Every story has a beginning, a journey, and an end. Author Vera Leinvebers's story begins in her beloved homeland of Latvia, just prior to the outbreak of World War II. Her early childhood is filled with joy and music, but this idyllic, carefree existence is irrevocably silenced by the advancing drumbeats of war. The journey that follows proves so intense and harrowing that in order to fi nd the emotional separation necessary to face her traumatic childhood memories, Leinvebers fi lters her experiences through the eyes of a young Latvian girl called Lara.
No Time to Cry tells the story of Lara's harrowing ordeal in war-ravaged Europe. It is a story about brutality, hatred, and unimaginable loss, but it is also a lasting testament to one little girl's indomitable will to survive. When she loses nearly everything she holds dear, Lara desperately clings to the all that remains-the music indelibly etched in her memory and a small, smooth stone that she retrieved from the charred remains of her former home. That small stone became her symbol of strength. If it could survive the inferno and devastation, so could she.
Join Lara as a traveller on the path of her war-ravaged childhood, a path that clearly proves that no matter how much one might suffer, when the goal is to survive there is simply no time to cry.
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About the Author
VERA LEINVEBERS was born in Latvia and began her first piano lessons at the age of five. She has gone on to perform for audiences across Europe and North America, including multiple appearances on radio and television. She currently resides in Toronto, where she teaches piano lessons at her private studio.
Read an Excerpt
No Time to Cry
By Vera Leinvebers
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Vera Leinvebers
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFallen Edifice
As I have described, I was a very young child ruthlessly thrown into the midst of a war that brought utter destruction and the gravest horror throughout Europe: this came to be known as World War II. Throughout my war-torn childhood, I frequently became so distraught with deep grief that my heart almost burst. Anyone observing me would have described me as a desolate-looking little girl who had to bear on my own the burden of keeping myself alive.
The attackers had stolen my childhood from me, as with other children in that time and place. Many times during those dreadful days, I would suddenly find myself identifying with others forced to share the same cruel fate; together, we walked the same ragged road of refugees. But those I found myself walking that road with were far older than I; though they certainly were no more deserving of the horror than I, they at least might have had some carefree and joyful years when they were young. Robbed of my childhood and thrown into cruel misery without their many years of experience and the wisdom it brings, I could not comprehend the chaos that swirled around me. All I could do was stand in the midst of it all, dazed and dumbstruck, as the same three questions echoed through my child's mind: Why? Who? Where? Now, as an adult, I wonder if those older people had any clearer understanding than I did at that time. Perhaps the enormity of such evil is beyond comprehension, and no wisdom exists that can make sense of it.
Regardless, I learned to deeply trust and believe in the goodness of my own heart, even while caught up in turmoil so great that I had to struggle constantly to keep my hope for better days alive. My hope and faith collided with harsh reality at every moment of every day, but I forced myself to hold onto my fast-fading memories of how my life had been before the nightmare began....
* * *
I was brought up in a home of abundance, where basic values and respect governed. My parents had acquired the means to maintain our standard of living, and they never doubted that as a result of their arduous efforts they would succeed. They taught me to respect hard work and integrity, and to value the gift of life above all else.
Images of my idyllic early childhood faded fast in the wake of horror, but I clung to them. They filtered across the screen of my mind's eye in wisps, like the threads of a gossamer web. Frequently I felt confused and frustrated to the point of righteous anger—although I didn't think of it that way as a child, of course—when I observed how easily malice could prevail in the midst of adversity. Again, I did not understand or even realise this, so much as I simply witnessed it and could not deny what I saw. I suppose the soul within me was vastly older than my chronological age at that time. Often I was so overwhelmed by my grief that I felt as if I should apologise for existing. In those moments, I struggled to value the gift of life, but my parents had instilled it so deeply within me that it prevailed in spite of everything around me—even in spite of my physical and emotional exhaustion. In the midst of such extreme havoc, it was the only way that I could deal with my circumstances. I was too young to contemplate the loss and evaluate the impact of the "fallen edifice" of society—the shock of the way in which social mores, standards, and behaviour had tumbled into the dust, leaving a trail of death and destruction.
The harsh winds of tyranny had swept across 1930s Europe, eventually closing in on the Baltic countries, tearing our flags to shreds, destroying our culture, scorching our land, and killing our people. As I struggled to survive in my native Latvia, the only thing that kept me alive was my love of life and my instinct for survival.
Most of the time, I had to be alone, pushed away and ignored, because the adults were so consumed by the attackers' invasion that they had no time to pay attention to my childish needs. I understand now that they did the best they could. As they fought for all of us to stay alive, keeping me physically safe was the best they could manage. Still, to me, the innocent child, it felt like physical pain had settled in every cell of my body. Sometimes I wondered what it would be like to dream again. I had dim memories of having dreamt once upon a time, but I had neither the will nor the time to dream during that horror. All I had left was the faith that I would survive the abuse we suffered at the hands of our attackers.
* * *
Gradually, I began to recognise the trees by their sounds—I had already completed intense instruction at the piano, and my acoustic ability was quite keen. These sounds often guided me through the darkness when I had no other means of finding my way. The cascading willow that reached down to the creek was the best hiding place; its soft sound caressed my ears like the most delicate harp. The stately pine, with its intoxicating fragrance, resisted the forceful wind, and its branches resonated like a cello or an oboe. The spruce whispered daintily like a flute, and the huge oak stood strong like a warrior, never submitting to any storm, its creaking like that of the bassoon. The chestnut tree was the tallest of them all, with clusters of blooms trying to reach the heavens; its sound alone reminded me of my beloved piano. The trees became my friends: I listened to them, and they helped me decide which direction would best enable my safe escape.
All those trees were destroyed by fire. Barren and scorched, they would never again sway in the breeze or invite the birds to perch and sing. The luxuriant vegetation that had once reached toward the sun was now gone, diminished to blackened sticks and stumps, and even ashes. The snow that used to sparkle was now covered with the footprints of an angry mob, and the birds' very shadows were afraid of themselves. The fragrance of the trees had been extinguished, and the magical sounds of their music had been silenced— forever, it seemed to me.
The fire was an act of brutality that had ravaged both my homeland and me. The dark clouds seemed to weep for me because I had witnessed such sorrow—and because my tears had run dry and I had no time to cry. I also felt, even then, that my life was like a beautiful song interrupted by brutality: a sharp and vicious staccato that had pierced a melody that, otherwise, would have been smooth and serene.
Throughout the hardships I had to endure, I cannot recall anybody trying to comfort me. I was completely on my own, pushed away and overlooked, even though, looking back, I recognise my parents did the best they could to ensure that we all stayed alive. In order to survive, I stayed in my own comfort zone of shadow and solitude, seeking refuge there by closing my eyes and covering my ears to escape from all the ugliness.
* * *
It was difficult not to find any answers to my endless questions; it would be many years before I understood that the adults were as unable to comprehend our situation as I was. How could a child whose only experiences up to that point had been of love and honesty and respect for all life come to terms with an enemy so insidious—with an evil so seductive that it warped those who formerly had seemed to be good people—that she could never be certain whom it was safe to trust? I learned that the only way to get through the day was by not asking any questions. Instead, I remained in my self-imposed seclusion—my refuge of solitude and silence—intuitively knowing, as only a child forced to grow up too soon can know, that nothing would ever be the same again.
With the grief born of that intuitive knowledge, I began to consider what I already had learned about my country and our people, realising that, strategically, the Baltic countries were geographically situated in a most favourable location for planning the operations of war both on land and sea. I knew that many invading forces had tested my native Latvia and our neighbouring countries many times throughout the centuries. The strength of the hardy people who dwelt along the Baltic Sea—who had never given up, and who had worked so hard, despite many risks and much abuse at the hands of conquering forces—had brought these countries onto the map of the world. Baltic resources, so rich culturally, historically, geographically, and agriculturally, kept these lands endlessly inviting to aggressors. As a result of such aggression, the history and literature of this region reflect suffering and strength, the combination of which leads to the ability to survive—as countries and as human beings. The folklore strongly states and reflects the abundance of the land and the people, in all forms of art; the creators of such art continued to express this, even as they struggled to survive during the wartime occupation.
Because I was but a child during the war, although I already had learned about some of my heritage, I did not—could not—know of the wealth of historical, cultural, and natural treasures awaiting my appreciation. Nevertheless, the attacking forces either stole or destroyed it all before my uncomprehending eyes. The Baltic countries were stripped of the bare necessities of life, yet the spirit of the people could never be broken. Even though I witnessed my beloved Latvia being turned into a wasteland, I simultaneously drew strength from the same land that had sustained my people for centuries. I bore witness, and now I write with that same strength, in tribute to my country—and to those who found the courage to fight, even if they perished in the process.
The tyranny, which had acquired its power through merciless force and used that acquired power so unjustly on the innocent, swept through the Baltic countries in the same way that it had swept through the rest of Europe. Throughout that fateful time, I had no idea it was to be the last summer I would spend in the country of my childhood, so cruelly stolen from me and so viciously destroyed, as the land itself was. Before long, fate would remove me to faraway places where only the screams of that sweeping tyranny remained, leaving in the wake of its brutal devastation nothing but scars.
I spent countless hours hiding where the shadows and silence gave me time to think about the turmoil—even after the war, I would think about it—and the only conclusion I could reach, the only sense I could make of all that senselessness, was that tyranny has no virtue. It cannot possibly have any virtue or any goodness. It does not have the courage or rightful means to build on the genuine values of hard work and justice and respect for life; it only has the means to destroy. It operates by the sheer dint of its power, accumulated by force—by brutality—not by right. The power acquired by war machines can only lead to ignominious defeat, as neither effort nor the ability to think is required to devastate the land or its people. Nothing daunts such an unthinking and thereby merciless juggernaut in its quest to convert culture and beauty—and life!—into rubble, ashes, and dust.
I witnessed the result of the actions of tyranny and its turbulent mob. I was too young to express myself in words—and who was there for me to talk to, anyway? How could I, a mere child, find words to describe what I felt and what I witnessed? The music of my childhood swirled in a deafening cacophony, and I wondered if I would ever hear beautiful sounds again.
As I explained, my intuition enabled me to sense the gravity of the situation, and so I realised that tyranny never has any creative ideas or plans for development of higher standards of living, because tyranny does not value life. On the contrary, I saw that tyrannical actions not only proved costly for the victims but also worked to the detriment of that tyranny's own long-term existence. Again, I cannot really describe how I knew this, other than to say that, somehow, I just knew. With disgust, I saw the tyranny in my child's mind as a mammoth monster, and I imagined that monster's brain devouring itself through its own insatiable greed. This vision helped me to survive, because I knew that evil would not prevail.
Unfortunately, tyranny, on its journey to power, which destruction and terror facilitate, manufactures malice and feeds on fear and prejudice, to the detriment of many innocent people. The fallacies that it promulgates eventually result in its digging its own grave, but not before the innocent suffer catastrophically—the horror inherent in the system of tyranny inevitably does collapse, but never without devastation.
Those who suffer such circumstances, in whatever capacity and to whatever degree, cannot escape without the deepest scars. Even now, after a lifetime spent living in Canada, far from the war in both distance and time, I still struggle to find the answers and reasons for my past experiences. It has been endlessly painful to remember the days of torment. Many times I wondered why I was chosen to live. Was it to relive every painful moment? Was it to capture and record my memories, so that I could share them with others—so that the world will never forget, and never repeat, such evil? Perhaps I will never know; but, by telling and sharing my story, perhaps I will come closer to knowing.
I have since met others who have endured similar brutalities of war; their scars, like my own, are so deeply embedded in their souls that we do not need words to recognise one another. Our silence, our discreetly uttered sighs, and our facial expressions all speak volumes; we communicate more meaningfully than mere words could ever allow us to, whether with one another or with others whom we encounter.
Let me elaborate on this before you read the rest of my story. As an adult, I could find contentment just by looking at a panorama of healthy trees, finding such peace and serenity—and, yes, quiet joy—in watching those trees as they swayed in the breeze, kissing the sun and welcoming the birds, as trees are intended to do, not marred and scorched by the scourge of war. I was able to hear the natural music again. I often thought about people who have not had to experience the cruelties and demoralisation of war and conquest; always I wondered if they took the time to notice the infinite beauty of nature and freedom and to recognise the sensitivity of their balance—and also whether they realised the responsibility we all have for ensuring their continuing existence.
I wondered—and still do—if they taste a piece of bread the same way I do, and if they marvel at the potato the way I still do. I remember the one I dug up in the field. Ravenous, I ate it raw, grateful for the sustenance. That potato was of inestimable value to me in my hunger-it held the power of life for me—yet I shared it with my beloved mare, Lolo, so that we both might live, even if only for one more day. Every day is precious, especially when you know it might be your last. No matter how difficult, vicious, cruel, or violent the times were, I always shared—simply because I knew all too well how it felt to be hungry to the point of true starvation. And, yes, I still find bread and potatoes every bit as magical as they were all those years ago; and I still share whenever I see the need.
In the midst of that horror, I could recall glimmers of my early childhood, and I remembered my parents' generosity to others, which left an indelible mark on my character. I have never strived to accumulate possessions for my own comfort; instead, I have always believed that it is more important to help and give to others, especially those closest to me. I can still feel the shock and horror of watching my brother and many other young men forced to sacrifice their lives in the combat that brought such destruction and devastation across all of Europe.
I took refuge in solitude and silence, wondering what it would be like to dream. I had dreams as a very young child, of course, but in the midst of horror, I could no longer dream. I wondered, but I found no answer—all I could do was long for the chance to dream again and to experience the outcome of but one dream. Once I emerged from the nightmare of war, I was free again—to speak, to plan, to hope, and even to dream—but my only wish was that, somehow, all wars could be erased, as if they had never happened ... and would never happen again.
Excerpted from No Time to Cry by Vera Leinvebers Copyright © 2011 by Vera Leinvebers. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsNote to Readers....................xi
Knock On the Door....................9
Trail of Fire....................45
Field of Fear....................59
Beyond the Chill....................109