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A Life Longer Than a Century
Anna Veniaminova-Tower is turning 102 on July 1. Grandgrand-granddaughter of Hierarch, Metropolitan of Moscow, apostle of Siberia and America Innokentiy (Veniaminov), granddaughter of widow empress Maria Fedorovna’s confessor, together with Russia has seen the Revolution, two world wars, a civil war and reprisals. They survived World War II together with her husband as a part of technical maintenance crew, restoring destroyed bridges at the Southern Front. For 20 years now, Anna Innokentyevna has lived in the Netherlands.
Anna Innokentyevna meets me at the door of her small cozy apartment in Hilversum, smiling humbly with her vivid eyes: “What do I tell you? Nothing interesting!”
Anna Innokentyevna’s grandgrand-grandfather Hierarch Innokentiy (1797 – 1879) – an outstanding orthodox missioner and illuminator, was the first orthodox bishop of Kamchatka, Yakutia, Amur River Region and North America. Ivan Popov-Veniaminov by his secular name was born in Anginskoye settlement in the Irkutsk Province to the family of an acolyte of the Saint Prophet Elijah. At the age of 9, he entered the Irkutsk Seminary, after which he became a priest at the Irkutsk Annunciation Church. In 1923, he left to have his service on the Aleut Islands with his family.
After the death of his wife, with whom they had six children, he took the vows, was given the name Innokentiy and became the bishop of Kamchatka and Aleutian Islands. His diocese included Aleutian and Kuril Islands, Kamchatka and Okhotsk sea coast. In 1850, he became an archbishop and Yakutsk Region was added to his diocese.
During his service period, he ñhristianized dozens of thousands of people, made an alphabet and a grammar of the Aleutian language, translated saint and prayer books into Aleut, Yakut and Tungus languages, opened numerous temples and schools for children and adults in his diocese, where studies were conducted in Russian and local languages. He stopped the smallpox epidemic thanks to vaccination, taught the natives to be smiths and carpenters and contributed to annexation of the Amur River Region to Russia. His “Note of Unalashkinskiy Region Islands” was a big contribution to the research of the Aleut Islands nature, and “Something about Amur” Note was dedicated to the opportunities of Amur navigation and settling its coasts.
From 1868 – Mitropolite of Moscow and Kolomna. Canonized by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on September 23 (October 6), 1977. Memorial days - March 31 and September 23.
Between Wars and Revolution
Anna Innokentyevna Veniaminova-Tower was born in Saint Petersburg, in her grandfather’s house, archpriest Ioann Veniaminov, widow empress Maria Fedorovna’s confessor, Saint Aleksander Nevskiy Temple at Anichkov Palace Rector. After the revolution Ioann Veniaminov, Companion of the Order of St. Anna of 2nd rank and golden pectoral cross with precious adornments, was deported from Petrograd to Voronezh at first, and afterwards to Kashin, where he died at the age of 91 in 1947. Both of his sons, including Anna Innokentyevna’s father, were shoot.
- I do not remember the Revolution quite well…, tells Anna Innokentyevna. The windows were covered with blankets and we heard shooting. Then we moved to Moscow. We all lived in Meshchanskaya Street – mom, aunt, me and my sister, two cousins, my grandmother and our old nanny.
Grandmother was chosen a bread warden – they gave bread to only one person from a house. She assigned an assistant and together they went to get bread for 21 flats with a big basket. Afterwards, she divided bread in grams for everyone and we delivered it. It was the only way to get bread then. And there was nothing more to eat. Together with my sister Marina, we got food at kindergarten – there was soup and toys. After school, my cousins used to get free lunches from American canteen ÀÐÀ (non-governmental organization American Relief Administration helped the hungry in Soviet Russia in 1921-1923 – author’s note). A queue there gathered starting from night, but the boys squeezed somehow and managed to get the food. My mom and grandmother ate some kind of potato peelings, which my aunt got somewhere.
It was cold. For ink not to freeze, we used to hold it in the bosom. It stayed warm then and we could write. We made ice rinks at home – when adults went to work, we poured water in the passage, it froze and we “skated”. Our cousins walked near the railroad looking for wood heads, which were not entirely burned, took it and we fired a furnace, which was made right in the middle of the room from bricks.
Once a day, granny took us to the toilet at the Riga Railway Station – there was no wastewater disposal system and the entire yard was fouled up.
There was a lot of thugs then, like those guys, who attached springs to their feet, wore white blankets and when it turned dark, they frightened passers-by and took their wallets. We called them “bouncers”.
I was once going to school on a tram, there was a huge noise, and everyone went off the tram. A naked man and a woman went inside with only ribbons on them, which read “Off With the Shame!”
And when I was at the fourth grade, they gave us ABC books and notebooks, made groups of three students and gave us addresses, where we had to go and teach the illiterate – they were drunkards in general. Every group had its own “student”. They usually lived in basements, they were drunk, shouted, it was dirty all around. We shook our shoes, although they didn’t offend us there. It was during a semester and at school, they asked us how our “students” studied. It was called elimination of illiteracy.
But NEP (New Economic Policy) was a merry time! After there was nothing, shops were full. What shop displays were like! We walked and watched. And the women – dressed to kill. At school, we had a couple of girls, who got jumpers right away – there were no clothing before. It was a kind of a prosperity period for a couple of years, but afterwards everyone was put in prison…
“Lighters”, Bridge Construction Trains and Victory Day
- I met my husband Lazar Tower before the War, in 1937 at the construction of the Stone Bridge in Moscow. He was the main engineer, I was a technician. I was not allowed to become an engineer as a daughter of a public enemy. Stone Bridge, Krasnoholmskiy, Novoarbatskiy, Luzhniki – he built all of them, four bridges only in Moscow.
We were living in Moscow, near Nikitskiye Gates, when the war stroke. It was Sunday. My husband did not go to the construction site and all of a sudden his friend called and said:”Listen, its war!” He did not believe. And my mother called: “You know, war has been declared”. I just took her from hospital then and thought that she got something wrong – they wrote about war in France then in newspapers. We did not pay attention… Then, the Germans made air strikes every night at 10 o’clock – they launched those small bombs – “lighters”. All the men had to catch them in the attic at night. I was to come to a bomb shelter, but everyone was like sentenced there. And I though I better die than stay there. So, I went to the attic with my husband and caught the “lighters”! We caught them and damped them in sand. But I have to say it was so beautiful! You look at the dark sky from the inside of a roof, German airplanes fly in it… Machine guns are shooting with tracer bullets – like burning dashes everywhere, glowing. Glowing planes around and a massive glaze on the background – the Trehgornaya Manufacture was burning, it was so beautiful!
We went to the war together. A bridge construction train at the Southern Front was an entire organization with workers, technicians and carriages. Astrakhan, Rostov-on-Don, Nikolayev – we restored destroyed bridges there, at the passages under bombings… and there was our son with us, my mother, husband’s sister and eight foundling cats. But the most frightening moment was when typhoid fever emerged, my husband got ill. And there were no hospitals, nothing… I nursed him back to health…
We came back to Moscow in 1944, our home was completely devastated. Our house and apartment remained intact, but everything was stolen, furniture destroyed. I went to the yard keeper and saw my cups there… But the piano remained untouched! /p>
Victory Day… We were waiting for it to be declared for three days! No sleep! We did give away our radios, when the War started. We only had a black “plate”. And we did wait for it to speak for three days. And, as luck would have it, fell asleep that day. And all of a sudden at three in the morning the streets were full with scream! It can’t be imagined! Everyone opened the doors, windows and everyone screamed: “Victory!” Everyone ran outdoors, kissed each other, cried, ran somewhere like insane (her eyes get dim with tears). It was such a day!
- Music was always playing at home. My husband’s sister Sonya was a harp player – a soloist of the Bolshoi Theatre. My husband sang, he had a wonderful voice, but his father did not let him enter conservatory, he said it was not a masculine profession. Our daughter Tatyana played harp ever since she was four. She was studying at the Moscow Conservatory in Vera Dulova’s class, when Evgeniy Mravinskiy took her as a soloist to the symphony orchestra of the Leningrad Philharmonic. Every Saturday she came to us and then said: “Mom, I can’t take this anymore”. And we moved to Leningrad.
Our daughter was an honorary artist, professor of the Leningrad Conservatory, she had numerous brilliant concerts! So many recording had she made, she travelled the entire world round! And I was baby-sitting with my granddaughter. Anastasia learned playing violin at the Special Music School under the Leningrad Conservatory.
We moved to Spain in 1991, Tatiana needed a surgery (thyroid cancer). And a year after – to the Netherlands. She had another surgery here, gave two concerts, returned and died two weeks after… it was in 1994… and I stayed with a 14-year-old granddaughter. I had to raise her, but did not want to move far away from the grave. I am grateful to Holland they did not leave me behind. My granddaughter Anastsia Kozlova won several international music competitions, finished the Amsterdam Conservatory, got married and now performs and organizes festivals.
...I did not even think I would live for so long. Everyone has gone: my husband, sister, my son and daughter… But I have my grand-granddaughter Varvara, she is 11 now, although she is very busy – she sings in the National Children Choir. And we are at home with my cat.
I visited Moscow last year only for the Victory Day. Embassy invited me to the Memorial in Leningrad, I flew to Moscow from there, I have nephews there. I was in the Mariinskiy Theatre four times – ballets and operas! And restaurants have I visited, and they invited me to country houses. Holiday every day. Such a disaster! Such a way of life it was, hard to imagine (laughs). Like I am not hundred at all. I met all the friends, who still remember me. I walked. Alone (proudly)! No one was accompanying me.