It was a pogrom.
The men of the village had run into the woods at the rumor of the Cossack's coming. They knew they would be murdered. They believed that humanity would protect their women and children.
They were wrong, very wrong.
The absence of booty and male targets only angered the marauders. Their vengeance was swift and sure.
She was just eleven then, a mere slip of a girl destined to reach only four feet nine inches tall at the full bloom of her maturity.
She scurried amid a moving labyrinth of horses and men, clutching an infant sister to her breast. Paths and exits from the maelstrom appeared and disappeared faster than she could reach them. Thrown to the ground numerous times by brutes, she scrambled to her feet repeatedly to take flight.
A saber sliced through the night and slashed at her shoulder while her mother and one sister hid in a haystack.
Her older sister was raped and murdered.
The family might have escaped the carnage. They had left the village to journey to America the year before, but a bureaucrat sent them back because her mother was found to be infected with a disease that had to be cured before they could pass muster at Ellis Island.
Her younger brother, a mere lad of two or three, was taken by the hand of a woman and led to safety in the woods. She returned him later following the attack and remained only in his memory, a guardian angel, anonymous.
When the bandits departed she lay on the ground, the victim of a bayonet thrust to her chest.
Her left ring finger lay lost somewhere in the dust.
The infant lay nearby, dead from the same thrust that wounded her.
She and the infant were thrown into the same common grave, a mere ditch hastily consecrated in the confusion.
Later, amid the cooling bodies, she awoke. Survivors seeking their families found her and pulled her back to the land of the living.
Now, in the winter of her one hundred and first year, we deposited her in her final grave.
Beloved by all.
Known universally as “Grandma” even by those who were not of her family.
I have known courage in my lifetime, even great courage. I witnessed acts of valor, and helped document four in Vietnam that won awards of the Medal of Honor. Still, I am humbled to have known her, to have been gifted by her with a daughter who became my wife.
Her name was Fagila, Russian meaning “tiny bird”.
That describes her well.
She was a tiny bird, one who soared with eagles.