5 Март 2015| Shelyakhovskaya (Gruzdeva) Maria Aleksandrovna

The War Must Not Write Off Anything


Alexander and Sophia, 1937.

1942, 1 December. [from A. I. Gruzdev S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma] № 139.

Today I want to write to you about my life, so that you wouldn’t worry for me at all. I live in a two-person blindage together with my orderly Yemelyan. In the blindage there is an iron stove, which we stoke almost incessantly.

We sleep on wooden beds, I have a blanket and even a pillow. The blindage has a window, and at night on my table shines an electric bulb, which is fed by a storage battery. Yemelyan usually covers the walls with newspapers, and in my corner even with a bed-sheet. The ceiling is upholstered with a cape-tent, the floor in the blindage is made of planks. In a word, it is not a bit worse than a communal apartment, and, perhaps, it is even better than our own apartment, since the air in the blindage is completely dry and pure.

There is a luxurious washing-house nearby, and all this without any fee for utilities. Moving to another place you often live simply without any houses, but if you stay a little longer, then after 3-4 days new houses appear, sometimes of an even better configuration. By the way, on my table there is always a telephone, most often the apparatus appears when I do not have even a faint semblance of a dwelling: without a telephone my life and activity are unthinkable. I should say, however, that I’m so fed up with this type of technology that if I live to see the end of the War, I won’t install a telephone at home: since there is no rest either in the daytime or at night.

1942, 4 December. [from S. I. Gruzdeva to A. I Gruzdev at the front] № 98.

Natasha and I are at home, we came from the hospital on the 1st. Natasha’s ear does not hurt, but she hears poorly with her right ear. They say that it will pass. I’m still on sick leave. I busy myself with her ears as much as it is within my ability—I apply compresses, I guard every step so that she won’t catch cold. In response to your appeal the militcomat [military commissariat] arranged 200 gr of butter and promised valenki for me. I feel well, but my arm still aches a little, I can do almost nothing with it. At home I do not lie in bed at all, I do a lot with one hand, also help somewhat with the left one, for ex[ample], I sew, peel potatoes, but I do not forget my bitter experience, I cradle my arm more to my side—to be hospitalized for a 3rd time would be simply indecent.

As to your letter, I did not pass it on to the doctor—I had already gotten well when it arrived, and you wrote about my grave condition, so, I think, it was better not to pass it on then.

The affairs that are going bad are those concerning the goats—we now have almost nothing to feed them, and therefore they give almost no milk—one glass a day.

Many letters disappear; probably, the censor does not have enough time to examine them.

1942, 6 December. [from S. I. Gruzdeva to A. I Gruzdev at the front] № 99.

Natasha has stayed indoors with me all week. She can hear now almost normally. Tomorrow, I think, I’ll let her go to kindergarten. I’ll wrap up her ears, and let her go—the nourishment at home is obviously insufficient.[1]

About myself I don’t even know what to say. The arm is just the same—now it hurts and then it stops hurting, the wounds do not heal, my sick leave is prolonged again and again. I do some things at home, although with difficulty, and, as for work, I go for dressings daily.

Today the electricity is on and therefore it is possible to write a letter. Sometimes it is necessary to go to bed at 7-8 in the evening, since there is no kerosene [for a kerosene lamp].

1942, 9 December. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma] № 142.

My happiness.

You are wrong to worry about me.

I’ve written you more than once already that I mustn’t be worried about. I’ve been in the War and directly at the front for already about one-and-a-half years, and I’ve learned something. Even in the most difficult circumstances, until now, I did not lose my presence of spirit, and all this together gives me the possibility of remaining whole and unharmed.

It is also absolutely certain that your love for me protects me.

1942, 12 December. [from S. I. Gruzdeva to A. I Gruzdev at the front] № 101.

Today it seems I can make you happy: in recent days I’ve been treated with a quartz lamp, and there is a noticeable improvement. Natasha feels very well and is careful of cold herself, like an adult. At the fir-tree celebration[2] she will dance the dance of little pieces of ice—she rehearses at home in front of me.

Yesterday I received your letter with the description of your dwelling—all this is very good—only one small inconvenience was not mentioned by you—your summer-resort tents have been erected at the front. I also was enraptured by your shining identification marks on different parts of your field shirt, but in the same way for me it would be more pleasant to see you without decorations, with a white collar and a civilian necktie.

Ah, darling, if only you would come to see us! Well, even if you will not come to see us—if only we lived to see the end of the War.

1942, 12 December. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma] № 143.

I received your letter written in the post office, was glad that you had left the hospital, but how is your health now. Somehow, like before, my heart aches strongly: probably, this is some illness. But in other respects I am as in good health as before. Our meeting, my wee girl, is postponed for an indefinite time, perhaps, however, this even not bad. Only my very strong desire is to see Natasha.

1942, 14 December. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma] № 144.

As to Natasha’s hearing, do not worry very much. In my childhood my hearing almost completely disappeared, for about 2 or 3 years (from 1921 to 1923), but later I began to hear quite well, as you know. It is necessary to guard her not from cold in general, but from wind, which can blow directly into her ear.

How, Sonechka, darling, Natashenka cheered me with her letter. The most touching is the fact that she wrote her own dear child thoughts, being alone in the hospital.

If, Sonechka, it is too far for you all to carry water, why don’t you try to melt snow. Last year we drank snow water all winter and ate food cooked in it.

1942, 14 December. [from S. I. Gruzdeva to A. I Gruzdev at the front] № 102.

My beloved! Now it seems I can make you happy—I am getting well. Natasha also makes me happy by her appearance and behavior. Her appetite is simply monstrous—she eats more than a plate of soup, about 160-200 grams [5.6-7 oz] of bread, and something more on top of that—and everything at once, plus in kindergarten: 400 gr [14.1 oz] of bread, soup, and 2 servings of porridge. I am enclosing Natasha’s letter. She is beginning to write in cursive letters.

Very many of your letters do not arrive. About the Masquerade[3] I did not think properly, you are right. We have seen and reassessed much, but the essence, nevertheless, has remained—therefore we understand each other so well, this is because we have something greater than our own personas. This is why quarrels between us have been so rare.

Now I often hear here, in Totma, the saying: “The War will write off everything”. It is said by people of different professions, ages and with reference to all life situations. The War will write off treason, the War will write off the unfit work of a school, the War, in short, will write off everything. And this is so horrible—the War in particular must not write off anything.

1942, 16 December. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma] № 144.

Today I’ll write you a rather short little letter. I do have time these days, but I am trying to read something: I am learning military science and I have even read Dickens’ Great Expectations.

It would be very desirable to write something about the experience of the War (I am occupied by this in the performance of official duty).

It will be hard for you to go to the school after your illness. There will be no time to get prepared, in the conditions of the absence of light[4], but without preparation there will be no satisfaction in the work.

What do your children and you yourselves do when there is no light? Are you actually sleeping all night? Aren’t you bringing in splinters for illumination? In olden times they these served us well. Matches were also magnificently substituted for by flint, silicon and tinder.

1942, 16 December. [from S. I. Gruzdeva to A. I Gruzdev at the front] № 103.

At long last, Sashenka, tomorrow I am going to work. My arm still is not yet fully healed, but, in all likelihood, it will heal. Natashenka is doing well too. I think this information is the best gift for you for the New Year. What to wish you in my New Year greeting(6.28)? Indeed, still the same as in the past year: victory, the soonest victory, health and reunion. How many times more will I have to write such greetings?

1942, 20 December. [from S. I. Gruzdeva to A. I Gruzdev at the front] № 104.

It has been 3 days that I’ve been on the job. Now I will not repeat what I wrote at the beginning of the school year—I’ve become calmer, and it has become quieter in the classroom, although it is still far from ideal. I will now have two classes of fifth years, since one teacher was taken to the DDPE. There are many difficulties in connection with work and family—the light sometimes shines so dimly that it is impossible to read anything, sometimes it is completely out, the days are short, there is no kerosene. And we need to have time to do a lot.

My arm has not healed yet, it bends and unbends badly, there is swelling, it is painful, but there’s absolutely no time to go to see the medics, I think it’ll heal, since in comparison with the past it moves well and almost does not interfere with my educational labor.

Natasha is in good health, but gives me new distress—she is very rude, obviously imitating the manner of talking in the kindergarten. This rudeness is already becoming intolerable. Yesterday, for example, she talked to me like this: “See here, you’ve fed me with dry potatoes, now my teeth ache”. In a word, she scolds at me like a tradeswoman at the market-place, and it is hard to believe that this is a five-year girl.

Vasiliy has not written for a long time, Valya is seriously worried.

The winter this year is warm, to our happiness—not much firewood is needed. We do have firewood, but not sawn and not split. Valya attends to it with the aid of Lilya and her elderly father.

1942, 25 December. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma] № 145.

At the place where I have worked and I am working, I’ve been promoted again and now I have been confirmed in such a position where, according to the establishment, there should be a colonel. This, I would say, is far too much, because I don’t have a military education. It goes without saying that my general education helps, but even so, even so I always have understood and understand the role of knowledge.

1942, 27 December. [from A. I. Gruzdev to S. I. Gruzdeva in Totma, unnumbered]

Sonechka, I am happy today.

Karmyshev, Victor Ivanovich, has gone on a duty trip to your region, and it was possible for me to send a parcel, good for our time, with him. Of food has been sent: 1) 800 grams of butter (it is absolutely unnecessary to me), 2) about 200-300 grams of pasta, 3) two cans of canned food.

Last year during November I was in Leningrad and I took some things of warm underwear for myself, and, besides, going to the War I also took something with me. All this is definitely not necessary to me and has lain in the truck in vain. Knowing your miserable situation with clothing, I sent you:

1) my black flannel pajamas

2) a woolen blouse […]

5) two pairs of woolen socks and two—cotton-knitted […]

7) a towel […]

10) to Natasha — a silk hankie (it washes well in cold water).

See, what a lot of good stuff! Indeed, with this clothing you must manage to live for five years without me. This, perhaps, is everything that remains from your and my Leningrad property. In the apartment everything must have been ransacked. Well, let it be. If we overcome the Germans—we’ll get what we need. And around Stalingrad they are being beaten strongly.

1942, 31 December. [from the diary of S. I. Gruzdeva] This is the New Year’s night of 1943.

Valya is already a widow, her children are orphans. There have been no letters from Sasha for a long time. Can it be that I am now a widow too?.. I am sitting alone and weeping. I looked over his photographs again, flooded them with tears.

At the school nothing goes right. The children hate each other, they jeer at each other, hate the teachers, school, studies, books, knowledge. There is nothing sacred to them. I do not know if I will manage.

When will the anguish end and will life ever begin? When will I have sufficient food, when will my feet not freeze and when will my heart cease to ache and my eyes cease to swell because of tears? Or will everything end with this?

1942, 31 December. [telegram] 31st. From the t[own] of Totma. Totma Junior Secondary School № 1 to Sofia Ivanovna Gruzdeva. We send our New Year greetings to you and to the teaching staff of your school. Students of class 7b.


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Source: Being Grounded in Love. A History of One Russian Family: 1872–1981. — Saint Petersburg: Publishing House of Zvezda Magazine, 2010. pp. 244-255. (Number of copies:1000).

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


[1] At the kindergarten children were fed.

[2] Fir-tree celebration in a kindergarten—a celebration of the coming New Year, where children usually perform songs and dances upon the theme of winter and New Year.

[3] Masquerade—a drama by M. Yu. Lermontov; in several previous letters was discussed the tragedy of its main character, caused by jealousy.

[4] Both daylight and artificial light was scarce during the Wartime winters.


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

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