This week I heard the story of a man whose family had lost him from 1939 to 1993.
One day in 1939 in his hometown in Ukraine, he was standing in line for bread. The store wasn’t open yet, and standing in line before the store was open was illegal. But a number of other people stood in line ahead of him, including women and children.
Standing in line for bread may have been illegal, but even so, those people thought nothing of the bus that pulled up beside them. They kept standing there. Until big men got out. Everyone in line was ushered into the bus and taken to prison. No one knew where they had gone. They simply disappeared.
The man spent a number of years in prison in his hometown, then in Kharkiv (where political prisoner Julia Timoshenko is serving her time.) I-don’t-know-how-many prisons later, he ended up in Siberia. All for standing in line for bread! He did not think he would reach his fortieth birthday. Then, he says, Hitler saved his life.
As the Nazis advanced on the Soviet Union, the Soviets released prisoners to join the Red Army. The bread man was one of them. He was released to fight Hitler. He fought Mussolini in Africa. When his war duty was done, he followed the majority of his war comrades to England. He built a successful life there, with a modest house in Chester and a vacation home in Majorca.
In 1993, after Ukraine gained independence, his family and friends found out that he was alive. He was the only one who ever resurfaced from that 1939 bread line.
To this day, he will not speak Ukrainian. He will not even mention Ukraine. He’s a happy man from Chester, who has lived well into his nineties at last count.