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Letters from a private archive of Bronislava Shinder

Опубликовано: 21.03.2018


Letters from a private archive of Bronislava Shinder

A unique personal experience of a traumatic event should move beyond the informal family memory to become not only the contention, the base of support of individual memory but also of the collective, transnational memory. 

The traumatic event has a psychosocial impact on different levels (individual, family, collective, global): hold sway over the fate of the actor, creates conditions for the formation of family memories of the future generations, creates a "collective conditions for the memories", shaping a memorial culture of the state at large. 

Letters are one of direct written evidence of the "impact events". The present investigation deals with the Letters from a private archive of the period of The Leningrad Siege (1941-1944), focusing on the correspondence of a small group of Russian students, which have the different positions, views and relations to the same historical reality.

Letters as a flood of memories are a valuable source for the reconstruction of realities of the Past through the «text mining» of a narrative, the original and distinctive style and stylistics of the speech, the visual contents (envelopes, seals, papers, pencil drawings).

Bibliographers support the thesis that «although the lifetime of a person is limited existentially, nevertheless he dwells in the temporary horizon that extends much further than the borders of personal experience».

In these letters, that are presented in the publication, such «continuers» of Leningrad young residents' life are:

  • topics of conversations;
  • everyday rituals and customs, the reality of military camps/stations and hospitals;
  • the state of cultural life during the Siege (how people spent their leisure time)
  • poetry, pencil drawings and small photographs that were attached to the letters;
  • an individual vocabulary and writing skills;
  • the beginning of the letter, an individual manner of farewell and signing;
  • handwriting and its dependence on the surrounding atmosphere and conditions and dates of writing;
  • the attributes of the letters: the necessary seals, the type of brown paper, the addresses, the dates
  • postcards, food cards and record cards, etc.

''We'' – a memory of a family, neighbors, generation, society, the nation, culture. It isn't always easy to understand when one formation of memory comes to the end and another formation of memory begins, because their separate elements are combined in the specific human being, these elements mix up in this person and accumulate». At the same time, each person (and his history of life) occupies specific place from which he observes the world. Thus, in our investigation, each letter of each certain character has a value as the different views, the different relations and emotions to the same historical situation.   

Letters allow the collective memory to be formed not on the basis of abstract statistics, but through the empathic acts, fleshing out a memory. The advanced accurate empathy hastens the consolidation of the people, as opposed to self-isolation, contributes to an assimilation of certain patterns of emotional behavior amidst "impact event", promotes extremism prevention and mutual understanding. 

We have got a chance to "paint the picture" of The Leningrad Siege. While reading, viewers receive an empathic experience of the main characters’ impressions, who found themselves in different corners of the country after the Siege: (Ленинград, Кронштадт, Ташкент, деревня Кавголово (лен. область), г. Сокол (вологодская обл.), г. Горский, Москва, Омск, Тара, дер. Губаницы (волосовский р-н), Кировская область, Верхняя Тавда (свердловской обл.) и др.). We can feel and see the atmosphere of 1939-1945, through the words of young Leningrad residents, students and selectees (Броня, Миша, Женька, Моночка, Дмитриев А.А., Куницына, Иванова А.А., Сергей (Серый), Ляля, Толя, Вавик и Рамзина, Лева, Светлана, Юра, Алик, и др.).

Our modern generation is deprived of the chance to get a direct perception of those events of the past about which we read and explore through an educational historical literature, a newsreel etc. While reading hand-written lines of young witnesses of military years, we carry out a certain cognitive act and act of empathy, which expands the horizon of our human experience and shape the “extended idea” of the person about himself.

Thus, modernization of the unofficial sources of commemoration is the revival of memories of the past events, through which the representatives of diverse generations make and determine their own history, their identity, cement self-identification, and get the future orientation.


The letters were prepared for publication by Daria Gorbatsevich,
who also wrote the foreword.
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