Meet Again in Heaven: Germans in the Soviet Union Write Their American
Relatives: 1925 - 1937
Book review by Janice Huber Stangl, Sterling, Virginia, author
of the book, Marienberg:
Fate of a Village
Ronald J. Vossler's work is a collection of letters, which were
printed in German language newspapers published in America, detailing
events taking place in the southern part of the Soviet Union [USSR]
from 1925 to 1937. Materials available to research the events which
occurred in that period are limited and often inaccurate. Using
microfilmed copies of German newspapers, containing letters written
in the USSR and sent to America, Vossler has found a valuable source
of reliable information about the daily life of family members left
behind when our Germans from Russia emigrated to America before
the Revolution. The letters impact upon almost every immigrant Dakota
German from Russia family, because few families emigrated in total.
Several of the letters express the wish that the family members
who had stayed behind had the money or permission to leave the USSR.
Contact with relatives in America was lost during WWI and after
the Russian Revolution of 1917, when it was prohibited by the Bolsheviks.
In the early 1920s there was great joy when newspapers, letters
and packages could once more be received by the people. The Soviet
regime welcomed American currency, which began to flow to our people
from their relatives. There had been concerted efforts by Americans
to establish individual contact; however, many of the letters with
money in them were never received by their loved ones.
Newspapers often became a vehicle for messages in letters sent
from the USSR to America and vice-versa. Instead of writing to each
relative, a letter was written to many, saving postage money which
was in short supply. The editors of these newspapers served as a
message center for the entire Germans from Russia community. The
letters, starting in 1925, which are the subject of this book, were
written at a time when the Bolsheviks were beginning a systematic
campaign to exterminate the Germans and other ethnic populations.
One should read these letters with the knowledge that mail sent
out of the USSR was censored by the Communist officials. Many letters
state that they dare not say all that had happened. Vossler explains
in his introduction some of the phrases that are intended to have
a double meaning. However, some letters tell of brutalization by
the Communist village collective leaders. They ruled with mental
and physical torture. Vossler's research and presentation in this
book will be an eye opener for many Americans.
The 1920s time period in the USSR has been titled "The Starvation
Decade" by historians. Drought conditions, heavy taxation and
appropriation of goods left most families in a continual state of
starvation. Goods were often available, but with no income to sustain
the family, they could not buy anything. Just when they thought
matters could not get worse, the "Terror-Famine" in 1932-1933
caused the death of at least six million people. The famine was
intentionally created by the Soviet government as a punishment for
the reluctance of the people to join the collectives. These atrocities
were mostly unreported, because media controlled by the Soviet government
constantly touted news about the perfect society in which their
people were living. This false story was generally accepted as fact
in the Western press. These letters are a true testament to conditions
until 1937, when all contact was lost once again. Little was left
of the villages by that time. Execution, imprisonment, death by
starvation and forced deportation to Siberia had greatly diminished
the villages' population.
The letters Vossler selected also have folksy communication about
the weather, seeding and reaping of crops and prices at the local
store. Weddings and deaths are listed. Vossler has thoughtfully
included an index of the names of writers of the letters and the
Vossler's introduction, translations and selection of letters,
written during the years of 1925-1937 make this book very understandable.
Josh Vossler, his son, has created illustrations which will grip
the reader and perfectly reflect the horrors revealed in the letters.
The information in these letters had previously remained unavailable
until the publication of this book, and another book, Marienberg:
Fate of a Village, by Johann Bollinger and this reviewer,
published earlier by Glückstal Colonies Research Association
and the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection. Considering the
emotionally draining experience that this reviewer had in translating
the Marienberg letters written at an earlier time, 1916-1927, Ron
should be held in high regard for being able to spend three years
translating and researching these "sorrow letters" that
had became ever more tragic. His book provides a true glimpse into
the daily life in the USSR during the time when the social fabric
and spiritual life was systemically being destroyed by the Communists.
It once more reinforces how truly fortunate we are that our ancestors
immigrated to America.