Gone Without a Trace: German-Russian Women in Exile
Book review by Jerry Siebert
Däs, Nelly. Gone Without a Trace: German-Russian Women in Exile. Translated by Nancy Bernardt Holland. Lincoln, Nebraska: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 2001.
This book review by Jerry Siebert is reprinted by permission,
from the Fall 2001 "SCDC Report", the newsletter of the
California District Council of the American Historical Society
of Germans from Russia. The "SCDC Report" can be reached
at 3233 N. West, Fresno, CA 93705; e-mail email@example.com.
This book, a collection of narratives based on interviews with
women who were separated from their families, is dedicated to keeping
alive their memories of the dire fate of Germans in Russia in the
times of discrimination, persecution, and deportation. These times
started with the communist takeover of Russia and the formation
of the Soviet Union, but continued on well after the Second World
War. Vivid in the book are images of inhuman treatment of human
beings by communist thugs and their collaborators. However, these
inhuman and unthinking acts are not the focus of the stories related
in this book, although by the time one finishes with the book, the
same story line emerges over and over again.
The recollections usually start with families living together in
prosperity and peace in their adopted country, only to be ripped
apart first by "de-kulakization", and then deportation
during the Second World War. Many German-Russians actually returned
to Germany during the last days of the Second World War, only to
be sent back to Russia (at the communist government's insistence)
by the allies when the war ended.
Men were sent to slave/death camps and never heard from again in
most cases. Women were torn from their children who were either
sent to orphanages or left to live or die on their own. These women
were sent to Siberia or Kazakhstan and forced to work as slave laborers.
They had to endure the harshest winter conditions without proper
clothing, shelter, or food. Yet out of their misery came a strength
and enduring that allowed them to survive and live to tell their
stories. Their common trait for survival was a strong belief in
their traditions and culture, family, and religion. It is odd to
think that so many continued to have strong religious beliefs when
it appeared that their God had abandoned them. But they looked upon
their experience as a test of their character and did not abandon
their beliefs, which eventually was the difference in their survival.
What is truly heartwarming is that not only did they look after
themselves and immediate family, but also others in need.
These stories are ones that all Germans from Russia should read,
not only for the history of the time, but even more importantly
to show us all how strong values and beliefs can serve as a pillar
of strength in times of adversity.
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