Intersecting Paths of Destiny
Schicksalswege Kreuzen Sich
A Book Review by Josef Schleicher
Buchrezension von Josef Schleicher
Schleicher, Josef. "Intersecting Paths of Destiny, a Book Review." Volk auf dem Weg, April 2005, 43.
Translation from German to English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
Cover of the book
In Laatzen near Hannover, an elderly man is looking at displays in the exhibit "Volk auf dem Weg: Geschichte und Gegenwart der Deutschen aus Russland [People on the Move: Past and Present of the Germans from Russia]" by the Landsmannschaft. Pointing to a specific picture, he says: "Here, in Solimansk, I was part of the Trudarmy..." For the guided tour, I had brought along the book "Vergessene Schicksale [Forgotten Fates]" by Anton Bayr, and along with Josef Singer (which is how my partner in conversation had introduced himself) I was leafing through it. Then the man said, "I mean, I was in these camps during the war. Afterwards I was taken farther away, to Vorkuta."
So many victims of the Stalinist regime of terror landed in those camps. Among them was Anton Bayr, born in 1927 in Lower Austria. Without having fired a single shot during his brief stint in the Wehrmacht, he was captured by the Czechs in May of 1945 and put into a camp in the woods, later turned over to the Soviets and, during a trip lasting weeks, freighted to Solimansk in the Western Urals. There, under the worst conditions, he was forced to do all sorts work one can imagine. Among other things, he did tree felling, tile production, construction work, and snow shoveling. On the Kama River he was forced to load and unload transport ships, and he worked in a cellulose factory. In addition to extremely primitive quarters, life was made even tougher by the long, frosty winter nights and starvation rations, which were barely enough for survival.
Immediately next to the camp in which Bayr stayed the longest, there was another camp that housed Volga-German women. They and their families had been exiled as early as September, 1941 and deported to the Urals, to Siberia, and Kazakhstan. Next to the camp for Volga-Germans there was yet another camp that contained former soldiers of the Red Army who had to atone there for having been in German prisoners of war camps.
During a journey to the Urals in 1999, Bayr made contact with Edwin Brieb, longtime champion of the autonomy movement for German-Russians and fighter for rehabilitation of the victims of Stalinist repression, in Solimansk. He also met with other former exiles. Their moving life stories were subsequently and authentically documented in the book "Vergessene Schicksale."
That trip to the Ural region awakened in Anton Bayr many memories, which he put to paper sixty years after the end of World War II. Using a diary he had kept in secret, he describes in detail his two-and-a-half year prison term in the Urals. This highly interesting documentation he complements with historical research and the recounting of the life stories of German-Russians he had met in the Urals, and also of Kalmuks and of Crimean Tatars.
This book, "Vergessene Schicksale," which contains many photos, is written impressively and in terse language by a witness of the times. It is dedicated to his former fellow sufferers as well as to the current generation, and intended as a terrible illustration of the things that war and dictatorship can lead to.
Anton Bayr. "Vergessene Schicksale. Ueberlebungskampf in sowjetischen Lagern -- ein Kriegsgefangener erinnert sich [Forgotten Fates. Struggle for Survival in Soviet Camps -- a Former Prisoner of War Remembers.]" Waldemar Weber Verlag, Augsburg, 2005. Illustrated. Hardcover in color. ISBN 3-9808647-4-X. Available in bookstores and from the Waldemar Weber Publisher, Norderndorfer Weg 20, 86154 Augsburg, Germany. Tel.: [from the US:] 011-49-821-4190431 and 011-49-821-4190433; E-mail: email@example.com
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.