"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Friday, July 20, 2012

Russia Again

Trivia question:  I asked this on Facebook and someone actually got the right answer. According to a survivor of the Leningrad siege during the Patriotic War (that'd be World War II), what was on the first train that made it past the blockade?  The lady telling the story said everyone came down to the train station to see this and it was "funny, really."  I'll answer in the comments in case you want to guess now and then check your answer.

Can you imagine?  "Ten times more people died in Leningrad during the blockade than were lost in the atomic bombing over Hiroshima. At first they died during the bombardments. Later, during the siege, they also starved and froze."  It was very difficult to find room for all the bodies. In one museum, the basement was used as storage for employees who died.  One survivor recalled going past corpses on the street on the way to buy bread, and when he returned parts of these same people were missing as Leningraders tried to survive their extreme hunger by eating human body parts.  (pg. 235, 238)

These are more interesting tidbits from the book - Night of Stone by Catherine Merridale - which I finally finished this evening.  (First few chapter notes here.) I tell ya, I have not been reading a lot this month.  Should I blame our having company from West Virginia for much of the week of the 4th?  Or the fact that I am constantly distracted by Facebook - so many interesting articles. And then there are blogs to read, oh, and the news out of Syria.  I've spent a few hours this week talking (instant messaging rather) Samer's twin brother as he's shared how things look like or sound from the family home in Mezze neighborhood.   Anyway, I finally finished this book about death in Russia. 

Some other things that took my attention.The sheer number of people dying, corpses lying around, and bones being unearthed.  In some places, people were dying and their bodies were left in the garbage or lying around until someone had the time or strength to move them.  People got used to seeing bodies lying on the sides of roads.  Children used skulls for soccer balls and for picking blueberries!

Chapter 6 mentioned the awfulness of famine in such a descriptive way that I've had to reread these few sentences ... just to fully grasp the horror.

"Starvation itself is not a private matter. It certainly is not quiet. The people weep; they plead; they keen over their dead; their children scream and beg. You cannot hide a swollen body, either, or wasted limbs, infected sores. A human being who is dying from cholera suffers from violent and near-continuous diarrhea; he loses the lining of his guts and then he vomits wheylike, speckled spew until there is no fluid left in his exhausted tissues. The diseases of famine, like starvation, visibly consume a living body, noisily destroying the individual, the person, before they kill their biological host."  (pg. 157)

Sadly when Irina told her story about leaving Kiev with her parents and brother, she said they were so hungry they had to eat grass.  But the locals complained: "we were stealing their pasture."  (pg. 232)

I was introduced to the term "dekulakized" in chapter 6. These were people "driven from their homes, locked in prisons, transported to the remotest parts of the taiga, shot, or starved to death." (pg. 167).

The chapter on the gulags was interesting as the author described all the frozen skeletons and mass graves still to be unearthed (there are "millions of complete skeletons" left to find). One person told her the easiest form of suicide for the prisoners was trying to escape.

The remaining chapters discuss things like World War I ("neglected" by Russians), World War II (celebrated by Russians as they feel they saved the world from fascism), the Afghan war (highly unpopular and the treatment of vets reminded me of our own Vietnam vets. The book said the World War II vets would often look down upon the veterans of this unpopular war.)  The role Chernobyl played in bringing about openness was interesting.  The author also discussed PTSD which one lady called "post-dramatic." Those types of diagnosis aren't sought very much in Russian society. Or they weren't when this book was written. I don't know how things have changed in those dozen years.

OK,I think that's it for this book!  Now I'll see what other books from my stash I'll read.  I found a little consignment shop near my parents' house last week and got 3 more books for a good price. The 2 paperbacks were 89 cents and the hardcover was $1.50. I couldn't just leave them there. 


1 comment:

Susanne said...

The answer to the trivia question is ....

CATS! And I hope it wasn't to grill for food. :)

Actually the lady telling the author this story said rats were a huge problem with all the dead bodies lying around. Seriously, they could not keep up with burying them all and dead bodies everywhere equaled lots and lots of rats. All the cats were gone.

Lyudmilia said "When that train came in we all went down to watch. And there were all these cats looking out of the windows. It was funny, really."