I continue to learn new things from my advanced Speaking class, sad things about death and repressions. What irony there is in life but it often happened in the former Soviet union, double punishment for fighting as a soldier in a war and being caught as a prisoner. One of my student’s grandfather on her mother’s side was arrested by a German officer and put in a German concentration camp. After the war, the Kazakh soldier was released and he returned to Kazakhstan only to be put in a Soviet gulag camp according to Stalin’s orders. After Stalin died in 1953, he was released and lived only another 8-10 years, he died in the early 1960s.
Another student said that his grandfather on his mother’s side wasn’t imprisoned, he somehow avoided prison. But he did not avoid the police station every night for several years. He was asked over and over again the same questions and by 1953, he was convinced he hated communists. I asked if he was beaten or tortured. No, he just had to answer the questions correctly otherwise he would have ended up in a Siberian concentration camp.
Another instance in the same family was the grandfather was an officer for the NKVD. After the Great Patriotic War there were a lot of gangs with guns in the Pavlodar region and he had to interrogate those who were causing much unrest in the area. He would have been on the opposite side of the table as the other grandfather as he was the head of this police station.
Another Kazakh student of mine is from the Karaganda area and she doesn’t know much about her own grandparents. [this is typical because there was a strict code of silence for all those in Karaganda and especially those who were finally released from the KARLAG once Stalin died] She said that many intellectual people were sent to Kazakhstan from all over the USSR to the Karaganda region and they helped develop and build the architecture of that city. Many Japanese, Russians and other nationalities brought enrichment to this area because of their expertise. The very skills that had drawn attention to themselves in a favorable climate, won them disfavor in the eyes of the ruling Moscow elite.
She did remember that her mother’s older brother had driven a tank during WWII and when he returned from the war he worked in a mechanical factory or plant. When he was alive still she was very small. She did say that what was a prison for political prisoners in Karabass is now a prison for hardened criminals.
Another interesting story came from a woman whose mother’s uncle was a tall Kazakh man with BLUE eyes. He was somehow so unusual in his appearance that a German officer didn’t put him in prison but rather he stayed in his big house and helped built things around the house. He was good with wood and made things for three years while living in Germany. This Kazakh man spoke German very well but upon his return to Kazakhstan he was directly sent to Magadan in Siberia. He stayed there ten years and when he returned to his native town he built a beautiful home. He died at the age of 95-96. This student remembers that he was a vigorous, proud man who didn’t stoop but had good posture the last time she saw him at age 92. He walked with a cane but had the regal look of a decorated officer, perhaps like the German officer who had spared him from prison camp while in Germany.