Gone Without a Trace: German-Russian Women in Exile
Book review by Jerry Siebert
Däs, Nelly. Gone Without a Trace: German-Russian Women in Exile. Translated by Nancy Bernardt Holland. Lincoln, Nebraska: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 2001.
This book review by Jerry Siebert is reprinted by permission, from the Fall 2001 "SCDC Report", the newsletter of the California District Council of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia. The "SCDC Report" can be reached at 3233 N. West, Fresno, CA 93705; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
This book, a collection of narratives based on interviews with women who were separated from their families, is dedicated to keeping alive their memories of the dire fate of Germans in Russia in the times of discrimination, persecution, and deportation. These times started with the communist takeover of Russia and the formation of the Soviet Union, but continued on well after the Second World War. Vivid in the book are images of inhuman treatment of human beings by communist thugs and their collaborators. However, these inhuman and unthinking acts are not the focus of the stories related in this book, although by the time one finishes with the book, the same story line emerges over and over again.
The recollections usually start with families living together in prosperity and peace in their adopted country, only to be ripped apart first by "de-kulakization", and then deportation during the Second World War. Many German-Russians actually returned to Germany during the last days of the Second World War, only to be sent back to Russia (at the communist government's insistence) by the allies when the war ended.
Men were sent to slave/death camps and never heard from again in most cases. Women were torn from their children who were either sent to orphanages or left to live or die on their own. These women were sent to Siberia or Kazakhstan and forced to work as slave laborers. They had to endure the harshest winter conditions without proper clothing, shelter, or food. Yet out of their misery came a strength and enduring that allowed them to survive and live to tell their stories. Their common trait for survival was a strong belief in their traditions and culture, family, and religion. It is odd to think that so many continued to have strong religious beliefs when it appeared that their God had abandoned them. But they looked upon their experience as a test of their character and did not abandon their beliefs, which eventually was the difference in their survival. What is truly heartwarming is that not only did they look after themselves and immediate family, but also others in need.
These stories are ones that all Germans from Russia should read, not only for the history of the time, but even more importantly to show us all how strong values and beliefs can serve as a pillar of strength in times of adversity.