One woman's path through doula training, childrearing, and a computer science Ph. D. program

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

May 8: 65th Anniversary of Day of Victory, and the Siege of Leningrad

The siege of Leningrad, now and previously St. Petersburg, lasted 900 days and cost one million lives to starvation alone. But the numbers don't tell the whole story: they are just a statistic.

My grandmother survived the siege of Leningrad. She lived in the city and watched her dearest relatives die during the years between 1941 and 1944. She survived the siege with her mother, who, just four years later, died of cancer in 1948. She rarely talks about it, but three times a year she brings it up: the anniversary of the beginning of the blockade, the anniversary of the end of the blockade, and the anniversary of the day victory over the German forces.

Each year, I look it up on the Internet, and listen to what little she tells me about it. Each year, I have had the same emotional response: intense, deep sadness, and a hollow feeling in my core.

But now that I have had a child, it hits me so much harder. This is not something that happened to people in Soviet Russia 65 years ago. This is something that happened to me and my family. Weeping, I watched documentary YouTube videos explaining the siege, and showing families torn apart by starvation and bombings. Bodies of children, wrapped in blankets and carried by sleds to the river. One hundred twenty-five grams of bread, half of which is made of sawdust, doled out as a daily ration. And in the videos, the streets are packed with people going somewhere. Where are they going? They go in all directions, but where? Everything is frozen; everything is dying.

My grandmother told me about the grass that grows in the spring. She said it was the most magical thing: after months and months of no food, no rations, and death (in the worst of it, 700 to 10,000 people died every day), the first sprigs of grass that sprung up were celebrated as a sign of hope and life. People would gather and look at the sprigs, and eat them for vitamins and freshness.

How can anyone survive the siege with her body, but having lived through it, survive the siege with her soul?

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