Saturday, May 9, 2015


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     "Well, if I get blown to pieces, at least it'll be in paradise". Meyer looked around him in wonder. The approaching dark of the Moldovan evening has thrown blue haze on the hills and the valleys. The tiny silver ponds shivered in the breeze. The alabaster lillies danced on their surface under the clouds of gnats. The heather and the grasses gave off a head turning aroma. The frogs, the cicadas, just began their nightly song. And thousands of stars looked down at the Earth with consternation. Even the mud on the road, where the soldiers walked, was glistening with unerring beauty.
jpeg (268×188)     The two soldiers plodded on, Meyer carrying the spool of telephone wire, about four feet in diameter, his comrade, Wolfzon - loaded with the tent, tools, wooden poles and the cooking utensils. He was also unreeling the wire from the spool on Meyer's back, laying a communication line for the approaching army. Usually, Lt. Serov would stride unburdened in front of them, giving instructions and feeling important. Today he walked a quarter of a mile back, and the soldiers knew why.
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Red Army soldier
     Meyer heard the crash behind him and instinctively stooped down, covering his head with his hands and dropping the spool. Wolfzon swore and Meyer rose up, to see his comrade take a joint out of his pocket and light it up with shaking hands. For once, Meyer didn't blame him.Three days ago, he was shining Serov's boots, while the lieutenant sat in the chair and tried to sharpen a pencil with his pocket knife. The knife slipped and cut into Serov's thumb. Spitting curses, Serov jammed the thumb into Meyer's cheek, smearing blood all over his face. That was too much even for a meek Jewish boy. He punched Serov and sent him to the floor. Serov flew at Meyer, shouting that he'll see him court-martialed for striking the superior officer. Nothing came out of it, though, because Serov was known as someone who abused his soldiers and a raving anti-Semite, embarrassing even for the Russian army. Today, Serov chose Meyer and Wolfzon, the only two Jews in his unit, for this mission. They figured out why, when he refused to walk with them. The Germans had time to lay mines somewhere in the vicinity, and Serov tried to use this opportunity to get rid of the hated men.

     Meyer and Wolfzon helped each other to pick up their loads and set off walking again, Meyer praying to God in whom he didn't believe and Wolfzon getting quietly high. In addition to smoking pot, he also dug out a bottle of hooch, and Meyer heard the musical sounds of the alcohol pouring into Wolfzon's mouth. No one could find drugs or booze better than Wolfzon. No matter, where the telephone unit was: how far in the countryside or in the most ransacked city; Wolfzon would lay his hands on anything that he could sniff, snort, take, drink or cook that would bring him the desired oblivion. It was a testament to the desperation of the Soviet government that a known drug addict and a flat-footed, 18 year old boy, chronically suffering from severe sinus infections, were drafted at all!

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WWII field
     Twenty minutes later, and Wolfzon crushed to the ground again. He sat in the middle of the road, laughing and slapping mud on his face and uniform. Meyer sighed and dropped the spool. He yelled to Serov to catch up with them quickly. Serov approached, swearing. He calmed down though and his eyes took on a sly expression, when Meyer explained his idea. He would walk ahead by himself, laying the wire on the ground and come back for them after he reached their destination and left the empty spool there. They would then be able to manage Wolfzon and the things he carried, as well as set the poles for the wire that Meyer had laid earlier, so that it would be out of the way of the traffic. The lieutenant, obviously, thought that Meyer might get blown up anyway, and, if otherwise, they'll be able to complete their task.
     As Meyer walked off, he heard the thuds of the lieutenant's fists smacking into Wolfzon. Wolfzon just grunted and giggled in response to the blows.

     The night became darker. Walking backwards with a heavy spool and unreeling the wire was hard work. Even so, from time to time Meyer looked up at the stars and mouthed prayers that his grandfather taught him.
Yakov and Hannah,
Meyer's parents
     His mind went from praying to thinking of his family. His parents emigrated to Russia from Poland sometime after the World War I. His mother was an orphan, but she made a life for herself by taking on the cleaning and sewing jobs. She had more money than her groom and even bought him a suit for the wedding! He was a happy man once, a loving husband and father. Yakov often played violin for his family and the guests. Anyone in need, even if they were complete strangers, were always welcome at his home for a meal or the shelter. Life beat the happiness out of him, but could not take away his charitable heart or the unique creativity with which he approached every task. Meyer moaned, thinking of how he wasn't allowed to go home to say goodbye to his dying father. A few months after, he received a notice: his brother, Samuel, was missing in action. Meyer shuddered to think what his starry-eyed poet and a bookworm
Lev later in life.
brother went through in the war, before he disappeared somewhere in the bogs near Leningrad. At least Lev, his other sibling, was out of danger. He had a cushy posting in the supply corps. Meyer's mother lived in Moscow with her only daughter and the grandchildren. Meyer's mind flinched away from thinking about them. He couldn't do 
anything to protect them. 
Meyer's family later in life. He is the third
from the left in the back row.
     As he worked, the fear gradually dissipated. The spool was getting lighter. Meyer saw a crumbling wall of the abandoned village. He took a short rest in the club building, left everything there that he wouldn't need on the way back and set out to help Wolfzon and Serov. They had to drug Wolfzon between them, while Serov kept on a steady stream of dire threats and racial slurs. He insisted on putting unconscious Wolfzon in a separate hut for the few hours before the dawn.
    In the morning, he wasn't there. Usually, after drinking and doing drugs, Wolfzon would be miserable and limp as a noodle, in withdrawal. They went out of the hut and looked around. The morning was quiet and ordinary. They saw Wolfzon, moseying toward them through a small apple orchard, chewing on an apple. He was weak but unharmed. Wolfzon finished the apple, spat the seeds and made a show of throwing the uneaten core back into the trees. 
     The blast of the explosion flung all of them to the ground, the earth clods and the pieces of the tree pelting them as they writhed in mortal fear. Afterwards, they sat there, digging the dirt from their eyes and trying to hear through the ringing in their ears. Wolfzon was pointing at what used to be an orchard and stuttering: "I w-w-walked through there j-just n-now!" Serov's pants were wet and sagging in the back and he smelled like shit.

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The Soviet Army walking through Europe

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