times, it would make sense for a person to have his or her job, do it dutifully, and col-
lect paychecks, with little curiosity about the broader picture in the country, no concept of
Stalin's cruelty, unless a friend or family member was a victim of it. It's clear Aunt Nina
doesn't talk much about this. Not many Russians do.
In my imagination, those six flowers at the gulag memorial near Yaroslavl were left by
someone only now confronting the horror of the past. In many ways Russians were trained
to put painful things out of their minds and just move on to the next day, and the next day's
duties and tasks, without even asking “Why?”
. . .
I 'LL NEVER FORGET a reporting trip I made to Kaliningrad, a seemingly misplaced chunk of
Russia that is separated from the rest of the country, bordering Germany and Lithuania on
the Baltic Sea. I went to visit a Holocaust memorial that had recently opened, revealing a
In January 1945, days after Auschwitz was liberated and the Holocaust was nearly over,
the Nazis, in one of their final cruel acts, marched seven thousand Jewish prisoners north
from Poland to a beach in east Prussia. Scores of prisoners died on the march. Those who
survived were slaughtered on the beach—according to some accounts, the Jewish prisoners
were shot while standing ankle-deep in the ocean and facing the horizon.
After the war Germans who had memories of the atrocity were sent away and the region
was repopulated by Russians and became known as Kaliningrad. For fifty-five years little
was spoken about the mass killing. The Soviet government, meanwhile, didn't even single
out Jews as special victims of the Holocaust—grouping them as “heroes” with everyone
who died in the war. It was not the Communist way to single out certain religions or ethni-
cities for any reason. For people who live in this coastal village, Yantarny, in Kaliningrad,
it was as if the atrocity never took place—until a small stone was placed in 2000, amid
restaurants, to memorialize the victims. I spoke to the director of the Yantarny History Mu-
seum, Lyudmila Kirpinyova, when I visited in 2010.
“In those days everyone kept silent,” she said of Soviet times. “They didn't reveal any-
thing. Even nowadays my husband tells me if I had a shorter tongue, I would be of greater
value. But since I couldn't speak much in the past, now it is my time to speak—a lot, at
In 2010— 2010 —her husband was lecturing her about being more “valuable” if she
would just keep her mouth shut about the Holocaust!