We Ate the Salt of Russia: Stories of People Forgotten at Home

By Eva-Maria Hermann

Leipzig, Germany, 1994, 112 pages, softcover, English language.

Eva-Maria Hermann has given us a literary treasure in writing a well-crafted novel in the English language, We Ate the Salt of Russia. With persuasive credibility, this epic-narrative reveals an intimate cultural passion of Bessarabian German immigrations and exodus. Her literary style of economical syntax provides us with clear concepts toward understanding many distinctives of this ethnic experience.

Her contribution introduces a new vanguard of ethnographic literature, which documents and highlights ethnic Germans and their destiny of seeking 200 years of better opportunities in Eastern Europe, especially South Russia where an ethnic "melting-pot" did not naturally occur. The symbol of Bessarabia's three earthquakes has special poignancy for this novel's dramatic exodus theme. Specific ancestral villages are identified to anchor a sense of place in history.

In portraying the ancient Eastern customs of eating ceremonial salt with a cup of wine, Eva-Maria Hermann's novel title reveals the powerful theme of the host offering the hospitality covenant to a respected quest alien for special privileges, in return for guests compliance to local cultural customs.

Martin McCall of the Amerikanisches Sprachinstitut in Leipzig wrote the Foreword:

In We Ate the Salt of Russia, Eva-Maria Hermann succeeds in writing what many historians have ultimately failed to achieve.

She brings us the story of ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives under quite extraordinary circumstances. Typically, History has come to be a broad account of the lives of famous and infamous figures or the story of great nations and their politics and wars. Eva-Maria Hermann instead presents a touching account of real people struggling to preserve their way of life in an increasingly hostile environment. Her story of the ethnic German settlers of Bessarabia is a poignant chronicle that is a perfect example of History that should not be forgotten.

In transcribing this originally oral tradition, the author performed a valuable service not only to the descendants of the Bessarabian Germans, who might otherwise have never learned of their ancestors' lives, but to people everywhere who recognize the need to preserve the quickly disappearing remnants of our oral histories and cultures. In effect, We Ate the Salt of Russia reminds us who we are, even if we are not descended from these selfsame settlers. We are all immigrants in one way or another. The story of struggling pioneers has always been popularized in North America, but Eva-Maria Hermann shows us that migration was not always to the New World. Europeans also settled down elsewhere in Europe itself.

The Bessarabian settlers' story is actually a familiar one but with a new twist. Instead of the high plains and prairies of North America, we have the windswept steppes of Moldavia. Instead of American Indians, there are Russian bureaucrats and marauding armies from several countries. There are also Bolsheviks and the Red Army. We Ate the Salt of Russia is perhaps the story of a colonization that ultimately failed, but it is likewise the story of a people who refused to give up in the face of extreme hardships. It is the story of common men and women. These German-speaking colonists, settlers, citizens, and finally refugees went through a remarkable time in an equally remarkable place, and the author has faithfully recorded their travails.

Maria Hermann writes in her dedication, "This book has been written for the grandchildren of Bessarabian immigrants beyond the seas, and particularly for those eager to learn about their forefathers' roots - and their own - in far away Moldova, a long time ago. Likewise, it is dedicated to all those Moldovans of today who believe that their neighbors on the other side of the border could be friends - now and in times to come."

The 112-page book in the English language including photographs, is available from the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection.

We Ate the Salt of Russia

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