Gone Without A Trace: German-Russian Women in Exile

Book review by J. Otto Pohl

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.

Gone Without a Trace is a successful attempt to record the traumatic persecution of the Russian-Germans under Soviet rule. The Russian-Germans have long confronted an existential angst.

The repeated waves of persecution in the 20th century culminating in the permanent destruction of their traditional communities during World War II has made this fear especially poignant. No longer is the question, "Will the Russian-Germans survive?" rather it has become "Who will remember the suffering of the Russian-Germans?" This question is asked numerous times by the various authors of the Däs collection. The publication of the English translation of this book partially answers this question.

Everyone who reads this book will remember the haunting images of the hundreds of thousands of Russian-Germans murdered by the Stalin regime.

Daes has collected a moving selection of stories about this little known history from Russian-German women now living in Germany. These stories narrate their personal experiences during the dark days of Stalin's rule over the USSR. They cover the dispossession and exile to the Arctic of German farmers branded as "kulaks" (1928-1932), the ensuing man-made famine or "Holodomor" (1932-1933), the mass executions during the Great Purges (1937-1938), the deportation of the entire Russian-German population to penal exile in Kazakhstan and Siberia (1941-1946) and the mobilization of the able bodied adult population into the forced labor detachments of the labor army (1942-1948). These accounts describe in painful detail the Soviet regime’s systematic punishment of the Russian-Germans during World War II for the crime of being German.

Lest those of us in the West think that evil is something confined to the East, several of the stories are from women forcibly repatriated to the USSR by US, British and French soldiers. After World War II, the Western Allies handed more than 200,000 Russian-Germans over to Soviet custody fully aware that they had all been condemned to punitive exile and forced labor on the basis of their ancestry. Nearly 70,000 of the Russian-Germans returned to the USSR against their will by the US, UK and France were children under 16. This particular crime, while largely forgotten, claimed more than ten times as many lives as September 11th. The Das collection makes it more difficult to collectively forget such crimes by humanizing the ethnic German victims of Stalin.

Gone Without a Trace leaves a definite trace in the reader's mind. It is a valuable collection of first hand accounts of events that have until recently been shrouded in silence. This book does much to lift that curtain of silence.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller