Marcela’s Revenge – Fascism and Communism in Crimea

Tyrants to the right of them...tyrants to the left of them

In 1854, Crimea was contested by the British and the Russians, and maybe the only bit of beauty that arose from that conflict was the poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Charge of the Light Brigade. I memorized it in 8th grade for a class project and it still gives me chills.

Swastika & sickle

This year Crimea is contested by the Ukrainians and the Russians, or the Nationalists and the Communists if you want to revive the WWII labels.

Bitter hatreds still abound there as the factions recall the differing philosophies as communist versus fascist. Upon examination, I think the conflict might have been closer to being between those who were more opposed to Hitler versus those who were more opposed to Stalin. That’s a grisly choice of allegiances if you can’t see a third way.

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon in front of them

Volley’d and thunder’d;

Storm’d at with shot and shell,

Boldly they rode and well,

Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of Hell

Rode the six hundred.

– Alfred, Lord Tennyson 1854

As a result of the tumult in Ukraine, the media is filled, again, with endless references to the false opposites of fascism and communism, left wing and right wing, neo-Nazis, neo-socialists, liberals and conservatives, collaborators and partisans .

If you, like I do, find these discussions confusing and tedious, you would be lucky to meet Marcela.

When I met her, she was standing in an alley in the rain bent over a Walgreen’s walking cane wearing a long, wet, once-wool sweater looking down at 3 bags of groceries on the ground. I asked if she needed help and she said, “Yes, thank you, I could use some help,” in heavily accented, but clear, English.

Not Marcela ... same feeling

Could have been Marcela

She looked to be 100 years old, thin white hair, no babushka, bare feet in converse sneakers with cut out backs to be slip-ons, tattered slacks that were soaked to the knee. One of the bags had half groceries and half empty aluminum cans. They were too heavy for me to lift comfortably with one hand, and I shifted the load to two.

“I only live on Wolcott, are you going that way?” she asked politely. Two and a half blocks… at Marcela’s pace that was time for a lot of conversation.

The ensuing banter is paraphrased below.

Her answer to, “Are you cold?” was a reference to three years in a concentration camp, “…so this isn’t so bad.”

“Poland? ”

“No… Siberia. Arrested in Poland.”


“No, Stalin. He arrested all the Polish Army officers, put a bullet in their heads. Hitler used gas.”


“If I live to October I’ll be 90.”

“I was arrested on October 4th, 1940.” It was the month of her 18th birthday she explained. She assuredly could have told me the hour and minute, but I didn’t ask.

“We spent days in a train made for, you know, animals. They gave us a handful of corn to eat.”

“How did you move to Bucktown?” (A Chicago neighborhood)

“I lived in 9 countries before I came to America.” (Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, England and I forgot the rest but she hadn’t)

“World War II?

“My brother fought in the Polish Army with the Americans at the battle of Monte Casino in Italy. My son was in Vietnam for a year but, thank God, he wasn’t hurt. He never wanted to talk about it.”

“They got Stalin when he was only 73. Poisoned him a little every day for 4 1/2 years, just a tiny bit every day. There was a discernible twinkle in her good eye as she reflected on Stalin’s demise, at a younger age than she.

“Who got Stalin?”

“His own people…Beria.” Soviet historians may debate the cause of Stalin’s death, but Marcela is certain.

“I think I passed my house, it’s back there.”  (A few steps)

“I can’t see from my left eye anymore, I had a stroke.” She pointed to her left temple, “My brain, right her, you know…exploded.”

Her ramshackle frame and crumbling red brick house was a century old cave in the newly rehabbed block of fresh looking homes, the only color against the gray wood porch was a soaked and dirty Cookie Monster doll propped up as greeter.

“Do you live alone”

She saw the difference clearly, “Stalin …put a bullet in their heads. Hitler used gas.”

“No, I have a housekeeper. She has been with me for 4 years.” The housekeeper peeked out at our stair climb and looked also to be 100 years old.

She asked my name and made me repeat it three times until she could say it. “Cyril, I am going to say a prayer for you.”

I asked her about money, “No thank you, I am not poor, I only don’t have health.”

She didn’t whine, didn’t complain, didn’t seem the least bit sorry for herself. I think I’m a little jealous.

I also don’t think she cared if Stalin was a communist or a fascist.

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