This memorial honoring local heroes who died fighting for the Soviet Union in World War II is the first thing I see when I open my host family’s gate every morning.
The memorial’s base shows the names of the fallen. There are several men named Sava and several others named Tonu. I now live with a family named Sava and previously lived with the Tonus. For their extended families, as for people across Moldova and the rest of the former Soviet Union, the war brought unimaginable suffering.
When most Americans think of World War II, they think of Normandy, Iwo Jima and other battles where our soldiers died. My own father fought at D-Day, navigating a plane that was shot and almost didn’t return to England. He was part of the “greatest generation” whose enormous sacrifices kept our country free.
The war’s impact on our own history was huge. Yet many Americans don’t know that the Soviet Union suffered more than 50 times as many deaths as we did, according to some estimates. It’s hardly a surprise, therefore, that the war’s legacy here is profound, even after Moldova broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991 to become an independent country.
My current village, Bardar, is hardly alone in having a prominent memorial. They are everywhere in Moldova. The second photo shows one in Dereneu, a small village we visited a few weeks ago. In Chisnau, Moldova’s capital, one of the main tourist sites is the Victory Memorial and eternal flame, five giant marble pillars representing the five years of Moldovan involvement in the conflict.
In Ialoveni, where Champa and I will soon be living, there is a memorial outside her school honoring a local soldier who died in Afghanistan. Across the street is the town’s World War II memorial, imposing with its dark stone, shown in the photo below.
Adjacent to that memorial, though, are two smaller memorials in white stone. They are topped with crosses, which tells you they were built after the Soviet era. These newer memorials honor the Moldovan victims of Soviet repression under Joseph Stalin. Large numbers of intellectuals, political opponents and ordinary people were exiled to Siberia and elsewhere.
I knew almost nothing about this history before coming here, but Moldovans have been eager to share their stories with me. I avoid local politics since I am a Peace Corps volunteer. Still, the history of this country, so unknown to Americans, is proving fascinating.
When I open my gate every morning I know I am just beginning to learn what it all means. So far, the impression is monumental.