“Great Patriotic War” According to Whom?

Great Patriots

On a wall of our hallowed halls of academia in Almaty, Kazakhstan are photos which depict “patriots” who served on the Front of the “Great Patriotic War.”  We, as westeners, know it simply as World War II and did not buy into the coinage of these words promoted by Stalin’s propaganda machine.  The root word in Russian for “Fatherland” seems interchangeable with “father” and “patriot.”

What seems a paradox to me is that Kazakhs have a deep and abiding love for their forefathers.  To be a good Kazakh means you know your ancestral line seven generations back and can recite their names.  (I’ve met some Kazakhs who are proud to know the names going back 11 generations.)   Anyway, I’ve been recently reading journal articles concerning the deportation of nationalities into Kazakhstan, thanks to Stalin’s edict.  Better felt as a “deportation dumpground” because of the mixture of Korean, Ukrainian, German, Russian into the different tribes of Kazakhs. 

Currently over 100 nationalities are represented in Kazakhstan but decades ago some of these were people who were yanked out of their homeland and forcefully “deposited” in Kazakhstan.  Unfortunately, many did not survive travelling to the steppes of Kazakhstan but thanks to the bigheartedness of the Kazakhs, others did. 

I am waiting for a sequel to the book by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov which would help explain how his Kazakh family had everything taken from them but yet he fought for the Soviet Union’s “Fatherland.”  Miraculously, he survived the Great Patriotic War.  His book in English(translated from the Russian book “Sudba” = Destiny) only covers how he and his family survived the starvation period of the 1930s and up to his fighting and returning home after the war when he was about age 21. 

That’s about the age of tomorrow’s graduates who have led a very sheltered life compared to Shayakhmetov.  At our auspicious occasion of watching nearly 500 graduates cross the stage, I’ll see many different nationalities represented.  I’ll be imagining the stories these young people have in their families which sadly are being silenced with the passage of time. What is the destiny of these young people?  I hope there are more young patriots like Shayakhmetov who will rise up and write for the rest of world to read what happened under a tyrannical government such as the former Soviet Union.  Not a TRUE Fatherland for patriots, that’s for sure. 

2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Otto Pohl said,

    The role of ethnic Kazakhs in helping deported people survive is far more complex than you note. It is true that some Kazakhs as well as Kyrgyz and Uzbeks did provide life saving aid to some special settlers. But, this is not true of all of them and it is something which the published archival record is largely blank on. Not least because since 1956 the Soviet government and later the Russian, Kazakh and other governments have sought to place all blame on Stalin personally and absolve all lower level officials. Hence one sees the unsubstantiated claim of how much the Kazakhs helped deportees in officially published sources. But, the archival documents they publish remain almost totally silent on the role of Kazakh bystanders and perpetrators. A look at other sources, however, makes it clear that many of the people responsibe for running the special settlement regime were Kazakhs. See for instance Berta Bachmann’s memoirs where the attitude and actions of Kazakhs towards deported Russian-Germans is quite varied.

  2. 2

    kazakhnomad said,

    Otto, I appreciate your clarification. Have you read “The Silent Steppe” yet? The author would state the same that much blame was placed on the underlings in power at the time of the repression of the Kazakhs and other nationalities. Back in those times, they saw Stalin as next to god, Uncle Joe who cared for them. As you know, the propaganda machine was alive and well so that the very people who had all taken away from them and labeled as “Enemies of the People” had family members who eventually were indoctrinated to fight for the Fatherland when the Great Patriotic war started. I have student’s stories who are Korean and they tell how they were saved from starvation by a merciful Kazakh. I suppose we won’t ever find out from those who died at the hands of Kazakhs who were greedy. Again, thanks for your suggestion about Bertha Bachman’s memoirs. Not much published (YET) on these many sad facts of history in Central Asia. Waiting for your brave work to emerge. 8)


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