Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Girl Taught Me What War Memorials Are For

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?
Then please write to us.
All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

Whenever I am in St. Petersburg, I make an effort to visit the war memorial at Park Pobedy. I usually try to remember to place some flowers at the foot of the sculptural composition depicting the defenders of Leningrad. Quite a few of my friends died or were wounded during the 900-day siege from September 1941 to January 1943. Many, I suppose, lie buried in mass graves at the Piskarevsky Cemetery.

The last time I was there, it was a quiet working-day morning, and there were few people around. I noticed an old, bent woman and a young girl about 7 years old. The woman stood motionlessly like a statue herself, obviously lost in thought and weighed down by the heavy load of her memories of that time. The little girl, in contrast, skipped around energetically and looked with great interest at all the figures from every side.

The memorial depicts a variety of different defenders who made invaluable contributions to saving the city from occupation and destruction: soldiers, sailors, pilots, partisans and workers. In short, it pays tribute to all who bore the unbearable burden of saving this crowning achievement of Russian glory from the fascists. Suddenly the girl stopped, grabbed her grandmother by the hand, pointed at a figure and shouted, "Look, babushka! It's you! It's you!"

The girl rushed over to me and said, "Look, mister. It's my babushka!"

I saw that the old woman was beginning to say something, but I interrupted her. I leaned down to the girl and said sincerely, "Of course it is. That's your babushka plain as day."

"She won't admit it," the girl said. Then she grabbed my hand and took me closer. "Look. Small, thin. … It's her. My grandmother was a radio operator. She was even wounded once. She has a scar on her leg."

She told me that her grandmother rarely talked about the war and hardly ever showed anyone the medals that she kept hidden away in a box. She told me how her grandmother spent long days and nights in the trenches, reporting on the comings and goings of German bombers.

After a few minutes, the girl wandered over to another man who was telling a boy about Hitler's horrific order to wipe Leningrad completely from the face of the earth since, after Germany's victory, there would be no justification for its existence or that of the people who lived there.

With the girl thus distracted, her babushka put her hand on my elbow and said, "That isn't me, you know. She's just imagining things."

"But you did defend the city?" I asked.

"From the beginning to the end," she answered.

"Then it is you. Your granddaughter has every right to tell people that her grandmother is there. She's absolutely right."

Vladislav Schnitzer is a pensioner and a freelance journalist in Moscow.