Nikolai Sergejewitsch Subarew was born in Moscow in 1922. His father worked for Moscow Tram company. He grew up with three brothers and one sister. He went to the (automotive) engineering department of the Red Army academy in Leningrad, in which he received the training he would need to become an officer later in life. The living conditions at the academy were better than he had experienced at his childhood home.
In 1941, Germany attacked the Soviet Union, and Subarew was sent to the Finnish border in defence of Leningrad. Starting as a cadet, he became a junior artillery lieutenant and was promoted to an officer with three quadrangles in May 1942. However, a few days later, his military unit was isolated, and he was arrested by the German Army near to Myaysnoy Bor. Subarew’s life as a prisoner of war (POW) began in occupied Lithuania, in Kaunas, and Estonia, and then he was sent to the Zeithain camp in eastern Germany. This was a transitional camp where it was decided where and for which companies the inmates would be sent to in order to work. There were severe shortages of equipment, the prisoners even having to use their wooden shoes as plates.
Subarew was selected to work as a miner in Belgium, travelling there by train. He laboured at the Zwarberg mine, operated by the Cockeril firm, until November 1943 when he was able to escape together with a comrade, aided by the Belgian directors of the mine. They joined the partisans where as a group of twelve persons, led by Subarew, they sabotaged railways and obtained weapons and information from England by making radio transmissions. The group travelled across Belgium, sleeping in old military huts. However, Subarew was again arrested in March 1944, and taken to the Gestapo. After being jailed for two and a half months, he spent a short time in a camp in the occupied Netherlands, and finally arrived in Sachsenhausen concentration camp on 8th September 1944, being assigned to a satellite camp.
Life in Sachsenhausen was worse than anything Subarew had experienced before: the darkest period in his lifetime. He had to work shovelling earth, which was very strenuous, and as the military discipline expected was very strict, beatings and other punishments were frequent. Furthermore, the camp was severely overcrowded. Later, as he had trained as a car specialist, Subarew was sent to work in the automotive department of the Heinkel aeroplane factory satellite camp, where he converted petrol cars into wood and coal-powered vehicles. His third place of work at Sachsenhausen, a mechanical workshop, was bombed, yet Subarew survived the blast.
On 22nd April 1945, the concentration camp was evacuated, and death marches were initiated. Each prisoner was only allowed to take a blanket and had to wear wooden clogs. When the Red Cross arrived to distribute supplies and aid to the prisoners on the march, chaos broke out, and in the confusion, Subarew and three Soviet comrades fled into the woods. They ran for days, until finally on 3rd May, they encountered members of the Red Army. After being checked himself, Subarew was reinstated as senior lieutenant in the Red Army and began work at a Brest-Litovsk checking facility for Soviet soldiers requiring repatriation.
In 1946 he returned to Moscow and enrolled in a correspondence course as well as starting work at the Leninski Komsomol car plant, studying and working at the same time. He was successful, becoming deputy head of the press section and helping to develop the plant in other regions of the Soviet Union. When he worked in the welding unit, he met his wife, Walya. After marrying in a church, Subarew lost his membership of the Communist party, which he had possessed since 1942, but was able to re-join and became prominent within the party at a local level: he became chairman of the plant committee, a volunteer section leader and a representative of the regional Soviet. Additionally,in the 1950s, Subarew joined the International Sector of the Soviet Committee of War Veterans and the committee of the Russian-Belgian Society, with which he returned to Belgium several times in the 1970s.
Subarew visited the site of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1971, and once more in the 1990s: speaking in an interview, he reported that even after so many decades, all of his memories of the place were incredibly clear.
Timeline of the Life of Nikolai Subarew