27 Октябрь 2014| Shelyakhovskaya (Gruzdeva) Maria Aleksandrovna

Family Archive: The First Autumn of the War

1941, 9 September. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma]

I am living as before. Still traveling by automobile. The other day passed through Shuvalovka, Aleksandria, New Peterhof, Bobylskoye[1]. What wonderful places these are, how many memories, wonderful like dreams, are associated with them. Everything has been violated by the murderous Germans. We are beating them fiercely, but Hitler is now playing an all-or-nothing game.

You didn’t take almost any belongings with you. I don’t know if it is possible to help you now in some way. The other day I sent you 350 rub. After 15 Sept 41 I’ll send more.

1941, 11 September. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma]

I continue to travel as before. I go through those places where we used to live in dachas, where we, a long time ago, were in a rest home. […] We fight unsparing of our lives—does life matter, really, when Leningrad is threatened with a barbarous invasion.

I haven’t been at home since 12 Aug 41. In the newspapers you must have read about the bombardments of the city. They say some bombs fell near our house.

“Our house” is a small two-storey house at the Griboydov Canal Embankment, near Mikhailovsky Gardens, where the family lived before the War. Now in that flat on the second floor Grandad was living alone.

1941, 12 September. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma]

As letters travel for about three weeks, one gets some strange impressions from them. I receive letters from you which were written when I was still in the rear, while it is a month already that we’ve been at the firing line. How much time, it seems, has passed since.

A long time ago I wrote to you to send a parcel to me. You needn’t. I’ve bought mittens already, and I already have two knives. As for the rest, I’m provided for with everything.

Take care of Natasha. Care for her physical and moral development. I lovingly kiss both you and my little wee girl—Natashenka.


1941, 14 September. [from S. I. Gruzdeva to A. I. Gruzdev at the front]

Never has my life been so uncertain, but uncertainty is not the worst that may happen to a human being. In these days, menacing for the whole country, the keenness of private feeling somehow, indeed, becomes obliterated. The fate of the nation, of the state, even more—the fate of civilization is hanging in the balance.

It often seems to me that my place is there, next to you, near the walls of Leningrad; here, it is difficult for me to live. But I remember your directions—and you are the highest authority to me. Here gunnery is not heard, but I hear it in my heart—I am always together with you, with you all—convey these words to your comrades—dear, kindred defenders of Leningrad. You are for me all the colors of life, all its warmth, all joy, all meaning. Natasha is still small, I share her life, but she cannot share mine. You, only you, have been that second half of my life, without which everything is colorless, sad and somehow indifferent. I also know how you love me. And now, my dear, my only one—with what a pain I am saying this to you—strain every nerve, don’t spare anything, even (terrible to utter) don’t spare your life, if necessary—but defend Leningrad. Can it be that this city, the most lyrical city in the world [2] — can be downtrodden, bloodied? Sashenka, I know you, I understand what Leningrad is for you, and I don’t doubt—and my advice is not needed here—that you put the enormous tasks of the state first. I know your noble hot nature (how difficult it is to say in a letter everything you feel and think), and I’m writing about what is understood without any words only for one reason: in order that you would not doubt that I here, too, in this hard formidable hour, think and feel the same as you. Accept then my wish, which comes from the depths of my heart—overcome and return to me.

Beloved city…, beloved you…, and ahead are long months of waiting, tense and hard waiting. But when a nation fights with the thought—to overcome or to die—it overcomes. I believe in this.

1941, 27 September. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma]

I am, as before, healthy and working. It’s only a pity that we are located close to our city. In the last several days the enemy has sustained big losses, and his advance has been checked. We are completely convinced that he will never enter the city.

My work is extremely responsible, full of dangers and the liveliest interest. I am working as the liaison officer (precisely so!), communicating between the armyheadquart and the divheadquart [the army headquarters and the division headquarters]. All my life passes in traveling. I won’t talk about the fact that, being in an automobile or walking, we are often under fire, but—can you imagine, darling—a person gets used to everything. The feeling of fear is almost unknown to me, and, probably, this is why I am invulnerable. The inhumanity and barbarity of the Germans have no limits. No longer ago than yesterday he [the enemy] burnt the palace near our rest home where once we spent so many beautiful days. Everything has passed like a beautiful dream, the present, however, is temporary. There will be days when again the peaceful sun will shine above us, and Hitlerism will be remembered like a heavy nightmare.

1941, 28 September. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma]

If possible, buy more potatoes in the fall, dry up a good deal of mushrooms, etc., in order to get through the winter with enough food. It is necessary to do it. I live well so far. In my command there is a truck, a one-and-a half-tonner. We put hay into the body, we have a tarpaulin, plywood [3] so it’s quite warm to sleep. Sometimes we sleep in blindages, if there is serious shelling. We are fed well so far. My clothes are warm enough. I’d like to come over Leningrad to get more warm clothes, but, unfortunately, it is impossible and, evidently, won’t be possible for a long time.

Around Leningrad September frosts are a norm, therefore warm clothes were very important in this time already. It becomes clear from the letter that army logistics was not coping with supplying the soldiers with warm clothing and all necessary equipment—the Citizens-in-Arms were solving this problem themselves, insofar as they could. In his letter dated 26 August, Dad asks Mama to send him, if possible, a parcel with mittens,—and that he had already bought himself the knife, which he had earlier asked her to send him. In September he also bought himself mittens; later on, when he happened to get into Leningrad, he took warm clothes from home (we’ll read about this in his October letters). One of his brother-soldiers in the fall of 1941 wore a home-knitted sweater; decades after the war he and Dad recalled how in the evenings, by the light of the campfire, the owner of the sweater had to take lice out of it for hours on end: “A louse sat in every stitch”.

1941, 30 September. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma]

The mail has difficulty accessing this place where we are now. Last time—I wrote about it already—I received 4 letters from you at once. I’m waiting for the next helping of letters.

In one of my letters I asked you to write more about our wee girl. Write everything: how she is nourished, how she is clothed, whether you are teaching her to read. I would strongly recommend chatting with her in one of the foreign languages.

I, my good beloved one, love you deeply and I’ll try to come back to you.

Live, darling, and remember our conversations: regard life philosophically. Do you remember from Nikitin[4]: “If alive—we’ll live, if we die—so we’ll die, / as if no sorrow were in our heart ”. This is what is needed—do live so.


[1] Shuvalovka, New Peterhof, Bobylskoye—hamlets in the zone of palace-park ensembles around Leningrad; Aleksandria—a park in Peterhof.

[2] Calling the city “the most lyrical”, Mama means both its unique beautiful sights shaped by its architecture, which is in beautiful harmony with its rivers and canals.

[3] Apparently the plywood was used with the tarpaulin for shielding from wind, and, maybe, also from rain.

[4] I. S. Nikitin (1824–1861)—a Russian poet.

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

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