Old cemeteries continue to exist till people who come to see them are alive. When nobody else comes there, these cemeteries are ploughed up again and the ground is once again ready to become a new cemetery.
Soviet boys and men who died at the end of WWII when liberating Eastern Europe from fascist troops were buried in the valleys of the Bug and Elbe rivers, in the fields across Vistula and Danube. Under the Soviet regime, pioneers of these East-European territories took care of cemeteries where Soviet soldiers were buried and placed flowers on their graves. Today, many of martial cemeteries in Hungary, Yugoslavia, Poland and Czechia are razed to the ground. Instead, more parks and residential areas appeared where cemeteries used to stand.
The settlement of Kistelek in Hungary has a cemetery that is over one hundred of years old. Hungarian Pap Pall, 76, the manager of the private churchyard, likes his job. It is said that cemeteries often look very much like people buried there. This quiet cemetery is situated in the outskirts of the settlement close to a Catholic church, deep in the gardens. Tablets on the graves tell that people buried there were born in the very beginning of the past century.
People of the settlement live a happy and long life. They have the opportunity to buy a personal cemetery lot even when they are alive. People just want to make sure that they will be properly buried and have a nice grave.
Right at the entry to the cemetery there is a grey square lot covered with wild grass where 200 unknown Soviet warriors were buried at the end of WWII. Once a year when lilac begins to blossom in May, one and the same old lady comes to the cemetery to see the abandoned grave. Cemetery manager Pap Pall has already got accustomed to these visits and looks forward to them every year. Honorary citizens of the settlement continuously besiege Pap Pall with requests to sell the privileged lot right at the cemetery entry at a good price. But the man would not agree to sell the lot where hundreds of Soviet soldiers are buried. He does it because of respect to the old lady who comes to see the grave every year.
Maria Mamzurina-Volkova, 76, is the only Russian woman who still comes to the grave on the quiet Hungarian cemetery. She says she comes there to see the grave where her brother Vladimir is buried. The woman was just 12 when the brother joined the Soviet army fighting Fascist troops. When the war broke out the young man was working at an aircraft factory that made spare parts for bombers and thus could stay on the home front. But he preferred to take an active part in the fighting and abandoned the works for the front.
This is astonishing but the woman remembers perfectly well one strange detail about her brother that later made her look for his grave. Before the war broke out, Vladimir used to sing one sad song about a man who died and nobody knew where his grave was. His mother insisted that he must not sing the sad song but the young man said the song was just haunting him. The old lady supposes that her brother probably had a foreboding of his future tragic fate.
Tankman Vladimir Mamzurin died at the end of December 1944 after the Soviet troops marched across Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia and the war was drawing to its close end. He died at the age of 21 during severe fighting for the liberation of Hungary. In January 1945, Vladimir’s brother-soldier Ivan Odintsov wrote a letter to his relatives and indicated where his friend died. He said that was a little town 80 kilometers away from Budapest, but Vladimir’s family could not even find the place on the maps as it was too small.
When the war ended, Vladimir’s sister Maria began to search war archives to find out the exact place of her brother’s death and burial. Unfortunately, nobody could say where remains of Vladimir Mamzurin could be buried. But the woman would not stop the searches.
It is known that 200,000 of Soviet soldiers were buried in Hungary during WWII but today only the names of 20,000 of them are known for certain. It took Maria Volkova thirty three years to find her brother’s grave. At the end of the 1970s, the woman got a letter from the International Red Cross saying that remains of her brother had been removed to the cemetery in Kistelek, Hungary, and that relatives of the buried soldier could come to see the grave.
In the Soviet epoch, Soviet troops stationed abroad traditionally took care of communal graves of Soviet soldiers tragically killed during WWII. In the 1960s, mothers and widows of soldiers killed during the war used to come to those cemeteries to see the graves of their relatives. As a rule, those were warm receptions organized by Soviet officers stationed in East-European countries friendly towards the USSR. Maria Volkova says that when she visited the brother’s grave together with her mother they planted young plants of thuya there, and now these are very big trees.
It is true that the sister of the brave Soviet soldier is lucky to learn where her brother was buried. Unfortunately, relatives of about 200 other soldiers buried in the same communal grave together with Vladimir Mamzurin probably have no notion where their fathers, sons and brothers were buried during WWII. Who were they? Usually, lists of people buried at cemeteries were kept in churches where the burial service was read over them. The priest at the church of the Kistelek cemetery would not let the Russian woman see the lists of the Soviet soldiers buried at the cemetery during WWII. But some day he still yielded to Maria’s persuasion and showed her the lists. The woman wrote down some of the names she could remember from the list. Later, she engraved the names together with the brother’s name on the grave plate.
Maria would not stop after her first visit to Hungary and promised to her mother that she would keep visiting Vladimir’s grave every year in May till she is alive herself. Frontier officers know the old Russian lady very well and respect the motives of her regular visits. They say she is the only Russian who still visits the abandoned communal graves of Soviet soldiers in Hungary.
Budapest is one of the most beautiful European cities. Royal castles stand safe there since the Middle Ages. Allied Fascist troops left the Hungarian capital undamaged during the war, and Soviet troops either did not bomb it in revenge for Hungary’s support of the Nazi regime. But there is no hope that someone in Hungary is grateful to Russians for that. Today, Hungarians prefer not to recollect WWII when the country supported Fascists.
When Soviet troops were withdrawn from East-European countries, communal graves of Soviet soldiers buried there during the war turned out neglected. That was the reason why many of those cemeteries were liquidated. That was the severe rule dictated by business as land costs too much in Europe. In the course of time relatives of the soldiers buried abroad also died and could not stand up against liquidation of cemeteries where their relatives were buried.
In 1995, Russia concluded a number of intergovernmental agreements with other countries as concerning the new status of martial burial places. It means that people from the countries that used to be enemies of the Soviet Union during WWII – Germans, Italians, Japanese and Hungarians – could come to Russia to visit the graves located on the Russian territory where their relatives were buried during the war. Russia extends a warm welcome to guests from abroad wishing to visit foreign martial burial places located on the Russian territory.
But at the same time, it seems that cemeteries of Soviet soldiers who won WWII are absolutely neglected in Europe and there is no one who could take care of them. Russian organizations located abroad make some attempts to keep graves of Soviet soldiers abroad in a proper condition. But unfortunately, there are still no accurate lists saying who and where was buried during the war.
The old woman tells that in the Soviet epoch the whole of her family could afford a visit to Vladimir’s grave in Hungary. Today, Maria’s pension is hardly enough for her traditional every year pilgrimage. She says that once right after perestroika she had to spend nights at railway stations and ate what she could find on her way to the brother’s grave. When she finally got to the settlement where Vladimir was buried she had a heart attack and feared that she might die right at the cemetery.
Every year it is getting very difficult for the old woman to travel to Hungary to see the brother’s grave. But she knows perfectly well that neglected graves are usually razed to the ground, and she would not like Vladimir’s grave be destroyed.
Soviet Union Hero Pilot Grigory Cherkashin says that together with his brother-soldiers he buried eight pilots killed during the war in Hungary . He remembers the place near the city of Vesprem close to the Balaton Lake perfectly well. Unfortunately, when he visited the place recently he could not find the graves. It turned out that the graves were liquidated as they were absolutely neglected and nobody needed them.
Maria Volkova tells that once she called a high-ranking official to let him know what was going on with Russian cemeteries located in Europe. She also wanted him to help her find some money for her regular visits to the brother’s grave in Hungary. But the official could not understand why the woman wanted to go abroad to visit exactly the soldier’s grave. Instead, he recommended her to go and see the Unknown Soldier’s grave near the Kremlin wall and imagine she was near her brother’s grave.
The woman got indignant at the official’s words as the latter did not understand the importance of her regular visits to the Hungarian martial cemetery. Maria was deeply offended and decided to send a telegram to the president to tell about her problem. She wrote: “My brother died when defending the native land. Why are his remains and remains of other soldiers killed during the war so neglected? I know that if I give up my visits to the cemetery my brother’s grave will be razed to the ground.” She did not hope to receive any response from the president. Maria was greatly surprised when in a couple of days some officials came and gave her money for a visit to Hungary.
Some people think it is strange that the old woman every year visits her brother’s grave abroad. They think there must be some hidden motive of her doings.
The old woman is happy that despite of her old age she still has an opportunity to visit the grave of her brother whom she saw last time before the tragic war broke out in 1941. She cherishes a dream to repair the monument on the Soviet soldiers’ grave in Hungarian Kistelek. Unfortunately, she has not enough money for it. The woman is grateful to the cemetery manager who does not sell the lot where the graves of Soviet soldiers are situated. She fears that they may be destroyed when she herself gets too old to visit the cemetery. The only thing that actually worries the old woman is why the country that liberated the whole world from Fascists takes no care of the graves of soldiers who fell victims of the terrible war and are buried abroad.
Translated by Maria Gousseva