Last night I had the pleasure of attending an event honoring Victory Day, the day the Nazis surrendered to the Soviet Union. In attendance were Russian citizens from the Schenectady area, almost all of whom had been alive during World War II. A handful of them were veterans who had served in World War II, and they understood firsthand the atrocities, tragedies and triumphs which Professor Stephen Berk spoke about at the event. Professor Berk, a history professor whose knowledge on the subject of the Holocaust is world-renowned, gave an apt lecture describing the turn of the tide of the war between 1943 and 1945. He spoke about Hitler’s blunders and Stalin’s right choice in listening to his generals; he spoke about the tank battle at Kursk and the resiliency of the Soviet people at Stalingrad; he spoke about how, after August of 1943, the Nazis were never on the offensive again on the Eastern Front. “In America we have a saying,” he said to the veterans sitting in the room, “that the American soldiers who fought in World War II were the Greatest Generation. I say to you, you also are a part of that generation. Thank you.” Many people in the room shed tears.
I had the pleasure and the privilege of sitting next to a man named Ilya who had been an officer in the war. All the veterans present at the Victory Day celebration were highly decorated, it seemed, and I thought it fitting that these great men were honored for everything they had done in World War II. Ilya’s wife spoke English pretty well, and with her help I was able to really apply the two and a half terms of Russian language I have accumulated here at Union. I found I was able to listen and understand more than I could speak and answer back to them, but I was complemented on my accent several times which helped me try and speak more with them in their native tongue. With a little assistance, I was able to tell them how my grandfather, Lee Duval, had been a gunner on B-17 bombers during the war. My grandfather recently passed away and it meant a lot to me that I could connect with these people in a personal way. It made it more meaningful to me that I could do it in their language.