Without A Trace: German-Russian Women in Exile
Book review by J. Otto Pohl
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.
Gone Without a Trace is a successful attempt to record
the traumatic persecution of the Russian-Germans under Soviet rule.
The Russian-Germans have long confronted an existential angst.
The repeated waves of persecution in the 20th century culminating
in the permanent destruction of their traditional communities during
World War II has made this fear especially poignant. No longer is
the question, "Will the Russian-Germans survive?" rather
it has become "Who will remember the suffering of the Russian-Germans?"
This question is asked numerous times by the various authors of
the Däs collection. The publication of the English translation
of this book partially answers this question.
Everyone who reads this book will remember the haunting images
of the hundreds of thousands of Russian-Germans murdered by the
Daes has collected a moving selection of stories about this little
known history from Russian-German women now living in Germany. These
stories narrate their personal experiences during the dark days
of Stalin's rule over the USSR. They cover the dispossession and
exile to the Arctic of German farmers branded as "kulaks"
(1928-1932), the ensuing man-made famine or "Holodomor"
(1932-1933), the mass executions during the Great Purges (1937-1938),
the deportation of the entire Russian-German population to penal
exile in Kazakhstan and Siberia (1941-1946) and the mobilization
of the able bodied adult population into the forced labor detachments
of the labor army (1942-1948). These accounts describe in painful
detail the Soviet regime’s systematic punishment of the Russian-Germans
during World War II for the crime of being German.
Lest those of us in the West think that evil is something confined
to the East, several of the stories are from women forcibly repatriated
to the USSR by US, British and French soldiers. After World War
II, the Western Allies handed more than 200,000 Russian-Germans
over to Soviet custody fully aware that they had all been condemned
to punitive exile and forced labor on the basis of their ancestry.
Nearly 70,000 of the Russian-Germans returned to the USSR against
their will by the US, UK and France were children under 16. This
particular crime, while largely forgotten, claimed more than ten
times as many lives as September 11th. The Das collection makes
it more difficult to collectively forget such crimes by humanizing
the ethnic German victims of Stalin.
Gone Without a Trace leaves a definite trace in the reader's
mind. It is a valuable collection of first hand accounts of events
that have until recently been shrouded in silence. This book does
much to lift that curtain of silence.
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