At the age of 17, I went to see a girlfriend in Malta during the summer after completing the first year. We were invited by a family for a supper. We spent the evening by a pool with a fancy table around which many notables from this tiny nation were sitting. They were related to the girlfriend’s husband, and they were old enough to be my parents and even grandparents. And then they suddenly started to speak about World War 2.
It all ended with my girlfriend tearing me away from the Maltese aristocracy which couldn’t understand what triggered me. I was seventeen, and it was the first time I heard that USSR played only a minor role in that war. They were around, they helped bring victory closer.
I was shaking, I recited dates and figures. I knew them well–upon the entrance examination I had to pass Motherland History, and I passed it with the top grade. But I also knew world history pretty well so, as it turned out, I was better at deploying dates and battles (European ones) about which they didn’t know. There were no smartphones around, today, of course, that discussion would have been shorter.
Malta lived through a lot during the war, the sea bottom around it is strewn with aircraft and ships. One of the Malta churches was hit by a bomb that did not explode. It’s still there, like a relic. It was a miracle, the whole city was in the church but the bomb did not explode. Malta really did suffer, the fighting was heavy. The memory of the war is strong on the island, and I think this is right. But it is Malta’s own memory.
This memory does not know that Moscow was defended by all of my grandmother’s classmates. They graduated in 1941 and all went to the front. Not one of them returned. Not one!!!
I was shaking when they told me I was confusing numbers and decimal points. That it’s impossible. I was 17 then and did not realize this was a normal thing in the West. I didn’t know they had different textbooks.
But I tried to tell them. The atmosphere around the table got so tense that both sides began to shout. Well, actually, it was me against the whole table.
But nothing could stop me.
You know, I don’t like these types of discussions, who suffered more. But when people tell me to my face that you weren’t there, I can’t keep silent. So I told them about Leningrad.
About the blockade. The road of life. The 871 days of hell.
They shrugged, as if it was a minor detail, and I fell silent.
I couldn’t forgive them for this.
Then I was ashamed that I even tried to talk to them about this. It felt awkward to do this in front of the girlfriend, her husband, his parents.
But the shame was for nought.
What’s terrifying is that you can hear something similar from some of our own kids and youth. As if they literally had no idea what happened, or didn’t want to know about it.
Yes, unfortunately May 9 in sometimes is a mess. It’s unpleasant to see how some half-naked females are making duck faces with the Eternal Flame as the backdrop. It’s unpleasant to watch drunks wearing St. George’s ribbons breaking bottles.
There’s much that’s unpleasant, but let’s not engage in sleight of hand? Don’t let the fools obscure that which our country had to suffer through?
We don’t talk enough about it with our kids. And it’s important. Not like they do it in some schools, where kids are told to cut and past something abstract about May 9, for which they can get a failing grade. It’s important to tell them what happened in their family. Then the “victory” will not be something faceless, a forage cap, or yet another day off. But rather something that will force them to remember the great-grandmother’s classmates, or the missing in action great grandfather.
We bear this memory like the Jews bear the Holocaust or Armenians their own genocide. And one must not allow any Maltese old guy or anyone else to speak dismissively about the blockade. For our sake, for the sake of our ancestors, and yes, for the sake of our children.
Because then they, the kids, will adopt these opinions, and then it will be too late.