Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Day of Victory

Today is May 9th and here in Belarus as well as in Russia and Ukraine they are celebrating the Victory of the second world war.
You may have heard about this recently because George Bush is in Russia meeting with Vladimir Putin, the president of the Russian Federation and will be there for the celebration as well.

This party is a big deal here and they take this day very seriously. This year is an extra big deal because this is the 60th anniversary of the end of the war. May 9th is always a big day however with parades and music and speeches. And all of the soldiers wear their uniforms and allow their medals to take some air. And let me tell you about those medals: The USSR was not shy about handing out these things and some of the jackets you see have so many ribbons on them that you would think that the old timer wearing it would fall over from the weight. Victor Evanovich, Tanya’s father had such a jacket with I think 20 minor medals and the ordinance of the Soviet Union, a major decoration for his work in the operation that liberated this particular town from the Nazis.

Now any soldiers who are still around from what they call “The Great Patriotic War” here, would of course be in their 80’s and 90’s and so this 6th decade celebration is geared really as much for them as for anybody. On the television we have been seeing many concerts and war movies- all of them with May 9th as their theme. I think that in the USA, we all heard about alienation or about feeling forgotten and ignored from the returning veterans of the American war in Vietnam. Well, I have to tell you that here it is just the opposite. The state has been going all out to make these heroes from the war feel as remembered and loved as possible. One of the main concepts of communism is that everybody is deserving of respect and love and no one should be forgotten. And here, even though they are officially not communist anymore, they still know how to treat people as if they matter. And, as this will logically probably the last such party for those who still remain, they are not holding back even a little.

It is ironic though that in Lithuania, where I was for a brief few seconds last week, they are not celebrating this day at all. And also not in Estonia or Latvia. Well, I think that they might be in Estonia because I heard something about it on the news- though if they are, it will be very small. Most probably this is because they have joined the European Union, and one of the things they sort of needed to guarantee I suppose is that they were no longer in this “communist” way of thinking. Sort of like renouncing one’s faith in order to be spared the wrack, or some other type of torture I guess. But here you know they voted whole heatedly that they wanted to stay in the old school, money or no money, and they also are likely the reelect Alexander Lukeshenko to a third 5-year term as president. And all of this is nothing but pinko commie propaganda being yet clung to, complaints and all.

So here they are remembering even though the government they were living under has folded, and the people they fought against are now amongst the richest in the world. And for some reason several large groups of Germans have come to town these last few weeks as well. Have they come for the party? I mean, I saw a lot of them over by the passport agency and they seemed to be families more than the usual sex tour types, so they might be here for the party. Who knows, maybe they are coming to say thank you for stopping them.

But you know the Nazis really were awful. And yea, I say this specifically as a Jew. I have been speaking to the pensioners up at our village a lot about those times. The war did not really touch our village that much. A little further from town than us, two villages were completely wiped out ostensibly for harboring and aiding partisans. There was an underground road from Warsaw to Minsk and they had been I guess, a little too helpful. Or someone talked, or maybe the spies were good at their job, but one day a group of troops From Pinsk were driven up there and everyone, men, women and children were machine-gunned. Their houses were sacked and then burned and their bodies were left to rot where they fell.

Our village was not really touched but there were two Jewish families who lived on my street who were exterminated. One family was the Heshcoms and the others were Zadways. There were a lot of sons and daughters. Stepon, my neighbor showed me where the houses were. One such place is empty but for a long neglected garden and a foundation for a home and looks as though no one has lived there for a while, but not 60 years, and other is just an empty space, no foundation or anything. So I am not really sure. But basically everybody says that they, the soldiers simply came and removed everybody and they never came back. The guess is that they simply drove them to the woods and shot them all. And of course the after the people were taken away another group came and emptied the house of anything of value they could find.

I wrote about this a long time ago but the apartment we live in town was build where the ghetto was in Pinsk. That was a shock finding that out. Pinsk was known as a Jewish town you know. Out of a population at the time of the war of 60-some thousand, 40 thousand or so were Jewish.

The Nazis entered Pinsk on July 4th, 1941, about two weeks after they walked though Brest and the War here officially begun. It took them about a month to get organized and the on August 5th, they marched 8000 Jewish men, all who would be classified and workers or laborers between 16 and 60 toward the village of Posenitz . there they were ordered off the road and into a great ditch. There were about 50 machine gun emplacements waiting fo them there and they tried to shoot all of them. On August 7th, a large contingent of German troop came through hunting for survivors and escapees and this time also taking also children and the old and the sick, took out 3000 more and shot them too. Those who remained were ghettoized, starved, tortured, beaten and eventually shot or hung or simply bludgoned to death over the next 3 years. All in all about 35,000 Jews were wiped out here in those years.

I have had this book and specifically the section that speaks about this rather awful moment in history on my HOMEPAGE for a long time, but you can just click HERE (http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/pinsk1/pine12_102.html) to read that bit for yourself.

Anyway, we are going to watch the parade today. I know it would have been cool to see grandpa marching with the others, but he didn’t make it. We lost him to cancer among other things on March 2nd. But he probably wouldn’t have done it anyway. He never liked to wear the jacket with all the medals. Oh, he was proud of them and he was proud to have been there. But he never liked the showy stuff. I guess though it is nice to have the choice, to have a party there that you can either go to or not as your heart decrees, rather than not to have anyone care at all. You know what I mean?

More soon.

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