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One date, two bitter anniversaries

February 24th. It’s the second anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s senseless vanity war on Ukraine. My heart breaks for the Ukrainian people as they continue to suffer for a war not of their making.

And I remember another anniversary that happened on this day in Ukraine, 81 years ago - a personal one that my grandmother, Aniela, called “that accursed day”. 

February 24th, 1943 was the day Nazi soldiers snatched a teenage girl, Aniela's only child, from her school in Vinnitsia. They marched her to a train station, bundled her into a cattle truck, and sent her to work as a slave in Germany.

That child, Aniela's daughter, was my mother. The photographs (above) are three of the identity card pictures taken of her in Germany.

Years later, when Mama was a Canadian citizen, she applied for a pension from the Germany government for her years as a slave. In her application she wrote: 

“In 1943 I was 17. In February of that year I went to school - and never went home again. Just before the lunch break, SS men carrying machine guns surrounded the school. They broke down every door and rounded up all the children. 

"Outside, we were herded between two rows of armed soldiers, and ordered on to open-backed trucks. We were taken to a camp full of other children and their teachers, surrounded by barbed wire. We were kept there for one day and one night. My parents were allowed to bring me a small package of food and clothes, because all I had were my school books. 

"That was the last time I saw my parents.” 

Mama got her pension from German, roughly $1,700 Canadian per year. It was a pittance for a stolen life. But for Mama, the pension was an acknowledgement of what had happened to her.

Even if she rarely spoke about it, Mama never forgot the hell she survived during WW2. The Ukrainians today are in a hell imposed on them by Putin. I believe they will survive, because Ukrainians are resilient. And, like Mama, they will never forget.

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Thank you for sharing this piece with us, Halina. When will your book be out?

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Hi Michael The book is slated to be publish in either spring or fall 2025. The wait is terrible. Have you found a publisher for yours?

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