Book review by Janice Huber Stangl, Sterling, Virginia, author of the book, Marienberg: Fate of a Village
Vossler, Ronald Julius. We’ll Meet Again in Heaven: Germans in the Soviet Union Write Their American Relatives. North Dakota State University Libraries, Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, Fargo, North Dakota, 2001.
Ronald J. Vossler's work is a collection of letters, which were printed in German language newspapers published in America, detailing events taking place in the southern part of the Soviet Union [USSR] from 1925 to 1937. Materials available to research the events which occurred in that period are limited and often inaccurate. Using microfilmed copies of German newspapers, containing letters written in the USSR and sent to America, Vossler has found a valuable source of reliable information about the daily life of family members left behind when our Germans from Russia emigrated to America before the Revolution. The letters impact upon almost every immigrant Dakota German from Russia family, because few families emigrated in total. Several of the letters express the wish that the family members who had stayed behind had the money or permission to leave the USSR.
Contact with relatives in America was lost during WWI and after the Russian Revolution of 1917, when it was prohibited by the Bolsheviks. In the early 1920s there was great joy when newspapers, letters and packages could once more be received by the people. The Soviet regime welcomed American currency, which began to flow to our people from their relatives. There had been concerted efforts by Americans to establish individual contact; however, many of the letters with money in them were never received by their loved ones.
Newspapers often became a vehicle for messages in letters sent from the USSR to America and vice-versa. Instead of writing to each relative, a letter was written to many, saving postage money which was in short supply. The editors of these newspapers served as a message center for the entire Germans from Russia community. The letters, starting in 1925, which are the subject of this book, were written at a time when the Bolsheviks were beginning a systematic campaign to exterminate the Germans and other ethnic populations. One should read these letters with the knowledge that mail sent out of the USSR was censored by the Communist officials. Many letters state that they dare not say all that had happened. Vossler explains in his introduction some of the phrases that are intended to have a double meaning. However, some letters tell of brutalization by the Communist village collective leaders. They ruled with mental and physical torture. Vossler's research and presentation in this book will be an eye opener for many Americans.
The 1920s time period in the USSR has been titled "The Starvation Decade" by historians. Drought conditions, heavy taxation and appropriation of goods left most families in a continual state of starvation. Goods were often available, but with no income to sustain the family, they could not buy anything. Just when they thought matters could not get worse, the "Terror-Famine" in 1932-1933 caused the death of at least six million people. The famine was intentionally created by the Soviet government as a punishment for the reluctance of the people to join the collectives. These atrocities were mostly unreported, because media controlled by the Soviet government constantly touted news about the perfect society in which their people were living. This false story was generally accepted as fact in the Western press. These letters are a true testament to conditions until 1937, when all contact was lost once again. Little was left of the villages by that time. Execution, imprisonment, death by starvation and forced deportation to Siberia had greatly diminished the villages' population.
The letters Vossler selected also have folksy communication about the weather, seeding and reaping of crops and prices at the local store. Weddings and deaths are listed. Vossler has thoughtfully included an index of the names of writers of the letters and the individuals mentioned.
Vossler's introduction, translations and selection of letters, written during the years of 1925-1937 make this book very understandable. Josh Vossler, his son, has created illustrations which will grip the reader and perfectly reflect the horrors revealed in the letters.
The information in these letters had previously remained unavailable until the publication of this book, and another book, Marienberg: Fate of a Village, by Johann Bollinger and this reviewer, published earlier by Glückstal Colonies Research Association and the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection. Considering the emotionally draining experience that this reviewer had in translating the Marienberg letters written at an earlier time, 1916-1927, Ron should be held in high regard for being able to spend three years translating and researching these "sorrow letters" that had became ever more tragic. His book provides a true glimpse into the daily life in the USSR during the time when the social fabric and spiritual life was systemically being destroyed by the Communists. It once more reinforces how truly fortunate we are that our ancestors immigrated to America.