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Anna’s Letter – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman

April 5th, 2012 · 2 Comments · Genocide, Prose, Writing, WW2

A letter from Anna Semyonovna to her son, Viktor Shtrum from a Ukrainian Ghetto:

Vitya, I’m certain this letter will reach you, even though I’m now behind the German front line, behind the barbed wire of the Jewish ghetto. I won’t receive your answer, though; I won’t be here to receive it. I want you to know about my last days. Like that, it will be easier for me to die.

Night is a special time in the ghetto, Vitya. You know, my dearest, how I always taught you to tell the truth – a son must always tell the truth to his mother. But then so must a mother tell the truth to her son. Don’t imagine, Vityenka, that your mother’s a strong woman. I’m weak. I’m afraid of pain and I’m terrified to sit down in the dentist’s chair. As a child I was afraid of darkness and thunder. As an old woman I’ve been afraid of illness and loneliness; I’ve been afraid that if I fall ill, I won’t be able to go back to work again; that I’ll become a burden to you and that you’ll make me feel it. I’ve been afraid of the war. Now, Vitya, I’m seized at night by a horror that makes my heart grow numb. I’m about to die. I want to call out to you for help.

When you were a child, you used to run to me for protection. Now, in moments of weakness, I want to hide my head on your knees’ I want you to be strong and wise; I want you to protect and defend me. I’m not always strong in spirit, Vitya – I can be weak too. I often think about suicide, but something holds me back – some weakness, or strength, or irrational hope.

They say that children are our future, but how can one say that of these children? They aren’t going to become musicians, cobblers or tailors. Last night I saw very clearly how this whole noisy world of beared, anxious fathers and querulous grandmothers who bake honey-cakes and goose-necks – this whole world of marriage customs, proverbial sayings and Sabbaths will disappear for ever under the earth. After the war life will begin to stir once again, but we won’t be here, we will have vanished – just as the Aztecs once vanished.

Vityenka, I’m finishing this letter and taking it to the ghetto fence to hand to my friend. It’s not easy to break off. It’s my last conversation with you. Once I send it off, I will have left you for ever and you will never know of my last hours. This is our final parting. What can I say to you in farewell, in eternal farewell? That these last days, as during my whole life, you have been my joy. I’ve remembered you at night, the clothes you wore as a boy, your first books….. I’ve closed my eyes and imagined that you were shielding me, my dearest, from the horror that is approached. And then I’ve remembered what is happening here and felt glad that you were apart from me – and that this terrible fate will pass you by!

Vityenka… This is the last line of your mother’s last letter to you. Live, live, live forever… Mama.

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  • eveningprimrose

    This beautiful letter….

  • Robert O

    How heart breaking and honest, I have tears in my eyes.