In the Field of My Father
Leonid Tishkov.In the Fild of My Father from Leonid Tishkov on Vimeo.
In the beginning of the War in August 1941 my father, who was he commander of an artillery platoon was taken prisoner by German troops and went missing for the next four years of the war. He then returned to his family in the Urals from Siberia, from the Soviet filtration camps, which is where he ended up after being freed from prison by the Americans. For the whole of the war he was a prisoner in Germany and transported from one camp to another right up to the end of the war. My father said almost nothing about this period of his life. Only once he let slip that his unit, stationed near Belaya Tcerkov, Ukraine, was encircled in the first days of the war and that they all had to find their own way out of the trap. Everyone wandered in whatever direction they could to escape, after throwing away their weapons and destroying their documents. Early in the morning he was walking across a vast field, hoping to get across the front line, but judging by the German aeroplanes flying eastward, this would be impossible. Coming to the edge of the field, he saw some indistinct human figures in the morning mist; they were pointing at him and shouting in an unfamiliar language. He put his hands up and slowly walked toward them. Thus my father's war ended without ever having really begun. And so when I travelled through the Kirovograd region I stared into the distance, into the sodden haze, into the drizzle, trying to spot the lonely figure of my father, slowly stumbling through the field with his hands above his head on his way to meet the unknown. It seemed to me that this field that we were riding across was the very field where it had all happened. I got out of the bus and wandered through the knee-high wet grass toward the forest. The damp fog enveloped my body, transporting me back to the past. To this earth, this grass and this moisture it did not matter who was here now. It could have been me or my father. Time had stopped and was rushing backward. Everything around me turned into infinity. My path along this field had become an eternal return, a symbol of my path and memory. When I saw the hazy outlines of the trees in the distance I felt exactly the same fear that my father had experienced when he saw the dark trees and the armed German soldiers heading in his direction. For a short time I lost myself and became my father, in much the same way as people lose their sense of identity when they find themselves in the middle of the steppe, forest or desert without any discernible road. All this only remained in my memory, but memory has no purpose in these places, there is only your empty body, as weightless as a dry stem of corn, and the almost unnoticeable pathway leading somewhere through the fog. The anticipation of death is probably akin to walking along such a path. In the black-and-white photograph you can see a man with his hands in the air. He is coming toward us unarmed, without any of life's belonging, having lost everything, completely alone. It is impossible to make out his face. Even if we approach him we still can't understand who it is. He is so far away it seems that any minute now he will dissolve into the fog and disappear like a wisp of smoke. That - he - is me, my father, your father or you yourself standing in that field between the earth and the sky in the void like a little piece of silent eternity, like eternity itself...