There is an acquaintance of mine, Christoph, a writer and a teacher of foreign literature and philosophy at Humboldt University, Berlin. He is a great admirer of Russian literature, especially Dostoyevsky. He rides his bike from Berlin to Saratov every year, visiting his friends here in Ukraine. During his latest visit he came to see me and my family. We were talking a great deal at the table, discussing all sorts of things — from the books he writes to the global issues, when somebody suggested playing billiards.
“Get ready! You will have to answer for the battle of Stalingrad,” someone said. Of course, it was a joke and everyone understood that, but there was silence... The German looked reserved and concentrated. He continued playing the game. I decided to break the ice and tell a story of a private who was actually my grandfather. I have never seen him in my life. I know him only from the story told by his friend who survived in the terrible battle of Kyiv in November, 1943.
When rendering the events of those unforgettable days, I could vividly imagine the rockets flashing, the fire blazing and the bombs rumbling so loudly. I could smell the heavy and suffocating smoke and hear the cannonade. And the Dnipro... It was not the Dnipro people used to see with its deep shallow water, with wide, sunny banks, with steamers, ferries and barges. Its quays were wounded, torn by craters from missiles. The noise of the guns was incredible. Bombs were falling into the water making heavy water columns. Rafts and boats were floating on the surface. It was a decisive battle. Soviet soldiers were crossing the river. It was impossible to survive when the sky was burning, the ground was shaking and the water was red with blood. However, it was possible to live fighting for the city among the smoke, fire and blood. And if the death was over the heads, the fame was side by side. My grandfather lost his life defending our Motherland, our capital city together with other 500,000 soldiers. I am sure that each of them was bearing in mind the idea: “I would be glad when this damned war was over.”
When I finished speaking, our German friend looked at me, tears in his eyes. “My grandfather died at Stalingrad. ..I am really sorry. He didn’t want that war either and the price he had paid for somebody’s cruel ambitions was too high. He became the victim of our common history. We should never forget our past in order not to let the war repeat. It’s our responsibility to tell the following generations the truth of the disastrous, destroying and devastating war. What I mean is WAR IS EVIL. It should be engraved on our memories.”
Verba volant, scripta manent.
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