ZURICH — My father went to war as a volunteer at age 18. He was a submariner in the Baltic Sea.
When I was small, we lived in a basement on the Arbat, in central Moscow. Hanging on the wall above my bed was a photograph of his Shchuka-class submarine. I was terribly proud that my papa had a submarine, and I was always copying that photograph into my school notebook.
Every year on May 9, Victory Day in Russia — marking the anniversary of the day that news of the German surrender in 1945 reached Moscow — my father would go to the closet and take out his sailor’s uniform, which required regular alteration to accommodate his growing belly, and pin on his medals. It was so important to me to be proud of my father: There had been a war and my papa had won it!
When I grew up, I realized that in 1944 and 1945, my father was sinking ships that were evacuating German civilians and troops from Riga, in Latvia, and Tallinn, in Estonia. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people met their deaths in the waters of the Baltic — for which my father received his medals. It’s been a long time since I was proud of him, but I don’t judge him. It was war.