Sasha Maslov, a Ukrainian photographer based in New York City, has spent five years flying to more than 20 countries to track down veterans of the Second World War, photograph them and listen to their life stories. From kamikaze pilots to teenage resistance fighters, he captures the harrowing, terrifying, and at times even touching experiences of those who took part in history’s greatest conflict.
Here is a small sample of Maslov’s powerful work, courtesy of The Guardian. In addition to the wide variety of stories and perspectives represented, from all sides, the project captures the truly global nature of the war.
Ichiro Sudai, Takayama, Japan. I was in a kamikaze squadron, but the war finished before I was deployed. Kamikaze pilots would have farewell parties to drink sake. By the end of the war, we didn’t even have sake, only water. They didn’t return the bones of the kamikaze pilots to their families. So we cut our hair and nails and put them in an envelope with a message for our families. I wasn’t afraid to die. If I did, it would be my destiny as a pilot. Everyone was brainwashed then. After the war, I lived for my hobbies. I wrote poetry, grew flowers and ran a lot. I still have a very strong body.
Imants Zeltins, born in Bauska, Latvia, 1922. When Germany attacked Russia in 1941, we thought they would liberate us from Soviet occupation. By 1944, the Red Army was closing in on us, so I joined up. That September I was injured in a fight that was 28 Soviet tanks against 200 Latvian conscripts. I woke in a German hospital. They had to cut off my right arm. By April 1945, the Americans had come; we were freed. But I ended up in concentration camps in Germany, Poland and Russia. Most of the people around me ended up in Siberia – for decades. I was the only one that didn’t.
Ursula Hoffmann, born in Poznan, Poland, 1922. When the war started, I was part of the Związek Harcerstwa Polskiego (Polish Scouts). We soon integrated into the Gray Ranks – the resistance. We moved our HQ into the same building as Arthur Karl Greiser, who was overseeing the German occupation of Poland. We were so brave back then. In 1940, we began reporting to Armia Krajowa, the primary resistance force. We did mail deliveries and sabotage. We were reckless and some of us were caught and killed. But some, like myself, were lucky to make it. A few even came to my 90th birthday party.
It will not be much longer until those who tell these powerful stories are gone forever. Thank goodness for those like Maslov who are recording as much of them and experiences as possible.