Living Through a Century: Russian Immigrant Honored With Book Based on her War Memories

Suhs, Mardi. "Living Through a Century: Russian Immigrant Honored With Book Based on her War Memories." Cadillac News, 13 December 2006.

Jeff Broddle, photographer, Cadillac News
Ann Fackler of Cadillac helps her 100-year-old mother, Nina Katschalin, open presents on her birthday Tuesday. Katschalin lived through the Russian Revolution, World War II and emigrated to the United States via Ellis Island.

CADILLAC - A survivor of the Russian revolution is alive and well and living in Cadillac.

Not only did Nina Katschalin survive Bolshevism and Stalin's communists, she lived through the Nazi siege of Leningrad and survived fleeing war-torn Russia into Germany, where an Allied bombing raid hit their apartment building, turning their home into burning rubble.

After living through the major atrocities of the 20th century, Nina Katschalin now lives a quiet life in Cadillac, where she plays cards with girlfriends and enjoys the friendship of her daughter, Ann Fackler, her son-in-law Bob and grandson Robert Reincke.

To mark her 100th birthday, Reincke, 43, gave his grandmother a book he authored that details the horrific travails of her life. Death of a Past Life was written as a tribute to Nina's life and to preserve three generations of his family's legacy.

Born 100 years ago in St. Petersburg, Russia, Nina began life as a privileged and wealthy member of the Russian elite.

Her grandfather was a general in the Czar's Russian Army and the family spent idyllic summers at their lake house in Finland.

But history was about to unleash a series of horrors upon the 20th Century, and fate placed Nina at the center of every storm.

Nina's journey through history's hell began with the Russian revolution when the communists assassinated one of her uncles and her father was exiled to Siberia. Although he returned, he was exiled two more times before his assassination under Stalin in 1937.

As a young woman Nina married Nicholas Katschalin, an engineer, and the couple had a daughter, Ann, in 1938. In 1941 Germany attacked the Soviet Union and Nazi troops surrounded Leningrad (St. Petersburg) in a siege that lasted 900 days and caused the starvation deaths of 641,000 people, half of the population. Nina's brother was one of those who died, and Ann recalled that when her uncle came to their home for a piece of bread, they had to turn him away. They were eating shoe leather and had nothing to offer him.

After fleeing Russia they were placed in a displaced persons camp and were finally removed after Nina's mother, who lived in Berlin, pulled some strings.

Thinking that the family had found refuge was a mistake. Nina's sister, who suffered from schizophrenia, was put to death in a Nazi hospital, as were many Germans who were deemed unfit. The family also endured nightly Allied bombing raids until finally their apartment building was hit and destroyed.

After the war, the family immigrated to the United States, sponsored by a family in Huron County. Highly educated, both Nina and her husband Nicholas worked as draftsmen in Detroit.

Ann said her mother was thrilled with the book and that the process of writing it brought the family close together.

When asked how living through so many tragedies affected her mother's life, Ann replied: She does not dwell on bad things, Ann said.

Your local connection

Nina Katschalin's life story was recently published in a book titled, Death of a Past Life. Written by her grandson, author Robert Reincke of Los Angeles, the book recounts the family's history of surviving some of the worst atrocities of the first half of the 20th Century.

Reincke stated that he wrote the story so that we don't repeat history. Just because Stalin and Hitler aren't alive doesn't mean we can't get into this situation again. I've been extremely motivated to document her experience because as humanity, we can't experience another World War. One and Two were enough.

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