Now and Then - Victory Day 2022

victory day leningrad 1945

Izmailovsky prospekt, Leningrad. May 1945 / Izmailovsky prospekt, St. Petersburg. May 2022

A tram with a "Victory!" slogan against the background of the Troitsky Cathedral.


From the diary of Gritz (Korolyova) Elena Semyonovna (1923 - 2010). Soldier of the 339th Independent City Battalion of the Local Anti-Aircraft Defense.

Entry from May 10, 1945:

"May 10th. Victory, victory.

My consciousness is still unable to grasp the fact the war is over. That Germany has capitulated for good. That they laid down their arms. There's some kind of numbness in my heart. I neither want to rejoice nor to laugh or cry "Hurrah!"

Yesterday I woke up from the scream that blasted through the corridor: "Victory! The war is over! Get up!" Without realising the full meaning of this word I started waking up the girls.

Everyone was waiting for this message the day before. People gathered on the streets in front of loudspeakers, cinema operators arrived with their equipment on their vehicles, but no announcement was made.

And suddenly what we'd been waiting for so long finally happened.

But what really happened? I started getting dressed, all petrified, smoked a cigarette, went through the rooms with my hair undone. There are screams of joy and congratulations everywhere. On the opposite side of our building there are sailors' windows, and they also turned on the lights and started running around.

I look at the rest of us and congratulated them, walking from one corner to another, but I can't understand anything like a dummy, like some dumb parrot. My heart shrank. Why am I not going mad? I told myself that the minute they would announce the end of the war I would go mad. But it all turned out somewhat unusual and simple.

Suddenly some spark ran somewhere deep inside me, but not the one of joy, no, it was some kind of sadness. I don't know what I was missing - maybe my father, maybe Evgeny, I don't know, I don't know. Suddenly I felt terribly hurt and I wept.

My tears went down in a torrent and I wept silently, but bitterly. Evgeny!!! Yes, he was the culprit of all this, my heart is poisoned. I'm not even aspiring for anything. I need to feel happy, as the girls say, but I can't, I'm not joyous.

Evgeny in 1944
Elena's first love, Evgeny, in 1944-1945

In the night our battalion had a meeting, they told us that May 9th was declared the Victory Day. A day off for everyone. We came to the company quarters. I played the piano a bit, the girls danced. I didn't want to sleep. I lied in bed for a long time and different thoughts swirled through my head, from 1941 to 1945. The more I thought the heavier my heart became. I didn't cry any more, but somehow it was difficult to breathe. I didn't close my eyes for a second that night.

In the morning there was a meeting again. Everybody made speeches, we cried "Hurrah!" Many of girls cried in the rank. I stood in the front row, like some cripple, facing the superiors. I clenched my teeth tight in order not to burst into tears.

The commander ordered us to attention. We honoured the fallen my a minute of silence."

Elena in 1944
Elena Gritz in November 1944

Elena met Evgeny in a Young Pioneer's camp in June 1941 where she worked as a group leader. Soon they were separated by the war, but kept exchanging letters, and the thoughts of her first love helped her survive the most terrifying months of the siege. In 1944 Evgeny was wounded and fell in love with a nurse in the hospital where he was recuperating. He married this woman and sent Elena a letter about his decision. Having learnt about it in November 1944, Elena was terribly depressed and was stricken by grief even on such long-awaited holiday. After the war she got married and raised her kids, meeting Evgeny only 18 years after the war. Both had families and children. In 1990 Evgeny died in his communal apartment all alone. His neighbours found him lying on the floor with Elena's photos scattered around him. Many decades after parting with Evgeny Elena would sign one of his letters: "I loved him all my life". Elena Gritz died in 2010, leaving 18 copybooks of diaries telling about her sometimes sorrowful, sometimes happy, but always deep and authentic life. A book of her diaries has been published by a St. Petersburg recently (in Russian), which I recommend to all WWII history lovers.

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