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Story based on the recollections of a Russian native of Harbin, now living in Australia.

Direct Translation via Google Translate. Heavily edited.


In the winter of 1937 a new tenant appeared in our house. Someone always lived with us, both before him and after him, but I remember only this. My grandfather Leonid, a Penza peasant, after serving in the army and going to China to suppress the Boxer Uprising, returned to his village. There he got married and after a while, having enlisted for the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway together with my grandmother, he came to Manchuria.

My father, the oldest of three children, and his two brothers were born in Harbin. We lived in our house in Modyagou, where most of the inhabitants were like us, Russian settlers, and after the revolution, emigrants. My grandfather and uncles were skillful people, therefore, our house, although it was, like most of the houses of ordinary people, was just a plastered and bleached mound, but it was made soundly, consisted of three rooms with a kitchen for the family and an additional large and spacious room and a kitchen with a Chinese stove, which was different from the Russian one, in which bread could be baked. Grandfather rented this room. Outbuildings and a corral for cows and pigs at the end of the yard were also of good quality and were always kept clean.

Grandfather kept cows, large Dutch cows, milk from which he sold, which was his main income, not counting money, which the tenants paid. Two of my uncles worked with my grandfather: they helped him milk the cows, drive for hay and bard (wheat pomace) to the distillery, which both cows and pigs loved to eat.

With the onset of cold weather, my grandfather installed an iron Dutch stove in the upper room, the main room of our house. In the evenings, we sat in the upper room, and the adults discussed family affairs, city news, prices of goods, and much more. Sometimes my father came back earlier than usual, he was engaged in driving clients in his personal taxi, and told us about what he had heard in the city during the day. If the grandfather was in a good mood, then he talked about Russia, in which none of us, except for himself and his grandmother, had ever been. His stories, mixed, as I understand now, with truth and fiction, we all loved to listen.

It used to be that our tenants came out of the guest room to us. The tenants, as a rule, were the same Russians, idle railway workers or small employees. I don't even remember how many of them survived then, I just remember that one evening, when, as usual, we were sitting at the Dutch woman's, there was a loud knocking outside the gate outside the gate, and the youngest of my uncles, Yuri, went to open the gate. The grandmother crossed herself in the direction of the corner with the icon, which she had brought back from Penza, and muttered: "Whom did the hard work bring to such darkness!"

"So maybe a new tenant came in according to the announcement," replied the grandfather, extinguished the carbide lamp and turned on the light bulb that illuminated the entire room, in case it really is a tenant. Let him see that the house is warm, light and clean: now, with the onset of the war, in Harbin there are not so many good housing for rent.

At the very beginning of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, many Russian émigrés, who associate the arrival of the Japanese with hopes to restore order in the city and to protect themselves from the arbitrariness of the Chinese authorities and, what the hell is not kidding, help in the further liberation of Russia from the communist Jews, joyfully greeted the new authorities. But soon most Russians realized that there was no good to be expected from the Japanese.

The Japanese established their own, Japanese order in the city, which differed from the Chinese arbitrariness only in that that in general, disenfranchised Russian émigrés were freed from indiscriminate extortions by the Chinese authorities. The Japanese established strict rules, and extortions, so to speak, became orderly and legal. Before the arrival of the Japanese, we had our own horse. With the arrival of the Japanese, the horse had to be sold: they introduced an unaffordable tax on horse ownership, and once the nurse on the farm became an expensive burden. It was bought by Cossacks visiting from Three Rivers.

Having sold the horse, my grandfather bought a donkey. Donkeys, as it turned out, were not taxed, and could work in much the same way as horses. Having sold a Russian cart and bought a Chinese cart, my grandfather woke up Uncle Yuri every morning, even before dawn, and they left for the distillery for a bard. Despite all the efforts of his grandfather to live prosperously, it became more difficult day by day to do so.

Following the tax on horses, the Japanese introduced a complete registration of livestock. All the cows, pigs, rams and goats in the Harbin farmsteads were enumerated. The new law strictly prohibited slaughtering livestock at home. For disobedience - prison.

A Japanese slaughterhouse was built for the slaughter of private livestock. There, the cattle were slaughtered and a quarter of the meat remained in the slaughterhouse, went to the benefit of the Kwantung Army. No one dared to joke with the Japanese and play cat and mouse: the new owners of Harbin were quick to kill not only the inhabitants of the city, but even their own soldiers. Once my uncle Yuri, who was grazing cows in a vacant lot not far from the gates of the Japanese garrison, accidentally observed how a soldier who had chickened out in battle with the Chinese partisans was chased through the formation and driven to death. If the Japanese were harsh with their own, then what to say about strangers, disenfranchised and passportless Russians and Chinese? The Japanese administration demanded unconditional obedience from both the Russians and the Chinese.

A minute later, a dumbfounded uncle Yuri burst into a house with clubs of frosty steam, followed by a Russian, in an officer's Cossack overcoat, a Bram * employee, and a short young Japanese man in round glasses in the fashion of the time, in a winter Japanese soldier's overcoat and a soldier's cap with earflaps.

Then, as we saw, in addition to a military overcoat and a hat, he was still wearing a civilian suit, apparently, the uniform was given to him due to the lack of warm winter clothes.

Crossing himself at the icon and greeting the employee, pointing at the Japanese said, "This is Oba-san, the new employee of the Kwantung Army's Water Supply and Prevention Department," and added with a smirk, "Please love and favor." Oba-san speaks good Russian and wants to live among law-abiding Russians and consolidate the knowledge already acquired at the university. And so that housing was without bedbugs and cockroaches. Show the room!

"The Bram man spoke in a voice that did not tolerate objections. Grandfather, for some reason suddenly grasping his lower back and groaning, walked forward, opened the door to the room, went inside and opened the inner door to the kitchen with a Chinese stove. The room had been empty for several days. So, it stood closed, so it was colder there than in the residential parts of the house. His face did not express the usual servility, which he assumed every time new tenants came to us to inspect the room. After a while we heard the voice of a Japanese. "Harrso-oh," he said and left the room, behind a Bram man followed.

"Oba-san takes a room. Today he will stay here to spend the night," said the Bram man and, turning in the direction of his uncles, added, "Come after us, we must bring our stuff to the foraku **. What a Japanese man without foraki and hibachi!" "Yes," the Japanese added shortly and bowed slightly, as if in agreement. The Japanese man with the Bram man and his uncle went out. It was evident that for some reason the grandfather was not happy. "Lord Sousse!" "Chick, you old fool!" - just shouted at her grandfather. Then I was still too young and did not understand that no one really wanted to get involved with the Japanese.

So a new tenant, the Japanese Oba-san, settled with us. He didn't have much stuff, only a small suitcase with linen, a violin, a hibachi brazier for heating in case of cold, and a furako barrel for washing with hieroglyphs on the outside of the pallet, apparently a state-owned one, issued at the service.

Oba-san really spoke Russian well. He told his grandfather and uncles that he, a chemistry student, had just arrived from Japan. He will spend most of his time at work, sometimes not returning for the night, but on Thursdays he will always spend the night at home, on Friday he will have a day off.

Every Thursday night he will wash, so he needs a furako barrel with hot water in the kitchen by seven o'clock: Oba-san will bathe. No more, no less. Nothing was said about the surcharge. No one would dare to ask.

What should we call you, good gentleman? - asked the Japanese grandfather.

"I'm Oba-san. Call me Oba-san."

"We will call you Obssan," Alexander, my average uncle, immediately replied, as if smiling obsequiously. Recently, quarrels broke out between him and his grandfather because Alexander became addicted to smoking opium, the trade of which the Japanese put on a grand scale. The grandfather, unfortunately, could not do anything with Alexander, the passion for opium was stronger than respect for the father's word. And here the grandfather, fearing the start of another quarrel, did not say anything, only threw a stern look at both brothers, be silent, they say.

Fortunately, the Japanese did not understand such a joke of Alexander and, spreading into a smile and bowing, said: "Adinakawa marada cheravek mozna gavarich "kun," Oba-kun.

"Not better yet!" Alexander quipped. And again, fortunately, the Japanese did not understand my uncle's mockery. I didn't know then, but all the adults in the family knew that Alexander had his own reasons for not liking the Japanese.

As later, after the war, I was told: once Alexander began to break down, the body demanded opium. He felt bad and, having escaped from the supervision of his grandfather, went to look for opium.

On his way to the opium smoking shop, he bumped into three Japanese people, one of whom was a huge sumo wrestler. Seeing Alexander, the Japanese started talking about something, then they burst out laughing and two of them grabbed his hands, not allowing him to escape. The sumo wrestler came closer, the Japanese abruptly let go of the weakly escaping Alexander, and the wrestler slapped him in the face, from which the patient from opium withdrawal Alexander flew to the side and hit the ground hard.

This mockery of the uncle, a young and strong guy in general, many of our neighbors have seen. By that time, all the hopes of the Harbinians for justice had already vanished, everyone knew that to repulse the Japanese meant to doom oneself, if not to death, then to imprisonment and beatings in prison.

Alexander knew this as well as others. The Japanese went on with laughter. Unable to get up right away, Alexander, instantly weakened to the end, sat in the street mud and cried until his grandfather and Yuri came running after him.

Since then, the disgraced Alexander harbored anger at the Japanese, not knowing where and when he could avenge his shame.

Despite the abuse of his grandfather, Alexander continued to call the Japanese Ossan. Perhaps it was his little revenge on all the Japanese combined. Gradually, they began to call him that and all of us, however, behind the eyes.

In his presence, no one dared to joke so impudently. The chemistry student was a polite and quiet person. Every evening, Oba-san was brought home by a military truck. Entering the house, he immediately locked himself in his room. There he also ate the supper brought from the service: a large rectangular metal box with rice and a slightly smaller box with salted vegetables.

Sometimes, having taken off his military uniform and dressed in a kimono, he would come out to our room and talk to us, diligently writing down unknown words in his notebook. He used to take out his violin and play it for a short time.

"Ossan, play us "White Acacia," Alexander said as if with interest in the Japanese game. "Let's listen, maybe we dance with such joy."

We sat and listened.

Gradually we got used to the Japanese and began to feel more free in his presence. A couple of times, on Thursday evenings, after taking his Japanese bath, furako, he treated my father and uncle Yuri to weak Japanese vodka, sake. Grandfather prudently refused, citing poor health, and sat, alert, waiting for Alexander's return.

Scythe on a stone

Once there was an incident that put everything in its place and our seemingly passing fear from the neighborhood with Oba-san returned, and, as it seems to me now, never left until the end of the war.

My grandfather did not like the new Japanese order, although he tried to live without interfering with what was happening around him. With the cold weather, it was time for the slaughter of pigs. As the grandfather did not want, but to divert his eyes and he had to take two pigs to the Japanese slaughterhouse and give two quarters of the meat to the Japanese.

But it was not so simple. By hook or by crook, he raised two more piglets without registration, the Japanese did not seem to know about them. One day at home they started to warm water. Grandfather and uncle Yuri went to the backyard and quietly slaughtered the remaining two pigs. I don't know how, but they were able to scorch them without much noise and stench, clean them and bring both carcasses into the house at dusk.

Our Japanese tenant was not supposed to return home that evening, which is why the grandfather decided to slaughter the piglets on that very day without fuss and not hiding too much. Having taken up the pigs' carcasses in the house, the adults seemed to have calmed down: at home there was nothing to be afraid of. Grandma cooked fresh meat, her mother helped her, and grandfather and uncle Yuri chopped and cut the carcasses into pieces, put the meat in barrels, salted bacon. I, joyful in anticipation of a delicious dinner, spun around. Neither father nor uncle Alexander was at home yet. Suddenly we heard a knock at the gate. Uncle Alexander must have returned.

"Go, open it to him," the grandfather ordered, continuing to put the pieces of bacon in the barrel. Grandma went out into the yard and a minute later another door opened. Oba-san was standing on the threshold. His face was unusually red, probably from frost.

Uncle and grandfather Yuri froze with pieces of meat and bacon in their hands, staring fearfully at the unexpectedly returned Japanese. After him, all huddled in a small ball, grandmother returned. Her face was pale. Standing behind the back of the Japanese, she seemed to try to shrug her hands apologetically, they say, I did not know that it was him.

The Japanese also did not expect to see a violation of the martial law in his apartment and, silently, at first somehow bewildered, looked at his grandfather and uncle with meat in their hands. I hid behind the back of a frightened mother too. I don't remember how long everyone was silent.

"Oba-san, Mr. Oba-san," was all the grandfather could say. For some reason, his hands began to shake.

The Japanese paused for a while and suddenly said, clearly articulating the words: "Do not harrso deceive the Japanese army. Having said this, the Japanese man went to his room.

I remember that evening well. I remember the fear in the eyes of my mother and grandmother, when they carried the freshly cooked fresh meat taken from the stove into the yard, the trembling hands of my grandfather, sitting motionless by the barrel of bacon, Yuri, who was hastily putting the remaining pieces into the barrel. After a while, nothing reminded of pieces of meat and bacon, of the headless carcasses of pigs upside down on the table, of the severed heads with bared muzzles.

Everything was removed. The floor was wiped down with a rag, removing the last traces of the recent mess. Only the smell of pork recently cooked on the stove was still in the house. Grandfather waved helplessly towards the door, open, they say, let it wear out.

"Yuri, come here," suddenly heard the voice of the Japanese. Without waiting for his grandfather's approval, Uncle Yuri jumped off, ran to Oba-san's room, stopped, quietly opened the door and disappeared behind it. We sat and waited for him to return. He soon returned:

The Japanese fell ill. He probably has a chill. He told me to bring water for the sake so that the foraku would be heated, it would be warmed up. "Dad, heat the water!"

"Yurka, let's please him, maybe he will take pity by morning and not send him to the police," the grandfather said in a groaning and somehow weakened voice. Yuri, grabbing a kettle of boiling water, ran back into the room to warm up sake for the Japanese.

I probably did not yet understand what had happened and what could entail disobedience to the Japanese authorities. But the fear of adults was transmitted to me. I quietly, without annoying the adults, went into our room and there lay down on the bed, covered with my head. Soon I fell asleep. And the family members warmed the water, adjusted firewood in the Dutch oven and the stove, trying to heat the house and please the freezing Japanese.

Uncle Yuri warmed the Japanese sake lying under the blanket, but he only touched his lips to the porcelain glass, took a sip and returned it to Yuri. The Japanese was in a fever, he could not get up and go to wash.

As my grandmother told me later, frightened Yuri, in order to at least slightly cope with the fear that overwhelmed him, drank the remnants of sake from a glass of the Japanese.

Early in the morning, the Japanese again called Yuri to him, gave him a note and in a weakened voice asked him to take it to the police station, adding that he would not go to work today.

"Run away, Yurka, give the note back," said the grandfather. - Maybe he wrote about us here, if they say to carry the meat, then we will take it, God forbid, not to protect you.

Uncle was not arrested. Probably, the Japanese did not write anything about the piglets in the note, and Yuri returned home. Sometimes the Japanese shouted: "Yuri!" And the uncle hurried to his room to give him water or cold powders. No one except Yuri dared to enter the Japanese man's room.

Returning from the room, Yuri said that the Japanese felt bad, all in the heat. With the illness of the Japanese in the house, everything seemed to stop. Father, silently drinking tea, went to his taxi. Alexander, returning late from the opium-smoking room, did not leave his room.

We sat in the kitchen and waited for the Japanese to order: if he reminds us of the pigs, then there's nothing to do, we'll have to go and repent. By lunchtime, Yuri said that he, too, had begun to freeze and that he was very tired. After drinking milk with honey and covered with a sheepskin coat, he lay down on a bench right here in the kitchen. The Japanese was silent.

By lunchtime, overnight, weakened Yuri got up, went to the door of the Japanese man's room, knocked softly on the door and, without waiting for an answer, entered the room. He left the room pale and wide-eyed. "He died," - leaning against the wall, only Yuri could say, slowly sliding down.

The Japanese arrived quickly. In the same ambulance of the Office for Water Supply and Prevention of the Kwantung Army, in which in the evenings they brought our tenant from the service. Two soldiers in protective chemical coats carried the dead, covered with a sheet, Oba-san and, without stopping, carried him to the ambulance.

The third soldier and officer sealed the room. The officer, through a Bram man, punished us that the death of an employee of the Japanese military mission is a state secret and we should not tell anyone about it.

"Good gentleman, but should I take my younger son to the doctor?" ingratiatingly asked the grandfather of the Bram man.

"He, too, seems to be in a fever. Did you catch a cold too. Or maybe it just got hooked?"

"What son, why didn't he say it earlier?" the Bram man barked displeasedly, went up to the main Japanese and began to speak something to that in Japanese, sometimes pointing to his grandfather.

The Japanese gave a short order to the soldier, who rushed out of the house and returned with the same orderlies in chemical protection who carried the body of Oba-san.

"We will take him to the hospital of the imperial army, as soon as it becomes easier, so we will send him home."

Grandfather tried to say something, but the Bram man stopped him with a gesture - to obey without question. Yuri did not want to lie down on the stretcher, but the orderly pushed him with force and the weakening Yuri silently lay down on the green tarpaulin of the army stretcher, and he was carried away.

Oba-san's room was sealed crosswise with two white stripes with black hieroglyphs. The house became quiet.

The next day, the grandfather went to the police station to find out where his son was taken and when he would be discharged from the hospital. He was kicked out of the site, they say, we do not know anything. A few days later, the grandfather went back to the police station and was again kicked out without saying anything. Oba-san's room was still sealed. Nobody came to us.

The grandfather went to the police station and then to the BREM several times, trying to find out where his son was, until the BREM advised him not to go anywhere else, not to call the Japanese eyes, not to cause more trouble, and the grandfather calmed down.

By the spring we received a letter from the police that our Yuri had died of pneumonia. Closer to summer, the grandfather, tired of grieving, tore off the stickers of the Japanese commandant's office from the door of the room for the tenants, together with their grandmother they washed all the corners and nooks of the room with carbolic acid, carried out into the yard and burned the mattress, a blanket, which hid and under which our unfortunate tenant died. They broke the furako barrel along the planks and threw it into the fire too. When the fire was almost burning out, the grandmother brought out the violin, which all this time had been lying on the chest of drawers in the room of the Japanese tenant.

"And what to do with this one?" she asked, disgustedly holding the violin in her hand at a distance from her.

"Can't you see the fire?" the grandfather answered angrily and began to stir the dying trash.

The violin instantly burst into flames, the strings pulled taut, their last sad, thin groan sounded and burst from the heat.

"Here's the whole "White Acacia" for you. He gave his own son to the Japanese!" the grandfather moaned, threw away the stick and went towards the house.

Only later, after the war, did I understand, and my parents and grandfather and grandmother already then guessed where the seemingly harmless Oba-san served. Under the innocent name of the Water Supply and Prevention Administration of the Kwantung Army, there was another, more terrible name - Detachment 731.

Already after that, two years later, one spring my friends and I rode our bicycles out of town, to the place where this detachment was located under the rule of the Japanese. We walked along empty corridors of buildings with broken glass windows. The sun was shining, sparrows were flying along the corridors, and it was hard to believe that a few years ago terrible things were happening here. Then we went down to the basement, which looked like a prison, and the first thing that struck us in the very first cell we looked into was a clumsy inscription carved on the wall: MOTHER I DIE SING.

This story was told to me by an elderly Harbin emigrant, now a resident of Sydney, Australia, Boris B., the youngest witness of what happened. Having finished his story and after a little pause, Boris began to talk about something else, but, frankly, I didn't listen to him anymore: my thoughts drifted away thirty-five years ago, when, as a boy, I used to hear old people's stories about life of our village in difficult war and post-war years.

I remember the old people said that White Cossacks-saboteurs made their way to us in Transbaikalia from the direction of Manchukuo and brought porcelain ampoules with them. Through the Argun steppes, they carried these ampoules to our taiga and scattered them across the forests. Since then, a poisonous and life-threatening encephalitis tick has appeared in our forests.

Rather, there was always a tick, but before the war it was only, as the old people said, sore. Such a tick will bite a hunter - a prospector, the hunter will get sick for several days, suffer headaches, and even stop, the sore will pass. And since the war began, and until now, the tick in the Trans-Baikal taiga has become dangerous, people have begun to die from it.

I do not know if this is true or only fiction of the villagers, but I heard this from the oldest inhabitants of our village. And I also remembered my grandfather, who served somewhere on the Trans-Baikal border for all four years of the war. He did not defend Moscow and did not fight for Stalingrad; there is no painting of him on the walls of Hitler's Reichstag.

I don't remember him, he died when I was just a child. Sometimes I asked my grandmother to tell me about my grandfather. There was nothing special to tell her, he was an ordinary person, he worked on a collective farm, and raised children. During the war, he served in Transbaikalia, in general, not far from his native village. And he fought with Japan for only a few days, and then he was wounded, and in speed the war ended.

I remember at school on Victory Days my classmates brought their grandfathers to class. If they were not alive, then the guys brought grandfather's orders to school, showed us and told us about the battles in which their hero grandfathers participated. I sat at my desk and thought that what a pity that my grandfather did not fight with Germany, and of the medals he had only one jubilee - 20 years of Victory over Japan.

"Even if I could bring my grandfather to school, he still wouldn't have anything to tell," I concluded sadly.

Years passed, these experiences of mine were forgotten. I remembered them again when I heard the story of an elderly emigrant Boris B., a Russian boy whose childhood was spent in Harbin.

I sat, listened to Boris and understood the full magnitude of the feat of my grandfather, a simple Trans-Baikal collective farmer, a simple Red Army soldier who sat in a trench for four years and waited for the command to start a battle with the Japanese: the threat of an attack by the Japanese from the puppet Manchjo-go remained throughout the war years.

Now I don't know what he was thinking then, what he was worried about and whether he had any dreams associated with a peaceful, post-war life. I only know that the old people remained at home - parents, wife and daughter. And he, probably, clutching his rifle, thought about them. Standing at a combat post, he defended both them and my mother, who was born after the war, and therefore both me and my children. He protected all of us from the coming of the Oba-san with their terrible experiments on living people. He probably defended him without even realizing what great events he had taken part in.


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