Observing Russia’s ‘Defender of the Fatherland Day’

At Defender of the Fatherland Day. (Photo via Russkaya Reklama)

While living in the U.S., we have become accustomed to its national holidays and gladly celebrate them with the rest of the country. Yet some dates are forever imprinted on the hearts of those who came from the former Soviet Union that once covered one-sixth of the world’s landmass, spanning from the Baltics to the Pacific Ocean. These dates include the 9th of May (Victory Day) and 23rd of February (Defender of the Fatherland Day). Both days are memorable for and honor those gray-haired veterans who either fought in the Great Patriotic War on the fronts, worked in partisan detachments or heroically manned the rear. They will never be forgotten by the former prisoners of the ghetto, concentration camps, and those whose impoverished childhood fell during the devastating 1940s. They are remembered by middle-aged people, whose fathers and grandfathers did not return from the battlefields or who came home wounded and suffered from injuries for the rest of their lives. They are also known by some children who grew up here in the U.S., learning from adults about the Holocaust and realizing that history should never be repeated. However, no matter how history is interpreted, the Soviet Army, although in the coalition with the allies, made the crucial step in the victory over the fascists.

This year Holocaust survivors Polina Zhornitskaya, Zhenya Zaturyanskaya, Liza Gan, Dora Khayut, Semyon Usach, Arkady Kupershtok and others gathered on the eve of the holiday in the senior center “Maaser” to share their memories of wartime, remember those who didn’t survive and, of course, to thank the soldiers and liberators – those who brought us freedom. The veterans, on the other hand, expressed gratitude to the employees of the center and to the great country of America.

A wonderful gift to veterans came in the form of a performance by 13-year-old American schoolgirl Gabriella Garber who performed opera arias, as well as a charity concert featuring a man of great talent with a bright, generous soul, the famous Georgian singer and composer Georgy Gogidze. His repertoire included famous military songs, such as “Katyusha” and “Victory Day,” as well as popular Jewish and Odessa tunes. The performances were accompanied by an incessant applause, and upon completion, the audience expressed sincere gratitude, and admiration to the performers. Georgy Gogidze arrived in America relatively recently at the invitation of the Georgian community of New York, the ensemble “Pesvebi” (Roots), and the international organization “Talents of the World.” Within a short time, he was already recognized by the connoisseurs of vocal talent in both New York and New Jersey (…)

(…) After the concert, I asked Georgy why he, an artist in such high demand, agreed to host a charitable concert and perform on the eve of the holiday for veterans and those who survived the Holocaust. “This is my holiday too,” he replied. “In Georgia, we have always been honoring those who fought on the fronts of the Second World War. Three national Georgian divisions participated in intense battles in Crimea and the Caucasus. The heirs of the legendary Pyotr Bagration, the commander of the 18th Army, Colonel-General Konstantin Leselidze and generals Naneishvili, Chanchibadze, Koberidze – they all made a huge contribution to the victory over fascism. Everyone, throughout the Soviet Union, knew the name of Meliton Kantaria, who heroically hoisted the Soviet flag over the Reichstag. The vast territory stretching from Moscow to Berlin was littered with the flesh and bones of the Soviet people, including many Georgians. I bow to the memory of all heroes and admire those who managed to survive the infernal torments of the ghettos and concentration camps. That is why I took it as an honor to perform here today for the veterans.”

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