In 1944 the mother of the poet Yevtushenko travelled from Siberia to Moscow, where she witnessed a procession of 20,000 German prisoners of war marching through the streets. The generals strutted at their head, oozing contempt, determined to show that they still considered themselves superior. ‘The bastards smell of perfume,’ someone shouted. The crowd yelled its hatred. The women waved their clenched fists in anger, and the police had great difficulty in holding them back. But when the Russians saw how pitifully thin and ragged the ordinary German soldiers were, dirty, battered and completely miserable, many of them hobbling on crutches, the street became silent. Suddenly, an elderly woman broke through the cordon and held out a crust of bread to one of the soldiers. Then from every side, other women copied her, giving food, cigarettes, whatever they had with them. ‘The soldiers were no longer enemies. They were people.’ But such spontaneous outbursts of compassion have seldom been more than rainbows in the sky; they have not changed the climate; they have not so far stimulated a desire to listen to what enemies have to say.
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