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Book One World War Three 1946

Book One World War Three 1946
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Monday, January 9, 2012

My Name is of No Importance

My name is not important but what I accomplish in 12 days just might be. I am just a small piece in the Soviet military machine. I may just as well be a nut or a bolt. I am a piece that will pilot one of the Lend Lease B25J Mitchell bombers filled with electronic equipment. How I got here might be of some interest to future historians.

I was born in Moscow in October of 1923 and that makes me 23 years old today. I do not remember much of my childhood before my 5th year. I remember my father getting upset at someone or something and yelling and cursing in a strange voice I had never heard before. A kind of a garbled version of his usual manner of speaking and he was staggering around our kitchen. I was watching from the doorway has he suddenly lost his balance and fell hitting his head on the edge of the kitchen table and then the floor with a sound I will never forget. A kind of a hollow thump as his head bounced off the floor and finally came to rest in a pool of expanding blood. I remember being fascinated by that spreading pool and walked over to touch it. My mother was screaming and crying as she pulled my away and tended to my father.

My older sister then took charge of me and the memory fades as to what happened next.

My next memory of my father is visiting him in what must have been a hospital. People in white clothes were rushing here and there. To this day I can’t stand hospitals…something about the smell. My father never recovered from his fall and just sat in his chair in the shared kitchen listening to the radio…always the radio and always the same station. He could speak but he never did and I never did find out why he fell or what circumstances caused him to get so drunk. My mother never said a word about it and neither did he. He died the same day the radio station went off the air, two years later. The station went silent and so did he.

From what I understand I was pretty lucky to have grown up when I did. Before the Revolution children had a pretty hard life in Moscow. They were considered total dependents of their parents in all matters and were frequently put to work in all sorts of hazardous situations such as the mines and factories. Child labor was the norm for most families and only the well off went to any kind of school. Illiteracy rates were high. Children as young as 10 were considered adults as far as the law is concerned and were tried as adults and put in prison or labor camps with adults. Imagine going to prison for doing some of the more impetuous things you did as a youth.
If you were a rebellious youth and did not respond to your parent’s corrective measures they could have you arrested and put in prison until you changed your ways. You can imagine what would happen to a 10 year old in a work camp filled with hardened criminals and I’m sure many of those things you can imagine did happen. It was pretty amazing that anyone turned out to be even close to being a productive member of society, but they did, including my mother and her parents.

A friend of mine had large female teacher who liked to sit on the corner of his desk when she talked to the class. He was near the front of the class so she just used his desk when she got tired. This bothered him as I’m sure it would bother anyone to have a large bottom covering what little space you had in your very controlled world. One day he got a straight pin and set in a crack sticking straight up near the edge of the desktop. When the teacher sat down she was skewered by the pin and jumped up from his desk with a start and ran out of the room. He didn’t laugh or brag or even tell anyone but just played innocent.

Before the revolution he would have been sent to prison but during my time he suffered no repercussions at all. She never sat on his desk again and that was the end of the matter.

Before my dad’s accident we were fairly well off from what I am told. We had a two bedroom apartment with only one other family living with us and more than enough food and I grew up nice and healthy. My Grandparents moved in with us when my father died and things got a little tougher but I never noticed. I had my friends and boyhood interests to keep me busy. As long as I had food when I wanted, my mother and my friends, I was well off. Besides the toys my Grandfather would make I had none and that was just fine with me. The toys he would make were wonderful and he traded them for extra food from time to time as I got tired of them. He made sure I had a steady stream of wooden tractors, planes, boats and wondrous of all were the wooden soldiers he would carve. Each had a different face and of course in my mind, different personalities. My friend and I would play army for hours on end when the weather was bad outside.

My mother cooked wonderful things but the best was the Perogi. Kind of like a ravioli but filled with potatoes and sometimes cheese and always sauerkraut. We always had sauerkraut. First you boiled them and then you fried them in whatever oil you had but butter was the best. The rare smell of Grandpa’s cigar and frying perogi will always mean home to me. Once I grew up I found out that putting sauerkraut in perogi was not the norm but to me a perogi is not a perogi without it.

Being just a child I was unaware that the government declared in 1926 that children in the Soviet Union enjoyed better conditions than anywhere in the world and their criminal code provided us with more protections than any other children anywhere. Children’s exceptional status was used a propaganda prop for the nation and international standing. The life of a Soviet child was often contrasted with the grim exploitation abroad. Even Time and Life magazines of the American’s had pictures of poor children being forced to work in the mines in some horrible place in some mountainous area there.

Their little faces cover with dirt and grime some with tracts of tears or sweat running down their faces. How could you not know that we were much better off in the USSR than in such a capitalist hell hole. America, this bastion of wealth and capitalist corruption, was exploiting children and robbing them of their future and for what? To make money for the capitalist pigs. Those pictures were all we needed to know that communism was the true path of mankind. Those little faces still haunt me to this day and that is why we must fight the capitalist pigs where ever they are found.

My childhood ended in May, 1931 when my mother took me to join the Young Pioneers. I did not know this at the time of course but this was the outcome of that event. 8 years old and they turned me into a miniature adult. Millions of 8 year old men willing to extol the virtues of Communism over Capitalism…that was the end result of the Young Pioneers. Lenin had turned it into a substitute for religion. Being a child at the time I knew nothing of this of course and was overjoyed to be able to belong to such a wonderful organization. The first time I saw the Pioneer Palace in our neighborhood I was infatuated. There were rooms for clubs, crafts and sports. Thousands of little voices singing “Young Pioneer March” and shouting the motto “Always Ready” still sends shivers up my spine. Indeed their purpose was to take away our childhood and make us all 8 year old men and they succeeded quite well.

Even the girls were taught and treated as males. This was ridiculous and we all knew it. I mean girls were different and disgusting at that point in my life. They tried to eradicate their feministic traits but how can you? Being a woman meant religion, home, privacy, intimacy and relationships. This did not fit the socialist model and so it had to be eradicated. They all had close cropped hair and wore plain shirts and black knickers in our club. It fooled no one but we had to put up with it because the adults said we had to.

Although membership was theoretically optional, almost all the children in the Soviet Union belonged to the organization; it was a natural part of growing up. Still, joining was not automatic. In the 3rd grade of school, children were allowed to join the Young Pioneer Organization, which was done in batches, as a solemn ceremony, often in a Pioneers Palace. Only the best students were allowed into the first batch, slightly less advanced and well-behaved were allowed into the second batch, several weeks later. The most ill-behaved or low-performing students were given time to 'catch up' and could be allowed to join only in the 4th grade, a year after the first batch of their classmates. Not being admitted at all was odd, and lack of desire to join was considered suspicious. Most often it was a religious student that stubbornly refused to join and religion was frowned upon by Soviet officials due to the fact that it was against Communist ideals.

I was admitted in the first batch.

The whole effect was magical to me and I joined in whole heartedly in all the activities and tried to excel in them all. My mother became concerned and my Grandfather always spoke in disparaging terms about the Young Pioneers. He had a particular sneering way of saying it that made me cringe inside. I still loved him and never did confront him as it would have done no good. I just stayed quiet and snuck out of the house as soon as I could to attend whatever function was going on that the Pioneer Palace at the time.

One of the most famous stories of Young Pioneers that was told as I was growing up was the tale of the “Death of a Pioneer Girl”, who on her death bed, refused to make the sign of the cross and instead raised her frail trembling hand in the Pioneer Salute. The right story teller could have even the most stoic of us choking back tears. Defiant child heroes were always the tales told around the campfires at the Young Pioneers Camps held throughout Russia every summer.

When I was 11 years old things changed radically on a national level as far as I was concerned. All of a sudden collectivism was frown upon and individualism came to the for once again. I believe we were the first group to have this lurching turn of priorities foisted upon us. One day we are extolling the virtues of group effort and the next we are lectures about how we have to be obedient and grateful to our parents. Along with this switch to individualism came discipline. We were now individually held responsible for our actions, choices and most interesting to me our talents. Home work was done individually and not in our study groups and we were singled out by being graded… on individual effort. New awards for Shock Workers and Shock Students became the prize to strive for.

All this was dizzying to a young mind but we were able to adapt to the changing whims of adults. My natural talents come to the fore and I was grateful not to be held back by the dolts of our former study group and clubs. So much so that in 1933-34 I tried out and progressed in the Competition for Young Talents held all over the Soviet Union. Over 43,000 of us made it to Leningrad and Moscow and were ushered around and treated like kings for our talents. Mine was poetry. Even though I did not make it to the finals I did attend a gala where Stalin himself was the honored guest.

Thousands of us were honored and taken on tours throughout the USSR where we would perform in whatever venue the particular city or town had to offer. Most of the time we performed to very large crowds with very enthusiastic receptions. I did keep a scrap book of my travels but it was destroyed somewhere in 1943 in one of my families many moves. As a child have I no idea why society made such an abrupt switch to the accomplishments of the individual over the collective during this time period but that’s the way it was.

Happiness became something you had to earn by being a good child, a good student, a good Pioneer and then you could enjoy the swing set…but not before. You worked hard and then you could play. In 1935 a new and fascinating thing happened called the “New Year Tree”. From what I understand it replaced the now banned Christmas Tree. Being 11 at the time I was still child enough to not care. All I knew was that everyone was once again happy in the darkness of winter and that meant everything to me at the time.

A Grand Father Frost and his helper the Snow Maiden sprung up from nowhere and absolutely captured by undivided attention even though I was too old for such fairy tales but this new transformation from science and fact to fairy tales and fantasies was perfectly timed in my opinion and I was an enthusiastic participant and told all the younger children that I could gather around me about the new stories I had learned and the poems I had written. The paper chains that were symbols of enslavement during collectivist times became once again a simple holiday craft and very popular.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great insight into what is (for me at least) a very unknown area of Soviet history ... and it works well, because it is told from the POV of our protagonist here.

    I guess AH-fiction really is more entertaining than ordinary history-books - even when it's about a part of history that occurred somewhat before the major POD :-)

    The whole thing about youth organizations, pressure to enroll, etc., also reminds me of Hitler-Jugend's assimilation of the Weimar Republic's youth movements. It is described movingly in the new bio of White Rose-member, Sophie Scholl, who - along with her brothers and sisters - were devout members of Hitler-Jugend and the Jungmädel in the 30s. They also had to slough through all sorts of propaganda-'literature' ... while at the same time trying to find freedom to express their own creative talents (Sophie played the guitar and did artwork - she even illustrated a book). But for years they tied these urges for self-expression and belonging to the Nazi youth movements.

    And then, of course, a decade later Sophie and Hans and a few others were executed as pretty much the only (civilian) resistance to Nazism ...

    Well, it just goes to show, I think, that "All I knew was that everyone was once again happy in the darkness of winter and that meant everything to me at the time" was a very powerful motivator for teenagers to join up with such organizations, in Germany or the Soviet Union.