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Straßburg – My Home Village on the Volga

Heffel, Valeria Bauer. "Straßburg – My Home Village on the Volga." Volk auf dem Weg, December 2009, 42-43.

Final continuation of a series, the previous installment having been published in Volk auf dem Weg, Issue 8-9, 2009, 41.

Translation from the Original German-language text to American English provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado


A year after that event, A.F., a Communist, arrived. He was a tall, strong man who had large ears that stuck out and also large feet. He and his wife M. had the habit of borrowing things such as flour or water melon honey, but without ever returning them. M. was a rather attractive, but a lazy and impudent woman.

A.F. started in again on pressuring my father to join the collective. But father did not budge this time, either, especially since we had already paid dearly for it earlier on: in 1931 Communists came to our farm yard at a time when my father was not present, and had taken our only cow and, thus, our means of nourishment. We three children and mother broke into tears, but this did not impress the men. Not even the fact that the youngest child was a mere two years old held any significance for them. This had been revenge for the fact that father had resisted joining the collective.

One time we were awakened by the “stormers,” who arrived in the middle of the night to search for grain in our house. Father had hung a bucketful of it – our only means of nourishment – above the stove, in hopes that the men would assume the bucket was empty since it was just hanging there. It proved to be a false hope. Among the “stormers” was T., a man who had a limp, who hit the bucket with his cane and recognized by the resulting sound that the bucket was not empty. Thus we were suddenly without the last bit of reserves.

These “stormers” would regularly comb the entire village for grain, under cover of dark and mist. Among them was N.W., a Communist. His daughters were always dressed much better than we and behaved snootily toward us. Unlike us, they did not need to stand in line in front of the village store for nights on end to garner a piece of clothing. Anything they needed was brought to their home.

In 1936 A.F.’s wife M. came to “power.” After M. had joined the Communist Party she began to implement the party line with great zeal. She denounced undesirable (to her) villagers, who subsequently, considered “enemies of the people,” would be hauled away, taken to Saratov and, not infrequently, shot in the prisons there. It was horrible how, through the slanders voiced by this woman, conscientious folks would lose their lives, innocently and without judicial investigation.

When Alexander Bauer, my father’s brother, rejected her attempts at getting close to him, she threatened to make him pay for it. And in 1936 he was indeed arrested taken to Saratov, after which no one saw him or heard from him. Only by 1957 did his daughter learn that he had been shot to death only a day after his arrest.

During the 1930s, people would tell each other right away of who might have been picked up during the previous night. Not even Communists were spared the so-called “cleansings.’ Not infrequently there might be a spat over a warm place to be or over a piece of bread. This sort of thing finally affected even N.W. The hunt for “enemies of the people” lasted for about three years and whisked away countless people whom the Communists and their henchmen had on their conscience just from our own village.

I can still remember well how about fifty homes, those whose owners had been dispossessed and deported or arrested and shot, were simply razed so that doors, window frames, beams or parts of roof could be sued for other construction. The clay walls would eventually deteriorate, and eventually former homes would turn into simple heaps of clay and sit there as mute witnesses to family tragedies, but also to the cruelty and underhandedness of the Communists and their henchmen thugs.

Across from our farm home three piles of clay had remained. Nothing reminded any longer of the fact that once there had been handsome houses that had been home to diligent and conscientious people. For example, the Weber family had owned there a beautiful home with a fertile garden and a nearby brook. The family was dispossessed even though one of their sons was suffering from tuberculosis and sat in a wheel chair. Of their home, only a heap of clay remained as well. Across from the club house, two other homes were also destroyed, and one home, following the deportation of its owner family, eventually housed a sheep’s cheese production.

For a time we lived in the house owned by David Ril. His wife was my father’s sister. To avoid complete famine, the Rils had moved into the hospital. One time we were visited by a neighbor woman named Opfer, who gave us a fine butter container and a pan. Her family had also been dispossessed, and she had barely managed to smuggle these two items out of the place even as the “stormers” were searching the entire premises.

Deportation

Toward the end of August of 1941 I went to Seelmann to resume studying at the Pedagogical Technical Institute, where I had been since 1939. As we students arrived, the entrance was being guarded by armed soldiers, who had been ordered not to let anyone in. Soon the director appeared and told us that we should all go back home. We would be informed by mail concerning the start of the school year.

By ship, five of us girls and Edwin Sokolovsky reached home. At one of the stops Edwin, who knew Russian well, had overheard a conversation dealing with the decree that sealed the liquidation of the [Autonomous German] Volga Republic. He ran toward a kiosk and returned with a newspaper containing an article on “spies and subversives” among the German population and on the dissolution of the Volga Republic.

We felt totally paralyzed and feared of being arrested and deported as soon as we would reach Saratov, where many of our relatives had already lost their lives. Nothing happened. We changed ships and finally reached Palisovka via Urbach.

At that point in time our family as fully occupied with preparations for deportation. A pig and some chickens were slaughtered for food on the way. Armed soldiers were stationed in the village. In a cargo train we left shortly after to Siberia via Kazakhstan. I can still remember that we passed through the Altai region and Novosibirsk. After about three weeks we arrived at Krasnoyarsk. From there we went by barge on water to the next station, and from there by wagon to the village of Tolstomyosovo, deep inside the Krasnoyarsk province.

Surprisingly the local residents welcomed us in a friendly manner. Some even brought us milk and bacon. Many dispossessed families were living in this region, namely the former “kulaks,” which were so hated by the Bolshevik power. 

We did not stay long in this village. After a year we were shipped on the Yennisey River to the settlement called Ust-Port in the Far North. Under inhumane conditions we were forced to construct a fish-processing factory. Many lost their lives there.

Germany

Today I am living in Germany. After having visited a performance by the German-Russian Theater in 2005, memories of my earlier life would simply not leave me. My life would most assuredly have taken different turns, had the Communists not ruled Russia and had the war not broken out.

The heart still suffers
From this vale of tears.
For the hundredth time
It is asked, “Where is home?”
All relatives and friends
Are scattered across the German land.
O God, have mercy today
With Your powerful hand
Destroy all that is evil,
All violence and Criminality.
How brief is our life span!
It does not deserve authoritarianism
Then I came home
Late in the evening.
I paused
And was ready to continue.    

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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