Dearest Baba Anya

Maya Gincherman, Staff Writer

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August 5, 1939.

Dearest Baba Anya,

Mikhail celebrated his fifth birthday today. The garden was the perfect setting for such an event. Mama made him Korolevsky cake, his favorite. The sickening sweetness of the thick frosting always compliments the salty-bitterness of the walnuts so impeccably. He swam with his friends in the pond, as Mama, Papa, and I ate and conversed with the adults, beneath the willow trees on the shoreline. He simply adores the hand-carved, wooden soldier you left for him. He parades around with it, lifting its sword to the sky and “leading it to victory.” Thank you for the Matryoshka you left for me, as well. The crimson and golden flower patterns intertwining along its bodice are so intricate, it almost seems as though the petals will blow off in the wind. 

With love, your granddaughter, 

Aleksandra 

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September 3, 1939.

Dearest Baba Anya,

Papa received a letter from Uncle Anton and Aunt Anastasia today. There was such fear loaming in his chestnut-colored eyes. He called Mama into the kitchen and upon emerging from behind the door, she shared the same look of panic deeply hidden within her eyes. When I questioned them, they simply told me not to worry and to take Mikhail out to the pond. Do you know what is wrong?

With concern, your granddaughter,

Aleksandra

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March 5, 1940.

Dearest Baba Anya,

I have been told Nazi troops are planning to invade France soon. We huddle around the radio to hear news. The announcer’s voice is frail with fear and quivers as he delivers whatever updates he has. I am frightened, as Uncle Anton and Aunt Anastasia have already been forced to flee. Will we be next? They keep inching closer Baba Anya. I wish so desperately to be strong for little Mikhail, but I have been tossing sleeplessly night after night for months now, in fear. Papa has hidden the menorah beneath the loose floorboard in the bedroom, along with the prayer books and Shabbat candles.  Please send me some kind of sign or message.

With so many questions, your granddaughter,

Aleksandra

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May 25, 1940.

Dearest Baba Anya, 

Baba Anya, what shall we do? The invasion of France began fifteen days ago. There is already talk of invasion thickening the air here in Vitebsk. Although, I believe they are simply rumors, who can know for certain? Have you heard any news from Aunt Anastasia and Uncle Anton? Papa does not speak of them any longer and Mama begins to wail, like a small child, at the very mention of their names. 

 With desperation, your granddaughter,

Aleksandra

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September 1, 1940.

Dearest Baba Anya,

I apologize for the lack of letters over these last few months. Mama has become paranoid and refuses to leave the house. Papa is hardly ever home, as he has been working long hours to combat his anxiety. They have left me to care for little Mikhail and I do not even have time for myself, let alone to write letters. The air has become gray and heavy with combustion. Each night Papa returns home hacking splatters of blood into his handkerchief. He refuses to get a doctor due to our financial state. I am frightened Baba Anya. What should I do?

In need of guidance, your granddaughter,

Aleksandra

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December 20, 1940.

Dearest  Baba Anya,

Papa’s condition has become far worse and he is now bedridden. He looks so frail beneath the quilts, that Mama has sewn him. He reminds me of the little, white mice burying their heads in the snow, just waiting to be swiped away by a snow owl. I have heard that the Soviet forces have been forced to retreat in Finland. Everyday they grow closer. 

With fear, your granddaughter,

Aleksandra

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March 10, 1941.

Dearest Baba Anya,

Papa is dead. At least he will be with you now. Mama still refuses to leave the house. We have no source of income. I fear Mikhail and I will have to flee without her. We are planning to leave in a week and hopefully we will make to Sweden within a few months. I fear Mikhail will not make it through the long journey, but we must try or stay and be murdered. 

With remorse, your granddaughter,

Aleksandra

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April 7, 1941.

Dearest Baba Anya,

We left home about two weeks ago. The loaves of black bread Mama gave us, have already begun to become stale. The fresh-water rivers are sparse and beginning to become polluted. Mikhail cries as we journey, begging me to stop in the towns we pass. I tell him we can’t and quickly turn away. I can’t stand to see his azure, blue gaze of despair peering up at me. My throat is dry and rough, like steamy sand on a beach. I collect wild berries and nuts, or whatever I can find along the way. The boiling rays of the sun beat down onto my back, plastering my blouse to my skin and sending beads of sweat dripping down my thighs. I allowed Mikhail to abandon his shirt within the first few days, though now his pale back has begun to peel and turn bright red from the heat of the sun. It is hell, but at least we are alive. 

In agony, your granddaughter,

Aleksandra 

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June 25, 1941.

Dearest Baba Anya,

They attacked Belarus three days ago. I do not know if they have found Mama yet, but I know they will. I know she will join you and Papa soon. I remember kissing her goodbye for the last time. Mikhail and I have been traveling for nearly three months now. The heat, exhaustion, and hunger slowly weakens us more and more everyday. Whatever shall we do?

Praying for any sort of comfort, your granddaughter,

Aleksandra

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June 31, 1941. 

Dearest Baba Anya,

Mikhail has become gravely ill and we have had to stop and rest. Chills rage up and down his spine. He vomits up acid and abdominal juices, as there is no food left in his stomach. He cries out in agony, as his limbs ache. Please look down on us and help to guide us to safety and back to good health. 

Groveling on my knees for Mikhail, your granddaughter,

Aleksandra

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July 5, 1941.

Dearest Baba Anya,

Mikhail is gone. Before he died he cried for his Mama. He is with her now. I was caught by the Nazi troops yesterday, whilst I was collecting berries on the edge of the woods. They brought me to a fenced-in area with wooden shacks. I assume those who have not already fallen dead from the dirty air and beatings of the guards will be slaughtered soon enough. See you soon.

Your granddaughter,

Aleksandra