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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, August/September 2009, 41.
 
This translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado.



Valeria Heffel

The night of September 5 to September 6, 1941 is cold and dark, as if the night itself were foretelling an uncertain fate for us at our new location. During that night my family, taking along a few meager belongings, is riding on a horse-drawn wagon while being transported from Strassburg to Pallovska. Trailing tirelessly along behind the wagon is our poor, loyal little dog, for which fate will likely not be an easy one, either.
 
I am lying on a bed of straw on the wagon, and despite my parents' pleadings I find it unable to fall asleep. My heart is wracked with pain over the loss of our home and the injustice being done to us Germans. I catch myself reciting my thoughts in lines of rhyme that literally form into a requiem, which I am able to complete somehow at our new location:
[Note: the following is merely a "free" translation of the original rhyming text]
 
     The night is cold and dark.
     A mild breeze is blowing.
     Not a single little star is visible.
     We must leave very quietly.
 
     We are forced to leave the rich ...
     To leave house and home,
     To move into distant lands
     Far, far into a wide world.
 
     Trailing horses and machines
     We were taken to this place.
     No one was allowed to say anything
     Because we were considered "spies."
 
     So we now live here in this distant land,
     Far removed from our homeland.
     Here only the stars seem familiar,
     Everything else is very strange.
 
*The Village of Strassburg*
 
Our village, Strassburg, stretched out right in the midst of the steppes that were very close to Kazakhstan. During the years leading up to 1936 we had little rain and correspondingly sparse harvests. The people, already intimidated and forced to join the collectives, received nothing or very little for their daily work quotas, so little, in fact, that a family could not live on this beggar's mite. The result was a real famine.
 
There once were three mills in our village: an oil mill that stood right at the side of the canal, along which stretched several orchards; a windmill that belonged to the Spaeth family and sat at the edge of the village, where father's brother, David Bauer lived; and a mill that soared skyward from the middle of a field.
 
The Communists had apparently placed all three mills on the list of "Enemies of the People," because they finally razed them all to the ground. After that the villages had to join the village /soviet/ and had to beg for the use of a wagon to transport their grains to be milled in a neighboring village.
 
During many evenings, father did some shoemaking work at home, and other men would always come by with their orders or just for conversation. First they would always exchange the day's news, and sometimes even some memories of earlier life. I often sat at the table doing my homework and try not to let on that I was listening to the grownups' conversations.
 
When we were ten or eleven, we children would often get together at our neighbor Emilia Klauser's home and make up rhymes directed against the collective, such as "You, the collective, you miserable wretch, why have you messed up our world?" For fear that any such verses might fall into the wrong hands during potential searches by the so-called "storm men," we never wrote anything down.
 
Before the war, the collective began to build an electric plant -- presumably to Soviets wished to make our lives lighter. To continue their enlightened ways, they proceeded to build a new mill in the village to replace the ones they had destroyed.
 
*Village Life under the Communists*
 

Strassburg on the Volga

After 1936 we suddenly had plenty of rain. However, the farmers had hardly begun to see new hope when a new plague set in -- the cleansing of society from the "Enemies of the People."
 
Early one Sunday morning -- I was six at the time -- our neighbor dropped by. He sat down and began to sob bitterly. I had never seen a grown man cry like that, and even as a child, I was immediately aware that something terrible must be going on.
 
Mother was looking out the window and exclaimed, "Karl, a horse-drawn sled is standing in front of your house."
 
Out neighbor stood up with some difficulty and sobbed: "It is time. We're being taken away ..."
 
Through the window we were able to observe how Karl Hirschstein and his wife and children, all dressed in warm clothing and clutching small bundles, got onto the sleigh and were driven away. Mother explained that our neighbors were "kulaks" and that they were being deported to Siberia.

(To be continued in the next issue)

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

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