Haunted by ALZHIR Stories (Part III)

Incredible things an American teacher can learn from her Kazakh students if asking the right questions.  Today was no exception as a continuation of what I learned about ALZHIR, but this time it was from my advanced learners. The photo shows the artwork on the ceiling of the lobby area of the ALZHIR museum which is titled “Freedom and Captivity.” This shows 15 different birds in various stages of getting free from their cage of captivity.   This symbolizes the 15 republics whose women from the era of the former Soviet Union who were trapped in this far away place close to Astana, Kazakhstan.

Apparently two years ago there was a big conference in Poland where three or four Kazakh professors attended because they were vice presidents of universities here in Kazakhstan.  Such an important event attracted many different people from many nations.  During one of the meetings, a Polish man stood up and said the following to these Kazakh representatives:  “I want to pay my respect to your country and thank the Kazakh people because my grandmother stayed in ALZHIR.  When everyone was very hungry, every day the Kazakh children would give them cheese and bread. Even when the guards thought the children were throwing stones at the poor women, they said, “see even the small children hate you.” So that is why we need to make education a top priority for the Kazakh children because of this situation where Kazakh children saved my grandmother from certain starvation.”

I had asked my students today about the following women: Lubov Babitskiy,  Lubov Vasilevna Ivanova, Ruslanova, Galina Serrebryakova, Bulbairam Kozhakhmetova, Natalya Satc, Katya Olaveynikova, Zagfi Sadvokasovna Tnalina, Raissa Moisseyerna Mamayeva.  These names were in the brochure that I got at the ALZHIR museum the other day and very little is known about them.  However, everyone seemed to know about Ruslanova who was a famous Russian singer. There’s a story about when the prison guards asked this talented singer to sing a song for them, she declined and said “A nightingale doesn’t sing in a cage.”  After she was released, she went to sing for the troops during the Great Patriotic War.

I questioned them about Galina Serrebryakova and all my students could say was that her husband was a poet so that is why she ended up at ALZHIR.  See some of the poetry that is displayed on the first floor which gives a background of the husbands who were labeled “enemies of the people” and why the women became victims in ALZHIR.

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