Geography of my Life
Serial continuation. The previous installment was published in Volk auf dem Weg, February, 2010, 42-43.
Becker, Heinrich. “Geography of my Life." Volk auf dem Weg, March 2010, 42-43.
Translation from the Original German-language text to American English provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
I didn’t have to search for a long time to locate my parents’ house in a new development of several new single-family homes.
I stayed with my parents for two weeks and helped my father in construction of the home. During that time we were able to finish the roof, to insulate the ceilings, and to install all the windows.
On the day of my departure my parents accompanied me to the railroad station. As I left, my father told me that they intended to sell the new home and to get away from Siberia. But they did not know where they might move to.
Of course, they would not be allowed to return to the Volga region, as Alexander had found out just after the special military command supervision for all Germans had been lifted and he had traveled to Engels, the former capital city of the dissolved Volga German Republic to see what things were like there. When he tried to register at an official place, he was told that as a German he would need to leave the city within twenty-four hours or be subject to arrest.
Shortly after his return to the parents’ home, sibling after sibling had begun to leave the family home. They moved to Kazakhstan, where many German Russians were already living. Alexander and his wife moved to Karatau; Waldemar found work in Achan-Garan and started a family there; and Ella, Peter, and Mina decided to settle down with their families in Chimkent.
Later on, my parents sold their home and chose as their own new home the settlement called Belye Vody near Chimkent in South Kazakhstan. Living there as well was a brother of my mother, Karl Winter, along with his own family. Father built another house, and on his large piece of property he planted an orchard and a plot of grapevines. Until his retirement he worked as a carpenter, and mother was taking care of the home.
As I took leave of my parents, they accompanied me to the train station. It hurt me to leave them there all to themselves.
The train arrived in Aktyubinsk in the early morning. I went to the sewing factory where Eugenia worked. Passing the large windows of the factory I saw Eugenia working at a tailor’s table. In 1958, shortly before my departure, she had completed her training for tailoring and was subsequently permitted to cut patterns in the sewing studio.
We arranged to meet in the afternoon, and on that day I proposed to her. Her positive reply made that moment one of the happiest in my life.
During the following day I met some relatives of Eugenia, namely, her sister Hilda and brother-in-law Ewald. Both made a good impression on me. At the time Hilda was working as a technician in a dental lab, and Ewald was a sales employee for a local enterprise.
Soon after that Eugenia and I moved in together. Our first apartment together consisted of a small room that we rented privately. In 1959 our first son was born. Although we both had solid work, our incomes at the time were not high. Still, we tried to save what we could, because we realized that we needed a larger apartment.
During that same year Ewald and Hilda began construction on their own home in the Sazda district of Aktyubinsk. This district consisted of private homes and was located between the old town and new developments. By the time Ewald and Hilda moved into their own home, they already had two daughters. Moving in with them was Hilda’s mother, Magdalene, who had lost her husband in 1937 to the Stalinist “cleansings” and lived with her daughter from then on.
They had also planned to have a room for Eugenia, me and our son. I helped Ewald as much as I could in the construction of the home. But as we were ready to put up the walls I took ill with a colon infection and had to spend three weeks in the hospital. Pains actually continued to bother me off and on for years. They ended only after a female doctor, six years later, diagnosed a chronic appendicitis and I was operated on successfully.
Despite my illness the construction project continued apace, and when I was released from the hospital, the main structure of the house was finished. By autumn we were all able to move in.
Living in a private home had many advantages. We all felt freer, and we also had a small property adjoining the home, on which we also established a large food-growing area and were able to put in a normal garden.
Eugenia and I also wished to build a house and were able to acquire a lot nearby. I took on a better job with better pay, but had to make frequent business trips. There were times when I was able to stay at home only once a month. Some of my travel locations were more than a hundred kilometers [over sixty miles] from Aktyubinsk.
Building our house took two years before we were finally able to move in during the winter of 1962. I had built the heating system myself. At first it consisted merely of a coal-fed furnace, to which I attached a set of pipes filled with water and distributed them over all the rooms. However, the quality of coal available in Aktyubinsk was rather poor, and so I decided later on to build an oil furnace, and oil was available at a reasonable price. This furnace was much more efficient, making it possible to have comfortable heat in every room.
During the mid-Sixties, the doctors diagnosed our son with lung disease, so he had to be in a children’s sanatorium for a whole year. The Borovoye Sanatorium was in the Kokchetav region, several hundred kilometers from Aktyubinsk. AT that time it was not possible for us to visit our son frequently, but after one year he was able to come home a healthy boy.
Only later did he tell us that, due to his German name, he had some difficult times at Borovoye. For example, during his fist day there the nurse on duty gathered the children together, made our seven-year-old son stand on a chair, and then said, “Look, children, the boy standing on the chair is W. Becker, a German. The Germans attacked our country and killed missions of our people.” And so on and so forth.
The “enlightening” actions of the nurse would soon take effect. During the following months our son again and again had to defend himself against personal attacks from other boys, who persecuted him as a “fascist.’ Surely a child’s soul can easily be influenced, and in the hands of ideologues, children can quickly become easily manipulated tools.
As our son was letting us in on his bad experiences, he told us he no longer wanted to be German, because he feared further humiliation. Eventually we were able to calm him down and to show him by examples that, even Germans, not the least due to diligence, can be successful in the Soviet Union.
After starting school in Aktyubinsk, our son quickly demonstrated his aptitude for technical matters. This interest developed further, and after completing school he chose to become an electrician in the area of technical communication.
In March of 1966 our second son was born in an Aktyubinsk birthing center, so now there were four of us in our own single-family home.
Our youngest showed interest in languages as early as elementary school and, during military service in Germany, he took up language studies. On August 12, 1970, the so-called Moscow Treaty between Germany and the Soviet Union was signed. We associated with it the hope that relations between the two countries might improve. But for us nothing changed for the time being.
Via the “Deustche Welle” [German short wave radio service – TR,] we learned in 1974 of the visit by the German Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in Moscow, where he was conducting negotiations with Brezhnev. At that time we had acquired a powerful world [short wave] receiver and listened with great interest to foreign radio transmitters such as “Deutsche Welle” and “Voice of America.” Because of Soviet interference transmissions, we were able to hear the programs only with poor quality.
By the middle of the 1970s, Germans in Kazakhstan increasingly thought about the idea of emigrating to Germany. At first the number of families turning in emigration applications was fairly small, simply because many did not dare to turn in such applications.
We, too, knew that making sure that the requisite formalities were taken care of could meet with all sorts of difficulties. Frequently, after turning in their applications, heads of families, and at times even their adult children, would be invited to meet with the authorities, who constantly attempted to intimidate those who were applying and to dissuade them from their plans.
(To be continued in the next issue.)
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.