Every year on May 9, Victory Day in Russia — marking the anniversary of the day that news of the German surrender in 1945 reached Moscow — my father would go to the closet and take out his sailor’s uniform, which required regular alteration to accommodate his growing belly, and pin on his medals.Thus Mikhail Shishkin remembers the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 in a New York Times piece entitled How Russians Lost the War.
It was so important to me to be proud of my father: There had been a war and my papa had won it!
When I grew up, I realized that in 1944 and 1945, my father was sinking ships that were evacuating German civilians and troops from Riga, in Latvia, and Tallinn, in Estonia. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people met their deaths in the waters of the Baltic — for which my father received his medals. It’s been a long time since I was proud of him, but I don’t judge him. It was war.My father fought the evil of fascism, but he was taken advantage of by another evil. He and millions of Soviet soldiers, sailors and airmen, virtual slaves, brought the world not liberation but another slavery. The people sacrificed everything for victory, but the fruits of this victory were less freedom and more poverty.My father was 6 when his father was arrested. A son wants to be proud of his father, but his father was called an enemy of the people. My grandfather perished in the gulag.When the war began, the persecuted population heard from the loudspeakers, “Brothers and sisters!” The baseness of Russia’s rulers lies in the way they have always taken advantage of this remarkable human emotion: the love of homeland and the willingness to sacrifice everything for it.So my father went off to defend his homeland. He was still a boy when he went to sea, in constant terror of drowning in that steel coffin. He ended up protecting the regime that killed his father.The victory gave the slaves nothing but a sense of the grandeur of their master’s empire. The great victory only reinforced their great slavery.After the war, my father drank. All his submariner friends did. What else could they do?… The chief Russian question is: If the fatherland is a monster, should it be loved or hated? Here everything has run together, inseparably. Long ago, a Russian poet put it this way: “A heart weary of hate cannot learn to love.”Of course, I wish my homeland victory. But what would constitute a victory for my country? Each one of Hitler’s victories was a defeat for the German people.