(1933 - )
In 1941 my mother took me back to Moscow. There I saw my enemies for the first time. If my memory is right, nearly twenty thousand German war prisoners were to be marched in a single column through the streets of Moscow.
The pavements swarmed with onlookers, cordoned off by soldiers and police.
The crowd were mostly women – Russian women with hands roughened by hard work, lips untouched by lipstick and thin hunched shoulders which had borne half the burden of the war. Every one of them must have had a father or a husband, a brother or a son killed by the Germans.
They gazed with hatred in the direction from which the column was to appear.
At last we saw it.
The generals marched at the head, massive chins stuck out, lips folded disdainfully, their whole demeanour meant to show superiority over their plebeian victors.
‘They smell of eau-de-cologne, the bastards,’ someone in the crowd said with hatred.
The women were clenching their fists. The soldiers and policemen had all they could do to hold them back.
All at once something happened to them.
They saw German soldiers, thin, unshaven, wearing dirty blood-stained bandages, hobbling on crutches or leaning on the shoulders of their comrades; the soldiers walked with their heads down.
The street became dead silent – the only sound was the shuffling of boots and the thumping of crutches.
Then I saw an elderly woman in broken-down boots push herself forward and touch a policeman’s shoulder, saying: ‘Let me through.’ There must have been something about her that made him step aside.
She went up to the column, took from inside her coat something wrapped in a coloured handkerchief and unfolded it. It was a crust of black bread. She pushed it awkwardly into the pocket of a soldier, so exhausted that he was tottering on his feet. And now suddenly from every side women were running towards the soldiers, pushing into their hands bread, cigarettes, whatever they had.
The soldiers were no longer enemies.They were people.