By Alexander Prieb
Translated from Russian to German by Eberhard Lacher
Kleve: Verlag für Kultur und Technik, 1998, 220 pages, in German language
Though spanning two centuries, Alexander Prieb's Geiseln (Hostages) is a fast read. Beginning with Catherine the Great's 1760s colonization program, and the author's ancestor Ludwig Prieb's emigration to the village Prischieb in the Black Sea region in 1804, the work chronicles the settlers' first years of hunger and struggle. The early colonists' hard work pays off, and they enjoy a hard but satisfying life -- until World War I.
Alexander Prieb writes ominously of the war's anti-German hysteria and mass deportations of Russia's ethnic Germans. Noting that Stalin was not the Russian Germans' first persecutor, he writes that the World War I deportations "were only the first symptoms of that disease called genocide." The wave of destruction continues after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, when in the summer of 1918, twenty-two inhabitants of Akimovka were massacred. In 1921, famine struck Russia and Ukraine, the result of confiscations carried out by government and independent forces. "Hunger became the main weapon of the Bolsheviks against the peasants who did not enter the kolkhozes (collective farms)," the author argues. "The peasant famine planned by the Bolsheviks" led to "an ocean of human suffering." In 1933, Stalin repeated the famine.
Prieb writes of entire Ukrainian villages perishing from starvation, painting "apocalyptic images" of mass graves and cannibalism, all the result of "famine conditions created by the Kremlin."
Prieb correctly argues that Stalin's World War II deportations of the Russian Germans were "a logical consequence of the anti-German policy which the Bolsheviks pursued in the course of the 1930s. During World War II, the Ukrainian Germans fell "hostage" to the Hitler and Stalin dictatorships. Escaping Stalin's deportations due to the German Wehrmacht's rapid advance, many Ukrainian Germans, including Prieb's father, were drafted into the Nazi SS. Even those who did not participate in the Ukrainian Holocaust were forever stigmatized by their association with the invading Nazis. After the war, Prieb records how young Russian-German students suffered under constant harassment in schools. Fritz and Fascist were the curse words of the day. Coming to the present, after over a million Russian Germans have emigrated to Germany, Prieb laments that "the process of Russification of the remainder of the once large German ethnic group is proceeding with unbelievable speed."
Geiseln chronicles a family odyssey as well as the fate of an entire ethnic group. A story of courage, hardship, genocide and survival, the tragedy of Prieb's work lies specifically in the fact that although it is a unique account, it also typifies much of the Russian-German memoir literature now coming to light.
In the post-Soviet era, Geiseln significantly constitutes one more brick in the reconstruction of the wall of historical memory. Prieb seems to hope that his story and that of many others will never fall "hostage" to historical oblivion. Persecution, harassment, enforced labor, execution, needless starvation and deprivation -- this is the litany encountered in the story of nearly every twentieth-century Russian-German family.
The reader of Geiseln will understand why hundreds of thousands of Russian Germans have been emigrating to Germany for more than a decade. Now 50-years-old, Prieb has skillfully and successfully combined his skills as a trained historian and experienced journalist to portray sympathetically and accurately his ethnic group's moving experience and perseverance. What the future holds for the group remains uncertain, but Prieb has accomplished his purpose in recording and preserving that part of Russian-German history which his family has experienced first hand.
Book review by Samuel D. Sinner, Department of German, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Computer inputting, editing, and additional comments by Eric J. Schmaltz, Department of History, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska
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