Wednesday, August 9, 2017

RETURN TO BATTLE VolumeTwo Intro 1

1918  Petrograd, Russia
         The circumstances were insufferable. Officials in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) reported that there were up to 980 cholera cases daily, to which were added small pox, typhoid fever, and typhus. Hundreds of people died of starvation. The deaths were so numerous that we had to abstain from conducting all funeral ceremonies. Our Salvation Army children’s home staff are having to wait at the church graveyard from early morning to late at night in order to bury a child who died.
         Horses that starved to death would remain on streets for up to ten days before they were transported away. During that period starving dogs would tear large chunks from the carcasses. Many of Petrograd’s poor and homeless competed with animals for the not yet putrid meat of the horses lying emaciated and dead on the city streets. Petrograd was experiencing its worst food shortage in two hundred years.
We’d just buried the Army’s first martyr, Captain Emma Olsson, a member of the Swedish SA pioneer party who was Promoted to Glory, suffering with cholera.[1]
         Karl Larsson, in his book, Ten Years in Russia, said:
1918 was in every respect a dark year for our work. Despite all our hopes, all our strivings, after triumphant faith, in spite even of our occasional successes, it was becoming clear that the tide was on the ebb.” 

         Petrograd is a city of striking contrasts. It's the political, economic and cultural capital modeling itself along Parisian lines. It rivals our own Swedish capital's beauty with many well-heeled sophisticates and bon vivant labeling both Stockholm and Petrograd ‘the Venice of the north'. A major and noteworthy difference is that Petrograd, in less than twelve months, has become the symbol of Tsarist excess power and popular revolution.
         Along the avenues and canals of the city center stand palaces and grand manor houses. But less than a mile away, across the Neva River is a city in contrast. Among the bleak tenements and teeming factories live thousands of people in appalling ignorance and squalor, the focus in large part of our Salvation Army mission.
         Lt. Elsa Olsoni describes the house in which the Army settled as an elegant four-story Petrograd mansion at the aristocratic end of Bolshoi Prospekt on Vasilevsky Island owned by the Tschertkoffs who added tenants in the spring including The Salvation Army War College and the Army’s Number Seven Corps. The mansion offered a spacious hall, broad staircase decorated with busts, urns and mirrors, a secluded courtyard and garden. The War College occupied the first and the third floors.
Of the eighteen cadets being trained at the War College in Petrograd several were steeped in Russian culture and possessed native Russian language skills having been born or brought up in Russia. Russia’s first and only War College session lasted only four months.
         The Petrograd number Seven Corps utilized the parquet-floored salon for its religious meetings.
       But, the grandeur of the house belied
reality. The overwhelming dissimilarity in living conditions was evident the moment the Salvationists departed their residence and entered their mission field.
The occupants were not from an aristocratic lineage, although they were in the service of a King. Their bill of fare wasn’t delivered from Petrograd’s finest delicatessen or confectionary, although on occasion the fare brought jubilation. A triumph was achieved when Staff Captain Hacklin was able to acquire some five-kilo packs of horse-meat which when added to the pickled cabbage, a daily menu item, made for a feast.
                  “The summer of 1918 will never be forgotten by our officers. The food situation was miserable. For weeks on end the cadets had to exist on cabbage morning, lunch and dinner. Almost no bread. One didn’t dare dream of things like flour, butter or sugar. Our main meal consisted of soup cooked on dried vegetables.” Sometimes the soup was supplemented by fresh bread gifted by the official Swedish delegation to Russia. Visits there would always include an invitation to join them for ‘fika,’ coffee and cinnamon rolls.
Regular visits were made to the station to travel with or to negotiate purchases on our behalf by the ‘food traders.’
         They travelled by 4th class train into the countryside each night to bargain with the farmers and others trading on the black market. Vladimir Lenin spared no words on who was to blame for the shortage of bread and other staples – “the bourgeoisie and the rich, such as those living on Petrograd’s fashionable Vasilevsky Island.”

V. I. Lenin - On The Famine
A Letter To The Workers Of Petrograd
         Comrades, the other day your delegate, a Party comrade in the Putilov Works, called on me. This comrade drew a detailed and extremely harrowing picture of the famine in Petrograd . . . And side by side with this we observe an orgy of profiteering in grain and other food products.
         The famine is not due to the fact that there is no grain in Russia, but to the fact that the bourgeoisie and the rich generally are putting up a last decisive fight against the rule of the toilers (workers). They rise against the state of the workers, against Soviet power, on this most important and acute of issues, the issue of bread…. “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.” Every toiler understands that. Every worker, every poor and even middle peasant, everybody who has suffered need in his lifetime, everybody who has ever lived by his own labour, is in agreement with this. Nine-tenths of the population of Russia are in agreement with this truth. In this simple, elementary and perfectly obvious truth lies the basis of socialism, the indefeasible source of its strength, the indestructible pledge of its final victory.[2]
         One in four babies born in the capital dies before the age of one. And for those that live, it's in the shadowy threat of the killers: tuberculosis, pneumonia, epidemics of typhoid, spotted fever and smallpox. This region of sickness and death was to be our mission field where the death rate is double that of the capital's wealthier districts. It was but one example of the Russian Salvationists' courage and willingness to serve, indeed the willingness to suffer- so readily offered and witnessed in serving these poor Russians.
                  Ours was a visible life, a running narrative of misery, suffering, and cruel, predictable deaths. All the days ran into one; neither morning, afternoon or evening ever brought a glimpse of hope or sliver of encouragement.
         There is an old Swedish adage: “God can only bless a man greatly after He has hurt him deeply.”  We hurt deeply – we grieved immensely. God's blessing, His all consoling peace flowed over and through us when Gerda and I opened our hearts and divided the grief. Bed time often came at the midnight hour or beyond and we opened God's word and after reading the evening selection declared our love for each other and on bended knees prayed, vowed our committed love for Christ, individually and in union. And we lay down with our joy doubled. – He made it bearable – all our joys and grief was shared.
         Gerda and Otto Ljungholm ended each day in the late evening on their knees; ‘Lord, help us to serve, seeing others as more worthy than ourselves!’[3]

[1] Larsson, Karl Stridsropet (The War Cry in English). Swedish Salvation Army publication, Stockholm
[2] PRAVDA  (TheTruth) No. 101, May 22, 1918 
[3] Ljungholm, Otto Dagbok (Diary) November 1918

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