It’s the fall of 1915, and the Germans occupy Pinsk, forcing Jewish women into labour. Look at the soldier in the foreground on the right, then count four women to the left, and there she is: my great-great grandmother, Bessie Neidich. Moments before the photo was taken, she was digging a trench.
See how her hands grasp the shovel— one capping the top, one splayed along the side. Imagine the feel of the wood under her hands, tiny splinters abrading roughened fingertips. She commands it, this shovel, keeping its point firmly in the ground, though the soldiers are so near, though they’ve forced her to stand stock-still to memorialize her suffering. Pose for the camera! Bessie’s in control, but she can’t keep the rage out of her expression: her hooded eyes, the crease of her mouth. Notice her staring straight into the camera. Unapologetic. Her elbows behind the women to her right and left, bracing them. Bracing us, her future daughters, against oppressions yet to come.
Leanne Rose Sowul
Leanne Rose Sowul is an award-winning writer with publications in JuxtaProse, Barnstorm, Hippocampus, etc., and features in Read650 shows at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. Thank you for reading her work!
The Ekphrastic Review
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