Geography of My Life
Becker, Heinrich. "Geography of my Life." Volk auf dem Weg, August/September 2009, 42-43.
This translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
Notes by a German from Russia (Continued from the Volk auf dem Weg, August 2009, 38-39.)
During a mid-day break [with the blacksmith] we got to talking, and I had to tell my personal story yet another time. When I returned to Maria's place, she raised her voice and asked me where I had been that whole time. I took out the repaired axe and showed it to her. On seeing the repaired axe, her tone became softer. She took it, hit it into a piece of wood, and was astonished at how deeply it penetrated the wood.
More and more, women would bring me saws and axes to make them into good repair. Soon the entire village was familiar with me. I sharpened saws and axes, repaired wagons and sleighs, and patched up used felt boots.
Most of the village's men were away involved in the war, and only old men and young boys were still around. Nearly all horses had been handed over to the war effort; cows were now being hitched up as draught animals. Before the war, much of the work in the fields had been done by the men, but now that they were not around, much was simply left undone.
After a few weeks, I had so many requests that I had to work late into the night and was still unable to finish it all in a timely manner. In the meantime, I had also been given old cooking pots and tea pots to solder. I did all this work gratis, and at times I was invited in turn for a meal or for tea.
Fairly soon it came to the point that village residents for whom I had done some repair work would try to persuade me to leave Maria and move in with them. But my heart would not allow me to leave old and helpless Maria in the lurch, for she had taken me in when I begged her to, so I always rejected those offers gratefully.
Of course, I had to figure that one of these women would not take such a rejection very well and would try to drive me out of the village. After all, everyone knew that I was German. Well, in the end I still was forced to leave, as careful as I had been.
One morning toward the end of March I was working on the sleigh outside in the yard when suddenly a large sleigh, pulled by two horses, drove in through the gate. On the sleigh a woman was sitting. She yelled at me: "What are you doing here? I don't need a servant!" I did not understand and continued to stand there awaiting what was to happen next. Maria appeared in the doorway and called out to me: "Andrei, don't say anything to her and come inside."
There I learned that the woman on the sleigh was Maria's daughter. She lived in a village nearby and had come by because she feared that the pregnant cow might have something happen to her, and she, the daughter and heiress, would lose the cow and the calf. So Maria's daughter led the cow out of the barn, tied her to the sleigh, loaded some hay and ordered me to load the second sleigh with hay. And then I was told to lead the horse hitched to the second sleigh.
We drove off toward evening and after about an hour we reached the daughter's village, where I helped to unload the hay. Then she told me I was to return to Maria. Despite my misgivings, since it was already dark and I was unfamiliar with the way back, she insisted that I disappear.
Tired and all sweaty from the unloading, I left without any food and with a growling stomach. But then, after just a few kilometers, I was totally cooled off and began to feel terribly cold -- in mid-March Siberia is still very cold! My thin jacket was wet and much too thin to protect me from the wind. Despite all, I did reach Maria's house toward midnight.
Maria was not happy with her daughter because she had sent me on my way during the night. She gave me dry clothes and something to eat. While I was eating she told me about the trouble her daughter was causing her, and she expressed the opinion that it would be better for me if I left right away in the morning. "My daughter," she added, "has sold the house and wants me to move in with her. I can't take you there with me."
The next morning I packed my tools onto the small sled, drove out of the yard and stopped in the middle of the street. Where was I to go? I looked in the direction of the smithy and at the end of the street, outside the village, I saw a small house with smoke coming out of its chimney. I had never taken note of this house, and I did not know who lived there. After only a brief pause to think, I took off in the direction of that small house.
Having reached the house, I looked for an entry. but instead found only a sign made from tied-together branches and twigs and covered with an old rag. The only window I saw was partially covered with an old rag full of holes. Around the house there was no snow because the hill it sat on was kept free of snow by the wind.
I knocked. A young woman opened and asked me what I wanted. I told her I was looking for a place to stay and pleaded with her to let me in. Two women and three children were living in the little house. The two women were roughly nineteen and twenty years old. They wore sewed-together rags that one would not really call clothes. There was not a piece of normal furniture in the interior; and I did not notice a bed or chairs, merely some simple benches. A second window, which I was able to see now, was also thoroughly frosted up. In one of the corners there was a heating stove that had a plate made of cast iron. Although a fire was burning inside it, it was rather cold in the room. A supply of firewood was nowhere to be seen.
Justa, the slightly older of the two women, asked me where I was coming from, and I told her my story, and I explained why I was on the road all alone.
It turned out that the women were sisters and were part of deported German families. They agreed that I could stay the night and asked me to help them with getting firewood.
After I sharpened the saw and repaired the axe, I took my sled and walked into the woods with one of the women. Very quickly I felled a tree, and we sawed it up and took part of it back to the little house.
(To be continued in the next issue.)
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.