A Great Patriotic Celebration


In the former Soviet Union, where World War II is known as the Great Patriotic War, the anniversary of Germany’s surrender to the Allied forces is an annual cause for nationwide celebration, a day of parades and reunions of onetime veterans.

The veterans from the FSU who have settled in this country over the last few decades still commemorate the day.

At the Haber House Senior Center in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, some 120 emigrés — including 30 who served in the Red Army during the war — remembered their service on the anniversary last week. And they remembered their fallen comrades.

The Soviet Union lost more than 26 million men and women, including some 10 million soldiers who died in battle or in captivity, during World War II, the largest total of any country during any war in history.

The veterans came with their wartime medals affixed to their chests. Some brought Sold photos and letters and other mementos. One wore his old uniform.

“We still remember,” says Gail Gutman, assistant director.

For several years the senior center held its own parade, but the shrinking number of aging veterans finds marching difficult, so a party took place instead, Gutman says. There was a candle-lighting and a moment of silence. And there were poetry reading and a concert by singer Alexander Goumko. Mostly wartime songs.

“At the beginning, it was a very sad event,” Gutman says. The seniors remembered their personal and national losses from the war. “Then the music started, and it became a happy event.”