A few days ago I learnt about a website which contained digitised records of all people who were awarded the medal "For the Defense of Leningrad". Out of pure curiosity I entered my surname and found out that my paternal grandmother, about whom I knew the least of all my relatives cause she died when I was 3, received this medal. My parents never told me about her life in Leningrad during the siege, probably because my other grandma didn't get on well with her, and it was quite a surprise for me. Just like my grandfather, Robert Gustavich Shmidke, she worked at the Nevsky Machine Building Plant in the name of Lenin and this is likely where they met each other and married before the war. As this document says, she "actively participated in the defense of the Factory Shop #12 during the artillery shellings and air raids in 1941". Most likely this meant she sounded hand crank air raid sirens, hustled people in bomb shelters, cleared the rubble, helped carry the wounded and the dead and maybe even put out incendiary bombs.
Both foreign and Russian tourists often asked me whether I had any relatives in Leningrad during the Siege and the best I could answer was "not to my knowledge". I knew the relatives from my mother's side were not from the city and, as I also found out online quite recently, my grandfather Robert who moved to Leningrad from a German colony in Ukraine in 1930, was drafted in the Red Army on the first day of the war. I still don't know where exactly he served and whether he had any war decorations. As for my grandma Maria, I assumed she was from some other town cause no one in my family spoke about her life in Leningrad during the war. Now it appears that the apartment where I was born and raised was located but a few hundred meters from the place where she made her contribution to the Victory and I was totally unaware about it. Now I feel like a huge gap in my family wartime history has been filled, although there is still a lot of jigsaw pieces to be found to get the whole picture.
In a way, I'm even glad I learnt about it so late in my life and my interest in this topic wasn't provoked by something personal. In a way this personal connection devalues the urge to learn about such grandiose tragedy which transcends the boundaries of vested personal interest. I was also lucky to have grown up in the "timeless 1990's" when nobody cared about this and I wasn't subjected to a barrage of trite and sententious propaganda which rather caused aversion and disinterest in all things WW2 for many people than achieved its intended goals of honouring the country's history and instilling a sense of pride and respect for its war heroes. At some point in my mid-20's I discovered this topic for myself, starting from a blank page and going deeper and deeper into it. Now that I've found this unexpected family connection I will have to think long and hard on what to make of it. Despite my reservations, one of the main tourists' requests is the personal touch to the subject of their interest, either physical or imaginary. A tourist wants to be virtually carried to the place where the events of one's interest took place, and if the narrator's family history, besides the books, photographs, museum items and shrapnel dents on the granite of the city's monuments will contribute to this, then so be it.
Shmidke Maria Sergeyevna, born in 1908.
Place of work: State All-Soviet Union awarded the Labour Red Banner Nevsky Machine Building Plant in the name of Lenin
Serial number: AV - 66375
Shmidke Maria Sergeyevna / Factory Shop #12, menial labourer / actively participated in the defense of the Factory Shop #12 during the artillery shellings and air raids in 1941