What it’s like growing up near Hitler’s swimming pool
If you find yourself wondering where I got my strange sounding last name, well you can blame that on my husband. He’s Ukrainian (although, side note, he’s now an American citizen and voted in his first election!) and that means that this girl not only got a really unique name but I also get to travel to Ukraine.
When we married back in 2006 the extent of my international travel was a few trips to Mexico and a Caribbean cruise. Just one year after our wedding we planned a trip to Ukraine.
In the middle of winter.
We were still living in Louisiana at the time and I had no idea what to expect in terms of the weather. Although I spent a good amount of time worrying about layers and puffer jackets, I never really prepared myself for learning the history and culture of my husband’s people. My husband and his parents made sure I didn’t return from the trip only remembering the bitter cold – they made a point to give me intricate and detailed information about their country with its 1,000+ years of history.
One such story really stuck with me, and spurred me to write the following just a few days after I heard the tale.
On the short cab ride from my husband’s hometown to his grandparent’s village, he pointed out Hitler’s bunker – an underground playground for the Nazi elite complete with swimming pools and other recreational activities located 300 meters underground.
I was unaware of Ukraine’s strategic location as a crossroad through East and West Europe. I was also unaware that Hitler’s army had taken over the West of Ukraine in a matter of months, with Nazi soldiers taking up residence in the homes of Ukrainian citizens.
This idea of a foreign invader setting up shop in our backyards is beyond comprehension for Americans – with the closest attack by a nation being in Hawaii and still never being ‘conquered.’ I could never imagine a man as nasty and ruthless as Hitler swimming laps only miles away from where I, as a child, spent my summer days doing the same. It’s moments like these that I’m reminded of how incredibly lucky the U.S. has been to be strategically located far away from our foreign enemies.
Shortly after, when the Nazis were retreating, Hitler’s playground was bombed and flooded by his own people and all that remains are structural stones and pillars. Today this flooded bunker remains uninvestigated due to suspected chemical poisoning left behind. Legends have it that mines underneath Vinnitsia remain booby trapped and that following its construction, the 12,000 laborers who created this underground world – complete with railroads – were murdered by Hitler to keep the plans and layout secret.
But, still, I’m sure the remnants hauntingly remind nearby residents of the evils capable of humans, the resilience of the soldiers in Moscow who successfully held off Hitler’s armies and the ensuing years under the iron arm of Communism.