By Abby Gibbs
Today we think of walking as exercise, stress relief, or enjoying time in the beautiful Fall weather. While this may be true when you hear the story of resident Nick Netchaeff Senior, Russian by birth but American by citizenship, you may adopt a new bias of what it really means to walk.
As we approach Veterans Day on November 11 we are proud to say thank you to this incredible immigrant from Russia whose heart beats with American pride.
You may be asking how this could be? Nick would not hesitate a moment in explaining his commitment to this country where he experiences the love of his family and pride any time he sees the American Flag. After all, he fought for the freedom that flag represents.
Nick was born to Russian parents in Yalta, Russia. He and his brother George were typical children but were reared in conflict that typical American children may never experience. At bedtime George and Nick were often hungry and didn’t know if they would have food to eat when they woke up the next day. In fact, their mother was always trying to help those less fortunate and Nick recalls an older lady who came to live with them who had no food. This woman passed away soon after coming to live in their home.
Nick remembers the churches going underground where they prayed and continued to worship.
In spite of the spread of communism around them. He emphasized Russian people are not the problem “it is communism that is the problem”
An opportunity came for Nick’s parents to get farther away by being cleared to work in labor camps. Their family went through the medical clearing to be allowed admittance. Nick has vivid memories of the lines of people, humiliated as they were examined naked in lines. Because Nick was young (age 7) he was cleared to be with his mother. His brother George was older so he was cleared to labor with his father. Even though they came through two different processes they found their way back together to reunite as a family. They had food, shelter, clothing, and work as hard labor in the camp.
They were moved to another labor camp near Vienna, Austria where Nick recalls daily bombings. He and his mother worked most of the time in the kitchen, George and his Dad worked in the camp and were exposed to much more ridicule from the authorities. Nick recalls George being beaten when he spoke up to one of the guards.
When the end of war was declared, the German soldiers literally dropped their weapons and left the labor camp unattended. The laborers were shocked. What did Nick’s parents do? They grabbed their sons and started walking. They walked with no other clothes but the what they wore, no food, and no destination.
They stopped for the night in the woods for shelter and rest. For some reason that night Nick’s Mother felt he needed a bath. Where are you going to find a bathtub in the middle of the woods? Nick doesn’t recall the how but vividly remembers the cold bath his Mother gave him in a tin tub they found in the woods.
When morning came the Netchaeff family started walking again. Think about this: how far can you get your children to walk with you today with no food, no clean clothes, and no entertainment? This journey was made by the determined and dedicated, those who are walking to freedom and for survival.
As night approached, they came across a farm and cautiously approached the house. The owner was hospitable to them and offered shelter in his barn for the night…
Don’t Stop Walking – Part Two is scheduled for Thursday, November 9