I owe my life to a bullet that pierced my father's skull.
I owe my life to a bullet that pierced my father's skull. The time was July 1942; the place, Staraya Russa. He was taken to a field hospital where a famous surgeon from Moscow drilled a hole in his skull, without anesthesia, in order to extract a bullet which had just one-hundredth of a millimeter deeper to go to prove fatal. After the bullet had been extracted, he was put on a train for wounded soldiers and taken to the far east. My father's only words, right after he was shot, were, "Am I going to die, tovarish lieutenant?"
"You'll live!" was the response of the lieutenant, who would be killed in battle two days later, together with most men of the Latvian division. (Only six survived).
My father's inadvertent savior was Gottlieb, a fellow soldier, who had been cleaning his gun when my father asked him to pass some tobacco, and as Gottlieb leaned over to fulfill the request, his gun fired, my father fell, and Gottlieb was sent on a reconnaissance mission as punishment for endangering the life of his comrade through negligence. Sending a man on a such a mission at Staraya Russa, a town near Novgorod, where hundreds of thousands Soviet soldiers fell between 1941 and 1943 and where even nowadays, more than seventy years later, kids stumble upon skulls and rusting helmets in local forests, was an equivalent of a death sentence, and it goes without saying that Gottlieb never returned from his mission. His name is absent from the book of memory that lists names of Latvian Jewish soldiers who perished in the war. (I was asked to translate these lists a few years ago here in New York). Perhaps Gottlieb's body had never been found and is awaiting one of those nostalgic youngsters who join an annual search for the remains that, if found, are reburied with Soviet-era pomp, usually without a name, because only the lucky few are found with their papers, still legible, on them.
Wherever you are now, private Gottlieb, greetings from the daughter of the man you saved with that stray bullet.
One day, as she was walking around her neighborhood, one woman was so disgusted with the familiar sights of her native city that she was ready to go back home, when suddenly she spotted an acquaintance: he was running right at her, waving some piece of paper in his hand.
"What happened, Vadim Vadimovich?" asked the woman.
"What happened-what happened," Vadim Vadimovich imitated her intonation as he often did."I got a Nobel Prize, that's what happened!"
"O my!" the woman exclaimed."Congratulations, dear Vadim Vadimovich!"
"But," he said, raising his index finger, "There is one little but! The post office! They won't give me a letter notifying me of the Nobel prize until I show them my driver's license! And I don't drive!" he said, raising his arms towards heaven. "So I have nothing to show them."
"Won't they settle for some other kind of ID? If you tell them that the letter notifies you won the Nobel Prize..."
"No need to give useless advice to a Nobel Laureate, woman!" the man grumbled and walked away, swinging his arms.
One woman decided to stop going to work, but she still had to eat, so she got certain books from a library, and after studying them, she created a golem, but not from clay, as rabbis in medieval Europe used to make them: her golem was made of bread. She told him to multiply, and within half an hour, fifteen bread golems with crusted feet and crumb hands were bumping into each other in her apartment. She ate one of them, and put the rest on a kitchen shelf where she usually kept bread. Every day she ate a golem, and when those first fifteen golems had been eaten, she made twenty-five more, not only from bread, but from chocolate, marzipan, celery, radishes and potatoes. Now she had enough food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and she was glad that now she would not need to go to work, but her joy was premature, as the neighbors saw how she was eating her golem, called the police, and she was arrested for cannibalism and put in jail. During the trial, the cannibal woman showed the jury the process of molding a golem and eating it, and she was acquitted. She returned home and created another golem, this time a traditional kind, from clay. She didn't tell him to do anything, but he took the initiative and ate her neighbors. When he returned from the neighbor's house, she turned him into an asparagus golem, because the false accusation of cannibalism turned her into a vegetarian.
Moscow-born Nina Kossman is a painter, sculptor, bilingual writer, poet, translator of Russian poetry and playwright. She is the author of two books of poems in Russian as well as the translator of two volumes of Marina Tsvetaeva's poems. Her other books include Behind the Border (HarperCollins, 1994), a collection of stories about her Moscow childhood, Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myths (Oxford University Press, 2001) and a novel. ninakossman.com. Nina recommends the Rainforest Action Network.