When One Person Reaches Out With Love

By Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Yevgeny Yevtushenko, one of the most loved Russian poets, tells us of a transforming moment. In 1944, Yevtushenko’ mother took him from Siberia to Moscow. They were among those who witnessed a procession of twenty thousand German war prisoners marching through the street of Moscow.

The pavement swarmed with onlookers, cordoned off by soldier and police. The crowd was mostly women – Russian women with hands roughened by hard work, lips untouched by lipstick and with thin, hunched shoulders which had borne half of the burden of war. Every one of them must have had a father or a husband, a brother or a son killed by the Germans.

They gazed with hatred in the direction from which the column was to appear at last we saw it. The Germans generals marched at the head, massive chins stuck out , lips folded disdainfully, their whole demeanor meant to show superiority over there plebeian victors. “They smell of eau-de-cologne, the bastards,” “Someone in the crowd said with hatred. The women were clenching their fists. The soldiers and policemen had all they could do to hold them back. All at once, something happened to them.

They saw the ordinary Germans boot soldiers, then unshaven, wearing dirty, bloodstained bandages, hobbling on crutches or leaning on the shoulders of her comrades; the soldiers walked with their heads down. The street became dead silent – the only sound was the shuffling of boots and the thumping of crutches. Then I saw an elderly woman in broken-down boots push herself forward and touch a policeman’s shoulder, saying: “Let me go through.”

There must have been something about her that made him step aside. She went up to the column, took from inside her coat something wrapped in a coloured handkerchief and unfolded it. It was a crust of black bread. She pushed it awkwardly into the pocket of a soldier, so exhausted that he was tottering on his feet. And now suddenly from every side women were running toward the soldiers, pushing into their hands bread, cigarettes, whatever they had.

The soldiers were no longer enemies. They were people.

(Orthodox Peace Fellowship)