By Adisa Manole
November is the month that many Eastern European countries remember the loved ones who have departed from this life. Consequently, I decided that this was the right time to tell the tale of my great-grandfather. He served in the Second World War when Romania joined the Soviet Union’s Operation Barbarossa. Even though I have never met my great-grandfather, my father always told me that I had the same spark in my eyes as he did. I always needed clarification on what he meant when he said that. How could this heroic figure compare to this scared young woman?
When my great-grandfather, Vasile Gheorghe (also known as Răduță), was sent to serve on the battlefields of Europe, he was in his late twenties, had just got married to my great-grandmother, and they had just welcomed a child. He was not a soldier, yet he managed to turn into a combatant. In exchange for serving in the war, the Romanian government promised its soldiers—especially those from low-income families—land.
With nowhere else to go, Răduță had to walk to the battleground. Our lives could not be more dissimilar, despite the invisible thread that unites us. The wearying aspect of life makes me feel like a soldier coming home from battle, yet my great-grandfather was a real soldier who left without knowing if he would return. I am overcome with grief as I imagine the tragedy of having to leave your newly formed family and embark on this perilous mission. However, this was not limited to my family; all soldiers, no matter which side of the conflict they were on, went through this. Enemies and allies alike, they all left their homes to take part in this kind of game, the majority of which is organised by people who do not even know what a battlefield smells like. Răduță journeyed for miles, reaching a location that was further north than the current limits of Romania. The people he encountered and who shared his objectives became his family. They were in the middle of a war, and in a matter of days, this young man on the battlefield changed into a soldier without fear of dying.
In any place and at any time, I would like to talk to my great-grandfather. My father used to tell me stories when I was a child, and they are the remnants of those vivid recollections I have of his bravery. The most horrifying thing my father ever told me was that my great-grandfather had such an unfathomable will to survive that he spent days hiding beneath the soldiers’ corpses without food or water, hoping to escape discovery.
Years after the war ended, he returned home. The memories of the battlefield accompanied him until his death. He gave up his life, his body, and his spirit for my future. Despite this, he came home to find his daughter no longer a baby and his wife scarred by the horrors of the war. Still, he had become a brave man. He was someone I could never be, and for that reason, I treasure the one photo of him that made it through the war.
It wasn’t too long ago, after some reflection, that I understood what my father meant when he remarked that I reminded him of my great-grandfather. While I have the same name, the same eyes, and pretty much the same smile I’ve had since a child. I know that my great grandfather’s fortitude also lives on in me when I go back to my timid self as a shy girl in class and to the young lady who now lives on her own.
Regardless of our level of fear or inexperience, we all eventually discover who we are and get the confidence to face whatever previously terrified us. Like Răduță, if you feel like you can no longer handle your issues, have faith in a better day and face your worries until they lose all power over you.