All motorists who were born in the Soviet Union are familiar with the “Za Rulem” (“Behind the Wheel”) magazine. Until 1989, it was the most popular automotive periodical in the USSR. The path to the magazine's success began in the late 1950s, with the arrival of a talented journalist, Mark Tilevich, a graduate of the editorial and publishing department of the Moscow Polygraphic Institute.
Tilevich, the owner of an old Moskvich-401, came to the conclusion that the country sorely lacks a truly interesting publication that advertises the culture of personal vehicles. After becoming deputy editor-in-chief, he founded many new headings, making the magazine a cult following.
But, in addition to editorial chores and sporting events, Mark also had another social burden – he was vice-president of the International Committee of Former Prisoners of Sachsenhausen and a member of the International Holocaust Memorial Foundation, built at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, was a member of the supervisory board of the Russian “Foundation for Mutual Understanding and Reconciliation”, was elected vice-president of the Interregional Public Organization of Disabled People – Former Prisoners of Nazi Camps. Mark also helped in every way the Association of Jews – Former Prisoners of the Ghetto and Nazi Concentration Camps (MAE).
In his youth, Mark dreamed of working in print. His father, since 1924 worked in the publishing house of the newspaper Pravda. The atmosphere of editorial offices and creative work has been familiar to Mark since childhood, but after the war his personal data became an almost insurmountable obstacle to starting a journalistic career. At first, they did not want to take Mark to the printing institute, then it echoed in every possible way when applying for a job. Tilevich had to interrupt for several years with the occasional fees of a newspaper freelance employee. But in 1959, luck finally found to him: Mark Tilevich, an excellent journalist, well versed in auto and motor sports, got a job in the “Za Rulem” magazine.
Mark had problems with his profile because of the war: he, a Soviet soldier, was taken prisoner by Germany. For such a “misconduct” people had not only problems with work and study – it could well turn into criminal prosecution.
In October 1940, a Muscovite Tilevich, a high school graduate, was drafted into the ranks of the Red Army. Since 1941, as a political commander of the artillery unit, he served in Lithuania, a few kilometers from the Soviet-German border. Mark's first battle began at dawn on June 22 near Kaunas, when German aircraft began bombing them from the air. During the retreat, in the late summer of 1941, he was wounded and taken prisoner unconscious.
He was saved by one of his colleagues: before the Germans approached, the sleeve of his tunic was torn off from the wounded and shell-shocked Tilevich. A red asterisk was sewn on this sleeve – the sign of a political worker, who would have been immediately shot right in the trench.
In the camp, one had to fear not only the Germans, but also their own: a Jew could be surrendered in a second. He had to introduce himself by another name: this is how Mark became Michael.
Tilevich was brought with other Soviet prisoners of war to Germany, to the Witzendorf camp – “Russian camp” – Stalag 310 (X D) in Lower Saxony. Conditions in the camp were appalling: a fenced-in area and gnawed tree bark, which the prisoners of war ate. The Germans gave a small amount of turnips for everyone, and they did not build premises for spending the night at all. To protect themselves from the cold, the prisoners of war dug shelters in the ground – with their bare hands and spoons. Mark Tilevich, along with other prisoners, was sent to work at the sawmill. He was not going to remain in German captivity: he fled with two comrades with the hope of crossing the front line, to his own. But the fugitives were soon caught and sent to a penal camp for hard work and a strict regime.
In early June 1943, Tilevich tried to escape again, and again without success. For this, the Germans sent Mark to the infamous Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In the fall of 1941, 13 thousand Soviet soldiers were killed here – for this, the SS were given a three-week vacation in Sorrento as a reward. It was clear to Tilevich that one could get out of this hell only through the crematorium chimney.
All the time Soviet citizens were helped by German anti-fascists, Norwegians, Czechs, Dutch, immigrants from other countries, who worked as barracks wardens, senior workers' teams, or clerks. As Mark recalled, the Norwegians and Danes received food parcels, which, at a terrible risk, were shared with Soviet prisoners. Despite the fact that some of the prisoners recognized him as a Jew, they remained silent and continued to call him Misha.
The anti-fascists helped Tilevich with work. Instead of hard labor loading cement, he was enrolled in a team of electricians led by the Norwegian patriot Martin Gausle.
The prisoners of war did not lose their fighting spirit and supported each other in every possible way. Mark soon joined the underground organization of Soviet prisoners of war. First of all, the underground workers, using their connections, tried to help their fellows survive. But they also participated in acts of sabotage in the production of military products; at the risk of their lives they brought leaflets with reports of the Information Bureau into the camp. Among other things, they helped the desperate to keep their spirit strong. For this, even anti-fascist poetry was used.
After the war, in 1958, in Sachsenhausen, a notebook was found in the foundations of a kitchen barracks, wrapped in rubberized material. The notebook contained poems in Russian, which, according to Martin Gausle, who was found through the Norwegian embassy, was given to him by the Soviet prisoner of war Tilevich for safekeeping. It soon became clear that Tilevich was alive and well and working in Moscow.
The main goal of the underground was an armed uprising and escape from the camp. General Tkachenko believed that the guards of the camp could be stoned and, taking advantage of the numerical superiority, prisoners could break out of the camp. They had to unite with the prisoners of other concentration camps and hold out until the approaching Soviet army approached. Plan “B” was not excluded – a march of 300-400 kilometers towards the front line.
The camp leadership became aware of the heroes' plans. But Mark was able to stay alive.
On the morning of April 21, 1945, when the artillery cannonade of the advancing Soviet troops was already reaching the camp, the guards began to drive the prisoners out of the barracks, build up in columns of 500 people and, surrounded by SS men with shepherd dogs, almost run outside the camp.
Those who could not keep up with the pace of the march and lagged behind were immediately shot. Mark, exhausted from hunger, was rescued by his friends, Soviet officers, who dragged him on themselves. In the forest near the town of Belov, the prisoners were overtaken by the columns of the Red Cross. With their arrival, open executions stopped, but the Germans continued to drive people forward. The prisoners were led to the Baltic Sea: those who did not die on the way, the Nazis intended to drive onto barges and flood in the Lubeck area. The Nazis did not succeed in doing this, since on May 2, 1945, the column of survivors near Krivitsa was overtaken by the Red Army. Mark Tilevich survived this time too. It must be said that after the war, Sachsenhausen was turned into the NKVD Special Camp No. 7 and was used as a camp for political prisoners from August 1945 to March 1950.
After the war, Mark served in the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany, where he first sat on a captured motorcycle. From that moment, his love affair with motorcycles and cars began.
During the Khrushchev thaw, the special officers finally left him alone – they stopped dragging him for interrogations and conversations about being in captivity. After finding the notebook and the testimony of Martin Gausle, he was allowed to talk about the anti-fascist underground and the resistance of Soviet prisoners of war.
In 1965, Mark Tilevich was awarded the Order of the Red Star, 20 years later – the Order of the Patriotic War, I degree.
With indescribable energy, Mark until his last days was engaged in the opening of memorials to the victims of concentration camps and the Holocaust. As vice-president of the international and national committee of Nazi prisoners, Mark Tilevich initiated the opening of a monument to Soviet prisoners of war in the Sachsenhausen memorial complex in 2000. And a year later, thanks to him, photo exhibition “Soviet prisoners of war in Sachsenhausen. 1941-1945” happened.
Mark Tilevich died on August 7, 2017. Today, the regional public charitable foundation “In memory of the prisoners of the concentration camps named after Mark Tilevich” continues to operate in Moscow.
1922 – 2017