Growing up, I had a wonderful grandpa. I remember him as a kind, hardworking and incredibly selfless man. He was also a quiet, reserved man—as you might expect of someone who lived through World War II. However, on a few occasions he opened up and shared with us some incredible stories.
Vladimir Malamuzh (later Vlad Malley) was born in 1925 in Adzhamka, Ukraine, to his father Kiril and mother Khrystyna. They, along with his two elder sisters, were a Seventh-day Adventist family— perhaps among the first in Ukraine. At age five, he and his family were victims of Stalin’s famine—the Holodomor. Vlad and his father left their home desperately seeking work and food. Upon their return, they sadly discovered that his mother and sisters had died of starvation.
Following the famine, they moved to Kirovograd, where they tried to rebuild their lives. His father remarried a kind lady called Paraskovia, then started and ran a school in a small room behind their house, which Vlad attended. Much to his lament, his schooling ended when he was 14 at the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Soon after, Vlad was conscripted to build and repair roads for Nazi vehicles, driven daily to exhaustion by the heavily supervised work.
From famine to farm
In 1942, at age 17, he and other young Ukrainian men from Kirovograd were rounded up onto a goods train. This was the last time he would ever see his father and stepmother again. He remembered waving to them as the train left the platform. Along with the other men, he was crammed into the carriage with livestock and taken to Germany, where they were all to be gathered and assessed by the Nazis.
At that age, Vlad had light, golden brown hair and blue eyes, and was considered to be handsome. He remembered the soldiers singling him out, saying, “Keep him. He is good-looking and strong. He will be useful.” They then fired upon all of the other men, executing them in front of him. Vlad was deemed to be strong to work and visually fit their racial ideal, so he was sent to labour on a farm in Kraftsdorf in the state of Thüringen.
On the farm, he was set to work as a ploughman in the fields and in the orchards as a gardener. The supervising family was initially very dismissive, making him sleep in their barn. For food, he relied on fallen fruit and other scraps. Despite these hardships, he recalled a great fondness for the oxen in his charge, Hans and Fritz.
The family’s eldest son Franz was a conscript of the Hitler Youth. Between his periods of service, he would chat with Vlad on his visits home. He privately admitted to Vlad his disapproval of the Nazi regime and wished not be involved in their horrors. Franz became friends with Vlad and spoke highly of him to his parents and siblings. Soon after, the family noticed Vlad’s honesty and diligence in his work and their attitude towards him began to change.
Eventually, the matriarch of the family at last brought Vlad a cooked meal to eat. However, the food was a pork dish and though keen to eat something other than scraps, he politely declined the meal. He explained that as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, he could not eat pork. The mother was insulted, thinking he was being fussy and ungrateful for her cooking. This caused the family’s scorn to return, for a time. Vlad had wanted to show them the reason for his beliefs in a Bible, but the family didn’t have one and he had no belongings of his own. Despite this setback, Vlad resolved to work even harder and remain a trustworthy worker. Over time, the tensions eased and a compromise was reached. Vlad requested vegetarian food and was given boiled potatoes to eat for most of his meals.
A country unraveling
After his tenure as a labourer had ended, the owner of the farm wrote Vlad a letter of reference to help him find better employment. Showing the high regard they had for him by then, the family offered Vlad a pistol and ammunition—despite him being “the enemy” and a risk to themselves. As Germany was destabilising, they suggested he take the pistol both to defend himself with and to take revenge on any Nazis he might encounter.
Vlad declined the gun and instead insisted that he give them his Bible. He had likely purchased it by saving up his ration cards. The family accepted it and Vlad eagerly turned to Leviticus to show them why he would not eat pork, reassuring the mother that he did in fact appreciate her cooking.
Vlad harboured no grudges towards the family. Likewise, his reputation in their eyes had grown to the point where each party considered the other as friends. Particularly Franz, who Vlad wrote to and received letters from for many years thereafter.
In the final year of the war, Vlad attempted to cross from East to West Germany with a group of other displaced people. They were stopped at a border checkpoint, where Nazi fortifications prevented them from continuing their journey. Barbed wire prevented climbing and armed guards stood at the gate and on top of the border wall, shooting on sight anyone attempting to break through the blockade. Even at night, huge spotlights scanned for any would-be escapees.
The group stayed hidden near the gate, observing the guards’ daily routine. One guard in particular stood out to him, a “hideous large woman with a machine gun, barking dreadful orders” strutting back and forth atop the wall. He further described, “Oh, that ugly, yelling woman! I was glad it was night!” He had seen her shoot people attempting to force their way past the gate. There was never a moment the checkpoint went unguarded as guards stood at the post in shifts.
One night, Vlad recalled what he could only describe as a miracle. The group had been praying for an opportunity to pass through the blockade and were quietly singing hymns. Suddenly, they noticed that no-one was guarding the gate or manning the wall. The group seized the opportunity and, holding hands, carefully passed the blockade.
Between 1945 and 1948, he spent time in West Germany learning English and some French in addition to German, Polish, Russian and his native Ukrainian. He was also baptised during this time, as he had never gotten the chance throughout his childhood or during the war. In 1947, he worked at a printing press in Munich. In 1948, he obtained a certificate for immigration to England.
Once in England, he worked as a wardsman at the Watford and District Peace Memorial Hospital, built as a memorial to peace in the wake of both World Wars. He also joined the Watford Seventh-day Adventist Church. After working in England for two years, he decided to emigrate to Australia after hearing positive reports from friends. He appealed to Australia House to obtain a visa, and eventually succeeded with the assistance of the French embassy.
In November 1951, Vlad finally left England. He crossed through a storm on the English Channel and landed in northern France, catching a train to Paris. In Paris, he attended the 1951 Seventh-day Adventist Youth Congress as an English delegate. After the event, he again took the train to Marseille, where he boarded a ship.
The ship travelled through the Strait of Gibraltar and crossed the Atlantic, docking briefly at the island of Curaçao in the Caribbean. It then sailed into Puerto de Cristóbal in Colón, Panama, for three nights. The voyage resumed through the Panama Canal into the Pacific, where stops were made in Papeete, French Polynesia, then Vanuatu and finally New Caledonia.
From New Caledonia, Vlad flew for the first time on a Qantas jet to Sydney. He arrived in Australia on January 13, 1952. In Australia, he briefly lived and worked in Victoria, first for the Sanitarium Health Food Company’s Warburton branch, then at a hospital in Melbourne. Following this he moved to Cremorne, Sydney, and again worked for Sanitarium at their Lewisham branch. It was here that he met Ivy Smith, my grandmother. This was when he anglicised his name to Vlad Malley. Vlad and Ivy were married at Woy Woy Seventh-day Adventist Church and lived in Epping. Later, they moved to Hornsby, then Mount Colah.
Given everything that he experienced, it is no wonder that Vlad’s favourite hymn was “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and that one of his most cherished Bible verses was Psalm 55:22, which in the King James Version reads, “Cast thy burden upon the Lord and He shall sustain thee. He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.”
Despite the hardship of his life, my grandpa remained an honest and humble worker in all his endeavours. I saw for myself how hard he worked for his family. What amazes me was his focus on God, his appreciation for simple blessings and his kindness. I’m glad that God spared my grandpa throughout the war, and I’m glad that I can reflect on his story and example today. I hope that I too can practice my beliefs and values as he did, whether through hardship or peace.
Ryan Greenland is a digital press operator and history buff living in Sydney, Australia.