My village lies deep in the Carpathian mountains, in a peaceful, almost pristine national park called Poloniny. It is quite remote, if you ask me. The closest small town is about a 50 minute-drive and it takes around two hours to get to Prešov, which is the district capital. Yet the Second World War took its toll even here. It was occupied by the Hungarian army since 1939. The villagers suffered a lot - they often went hungry and everybody had to work without being paid or fed in a forced labor camp that was set up in the village for the purposes of making coal and logging wood, all of which was exported to Germany. Young people were also forced to learn the Nazi ways, but they protested with their whole hearts - many ran across the border to join the Red Army and others joined the local partisan movements. Many civilians in and soldiers from the village died. My paternal Grandma survived the war. She was a young woman when it happened. I can't imagine what it must have been like. She was a kind-hearted person.
Now all of this is something that doesn't reach the child's mind in any significant way. For us as small children in the 1990s, the war was something unfathomable. So was the sheer horror of a Czech sapper's death whose memorial we would visit on our regular walks. He died in 1946 when the Czecho-Slovak Army was clearing the mind field in the area. The memorial (pomnyk in Rusyn) is located between Uličské Krivé and Zboj, right next to the main road. When I was tiny, the inscription was barely visible. The nature seemed to be taking it over back then. "Na pomnyk", we would say, when my mom asked us where we were going.
I loved these long walks with Grandma - she was born in 1943 and I don't think she remembered much. She used to tell us stories, though, half-forgotten now, of how she as a young girl would help out her parents in the fields and how she took their goats to feed up on these rocks we were passing under. Now it never occurred to us that there was no way the goats could actually graze there and that she was just saying it to tease us. But that place will forever be the place where Grandma grazed the goats.
We walked slowly and got quite exhausted by the time we reached our destination - the soldier's memorial. We would placed some flowers that we had picked up along the way on the stone covered in green moss. This little secluded corner was dark, quiet and moist. The forest around it was, and still is, thick, and the sun rays can barely cut through it. They can reach around it, but they never touch the stone. We would stand there in silence, trying to relate to that poor man who had laid his life so that the people after him could live without fear.