May 9th, Victory Day in Russia. 75 years. A really big deal—still. Although the pandemic has limited the crowds in Russia, over in Minsk, Belarus, crowds were as big ever.
Back in May, 1945, my parents became official losers. Soviet POWs. They didn't know each other then. In fact, my dad was married to another woman—a woman who lost track of him and subsequently, their marriage. But that's another story.
With many rail tracks broken, the defeated had to walk much of the way into the work camps. What a walk that must have been. Defeated, discouraged, guilty. Their country and their belief system crushed. Their charismatic, insane, Führer dead. Six years of sacrifice for a cause that killed millions of innocents and changed the world order. Losers in every way.
Dad headed towards Moscow, working in coal mines and using chess skills to survive. Mom ended up in an open-pit mine near Shadrinsk in the Kurgan Oblast. Russian language skills helped her manage.
So for them the war was over but peace, freedom and mere survival were still years away. The Soviet Union had sacrificed 26 million people in their fight against the Axis. So in May, while the victors celebrated, my parents were trudging into the enemy's backyard. No wonder they found support in each other later in the fifties.
Saturday, May 9, 2020
Monday, April 20, 2020
April 20th. Hitler’s birthday. The day ten-year-old girls loved because they got to be inducted into the BDM. Such proud little souls—eager to belong. Oh the pomp and ceremony. Not a sci-fi novel. A living memory. My mom was too old to be forced to join the Nazi youth groups, but my dad was eager to wear a uniform and march to Hitler’s beat. What a wicked time to be young and vulnerable.
I have to recommend the movie, The White Ribbon, with the sub-title, A German Children's Story, released in 2009, as a chilling glimpse into the mindset that formed a people who swallowed up the Nazi’s warped view.
Saturday, April 18, 2020
During the four-hour guided tour, I was able to appreciate a bit of the history and a lot of the natural beauty as we climbed 184 (yes, I counted!) steps up from the rocky pier. There are no cars or bikes allowed on the island (except for electric service vehicles) and this added to its peaceful ambience.
|One grave for many|
The island was far from peaceful during the Second World War. Soviet prisoners of war were used to build the extensive underground bunker system. I never had enough time to do the underground tour, but the above-ground tour had many ruins related to the war years.
|Northern Gannets breed here|
|Soccer field on east side of island|
The island was almost crushed on April 18th,1945 with bombing by almost one thousand British aircraft. After the bombings, scattered bones from old graves were gathered into one. For two years after that the island was left empty and used for military practice.
Then, again on April 18th, in 1947, one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions—The British Bang or Big Bang—occurred. The Allies had gathered up most of the remaining ammunition stored on the island and blew it up. A huge crater still remains and it's forever changed the shape of the rocky island.
In 1952, the surviving locals were allowed to return and rebuild their island village. We hiked along winding paths past cottage homes with beautiful gardens. Our tour guide was a most affable fellow, obviously proud of his home. Heligoland is a nature refuge where birds stop off during migration and northern gannets breed amongst the ruins of war. Amazing how life begins anew over and over. How I'd love to go back and stay longer. A true treasure.
Sunday, April 12, 2020
Because I'm immersed in the past, always researching something about my parents' lives, I can't help but compare and constantly refer to it. I'm boring that way . . . maybe that's why the kids moved out?
Anyway, in April of 1945, when the war was ending . . . with a painful, agonizing whimper . . . spring was emerging. No doubt there were pussy willows blooming as the bedraggled POWs straggled eastward to do their time in the Soviet gulag.
Did they find hope in pussy willows like I do?
Sunday, January 12, 2020
We had an incredibly mild holiday season here in Winnipeg. Single digit winter weather was a treat—we know it doesn't last. This is Winnipeg, after all.
Now imagine a war happening in bad weather. Imagine January, 1945. Lots of snow. Wind. Double-digit cold. Hunger and exhaustion has numbed people. The Nazis, now on the run, are desperate to hide their crimes.
One horrendous 1945 scene happened near Yantarny (in German times known as Palmnicken—site of an amber mine).
|Amber Mines Yantarny|
In '45, the Stutthof concentration camp, now Sztutowo, Poland, thirty kilometers outside of Gdansk, formerly Danzig, was hurriedly evacuated and its thirteen thousand inmates forced to march the two hundred kilometers up to Palmnicken.
|Baltic Ice Floes|
The Nazi SS planned to dump the inmates in an underground mine tunnel, called Anna, to let them die. Of the thirteen thousand people, forced on this two-hundred-kilometer march, only three thousand survived. The rest succumbed to the cold and physical strain. (In contrast to the victims, we biked the same route in wonderful weather, enjoying the beautiful forests, gentle hills, and great restaurant stops along the way.)
When the prisoners arrived in Palmnicken, the amber mine manager refused to allow trek survivors into the mine. So the desperate SS guards forced three thousand dying people into the icy Baltic, shooting the victims who weren’t dying fast enough. Somehow . . . thirty-three people survived.
The Yantarny monument, created by Frank Meisler represents the hands of the dying people reaching up in surrender. In August of 2011, only seven months after it was made public, the memorial was vandalized. Anti-semitism hasn’t gone away. But neither has goodness. Cherokee wisdom says we must keep feeding the good wolves in each other.
Wednesday, January 1, 2020
I think writing the year 2020 is going to be a lot of fun. It flows so easily on the keyboard: 2020.
This year, my word’s going to be two words (but they’re short). Own it. Cheating. I know. Own it. That’s my word. By own it, I mean, little gabby isn’t going to shy away from who she is or what’s happening. My inner child—self-conscious, insecure and hyper-sensitive—is going to own up to who she is—warts and all. Oh, and those warts, they ain’t pretty. But maybe I’m just at the age where the authenticity of pain . . . of salt in my wounds . . . beats the dead scar tissue of past hurts.
Maybe when I say own it, I also want to include Brene Brown's theme of being vulnerable. Yes, I'm going try to own vulnerability this year. . . wherever it takes me . . . even if it means writing boring blogposts. Trying to be perfect is way too stressful, too lonely, too boring. Thanks for the inspiration to MP Catherine Mckenna. Happy 2020.