Nina Kosterina was born to the world of revolution and upheaval on her mother’s birthday, 8th April 1921, at a revolutionary camp by the Caspian Sea. Her life unfolded alongside the formative years of the Soviet Union—from the passing of Lenin to the ruthless ascent of Stalin. It was in 1936, against this backdrop of fervent change and political purges, that Kosterina, a bright and passionate member of the Young Communist League, began to record her thoughts and observations in a diary. Nine days after writing the following entry, she headed for the frontline where she was to fight as a partisan soldier. She died during a German attack weeks later.
The Diary Entry
November 5, 1941
I walked a great deal over Moscow today, and saw a great deal. I was especially struck by one building. From the street, it seems intact. But it is only a deception. Only the facade is left, and behind it there is nothing! Behind the blasted windows, you see nothing but the dazzling blue sky. Like a badly made piece of stage scenery.
The days are full of anxious expectation. Hitler is marshalling his forces, preparing to pounce on Moscow. I must come to a decision, and quickly. I cannot remain an onlooker. Of course, it is tempting to live like Flavius, the dispassionate Flavius of The History of the Jewish War. But the future will not forgive me for it! While I sit in my cosy room, people are fighting, suffering, dying. The streets are filled with the clatter of the anti-aircraft guns. Today was a beautiful frosty day, and the Hitlerites did not venture to disturb Moscow. But now, in the evening… there’s the siren! The announcer is repeating over and over, with a special intonation, “Citizens, this is an air-raid alarm!” From the next apartment they are knocking on my wall—”Air-raid alarm, air-raid alarm!” But the Moscow residents who remained in the city have become accustomed to the raids, and few of them go to shelters anymore. I did not go there even once.
Judging from the stories of eyewitnesses, many people have been killed in the raids. A few days ago a whole line before a store on Gorky Street was hit: people waited for raisins and got a bomb. They say the whole street was covered with bodies. But I walk around freely even during raids. In our district, there are anti-aircraft guns near the zoo and the First Movie House. The noise is pretty shattering, but for the time being, it is possible to get along without the ear plugs that are thoughtfully offered to you at every street corner for the preservation of your eardrums. I sleep so soundly at night that I hear nothing. Many people envy me: “You have steel nerves!” They aren’t steel, of course, but I refuse to stuff my ears with earplugs or hide my head under the pillow (like an ostrich in sand), and remain calm through everything.
Nina’s diary was first published in 1962, in Russian, in the Soviet magazine, Novy Mir. In 1968 it was translated into English by Mirra Ginsburg and published by Crown with the title, The Diary of Nina Kosterina.