—excerpts from an essay-requiem—
By Lev I. Libov

Translated by Ronald Bruce Meyer

Page 3 of 5

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* * *

According to the legend, Aeneas carried his father out of burning Rome. Statuettes depicting the son saving his father were very popular in ancient Rome. My shoulders happened to be too weak for that. I knew that many of my age stayed with their parents in town, choosing death over desertion of their parents. That's why, when I learned from Esther that my parents might have been evacuated from the town, I ignored everything and began looking for them. I visited dozens of towns of Northern Caucasus, asking town officials if there was by chance the name Libov on their lists. The answer everywhere was, "No."

I was hiking all the time. I was always hungry, but I tried not to notice. The fascists were close already. There were rumors that bandit-collaborators had throw down from the cliffs both natives and those evacuated.

I headed to Krasnodar. On one of the roads some Cossack women, who were carrying vegetables to the market, gave me a lift. None of them could know how I longed for a tomato, a cucumber or a piece of bread. The worst was yet ahead. A patrol stopped the vehicle and asked us for IDs.

"Your ID," said a man a bit older that I. I gave it to him.

Get down.
Get down.
Get down, I say.
He said it without hatred, without compassion, without sense of duty. Just impatiently. He said it, and that's all there was to it.

* * *

On June 21, 1941, I was in Saratov. On the morning of the following day I came to see my friends Tania and Nikolai. She was holding her small child on her hands and told me that the war with fascist Germany had started.

I recall the faces of my friends at Saratov as I departed from the railway station. I will remember them for the rest of my days. The train was carrying me towards the war. Many more loses would be held within this short dash between the years 1941-1945.

* * *

Finally, I was enlisted in the Soviet Army. At the beginning of the war I was on active duty in Alma-Ata, Stalinabad, Michurinsk, Manchuria, and East Prussia. As a child, I often dreamed about the Army. I viewed it as a school for bravery, a place of abundant food and welfare. For me the Army was the keeper of outstanding traditions through all times. I loved the Army, and I was amused by it.

* * *

Barracks in Alma-Ata. A long aisle of two-story beds. A soldier on duty at the entrance door. Rifles, infantry shovels, each in its place. Everything is nice and clean.

Everything is in good standing. High officers seemed to be unreachable in the sense of personal contacts with them. Sergeants are the toughest commanders. Loud military commands complemented by four-letter words are heard all the time. Life is as simple as ABC. A lot of goose-stepping. A lot of very hard work.

As a Miser awaits another Taler, Don Juan a new mistress, a sick man his doctor — a soldier waits for the night. What a paradise a good sleep is! But this never happens. A good sleep is desired by a soldier twice as much as even food.

We had just gone to bed. Then followed the next minute a sharp commander's yelling "Get up!" This struck us as lightning from top to toe. The pain from his nasty voice spread throughout the whole body. And we were not supposed just to wake up; we must do it with the speed of a rocket. "Line up! Turn right! Go!" the officer fumed. We rushed from the warmth of the barracks into the autumn cold, dirt, darkness, and rain. The shell-like command sounds not only deprived us of our individuality, but derogated us to such a degree that we begin questioning whether we were human beings or beasts. Nevertheless, our legs would follow the commands.


Run! Run! Faster! Faster! Run!

Up to the mines we ran, where heavy, dirty, wet, large stones were spread around. Should they force us to move them? This time the officer's iron voice would bark:

All the way back! To the barracks!
There is no need for him to add "Faster!" The barracks seem to draw like a huge magnet. No slowness. Faster. Faster. Faster. Without a wiping-off command. Beds look like the Promised Land. Sleeping. Who can judge better than a soldier the sweet moment when a head touches a pillow? Less than a second passes before you are asleep.

And again, out of the blue, the night is cracked in two, you dive into the abyss, the sounds following you.

Wake up!
Everything is repeated from the beginning. The squad works like a machine.
Forward! Run! Faster! Faster!
Again the same run from the barracks to the "stone garden" and back to the barracks. What a pleasure those beds are! Sleeping! This time one man didn't want to look like a beast, and our bravest began to show signs of irritation: Why? What for? What does he want?

* * *

Cry, soldier, cry! I used to cry too often because of my upbringing and book-reading, the theatre and the cinema, my milieu, maybe my genes, made me quite a sentimental young man. I could have depicted almost every episode of my barracks life that forced me to cry.

Cry, soldier, cry! There were too much pain and blood. Maybe a teardrop didn't cost a lot or shamed anyone in the face of the blood and suffering we were meeting at that time.

* * *

We were waiting to be sent to the front line. Everyday routine, starving, lack of freedom, the wish to be in a real battle and to take our chances — all that, impelled by an urge to fight for the motherland at its hour of need, called us to the trenches.

That day came. It was frenzied and curious, with chaos, yelling, whispers, bravery and disappointments, military commands, enrolment list checks. Suddenly an absolutely unexpected and unbelievable question was heard:

Who has a high school diploma?
One soldier after another was called up front. Finally I hear my last name.
Right here!
Step forward!
That was the first step on a road to designation as an under-officer. According to Stalin's ruling, everyone with a high school diploma should be enrolled in Infantry Officer School. I became an Infantry cadet at Orel Military Academy.

* * *

In a month or two my military academy moved from Stalinabad to Michurinsk. While in Stalinabad our political boss, Captain Ruzhinski, appointed me to compose his political reports. At the same time, he acquainted himself with a young woman who gave birth to a child by another man, then appointed her mother to raise him. The child called his grandmother "mom." The young woman, wishing to gain my sympathy, shared with me many of her secrets. She knew that I was an authority under Captain Ruzhinski. It looked as if she wanted to use me to get closer to him, and that this was important for her future.

We became so close to Captain Ruzhinski that he seemed unable to do anything without me. I played my role fervently and, just as Lion Feihtvanger's Zuss influenced the Count, I influenced my captain. At the same time, I never crossed the borders, and had no other awards; instead, I was assigned the most difficult, routine chores.

However, I was elected chief political leader of the squad, and soon won the all-Academy competitions, and with that the highest award. The article citing my achievement appeared in the Orel Infantry Academy News, together with sketches of the squad commander and me. They tried to

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