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Guest Posts, Refugees, Resistance

The Old Colossus

January 30, 2017
people

By Daniel Elder

The searching faces of those who once had homes, now on the run or corralled into camps, their entire lives carried on their backs, are flattened on our screens. They once lived in homes. They lived in cities and in villages, raised their families in houses, on farms, in apartment buildings teeming with life. Their homes had roofs of concrete or brick or corrugated tin. They walked on floors of wood or parquet or mud. Outside their homes were gardens, flush with dates and lettuce and cucumbers and beans. Beyond the gardens wound roads that tied their homes to those of their neighbors. They stood up from planting in their gardens, from walking on their roads, from talking in cafes and squares, and looked up at the dollop-tops of minarets and listened to the plaintive calls of muezzins. This was before the punishing flights of MiGs came screaming overhead, before the chaotic staccato of ammunition became the soundtracks to their days, before the plumbing ran dry of water to drink. Before they fled. They once had homes: tapestries of languages and recipes, places of heart, woven out of scents and light, filled with stories formed of memory and tea.

My grandmother, Khana, survived the Nazi siege of Leningrad together with her three sisters and their mother, Maria. Leningrad was their home: a city of canals and boulevards, White Nights in June, the Hermitage and the Winter Palace, long and lively strolls down the Nevsky Prospekt. The rumblings of war built up slowly, buzzing from the radio antennae. And then the border was breached, the pact was broken, and the pincers of the Wehrmacht bore down, the Luftwaffe screaming overhead, pounding concrete and flesh into submission. Legions of dreaded Panzer tanks encircled the city, with no way in and no way out. Boris, Maria’s husband, the girls’ father, was a Soviet believer. He was sent to the front, to the city perimeter. He never returned. My grandmother, barely twenty years old, watched the skies while foraging for scrawny grasses that grew through cracks in the street, her whole being filled with fear of the bombs that had killed her father. When food ran out, her family boiled wallpaper glue into soup, with leather belts added for flavoring. Her mother’s belly grew distended as she starved herself to ensure her daughters would live. Leningrad was home, but home was now just survival, day after day, until after more than two years our family was at last evacuated on The Road of Life, away from home—and to safety instead. Continue Reading…

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