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Emilie, Lady of the Estate Christiansfeld

Emilie, Herrin auf Christiansfeld

Review of the New Nelly Daes Book

Rezension des Neuen Buches von Nelly Daes

Knopp-Rueb, Gertrud. "Emilie, Lady of the Estate Christiansfeld." Volk auf dem Weg, December 2002, 33.

Translation from German to English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado


A book by Nelly Daes. 304 pages, hard cover, ISBN 3-89738-269-5. The book was published by Tebbert-Verlag, 48324 Sendenhorst (Germany). It is the twelfth by the author and is available for 16.90 euros via the Landsmannschaft: (Cf. our book offerings on p. 43 of this 12/02 issue [of VadW].

As in all of her previous books, several of which have received awards and one has been turned into a film, Nelly Daes in this book as well pursues the fate of German-Russians, Nelly being one of them.

In this case she is dealing in part with her own family's story. At the same time, the book is also a contemporary depiction of the life before and after World War I.

For thirty years Nelly Daes has been working on the material that eventually became this book. She did diligent research and attempted to find out what she could by listening, especially to the daughter of the heroine of the book, who had lived 18 years in her home. This heroine was the sister of [Nelly's] grandfather, Johann Eckstein.

At seventeen, Emilie obeyed tradition by marrying the husband of her cousin Mathilde, who had died in childbirth, and whom she had secretly been in love with. That also made her the Lady of the Estate Christiansfeld as well as the stepmother of 4-year-old Friedrich and two-year-old Mathilde.

Emilie had the good fortune that her mother-in-law and the children's nanny made her transition to Lady of the Estate a comfortable one. She dearly loves little Friedrich, who calls her "Little Mama."

A favorite of all the residents of the estate, Emilie gives birth to seven other children. She welcomes each of these children, and she transforms herself into a strong woman and a capable lady of the estate. This strength will prove to be of help to her in overcoming many a stroke of fate.

The 1917 Revolution in Russia brings to many people much sorrow and misery. Gottlieb, her husband, and her oldest two sons, are taken by the feared criminal bandit, Machno, and hacked to pieces. This loss nearly breaks her, but there are the other children to take care of, for whose sake she determines to maintain the estate.

But Emilie comes into the Bolsheviks' sights. The formerly spoiled and beloved lady of the estate turns becomes a hunted woman who, exiled by Stalin, finally disappears into the Siberian expanse.

One of the things Nelly Daes wished to accomplish with this book is to report on the way of life of the Germans in Russia prior to World War I. The German Colonists, as they were called at the time, were for the most part well-to-do farmers and respected citizens of Russia.

But World War I brought serious, negative changes into their lives. The Bolsheviks eventually prevailed over the Tsar, and after he was gone, the country sank into deep chaos.

Just as Siberia had its infamous Ratstelnikov in Siberia (described in detail in "Dr. Zhivago"), the Ukraine had its notorious bandit Machno. At the head of a horde of criminals he roamed through the German colonist villages and spread fear and horror among the population.

Following the civil war, there was a brief pause of relief for the colonists. But 1929 marked the beginning of the dispossession of landowners and the banishment of large farm owners to SIberia.

The story around Gottlieb Neugebauer and his family reports on the prewar era and life on the land. Their experiences were also those of thousands of other German farmers, as well as of the echelon of intellectuals.

"A desire of mine was that this book remove the prejudiced statements purporting that the Germans in Russia were mostly just beggars," reports the author. Our ancestors were pioneers in Russia and transformed the untilled steppes into the granary of Russia. It was not their fault that there great famines.

Nelly Daes clearly demonstrates that today Germans from Russia come to us as the unloved Aussiedler. People simply seem to forget that these people are our sisters and brothers who emigrated from German states as early as 1763. A purpose of this book is to bring them back together.

The author writes further, "There is a question that has been burning in my soul for a long time: Just how long must we be treated as Aussiedler? I have been in Germany since 1944, yet I am still designated an Aussiedler. I find that to be very wrong. Native German citizens should not be surprised, then, that the newly arrived Aussiedler tend to isolate themselves and wish just to be among themselves."

This question indicates that the book was written not just for Germans from Russia, but that it concerns all of us, and that much more knowledge of the matter is needed in order to grasp the fate of these people.

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

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