Part 7 (Predictions of War)
I was aware later that people had been anticipating war, but nobody said very much.
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Calm before the Storm
Russians go into mysticism and signs and dreams and so forth. Whether someone realized what was happening in politics and that’s how it began, it’s hard to know. But here is what I remember.
In either 1939 or 40, a bigger girl told us a frightening story. She heard of an incident that was a bad omen. A woman appeared from a wheat field holding a stalk of wheat in one hand and a scythe in the other and she told the passerby's that first there will be a year of plenty and then war.
The thought of war scared me. I didn’t know about the pact between Hitler and Stalin or the cause of the scarcity of food. I spent many days standing on long food lines. Then suddenly there was plenty of food.
I only vaguely remember it, but it impressed me because it came true. Suddenly in ’39 the stores had everything. We didn’t know is that all our food had been sent to Germany – or maybe it was after that. Then Stalin and Hitler broke their pact. Russia stopped sending the food so it was around for us. Then of course, in ’41 Germany attacked Russia.
The Molotov Ribbentrop pact signed on August 27, 1939 set out the spheres of influence of Germany and the Soviet Union and led to the partitioning of Poland. On February 11, 1940 it was followed by the German-Soviet Commercial Agreement by which the Soviets agreed to deliver oil, grain, and raw materials to Germany. These ended with Germany’s invasion of Soviet territories in June 1941.
The timing of this story doesn’t make sense historically (food was sent to Germany well after 1939).
I don’t know what really happened but this was the story I heard over and over. Correct information did not come from newspapers. I was aware enough of the political situation that I kept my mouth shut and I was aware that I had to keep a secret – I didn’t tell others that my parents were educated. I absolutely had to keep secret that my great-grandfather was a priest. That was like a taboo in the family. One of my aunts perished because she was religious – she went to church – she was my father’s brother’s wife. You just kept these things quiet. You didn’t tell anything to anyone. You always lived in suspicion.
Jokes circulated about the government, anti-government jokes, and I heard them even as a kid. There was a network. Like we always thought that Stalin killed Lenin – that he never died naturally in the struggle for power. I grew thinking that. I grew up thinking that Stalin killed his first wife. I don’t know if that’s ever been proven or not – that speculation – but you grew up hearing or knowing this. It was almost like it permeated the air.
In 1939 Hitler went as far as Galicia which was always contested between Ukraine and Poland. Stalin annexed Galicia, the Baltic countries and part of Finland. KIev is off the map to the right.
Source: Lonio17 https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31862826