Remember Us: Letters from Stalin's
Gulag (1930-37): Volume One: The Regehr
By Ruth Derksen Siemens
Pandora Press, Kitchener, Ontario, 2008,
207 pages, softcover.
DVD documentary related to book Through the Red Gate.
"Remember us as we remember you" the plea
from a father for his family in a prison camp in Stalin's
Gulag empire. Jasch Regehr's letter is a criminal
offence. Documents of the NKVD, the Soviet Union's
secret police agency, confirm that "correspondence
abroad" is punishable by arrest and imprisonment
Yet this father's letter was delivered to a tiny
prairie town in Canada. From 1930-37, other letters
written by Russian Mennonites a nine-year old girl,
her mother, brother and sister, extended family and
friends arrived in Carlyle, Saskatchewan. Most of
the 463 letters traveled by covert means and circuitous
networks. Aggressive prison guards, hostile censors
and informers were obstacles to secure delivery. Once
safely in Canada, the letters were stored in a Campbell's
Soup box. They moved from attic to attic for nearly
60 years, and were finally discovered in 1989 by Peter
Bargen, son of the recipients.
For the author, Ruth Derksen Siemens (a first-generation
Canadian of Russian-Mennonite descent) these letter
writers are not faceless, nameless people from the
past. They are her blood, her kin. From the position
of an "insider," the author guides us through
the accounts that depict not only death and horror
but also the hope that sustains the prisoners in their
The world does not know this story. The silence is
inscrutable. The Gulag and the millions who died must
enter our public moral consciousness. Thankfully,
these letters and some survivors are still among us
who can validate events; the amnesia is not yet complete.
The letters gathered in this publication (Volume
One) have been written by one family: Jasch and Maria
Regehr and some of their children. Subsequent volumes
will include letters written by other prisoners. These
first-person accounts are damning evidence in the
human court of justice. We will remember! We will
celebrate those who wrote. And we will be changed.
Portions of the profits will be donated to the Mennonite
Central Committee (MCC) and Mennonite Historical Societies
About the Author
Ruth Derksen Siemens (Executive Producer of the documentary
and author of the book) is a first-generation Russian
Mennonite who grew up in Vancouver. She spent many
spring and summer months at her grandparents farm
in Yarrow (in the eastern Fraser Valley region of
British Columbia). Here she was immersed into the
ethnic culture of a replicated Russian settlement.
As a pre-teen, she moved with her family from Vancouver
to another Mennonite village. Arnold was a retreat
into European Mennonite customs, rituals and language.
Music was her first passion and career choice, but
a longing to understand language and its rhetorical
uses directed her to return to university. Ruth is
now an instructor of Rhetoric and Writing at the University
of British Columbia, a researcher and historian. Her
primary research has been conducted in the field of
rhetoric and discourse analysis in an English Department,
but her interest in historical documents and their
linguistic implications remains dominant. Her PhD
studies in the Philosophy of Language at the University
of Sheffield, UK investigate letters written from
the former Soviet Union (1930-38) by Russian Mennonites,
many of whom were imprisoned and died in Stalins Gulag.
Her publications include both refereed and non-refereed
articles, anthologies, and books. Her publication,
Remember Us: Letters from Stalin's Gulag (1930-37)
is now available. A one-hour documentary Through the
Red Gate, produced by Out To See Entertainment Inc.,
Vancouver BC, is also available now.
by Jon Fear
Review by Edna Boardman
Review by Eric J. Schmaltz
Zuercher, Melanie. "'Postcards from Hell': Letters Tell Forgotten Stories of Stalin’s Gulag." Mennonite Weekly Review, 2 November 2009, 1 and 7.