‘That was the beginning of our missions. We’d go door to door to look for orphaned children.’

Igor and Valentina Morshtein, on a mercy mission

‘That was the beginning of our missions. We’d go door to door to look for orphaned children.’

Igor and Valentina Morshtein, on a mercy mission

Their lives were intertwined by war, the siege of Leningrad, and 40 years as friends working in the same factory. But romance blossomed only after both became widowers. Valentina was raised in orphanages; Igor’s mother died trying to evacuate their famine-ravaged city. One day Igor and some boys heard a child crying. “We went to look,” he recalls. “We found a one-year-old baby trying to nurse from his mother lying dead next to him.” That, he says, “was the beginning of our missions. We’d go door to door to look for orphaned children.”

A drop-off place was organized, and babies were given the last names of the children who found them. “We didn’t think to look for identification papers,” Igor says. “We were boys, 12 to 14. We were not serious, but we felt the need that was there.” By the time they were old enough to fight, “we were malnourished, we didn’t have the strength to pick up our weapons.” The army fed him, and he eventually helped liberate Leningrad from the Nazi stranglehold. Four years ago, he got a call from a veteran’s committee. A woman was looking for him. “It turns out I had found her as a baby during the siege and took her to the baby drop-off.” She was named after him.

Hear more voices from World War II.