Saturday, June 20, 2009

History lesson

My homework assignment included a little story about the 9 May holiday from our basic textbook. As you remember, this was the end of World War II, and it’s a huge holiday in Belarus. Our little story ended by stating that the holiday isn’t just celebrated in Belarus “because in May of 1945 the Soviet Army freed Europe from fascism.”

As soon as I read this I called Alla, who was in Gomel at the time. I read it to her, confirmed my translation, and expressed my surprise. She was not surprised. She matter-of-factly told me that’s indeed the way it was. I reminded her of the efforts of the Allies, and after a little thought Alla allowed as how it would have been better to mention them.

Still a little worked up, I went to class. On the way I thought “well, maybe they simplified the story for this language textbook because we don’t know the Russian word for ‘ally.’” Since I was the first to arrive, I was able to ask my teacher about it. I read her the offending sentence, and she calmly explained to me that the textbook was right. I tried to ask her for the word “ally,” but it was so far from her thought that she had no idea what I wanted when I asked her for the word for “friends in war.” So I got out my dictionary.

“Oh,” she said. “Well how many Americans were killed during the war?” I waxed eloquent, even with my still-limited vocabulary. I reminded her of all the war materials we sent over, asked her if she were familiar with Normandy, and then went on to tell about how my first father-in-law struggled to the end of his days over the devastation he caused as a bomber pilot who flew a lot of successful missions over Germany. (He never told exactly what he destroyed, but he sure never wanted to go back to Germany to see it.) To her credit, she got my point and added “and its allies” whenever we talked about that last sentence in the story.

Later in the lesson, one of my Spanish classmates commented that he thought the fascists would have won the war without Allied support. Svetlana disagreed, and the rest of us hauled out a few more facts. Seeing that she was heavily outnumbered, she let it drop. But I think I just learned something about the way history was taught in Soviet schools.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. Its not too surprising to hear that people all over the world tell history in the way that flatters them. I think we've all been guilty of this. In the US, we are taught that we won the war and Russia was just wasting people on their front. The truth is that neither Russia nor US would have won that war without the other's contributions.