Twice Terrorized: Vardan Jumshudyan recalls survival from two evils

Vardan Jumshudyan has a unique history that none should wish for.

Vardan, 93, is one of the rare witnesses of two genocides: the 1915 Armenian Genocide and the Jewish Holocaust of the 1940s.

In 1915, at the age of three, Vardan’s family was among those sent into exile from their home in Blur, in the Armenian province of Surmalu.

Igdir, the center of Surmalu is only 40 kilometers away from Yerevan. When Vardan’s family was there, the population was 10,000. Vardan's family left in 1915.

“I remember clearly” Varadan says, “My father rushed in and told my mother, ‘Mariam, get ready we are running away. The Turks are coming. My mother was cooking lavash with other women. She left everything and quickly began packing.”

Mariam had prepared only the most important items for their six children and hid all the gold they had in her belt. Suddenly, she felt bad, as she was pregnant. And Vardan’s father Smbat decided they could leave later that day but sent the smallest children – Vardan and Yeranuhi, six years older than Vardan, with his brother Tigran‘s family to Shariar (now Nalbandian village near the Turkish-Armenian border).

All the members of Smbat‘s family – his wife and their 4 elder children, luckily escaped the Turkish sword and found a shelter in Shariar, a village near Echmiadzin. There Smbat found Tigran and his family. But Vardan and Yeranuhi were not with them. Tigran explained that they lost the children on their way to Shariar. Smbat rushed back to look for the children.

“My father found us in one of the villages. We did not eat for several days and were very weak,” Vardan remembers, “When we heard father’s voice we wanted to shout back to him, but our voices were very weak. And we hardly recognized his voice, because it was coarse of shouting through the way from Shariar to the place we were. He gave us food and took us away…”

Vardan remembers their house in Blur very vaguely. It was a one-storied large building with a beautiful garden. His father had told him their family had large gardens in four other nearby villages, a mill and a chrekh (a place for processing cotton).

In Echmiadzin, the family of 8 made a new home. At first Smbat was selling his family’s valuables to make a living until he found a job on a farm. The father sent Vardan to Yerevan when he was 12, to give him good education. Vardan studied to be a veterinarian. After graduating from the college in 1940 Vardan was sent to Azizbekov (now Vayk), where he worked as a vet for 2 years.

However, a real life trial for Vadan was yet to come…

In 1942 Vardan went to the Soviet Army to fight against the German Fascists. But he fought in the front line for only six months. On December 27 he was wounded near the town of Mazdok in the Northern Caucasus and was taken captive by the Germans.

“When my consciousness came back I heard a German speech. I realized I was taken captive.”

Vardan, was kept in a Prisoner of War camp until April 15, 1945, when he, together with other captives from the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, was freed by American troops.

“The conditions in the camp were very severe,” Vardan says, “food was scarce, no warm clothes, no medicine for the sick and hard work from early morning until late at night.”

The prisoners were being moved from one place to another. His last destination as a prisoner was near Munich Germany.

“They were putting us in wooden carriages without windows and air to breathe,” Vardan recalls. “There was hardly room on the floor for us to sit. And in one of the corners they placed a wooden barrel, which served as a toilet for the prisoners. Some people could not survive the road and they placed the dead corpses near that barrel.”

In the camp with Vardan there was another Armenian - Yervand. Vardan remembers that during one of the trips they managed to put a pot out of the carriage opening and begged for bread in different languages whenever the train stopped. They got a little bread and potatoes from the passers-by and ate them in secret from other prisoners.

“A Russian prisoner noticed us doing this and said ‘How smart you Armenians, are!’. He tried to repeat our trick but got nothing. We had a piece of bread left and shared it with the Russian guy.”

Soon, because of severe conditions and cold weather Vardan got typhoid and was taken to a special barrack with some other sick people, to die. The sick stayed close to each other to warm up because the barrack did not have any heating.

“Once I woke up in the morning and it was severely cold. Suddenly, I understood that the two guys lying next to me had died at night. Soon, I found out that I was the only one alive in the barrack…”

Vardan was saved by a Russian girl - Lyuba, who worked in the kitchen for the German soldiers. Luba took care of Vardan, gave him food and medicine she stole from the Germans.

“We had decided to get married,” Vardan remembers, “but one day we woke up and our camp moved to another place. I never saw Luba again.”

“Because God wanted you to meet an Armenian woman, isn’t it so?” jokes his wife Parzik, 77.

Parzik and Varadan got married in 1948, when Vardan came back to Azizbekov ( now called Vayk) to retake his position of a vet there. Later the couple moved to Yerevan. They have three children and 8 grandchildren now. Later their family moved to Yerevan and Vardan found a work in Yerevan poultry farm, were he worked for 46 years. When he was 90 years old he was still working, until he got paralyzed.

Vardan thinks that God put a special mission on him by not letting him die after having so many life trials. An Armenian exile, who has gone through another nightmare in a Fascist concentration camp, can explain better to the world why the Armenian genocide should be a matter of concern not only for the Armenians, but for the whole world.

“During my captivity I was thinking why the Germans were so cruel towards other nationalities, why they wanted to annihilate a whole nation – the Jews. I could not find the answer then. Later, I learned Adolph Hitler’s words ‘Who now remembers the Armenian genocide?’…” Vardan took a long breath, “No state can call itself a democracy until it puts politics above the truth...”