8 Декабрь 2014| Shelyakhovskaya (Gruzdeva) Maria Aleksandrovna

Anxious Letters

1941, 1 November. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma, unnumbered]

Darling Natashenka, my dearest little daughter.

Ask Mama to get a sled for you and to go sledding with you from time to time. Be obedient and love your mother strongly. She is a very good person. Dad loves her very much and Mama, too, I live well. Just wait, we’ll defeat the Germans, I’ll come home, I’ll buy a schoolbag for you—and you’ll go to school. We’ll get many, many books with good pictures and we’ll read together; we’ll go to Leningrad and we’ll go to the theater, to the circus and to the cinema. But the elephant in the Zoo has been killed by the Germans from an aircraft.

Ask Mama, when she is free, to read poetry to you.

I live well. Just wait, we’ll defeat the Germans, I’ll come home, I’ll buy a schoolbag for you—and you’ll go to school. We’ll get many, many books with good pictures and we’ll read together; we’ll go to Leningrad and we’ll go to the theater, to the circus and to the cinema. But the elephant in the Zoo has been killed by the Germans from an aircraft.

Your Granddad is in good health and he sends his greeting to you.

Your toys: the scooter, the wardrobe and all the other things in Leningrad are all unharmed. Tell Auntie Valya and Uncle Vasiliy that your Dad thanks them for care of you, my darling little one.

Despite the starvation, the cat Vasilissa was still alive in the Leningrad home. But the shed that Granddad had hoped in the past summer to be able to save went for firewood in early November.

1941, 3 November. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma] № 10

The last letter that I received was written by you on 25 September. How are you living now? […] Yesterday I visited Ivan Gasparovich. He is alive and in good health, and he is breaking down the shed. In recent days I helped him with something[1].

Our institute is working little by little. ILT [Author’s note: Institute of Language and Though of the Academy of Sciences; in this Institute our Mama was a PhD student] is worse.

In my life everything is as before, that is, I am alive and in good health. Today, for the first time in the last 3 months (except the trip 14 Oct 41), I spent a night in a room and slept in a bed, on clean linen. But it’s also not bad to sleep in a blindage, covered up with a greatcoat. We’ve been having a sort of rest (about 5 or 6 days) lately, t[hat] i[s], haven’t been in battles. Soon we’ll get down to business. We are preparing for it seriously.

I continue to write 4 Oct at 2 o’clock. While being written, this letter has traveled with me at least 150 km. Now I am sitting in Smolny[2] and recalling the heroic days of October 1917[3]. I am heartily greeting you with my best wishes for the holiday[4], wishing you to meet this holiday next year in a peaceful situation, when there will be not even a trace of fascists.

In the next letter from the city the shed, now broken down, and Vasilissa are mentioned again. What is written about Vasilissa is connected with the fact that it was in November that people began to die of starvation. Some people, trying to save themselves, killed cats and ate them.

1941, 5 November. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma] № 11.

It’s three days already that I’ve been sitting in Leningrad.

Ivan Gasparovich is living completely well, only he has broken down the shed and lost Vasilissa for several days. After the absence she came back with her tail cut off.

Every letter from you brings joy into my lonely life. When I am busy, your absence is somehow less noticeable, but in the periods which are free from big battle business a deep sadness grips me. Probably, longing for you, my darling, combines with the passionate wish to win the victory, to fight the Germans from the heart of our motherland, from our hometown.

I am feeling somehow uncertain. Physically, I have certainly become stronger—but spiritually I’ve become poorer.

It is hard in the city now. How are things with nutrition where you are?

1941, 9 November. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma] № 13.

I’ve received your anxious letter of 4.Oct 41. Your anxieties are caused by the fact that you have not received letters from me for a week. Get accustomed, darling, to intermissions in receiving letters. It is so natural in wartime: stoppages in the work of the mail, or something in my letter won’t be liked by a censor, or, after all, a situation in which it is difficult to write a letter.

And this is what explains the break in the letters after 12 Sept 41: we were fighting very serious battles, and we were, as it may be called, in no mood for letters. Although, it seems, I still wrote letters. Get accustomed to breaks in the letters and believe in my invulnerability. And if something happens, then don’t be overly egoistic. It’s war, isn’t it. If you have enough food and aren’t bombed by the Germans—it’s good. In Leningrad, as you understand—and in the newspapers they write about it—the situation now is troubled. I think it’s better where you are. Is it really better?

Since 2 Nov, I come to Leningrad every day. I try not to come home when it is not necessary. It’s depressing. Yesterday I received a letter from P. Iokhel. His wife and children, apparently, fell into the hands of the Germans. Terrible.

More than once I’ve dropped in on the Ponomarenkos: I give them some bread that I don’t eat up myself. Once I’ve been to Galya’s. She is jobless too.

If the conditions make you leave Totma, leave it. Most of all be afraid to fall into the hands of the Germans.

The wife of Pavel Lvovich Iokhel, the institute friend of our parents, perished in a German concentration camp. The children—two little sons—were also in the camp, but they survived and after the War were fortunate to be found.

1941, 13 November. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma, unnumbered]

I want to warn you, my darling, that you might not receive letters from me for rather a long period. It will be explained not by lack of my attention to you, nor by the difficulties I’ll have to face, but only by the fact that delivering letters from me to you and vice versa will be hampered.

A break in receiving letters is not an event at all in the present difficult time.

And if the break will be really very long (about half a year, for example), then make inquiries through the address: FPS[5]418, Department 4. I’m sure this won’t be necessary. You may also write to FPS 418, to the Commander of the Division Headquarters or to the Headquarters Commissar.

This is just in case, although I am more than sure that you won’t face the necessity of it. On the contrary, I think that some time later letters may begin to go faster.

In my life everything is unchanged. By automobile alone, I’ve traveled about 6000 km [more than 3700 miles]. I could have traveled to you and back 5 times.

I’m still sitting in Smolny, in 24 hours I’m going to my division. I see almost none of our Leningrad acquaintances as I cannot go into town without permission. The Leningraders are experiencing some difficulties with food, therefore I don’t regret not seeing you in the city. But the Leningraders remain strong, they cannot be broken easily, as the Germans thought.

Today I’ve been at Ivan Gasparovich’s. He is alive and in good health.

In his letter of 9 November, Dad had mentioned that letters were looked through by military censors. To write about the starvation from which the residents of besieged Leningrad were suffering was prohibited, hence such a cautious expression: “some difficulties with food.”

1941, 14 November. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma] № 16.

You ask me about the parcel. I didn’t receive it. Try to find out through the postal service (by an official inquiry): what has it done with the parcel? What was put in it? I shouldn’t have asked you to send it. We are provided here with all the necessities.

Don’t grieve if you don’t get letters from me.

The Germans won’t be able to cope with us easily. We’ll keep battling, and —I hope—after the victory, you and I will meet again. Kholshevnikov [6] now he is at the front again.

Volodya Vishnevskiy and Andrey Yakovlev have been killed. It seems that Yeryomin has been killed too.

In Leningrad there are often air-raid warnings, of course.

Does he, the evildoer, bomb you all too?

1941, 16 November. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma] № 17.

Cold has set in. How are you getting by in the conditions of severe winter without warm clothes?

I am still in Leningrad. Soon I’ll go away from here, and we’ll continue to fight the brown plague[7] in mortal combat.

1941, 21 November [№ 1]. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma] № 18.

Why doesn’t Natasha write anything? Maybe her hieroglyphs are thrown away by censorship? Not even once have I received leaflets with her scribbles.

1941, 21 November [№ 2]. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma] № 19.

I’ve received the two poems by Pushkin attached to your letter of 27. Sept 41. I am glad that at one and the same time we are reading the same poems by Pushkin. To me, of course, what is closer and more understandable is “The Hills of Georgia…”[8] In one of my letters to you, as I remember, I cited it too, but without the last lines. About myself I cannot say “my heart’s afire and it loves again—because…” No, it “is afire and it loves as before—because what is impossible for it is not to love”. In one of my letters to you, as I remember, I cited it too, but without the last lines. About myself I cannot say “my heart’s afire and it loves again—because…” No, it “is afire and it loves as before—because what is impossible for it is not to love”.

Here now, for example, as it generally is lately, you are so far from me by distance, and, besides, your life is becoming distant and little comprehensible to me. But you yourself as a person are so close and dear to me that I am literally living together with you.

Yesterday I went to see Ivan Gasparovich, he is alive and in good health. Our apartment is undamaged and unharmed so far, and bombs have not fallen on our blessed nest.

Your husband, junior lieutenant, liaison officer A. Gruzdev. This is how many titles I have.

You, of course, haven’t gotten any warm clothes.

1941, 28 November. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma] № 20.

“I wholly live in that love that shone with purit
Like snow on mountain heights in golden beams.”

There are no letters from you, and how much I would like to receive a tender word from you. Today I will copy for you a short poem by our army poet. It is a good short poem:

“Fly, fly, my letter, like a swift-winged falcon,
Above the forests, above the swamps and fields,
Fly there, there, where a house is covered
By the leafage of the familiar poplar trees.

Maybe just now, just like in those good old times,
My girlfriend—a snow white kerchief on her head—
Is spending a long evening at the window,
Full of anxiety about my fate, unknown to her.

My flying letter, say a tender word to her,
And let the shadow of sorrow go off her face.
My letter, tell her: soon we’ll meet again
Near the old porch-steps, so dear to us.

In these severe weary Wartime nights
I will save up so many tender words,
I’ll come from the War and look in my dearest’s eyes,
And I will tell her all my words of love.

But if because of an evil German’s bullet
I will remain to lie amidst the fields,
Then find, for your life, another friend to love,
Who would befit the memory of me.”

I am also sending you my last small article published in the Frontovaya Pravda[9].

For Natasha I enclose a postcard: a view of Brussels.

1941, 29 November. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma] № 21.

I hope that now my letters to you and those from you to me will go faster, as I have drawn considerably closer to you all.

I am moving to other work, to the position of asst. cm-dr [assistant commander] of Department I [operative department of the division headquarters], and it will mean almost a complete lack of time at my personal disposal.

My stay in Leningrad is over. From now on I won’t be there for a long time.

For us, the War is passing into a new stage: earlier we drew back from the Germans, but now we are attacking them. It’s too early to boast about our progress, but success should be hoped for.

Listen to the record of “The Little Blue Kerchief”. I love it. I also love “I, alone, come out to the road”.

Dad had good musical year and voice, he loved singing since his childhood. After the War he sang the old romantic song “I, alone, come out to the road” (Lermontov’s poem[10] set to music) in such a way that it made our hearts sink.

But what a long way off was the time “after the War” in November 1941.


December 1941

1941, 3 December. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma] № 22.

I thought letters from you would be just about to resume coming, but, suddenly, the news: “Tikhvin[11] has been surrendered to the Germans”. Again an obstacle… A few days ago I lost my wonderful driver, with whom I had traveled about 3 months: there are many reasons to suppose that he perished together with the truck. It is horribly sad, he was an excellent fellow.

You, I think, have no warm clothes, and because of this I feel unhappy, especially seeing your things that lie uselessly at home.

Upon the occupation of Tikhvin you are probably afraid to sit in Totma. They, the scoundrels, even in that infinitely peaceful town may bomb you.

Well, enough dismal thoughts. Live while you’re alive: happiness is always in the future.

My books are lost if the truck is lost. In it were Pushkin and Lermontov, a pair of warm underwear and a gas mask. And my poor, poor Vasiliy. But I want to think that he will still come, that he is alive and unharmed.

1941, 8 December. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma]

In my life substantial changes have taken place. I am no longer a liaison officer, I work as the asst. cm-dr of Department I. It’s a pity I had to leave my previous work. It was rather rough-and-tumble, but extremely interesting, and, above all, what was needed there was initiative, enterprise—in a word, I was equal to that work and it was after my own heart, and the most attractive aspect of it was the independence.

I often think about you, about Natasha. There is not a single person in the world who would understand me better than you. The images of almost every day that we lived together appear so vividly before me. The Russian Museum, The Hermitage, the Neva embankments, the corridors of the Academic Library, the days that were full of work, hope, joys and disappointments. And we were always together. Together at work, together at the theaters, together spiritually. Good times, good feelings, beautiful thoughts and honest deeds and actions. And our evenings with each other. The first days of our acquaintance and the last days of our life together. Is it ever possible to forget this?

1941, 8 December. [from S. I. Gruzdeva to A. I. Gruzdev at the front]

My dear! You are still discontent at knowing little about my present life. Up to now, we live in exceptional concord.

Don’t imagine that I am in the kitchen around the clock and that’s all. No, I do rest—I often sleep in the afternoon, I’ve read quite a bit (a 500-page volume by Romain-Rolland, short stories by Chekhov and Korolenko, verses from the anthology “Pushkin’s Contemporaries”, Zola’s novel “The Belly of Paris, I constantly read Pushkin; lately I’ve been reading “The Invasion of Napoleon” by Tarle, and,of course, newspapers, although I’m a week behindhand. But we have a radio and every day we listen to the Informbureau reports.

The present is severe, brutal, and many will come out of this time with a character different from the one they had when they entered it. “A heavy hammer crushes glass but forges firm Damascus steel”—I love these words of Pushkin.

And it’s a pity you haven’t received the parcel—the mittens were knitted with such love. There was not enough wool, so I undid Natasha’s ones and added on. And there also was Valya’s little jar of honey and my little jar of jam from Leningrad, bought at the Yeliseyevsky store. Well, let it go— if only you will be all right.


[1] This last sentence is probably Aleksander’s “coded” language for bringing food to his father-in-law.

[2] During the War, the headquarters of those managing the defense of Leningrad was located in the building of the former Smolny Institute.

[3] The headquarters of the leaders of the October Revolution of 1917 was in the building of Smolny.

[4] The day of the October Revolution (25 October according to the pre-Revolutionary calendar, 7 November according to the post-Revolutionary calendar) was, during the Soviet period, a state holiday.

[5] FPS—a Field Post Station.

[6] V. E. Kholshevnikov (1910–2000)—an institute friend of A. I. and S. I. Gruzdevs; later professor of Leningrad State University.

[7] Brown plague—a metaphorical term for Nazism; the uniform of Hitler’s SA (Sturmabteilung, the stormtroopers) included a brown shirt.

“The hills of Georgia are covered with night shadows,
The noise of the Aragva’s heard nearby.
I’m feeling sad and quiet: my sadness is quietly shining,
It’s shining—filled with you,

Only with you. With you… My sorrow’s not troubled,
It is not tormented by anything at all,
My heart’s afire, and it loves again—because
What is impossible for it is not to love.”

[9] Frontovaya Pravda (The Front Truth, or The Truth at the Front)—the name of a wartime newspaper.

[10] M. Lermontov (1814–1841)—Russian poet.

[11] Tikhvin is a town and a station on the railroad between Leningrad and Vologda, 140 km east of the station Mga (which had been captured by the enemy in August).


© Translation into English and endnotes by Christina Petrides (USA)
and Maria Shelyakhovskaya (Russia).

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