Archive for July 6, 2010

“Why we LOVE the U.S.” (Part III)

I love my home country of U.S.A. because we have been granted many privileges and yet responsibility comes with those benefits as well. I am so glad I was not born in the former Soviet Union or did not grow up during a different era such as the 1930s and 1940s. No amount of airbrushing the true picture of the punishments visited upon innocent people will make me quiet on this topic. The number of deaths were in the MILLIONS , those who were exterminated as despicable people simply because they wanted to own their own land and house, no matter how small a patch they had.

As Americans, we still have the concept of “American Dream” where one can work as hard as you want and you will eventually be rewarded.  My great grandparents came from the Old Country following that dream. It may have taken them 5-6 weeks by ship over the Atlantic but they at least had hope of starting a new life.

Conversely, I’m reading Esther Hautzig true account of being snatched up with her parents and grandmother from Poland to be sent to Siberia in 1939. To read about another’s prolonged misery is humbling for me as an American.  Many people could have written the same story Esther wrote in 1968 in her book titled “The Endless Steppe: A Girl in Exile.”  She and her family were accused, by the Soviet government, as being capitalists, they owned too much.  Back in the 1930s and 1940s many Russians, Ukrainians, Germans, Estonians, Latvians, etc. were killed, sent to their premature deaths in Siberia and also in Kazakhstan.  (a whole ‘nother topic)

That is why the boxcar at ALZHIR just outside of Astana (look at yesterday’s blog) shows how confining it really was.  Imagine how many people were crammed into these cattle cars to take them to a frightening future.  Esther’s words give a hint to the painful confusion these ALZHIR women from all over the former Soviet Union suffered once they were separated from their children. (their husbands had already been taken away from them as “Enemies of the People.”)

p. 27 “I stayed below to take a look at our traveling companions, our fellow capitalists.  Possibly I imagined that by studying them I would uncover the secret of our own villainy, bring some sanity, however harsh, to this insanity.  What I saw only added to my bewilderment; peering out from behind one of my braids, I saw nothing more villainous than peasants – women in shawls, men in cotton jackets and trousers that resembled riding breeches.  I saw Polish peasants, not a rich capitalist among them; yanked from their land, they had toted their belongings in sacks, in shawls, in cardboard boxes.  I saw reflected in their stricken faces our mutual shock.  Later we learned of reports that more than a million Poles had been deported as “class enemies.”

As Esther’s family (mother, father and grandmother among the 40 in one boxcar) rode the six weeks from Poland to Siberia, Esther wrote this over 25 years later:

p. 33 “…freedom was an abstraction; food was real and I became ravenous.”

p. 36 “Going to the toilet and changing one’s clothes – rotating the few unlaundered clothes one had – were major undertakings.  The thought of a bath, a hair wash, and fresh clothes became an obsession.”

p. 37 “We had been traveling six weeks by my father’s count when the train stopped.  We were used to long waits and no one thought anything of it.  The train would move again; it always had.  I heard some commotion, and for some reason I thought that perhaps we had developed engine trouble, which would only prolong the journey.”

p. 38 “we had reached our destination. We were now in Rubtsovsk in the Altai Territory of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic of the great and mighty Soviet Union.  There were no cheers in that car.  Forty people gathered their belongings together, silently, in a near frenzy, as if there were some danger that the door would close again and leave them behind in that car.”

I am showing the names of those who died at ALZHIR, some went by the name of Miller, Freiberg or Freeman.  If you can figure out the Cyrillic, these listed names meant a human life that was extinguished. I’m glad they are memorialized in Kazakhstan.  I wonder if there is such a place in Siberia?

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