Monday, May 31, 2010
The Story of Russia
Today the woman who owns our apartment came by to collect the rent. She is a friend and a believer so we sat, drank tea and chatted for a while, talking about her family.
During WWII when her parents were children her mother's family lived in Leningrad (St Petersburg). In 1941 her grandfather disappeared in one of Stalin's camps never to be seen again. That year, because of the war, the city administration sent many of the children out of the city to live in a refugee camp. Margarita's mother and aunt were in the group. Shortly thereafter the city was completely closed off by the Nazi siege making it impossible for those who stayed to leave and over 1 million citizens died from cold and starvation during the siege. Because of the danger children began to be evacuated from the camp further to the east. The children who were not evacuated from the camp all died when the Nazi's bombed the refugee camp. Today there is a memorial at the camp location dedicated to those children
Margarita's mother, then 11 years old, her aunt age 17 and their mother were evacuated to the small city of Bogorodsk where the three all lived in a one room apartment. The mother was ill and could only lie on the sofa all the time. The two daughters age 11 and 17 began to make hats and handbags to sell in the local market, earning just enough money to not completely starve to death. They were among the fortunate who survived the war. In 1945 they returned to Leningrad, but everything they owned was gone and all their friends were dead so they returned to the Nizhny Novgorod area. The two sisters entered college and went on to become school teachers.
An uncle served in the Soviet army. He fought during the siege of Leningrad as a machine gunner. He was wounded by an artillery barrage and spent months in the hospital. Later he marched with the Soviet army through eastern Europe, into Germany and he was part of a group of Russian soldiers who met the American army on the Elbe river in 1945. He with the average soldiers were happy to meet the Americans. Everyone hugged, drank and celebrated together. Quickly, however, the communist officers separated the two groups so as to not allow the Russians to be “contaminated” by the capitalists.
As we listened to this story I wondered about the great-grandparents. They would have been living in St. Petersburg during the revolution and the civil war. What did they live through? Why did one of their sons end up dying in a Stalinist labor camp? What was life like for them after 1919?
As Margarita said, “Our family story is the story of Russia. You can sit and talk with any family here today and hear the same story.” The story of Russia is the story of a strong, resilient people who have suffered much. We are always amazed when we get a glimpse into the lives of the average Russian family, and we hear some of the heartbreak, tragedy and triumph.
Here is an interesting link showing photos of modern St.Petersburg merged with photos from the war http://sergey-larenkov.livejournal.com/809.html