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New World – Geliy Grant

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 It was a long time ago. People then still continued to divide life into “before and after” the war. By chance, in the heavenly place of the Southern Crimea, I again faced her ordeals. In the summer I took a vacation and went to the Crimea to the Black Sea. 

From Simferopol to the coast, I went by bus. My companion was Mikhail, a resident of the village of Novy Svet. We got to talking. It turned out that he worked as a manager at the Novy Svet champagne factory and had just taken his wife and children to visit their relatives in the Moscow region. He was a friendly and open person. A mutual understanding was quickly established between us, as if we had known each other for a long time. Maybe that’s why he invited me to stay with him, especially since he is now alone and spends a lot of time at work. I gladly agreed, because I had heard about the difficulties in finding housing on the coast. … … ..

Upon arrival at the place, it turned out that the village of Novy Svet is located on a rather high coast and to the sea you have to go down a steep mountain path among bushes and stunted trees. For me, this was not a problem. A small beautiful beach, nicknamed the Tsar’s because of the visit by Nicholas II, has always been deserted, which you will not see anywhere in the southern Crimea.

My room in Misha’s house was on the second floor and from her window the sea seemed to be nearby. In the middle of a rather large room there was a round table, at which Misha and I sometimes drank tea in the evenings. But one day we drank cognac and Misha, usually reserved, began to tell his story unexpectedly. He spoke for a long time, stopped, was silent, withdrawing into himself and into the past. Then he explained: “This is the first time I say this. I couldn’t before. ”I didn’t ask any questions. I just listened.

Here is his story:

 ” I am Jewish. He fought in the infantry. In April 1945 in Poland, our unit liberated a concentration extermination camp, as it later turned out, one of many, auxiliary. There were 457 of them in Poland. For us soldiers, that day was very difficult. Not because of the fight. There  simply was no battle there, since the camp guards fled, from what we saw. There was no bombing, no battle scars, but the corpses of naked, very emaciated people lay around – literally skin and bones. 

The soldiers who had seen a lot in the war were shocked. It was not like a war, but like a slaughterhouse, where not livestock, but people were slaughtered. A spasm of vomiting came to my throat. It was hard to believe that this was reality. I stood and looked around like a lost one and suddenly it seemed to me that among the dead bodies something stirred. I began to gaze intently and to my horror noticed in one place among the motionless bodies a faint movement of my hand. Came closer. The open eyes of a still living woman, an old woman, looked at me. … 

I threw a submachine gun behind my back and began to carefully free her from under the dead. Then I lifted the almost weightless one and for the first time in a long time, tears came to my eyes. “What grief,” I heard my voice, “maybe this old woman is someone’s mother. I won’t let her die before my eyes. Why did we come here then? ”I thought and carried her like a small child, on outstretched arms. At the same time, her arms and legs dangled limply in different directions. Comrades came up and, seeing my burden, spoke quietly that we need a car. 

At this time, the commander arrived and took me with a barely alive old woman to our medical battalion. Commanders showed full understanding and care. We have heard about such cases of salvation, but this was the first time for us. The nurses and the doctor showed all their skills in an unbearably difficult situation. … … 

I would go to the medical tent and inquire about my “find”. Everything was going well. The old woman was gradually taught to eat light food. .. At this time, by the way, our unit, which was badly shabby in the last battles, began to be replenished from the reserve, and for the time being we were no longer on the move. … … …

 One week later, I come to visit my old woman, and a familiar nurse looks at me and smiles: “Are you talking about an old woman? Yes, it’s a girl. You saved a young life, soldier. Well done!” Well, of course, in bewilderment, I enter the ward and see on a white pillow the very rejuvenated, but very thin face of my rescued woman. It is evident that the nurses have worked very hard on her. I did not expect such a turn. But it was very pleasant ! You see, if among the thousands of dead one is found still alive, their life becomes priceless, revived. This is perceived as a miracle. 

This is exactly what happened to my “ward”, as everyone around began to say. She saw me and seemed to recognize me. The first days probably most vividly imprinted in her mind. I took her thin, thin hand, like a child’s and saw that tears appeared in her eyes. I was frightened and called the nurse. She looked and said to me quietly: “She recognized you. Sit quietly next to her, she will calm down. ” I sat down and she closed her eyes. Half an hour passed. She fell asleep. I quietly left. … Now I began to visit the medical battalion more often and saw that she was waiting for me. Her face changed and became smoother and lighter. She seemed to be reborn. 

One time, two security officers entered the ward in their usual uniform. Sophia, that was the name of the rescued, at the sight of them began to shake violently, as with a chill, tears spilled from her eyes. The visitors asked her several questions. But she fell into a panic: she spoke fragmentarily something chaotic and incoherent. They called a doctor and he explained to these comrades: how and in what condition they found her, that she was still a girl and was afraid of strangers. Apparently she has a reason for this. 

We ourselves wanted to find out how and where she got to the concentration camp, but she immediately began to cry because she could not remember anything: perhaps there is something there that she is trying with all her might to forget. She is quiet and gentle, but seems to have gone through hell. … … 

After the visitors left, the doctor called me and asked me to calm Sonya, as I had been able to do before. I already knew that she never talked about the time in the camp and connected her salvation only with our medical battalion, where everyone loved her and put her on her feet and with me. Her body was recovering, but her soul was still falling into turmoil and fear. Loud sounds and words frightened her. The memory whispered to her that resistance was useless. She trembled like a butterfly, waiting for the appearance of a brute soulless force capable of destroying her. … 

I became very accustomed to Sonya, I saw what she needed as a support. She had no one or no one left. But we never talked about this. She seemed to know everything about me. I had no secrets. Parents lived in the Moscow region in Malakhovka. My father worked somewhere as an accountant, my mother worked as a teacher in elementary grades. My sister Lena was five years younger than me, about the same as Sonya. … 

While our unit was replenished and reorganized, the war ended. We rejoiced and, of course, used it beyond measure. But it could not be otherwise – after all, they remained alive. Having cooled down a little, I went to the medical battalion. I was drawn to Sonya. She was very happy, smiled and even laughed. I saw her as if anew, saw that she was very beautiful and suddenly realized that I would always protect her: her weakness, her tenderness, and beauty. I realized that I love her, that she is very dear to me. 

I remember this moment well, as if my eyes had opened. How Sonya caught my every move and I don’t have to say a word. Now I had to decide everything myself. I knew that Sonya would accept everything. I wrote to my parents and consulted with the commander. He very much approved of my decision and said that the marriage can be formalized in part before demobilization. 

Sonya took my last name and disappeared for those who wanted to ask her questions. First we decided to go to Malakhovka, and then we will see. I wanted to go south, to the sea. It would be good for Sonya’s health. I began to look for this path. There were different options. And suddenly there was a new world. In my part, I did a little housekeeping and began to think already in this work. When we arrived at our factory in Novy Svet, they took me as an assistant manager, then I took over the entire farm.

Sonya blossomed in the south. A great charm was revealed in her. I could not get enough of it. The past gradually disappeared and did not interfere anymore. We looked ahead and were expecting a baby. First, the son Senechka appeared, and then the daughter Masha. Life has become complete. Only at night, sometimes I still dreamed of battles. It is difficult to get rid of this..  That’s all”.

Misha’s story captured and excited me. My vacation was coming to an end. On the eve of my departure, Misha added to his story what he understood from Sonia’s separate remarks: “Her father in Minsk before the war was a famous person in agriculture and agriculture. He was taken at the end of the fortieth year and there was no news from him. Sonya’s mother as a result lost her grasp on the world. And then there was a quick capture of Belarus by the Germans. Sonia’s mother, saving her thirteen-year-old daughter, sent her to reliable friends in a distant farm. Then the girl was transported to other remote farms so that the brutal peasants would not find her. The Germans nevertheless found Sonya during the retreat at the end of the forty-fourth year and threw her into the camp. The mother, like the father, disappeared, and the daughter was accidentally found and brought back to life. 

 I firmly remembered this rare story of salvation and love and retold it without changing or adding anything.

Translated from Russian and republished with permission from Geliy Grant.

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