Christened with Crosses

Written by Eduard Kochergin
Review by Janet Williamson

Eduard Odynyets was born prematurely after his father was arrested for spying. Christened by his Catholic mother, Bronya, in 1939, Eduard and his older brother, Felya, were placed in the blockaded Leningrad orphanage as wards of state when she was arrested. “Christened with crosses” refers to criminals in prisons built on the cruciform plan Orphanages were run like prisons and known as Children’s Crosses, so inmates were said to be christened with crosses.

Eduard adapted rapidly to orphanage life in order to avoid punishment. Underfed and emaciated, he was rescued with other starving children and loaded onto a plane, which was shot down. His older brother died in a madhouse of pneumonia.

Driven to find his mother, and to evade the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, he was caught trying to escape from an orphanage train with a blind boy, Metyai. They survived by wintering in orphanages, escaping and using skills taught them by forest people. Eduard hid in a wagon carrying mortar shells, and when caught he was imprisoned for a year in a Baltic prison.

This is not a misery memoir, just an honest, admirable, enthralling story.