Roses, Beneath the Treads of a Tank


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of my grandmother, from her own personal experience, and the recollection of my mother. They do not represent my own opinions.



Roses, trampled beneath the treads of a tank.

My grandparents are dead. They have been for nearly a decade, now.

I wish they were alive to see me as I am now – not a petulant child whining at the prospect of yet again being dragged to the nursing home, which to my juvenile, sensitive sensibilities seemed nothing more than a horrendous furnace wracked by the ever-present aroma of cabbage, Jello, and death.

I’m no longer that self-centered, heartless little nimrod. But they’re no longer here.

I have so much I wish to ask them. So much I want to know. They led such beautiful, such wondrous, such action-packed, such tragedy-ridden lives. They were walking, breathing remnants of history. A history we now squander only from the sordidly simple objectifications of history books.

But I’ll never again have the chance to ask them my inquiries. They took to the grave their bit of history, and so it is forever lost in the sands of time – the stream of the unconscious.  

But every now and then, I am reminded of who they were and the lives they led. Every now and then my parents dig up some tidbit of knowledge, some story they were told, and flesh it out with words. Most of them I’ve heard before, tiny anecdotes imprinted into the minds of my parents that they, on the odd occasion, revive for the umpteenth time. But how could I mind? When they, too, are lost to the stream of the unconscious, all that will remain of my grandparents will be those imparted tidbits. Each one is a piece of the people I never truly knew, and by passing the mantle of memories, even if foolishly, I believe that they live on.

My grandmother disliked Jews.

I learned that today. Or, shall I say, I re-learned it today. Yet I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand how it was that my kind-hearted, quiet, perpetually amicable grandmother could be so prejudiced. Racism, that despicable force that society can’t seem to extinguish – how is it that my grandmother, a woman I admired and respected for the grueling struggles she had overcome, could subscribe to such a repugnant belief?

And there we were, framed by the sun’s overzealous rays, reflecting audaciously off of a dusting of overnight snow. Sitting there, at the kitchen table, among the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee and rising klingeris dough, something inspired my mother’s memory.

And so it was that I learned my grandmother harbored, until her death, a distinct loathing for the Jews.

Now it wasn’t so shocking that my grandmother took her disdain to the death. The war was traumatic. She never forgave, and she never forgot. Even half a century after the war had ended, half a century after she had fled her homeland, to escape subservience to the Soviets, she was still wracked by the trauma of war.

Riga, Latvia, my grandmother's birthplace
Riga, Latvia, my grandmother’s birthplace

From war to death, she avidly despised the color red. In her eyes, it was the Soviet’s color. It was a symbol of the carnage that followed in the wake of Commie control. It was a reminder of the nation that tore up her homeland, forced her to flee, destroyed her life, her livelihood, her love (her first husband was presumed dead in the war). She couldn’t stand the sight of that color. It drudged up horrid memories, and with them, hatred. She never allowed my mother to wear red clothes – to do so, I’m sure she thought, would to be displaying allegiance to the Soviet cause. Only Commies wore red.

Whenever the sirens painted the night air with blood-curdling shrieks, whether it be the first Tuesday of the month or upon the presence of a funnel cloud, my grandmother would curl up into herself, terror flooding her veins. She was there, during the bombing of Dresden. She was holed up, underground, praying for her life and the life of her infant child as the sirens screeched out their ungodly tune, as the bombs spit fire and flame, demolishing all in their path, painting brick and flesh with rubble and blood. As dawn waned, she stood in the wake of our terror. She stood, surrounded by the leveled city, the city that was once a thriving, lively Dresden. A city that had been obliterated. For miles, there was nothing but ash and smoke. Nothing but loss, anguish, death.

Bathed in red, the Soviet Union's flag
Bathed in red, the Soviet Union’s flag

But why did my grandmother so despise the Jews?

She stood there, as the tanks rolled in. Her door cracked but the slightest bit, her pale face peering out into the streets, disbelief at the sight before her eyes flooded across her skin, raising the hairs along her arm. Fear fluttered through her veins, terror pulsed along the path of her arteries.

The Soviets had arrived.

Massive, ravenous tanks scoured the earth, chewing and just as surely spitting out everything before them. The ground trembled as the voracious beasts beat out all hope, crushed all life. Soldiers with guns followed.

They were here to stay.

But as she peered out, the end to an era looming on the horizon, hatred burned bright within her chest. There, and there, and there … were the Jews, there arms filled to the bursting with roses.

They were tossing the roses in front of the tanks.

Roses in front of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russia

Their countenances illuminated with glee, their entire bodies asway with anticipation, they hollered. They whooped for joy. They tossed rose after rose before the slow-moving beasts, the dainty flowers ground to nothing but dust beneath the tank’s treads. They littered the procession with red and green, exhilaration and delight. What a joyous day! An end to the persecution! An end to the dreaded reign of Hitler! An end to the constant terror of Nazi occupation! An end to the fear of being dragged off to their deaths in the dead of night! They had been saved!

My grandmother stared on. The loathing bubbled up within her, acid in the pit of her stomach. She was to lose everything in the coming days, to the blood-soaked Soviets. The tanks’ voracious rumbling oscillated every fiber of her being. Her veins filled with liquid terror, she looked on, as the Jews welcomed the end of days with open arms.

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