When I was a kid, I spent 4 or 5 summers in a row in a small village near a Ukrainian town of Korosten’. My grandfather and I would get on a train or a bus from my hometown of Gomel and take a 6-hour trip to his friend’s farm. Pavel and Galina (my grandfather’s friends) had a small apple orchard and raised goats and rabbits. To a kid a place like that was a paradise. I spent my days swimming in the river, hiking, roasting potatoes on a bonfire and goofing off with local village kids. I never wondered who Pavel and Galina really were and how they know my grandfather.
This past weekend my mom asked me put together a book of old photographs as a present for my grandmother. As we were going through a pile of old photographs, I came across the photograph below:
In the back, my grandfather is on the left and my grandmother is right next to him. In the front row, the two people sitting down are Pavel and Galina.
As we started talking about people in this photograph, I asked my mom how my grandfather met Pavel and Galina. As it turned out, like with most of my grandfather’s friends, he met Pavel in Vorkuta GULAG. Unlike his other friends, Pavel was not an inmate – as it turned out he was a guard at Vorkuta Mine #7 labor camp. He was one of the good guys and from what my grandmother and my mom told me he saved quite a few lives.
It’s been almost 10 years since Pavel passed away; Galina passed away 2 years ago. I was absolutely shocked and amazed that I had known these people since childhood and had no idea about their relationship with my grandfather.
Who knows what else I find out in the next few days…
This man’s name was Gherman. He used to visit my grandfather a few times a year, and I always looked forward to his visits. He had encyclopedic knowledge of pretty much everything; he spoke German, French, English and Yiddish; best of all, he was as obsessed with photography as I was. Years later, after I immigrated to the United States, I found out that Gherman spent 15 years in GULAG. He met my grandfather in 1947 at Mine 7 in Vorkuta where my grandfather saved his life when Gherman’s right arm was torn off by heavy machinery.
When I began to research my grandfather’s life, I found out that Gherman immigrated to Israel shortly after I moved to the United States. I called him and we talked for almost 4 hours. He told me about GULAG camps and about my grandfather. He sent me a 35-page handwritten letter with first hands accounts of his life in Soviet labor camps.
Yesterday I found out from my grandmother that Gherman passed away a few weeks ago. He was the last of my grandfather’s friends who were in prison camps with him. When I heard the news, I cried. Rest in peace…
This has been an absolutely insane year and we really needed to get out of Pittsburgh for a few days, change the scenery and do something fun. We usually take one big trip (usually abroad) every year; this year we picked Ireland by pretty much pointing blindly at the map of Europe. We were a bit concerned about traveling that far with two small children – Daniella is 3.5 years old and Sophia is only 11 months old. We weren’t too worried about Daniella – she is a seasoned traveler. She’s traveled to 4 countries outside of the US and has been on at least 20 flights. Sophia is a travel noob and we weren’t sure how well she would handle the trip.
We had a blast! The trip was incredible and we managed to see and do way more than we expected, even with two small kids in tow. Instead of rambling, let me present to you – Ireland: 6 days in 6 minutes.
Trip to Ireland, 2012
from Dmitriy Babichenko
If you prefer to see individual images, you can see photos from the entire trip on Flickr