WWII Knife

What follows is small part of my free online autobiography. It describes life in Dedenevo, a settlement 30 miles north of Moscow, after the Soviet Union was attacked by Germany. The settlement had a school, a sanatorium (where my mother worked as a nurse), a hospital, two stores, a nursing home, a library, and a post office. It also had a large, partially ruined church. The tower of that church, dominating the area, could be seen from miles away. The northern wall of the church was destroyed and a person passing by could see a huge icon of Christ, painted on the inner wall. I was always fascinated by the fact that his eyes followed me as I was passing by.

I was ten years old when the war started, on June 22. That morning, in a store, I heard that our country was invaded by Germans. I immediately ran to the sanatorium, about half a mile away, to tell people what I heard. They turned the speakers on while Molotov was still speaking. An official order was distributed next day. Every tunable radio receiver--and we had one--had to be brought to the post office. The local authorities said that parts were needed by the army. Was this the main reason? Probably not; they wanted to protect us from German propaganda. From that day on we had to rely on speakers connected to the central station by wires.

Eleven days later I heard Stalin's first WWII speech. "Comrades! Citizens! Brothers and sisters! Men of our army and navy! I am addressing you, my friends!..." After telling us that Hitler's finest divisions had already "met their doom on the field of the battle," he reported that the enemy continued to push forward. I was very surprised to discover that our dear leader had a very strong Georgian accent. Posters "all for the front, all for victory," and "motherhood calls you" were to be seen everywhere. But each day we heard depressing radio announcements, such as "today, as planned, our units left Minsk," or Kiev, etc. People had no idea what was really happening. The Soviet Union was totally unprepared for the war and losses were enormous, as we now know. The school was still functioning but about one half of our time was devoted to military matters. We learned how to deal with small incendiary bombs, how to use rifles (without live ammunition), and how to throw disarmed grenades.

One day a trainload of miserable looking and poorly dressed people was brought to Dedenievo. They were said to be a labor-front division. All of them were Uzbeks, non-Russian speaking. Each morning, escorted by armed soldiers, they were led to dig trenches and build fortifications. At night they slept on the floors of a tall building, next to the one in which we had a little room. Only much later did I realize that this division was a mobile gulag camp unit.

Herds of cows, sheep and horses, taken from surrounding collective farms, were led along the highway in the direction of Moscow. The policy was not to leave anything for Germans. During that time my mother and a neighbor bought a pig from a peasant in a near-by village. It was killed with a long knife and then divided into two parts, one for us and another for the neighbor. I will never forget the fear I experienced watching the killing and hearing the powerful squeals of the dying animal.

Several weeks later I experienced similar fear under very different circumstances. A Red Army soldier approached me and asked about the best way to get to the other side of the canal. He was probably wounded; his bandaged arm was in a rope sling. I knew the canal was already frozen and that it could be crossed nearly anywhere. But I also knew that it was forbidden to give any information to strangers--anyone could be a German spy, we were told. So instead of answering, I said, "I know who to ask; come with me." And we walked toward a building guarded by two armed soldiers. I said that this man asked me a question that you might be able to answer. Then I left them and started going toward our home. A minute later I heard the familiar sound of a gun click. I turned my head back and saw that the guard s rifle was aimed at the wounded soldier.

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