The history of war should be told the way it was.
December 23, 2014
THE CURRENT DEBATE over the US-Cuba relationship brings out those tropes about life under communism and rekindles that deep-set fear of communism so strong in the US. It raises a lot of questions about the right way to approach communism. And it necessitates remembering a lot of facts that many people find uncomfortable.
My father-in-law, Maurice Bury, was great at making you examine some cold, hard facts that not only make you feel uncomfortable, but make you reconsider your opinions.
Maurice was born in Montreal, but during the Depression, his family moved back to their farm in a part of Ukraine that was then within Poland. They intended to return to Canada when the economy improved.
Well, you probably know what happened: what made the economy recover was the outbreak of war. After Hitler sent the army to invade Poland in 1939, that country was divided between Germany and the USSR. Stalin redrew the borders, and incorporated South-eastern Poland, called Galicia by the Poles, into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Maurice’s father, Michael, was luckily in Montreal at the time, but for Maurice, his mother and his sister, there was no question of coming back to Canada.
These details are important to understanding Maurice’s experience in the war, as a Red Army soldier and an anti-German partisan.
Maurice lived under both extremes, communism and national socialism. He survived both.
In 1939, the Soviets ended some of the cultural repression the Poles had instituted. On the other hand, there was no more political activity, no more work to build an independent Ukraine and no more free newspapers. Ukrainians in Halychyna, called Galicia by the Poles, were very cognizant of the famine Stalin had imposed on the Ukrainians only seven years earlier. This is one of those uncomfortable facts that doesn’t get much attention in the comfortable western world today.
From 1941 to 1944, Germany occupied Ukraine, and Maurice fought against it, too, as a member of the underground army. When the Soviets returned in 1944, they drafted Maurice.
“We were on the train to Finland in 1944,” he told me one day when we were sitting in his kitchen. “We were nervous, because we knew the Finns were tough fighters. They beat the USSR in the Winter War in 1941, and in 1944 the Soviet Union attacked them again.”
“To gain back the land they lost in 1941, of course. The Finns came close to Leningrad, and were helping the Germans.”
This was new to me.
Maurice sits back in the kitchen chair. “They were tough fighters, the Finns. Very tough. But before our train got to the front, Finland capitulated. The war there was over, and we were sent instead to the Baltic countries: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania.”
Another uncomfortable fact. Most of us think of Finland favourably, but during the Second World War, as enemies of the USSR they were allies of Nazi Germany, and received a lot of materiel from it.
After the Finnish cease-fire, Maurice’s unit fought through the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and from there, through Germany to Berlin.
“How did the Baltic people feel about getting rid of the Germans in favour of the Soviets?”
He shrugs again. “What’s the difference?”
After the war, he returned to his homeland, Canada. And he remained an ardent anticommunist all his life.
I learned a lot of shocking things through Maurice’s wartime experience, details that I never dreamed of before. I also learned how the generally accepted version of history is usually incomplete and slanted in favour of the successful regimes.
Maurice always challenged me to question my own assumptions, and even though it made me uncomfortable at times, even though it burst some illusions about the righteousness of many people I had been taught were heroes or admirable people, the good guys.
My father-in-law taught me to examine my assumptions and look at facts square on. This is essential for a writer who wants to tell stories that matter, stories like Army of Worn Soles, my latest book which chronicles the wartime experiences of my father-in-law, who was drafted into the Red Army in 1941.
About Scott Bury:
Scott Bury is a journalist, editor and novelist based in Ottawa, Canada. He has written for magazines in Canada, the US, the UK and Australia.
He is author of The Bones of the Earth, a fantasy set in the real time and place of Eastern Europe of the sixth century; One Shade of Red, a humorous erotic romance; a children’s short story, “Sam, the Strawb Part” (proceeds of which are donated to an autism charity), and other stories.
Scott Bury lives in Ottawa with his lovely, supportive and long-suffering wife, two mighty sons and two pesky cats. He can be found online at www.writtenword.ca, on his blog, Written Words, on Amazon, on Twitter @ScottTheWriter, and on Facebook.