Saturday, 12 May 2012

Interesting facts from individual Russian history, part 2

Here continues the story of my Grossmama Maria

Jonathan and Maria were rich and happy and generous. Jonathan gave money to schools, libraries, hospitals and a prison. He was just about to buy a whole street in Moscow and turn it into an artists' colony.

Then came the Great War, and it wasn't popular to be a German in Russia during the war. He was treated with suspicion. But they didn't take away his property. That came later. According to the family chronicle, when they confiscated all his millions, he said: "What a relief, they were such a nuisance!" For obvious reasons he had not read the Moomin stories, but this was a very Moominish comment.

The one who wasn't happy was Elly who had dreamed of going to Paris to study music at the Conservatory. But there was nothing she could do about it. So when she was old enough she went to Moscow, but that is another story.

Back to Jonathan and Maria. The post-war time in Northern Caucasus was long and confusing. The rulers changed all the time. One day the white army came and forced all high school boys and all other young boys to join them. Next day the red army came and hung and shot people without asking questions. Eventually the Soviet power was established, and Jonathan and his family were evicted from their house. (The house was later turned into an old people's home. When I visited it in 1991 it was being renovated).

The family left the town for a nearby village where they lived with a distant relative. First they lived by selling their belongings. Then Jonathan got some jobs. From time to time there came orders from the new government in Moscow to shoot the ten topmost citizens in the town. This was part of the Great Terror, and the purpose was to hold people in constant fear. There were orders that ten richest and most prominent citizens should get shot, and Jonathan had been one of the richest and most prominent. But someone would come late at night and say: "Uncle Jonathan, tonight we must come and arrest you and shoot you. If we don't do it, they'll shoot us. Get away and hide for a while". So he did. He became a school inspector, then he worked at a wool factory buying wool. Then someone squealed on him. Without any reason Jonathan was accused of being a "saboteur" and "an enemy of the Soviet state", they said that he had stolen state money. He was tried and sentenced to a year in prison, which was a very mild punishment at that time. So he went to the very same prison which he himself once had built.

When Jonathan was released he moved to a little village where he was offered a job as an organist in a little German church. He was the only educated person in the village, and he started a choir, an orchestra and an amateur theatre there. Then he became a school teacher. The children had already left their home and moved to Moscow to study. The first grandchild (that is, my father) was born in 1931. Maria and Jonathan loved their little grandson who would stay with them during summers. There was nothing like the wealth and luxury they one had, but they were happy, far away from the turbulent events in the big cities.

To be continued.

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