ca popor...scoala este din ce in ce mai slaba, generatiile tinere sunt tot mai dezinteresate de istoria natiei noastre.

Ultima dovada in acest sens o constituie evenimentul organizat in Basarabia, in luna iunie, la Tiganca, unde a fost inaugurat cimitirul soldatilor romani (doar o foarte mica parte) cazuti in luptele de la Tiganca. Semidoctul, diletantul si incompetentul ministru roman al apararii nu a fost capabil sa tina nici macar un discurs "citit" de cateva minute. In schimb a vorbit un cretin rusofon spunand ca la Tiganca au luptat "fascisti" lasand asistenta masca...Fara comentarii...

Pe posturile noastre de TV au aparut niste "tovarase", gen contabile de colhozuri, care nici macar nu stiau ce s-a intamplat acolo acum 65 ani...Comentariile au fost de genul "aici odihnesc oameni care au luptat pentru binele omenirii" si alte ineptii de acest gen...

Este tragic ca romanii din ambele parti ale Prutului sunt asa indobitociti.

La Tiganca au murit mii de romani. Cunosc o doamna in varsta, care in perioada respectiva era studenta la Facultatea de Litere si Filosofie din Iasi. Mi-a spus ca in acele zile din vara lui 1941, la avizierul facultatii apareau tabele cu studentii cazuti la Tiganca. A fost o tragedie acolo! A curs atata sange romanesc si noi astazi suntem incapabili sa cinstim cum se cuvine asta!!!

Presa romaneasca de asemenea este rusinos ca nu scrie aproape nimic despre campania curajoasa a Romaniei pe frontul de est...

Englezii in fiecare an cinstesc pe cei care au murit in campania din primul razboi de la Galipoli (Turcia) chiar daca operatiunea respectiva a fost o greseala strategica si in final un esec usturator...

La Tiganca am avut pierderi extrem de mari insa i-am scos pe rusi din Basarabia. Nu suntem capabili sa ne cinstim cum se cuvine eroii.

Sper ca istoria sa nu ne pedepseasca pentru asta.

Anonim  (30 June 2006)
Domnule Ganea, se face anual un asemenea ceremonial. sunt in cadrul armatei. si cel putin  noi ne facem datoria de a aduce un omagiu celor carora le datoram existanta noastra ca neam. mai dramatic e faptul ca civilii au uitat si data cand se serbeaza ziua eroilor. am avut "ocazia" ca fiind la aceste ceremoniale an de an(in formatie), sa vad prezent doar batrani, care stiu si au trait ce inseamna razboi. tinerii reuseau totusi sa se opreasca din drumul lor pentru a arunca o vorba de jignire sau sa faca glume pe seama valorilor nationale.

Ganea Cosmin  (28 March 2006)
As dori sa manifest respectul meu pentru ex sergentul Manole Zamfir. Acesti eroi ai neamului merita o ceremonie in fiecare an cum fac fostii aliati. Daca nu in public macar in privat. Multumesc