Posts tagged collectivization

Grandmothers in “The Whisperers” (Part III)

The following quotes show how far I’ve gotten in this book by Orlando Figes titled “The Whisperers.”  I need to carve out some time to finish it but there is no time right now, too much to do in our new city of Astana.  I’m finding out what a wonderful place this new place is compared to Almaty, Kazakshtan.  I already know that the Kazakhs are amazing people, their grandparents are/were even more incredible because of what they went through under the Soviet system.

p. 44 Grandmothers were also the main practitioners and guardians of religious faith.

p. 50 The peasantry’s attachment to individual family labor on the private household farm made it the last major bastion of individualism in Soviet Russia and in the view of the Bolsheviks, the main social obstacle to their Communist utopia.

p. 53 “God is in the sky and father in the house.” Meaning of a saying about a patriarchal family, the father is the head of the house.

p. 56 Polar explorers were portrayed as heroes in Soviet books and films, and during the 1920s, the Soviet government invested a large share of its scientific budget in geological surveys of potential mining operations in the Arctic zone.

p. 59 check out Dmitry Furmanov’s Chapaev ( 1925) a Soviet classic ready by every schoolchild.

p. 68 Moscow’s Jewish population grew from 15,000 in 1914 to a quarter of a million 25,000 (the cities second largest ethnic group) in 1937.  The Jews flourished in the Soviet Union.  They made up a large proportion of the elite in the Party, the bureaucracy the military command and the police.  Judging from the memoirs of the period, there was relatively little anti-Semitism or discrimination…

“We did not want to think of ourselves as Jews nor did we want to be Russians though we lived in Russia and were steeped in its culture.  We thought of ourselves as Soviet Citizens.”

p. 81 “Collectivization was the great turning point in Soviet history.  It destroyed a way of life that had developed over many centuries – a life based on the family farm, the ancient peasant commune, the independent village and its church and the rural market, all of which were seen by the Bolsheviks as obstacles to socialist industrialization.  Millions of people were uprooted from their homes and dispersed across the Soviet Union: runaways from collective farms, victims of the famine the resulted from the over-requisitioning of kolkhoz grain; orphaned children, ‘kulaks’ and their family.  This nomadic population became the main labor force of Stalin’s industrial revolution, filling the cities and industrial building sites

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Alxander’s Grandfather got “Baptism of Fire” in Moscow Battle

My ancestors from the father’s side were farmers and lived in Ukraine, which at that time was part of Russia. In the beginning of 1900s the agrarian reform of the Russian government allowed people who lived in European part of Russia to move to the low populated areas in the Asian part. The government provided people with agricultural land. The family of my great-grandfather Aphanasiy decided to use this opportunity and moved to the Northern Kazakhstan in 1910. Land which he got from government allowed my great-grandfather to develop a strong farm with several employees. In 1914 my grandfather Ivan was born.

This period did not last long because of the 1917 revolution and at once it started the Civil War. During this unstable time, the family of my grandfather collided with great difficulties such as shortage of food, and threat from the new Soviet regime. In early 1930s, the Soviet government decided to conduct intensive industrialization. It was decided to provide enough food for urban population by forced Collectivization. As a result, the land and all harvest of wheat done by my ancestors became state ownership.

In 1941 Great Patriotic War started and my grandfather served in the army at that time and immediately was drafted to the front. He arrived at the front in winter to get a “baptism of fire” in the battle near Moscow, but he was injured in the first combat and went to the hospital. When he recovered, he was sent to the biggest tank battle in 1943 that took place near Russian city Kursk and so was called “Kursk’s Arc”. In 1944 he took part in the liberation of Baltic countries. Since my grandfather had good handwriting, he worked on staff before the end of War, so he no longer participated in operations.

After the War he worked as an accountant at a leather factory. He could reach a great age despite the serious wound that he got during the War as he had a splinter from a grenade in his body. Unfortunately, I almost do not remember my grandfather as I was a child when he died. However, I am delighted with my grandfather because he had to live in a very hard time and defend the motherland from enemies with risk to life.

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Karlygash O’s Great Grandmother Had a BIG Heart for Orphans

As in every country that has its own history, every person has his own biography. The more experienced and older a person is, the wiser he is, the more stories he can tell. Our ancestors can be easily referred to as such kind of category of people. My great grandmother is not an exception. She has lived in such a hard period, that I sometimes wonder how people, as my great grandmother, could behave so bravely and like adults while only being youngsters.

Somewhere in the mountain terrain in a place called Malwai in 1924 in the family of mullah was born a little girl, who then was given a name – Kurmalai. This newborn was my great grandmother. She was a sixth child in the family of rich Kazakhs. Six years went by and in 1931 began a process of collectivization. The Soviet Union government had decided to make all citizens equal. And then my great-grandmother’s family was exposed to the confiscation. This not so pleasant event happened in every prosperous family. As I know from grandma and from other media resources too, sometimes confiscation was even in middle class families. The explanation is easy to guess – if you were not interested in building socialism, creation of equal society and having fraternity, you were punished. All property of my great grandmother’s family was taken away, horses, sheep chased away and the parents of Kurmalai were sent to prison. The only reason was because of their estate.

Her mother left with 7 children and brought with herself a 3-month-old girl. Otherwise little girls and boys were locked up in a school. No food, not even water was given to them, as a result of starving, all of them died. Fortunately, my great-grandmother and her elder brother survived, because their uncle managed to help them.

In 1937 mullah and his wife came back but still their life wasn’t quiet.  They were forced to move to Kyrgyzstan, where they lived for two years. After their return to the motherland, they couldn’t live in their previous home and had to move to another place under the name Zhalanash. My great-grandmother studied only 7 classes when the war began. So, in 1941, being at age of 17 she started working. Her brother went into the Army and didn’t come back. Thanks to the mercy of destiny and people surrounding her, she could avoid the reference to work in the mines. Till the end of the war, Kurmalai was a rearguard worker. In 1944 she graduated from trading technical school and got married to her husband. Since 1945 she’s been working in the trade sphere. In 1955 her father died at the age of 87.

Now, my great-grandmother is 84. She has two sons, a daughter and 9 grandchildren. She has gone through so many obstacles and difficulties, so now we care for her and hope she will do more. It is impossible to write down everything from her life, dated by events. I feel sincerely sorry for people, who lost close relatives due to collectivization and Great Patriotic War. Our family considers it like a tragedy, because from a big family of ancestors only one person could survive. But I feel really thankful that I can live with such a wonderful and wise woman.

During her life my great grandmother had been helping orphans. She did not want other children to have the same experience she had, especially when a war began. Still we have so many guests in our home who are people coming to us to say thanks to our great grandmother, to wish her longevity. I respect her and certainly all other people, who suffered unfairly from the violence of politics of Soviet Union and who made a contribution to the Victory in War to provide peaceful and quiet life, we now enjoy.

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Daniyar’s Grandfather “Saved” by a Cannibal

I am going to narrate you shortly some interesting facts about my grandfather from father’s side. His name is Ospanov Alisher. It’s my view that he had a very difficult life, especially during childhood. He was born in 1926. During the period of Great Starvation, agriculture collectivization he was about 6-7 years old. These times his parents left their native town and went to live better with relatives who lived in Tashkent. On their way my grandfather missed their train. Regretfully, now we don’t have any details why it happened. But it happened and Alisher had to survive somehow.

From that moment, the destiny made him live in a children’s home and on the streets. Once he was caught trying to steal a piece of bread in the market. The crowd wanted to beat him up but one man interceded for my grandfather and offered to let him stay with him. Later Alisher by accident saw the bodies of dead children in the garden of that man. My grandfather ran away from him. Most likely that man was a cannibal.

Alisher decided there might be a chance to meet parents at the market. So, every day he asked for food at the market and he finally met his grandmother. Once Alisher matured, he helped all his nephews to get a high education. He was first who went to Almaty city and helped others to move here. A lot of people are still grateful to him for their present circumstance. Also he made my grandmother, his wife to get a higher education. Alisher used to say that education is the road to a cloudless future.

Also my grandfather made a huge work making «Shejere» – our family tree. He has been collecting data for his whole life and finally made an impressive list of our ancestors. I am sure it is good idea in Kazakh world to name your father and grandfather presenting your self between relatives. Of course I am proud of my grandfather. How can I not to be, when I always see people who still remember and truly respect Alisher when I pronounce his name, despite the fact he died 13 years ago.

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Rustam’s Grandfather Survived Under Much Soviet Punishment

My grandfather died when I was 15 years old. His life story is very unusual, it is very hard to believe that one person can survive in such situations, with such life conditions, problems etc. I was hearing his stories since I was a little boy, but started to pay needed attention to them only after age 12. Very difficult to write about all his life in details, therefore I have reduced the size of my essay and wrote only the important things.

My grandfather was born in 1918, they were 5 children in his family, my grandfather was the youngest. He had two sisters and two brothers, about them I know only that they were very strict to my grandfather, he was made all housework. It’s necessary to mention that at this moment there were not any facilities, for instance, people had to take water from river etc. Also there were usually problems with food, as my grandfather said, they usually were happy to have a piece of bread and glass of water for dinner. These things make the character of my grandfather very strong, which helped him in the future.

In 1929 when the collectivization started, my grandfather’s family split, because his brothers were sent to the kolhozy, his mother and one sister died because of hunger, and he with his father worked on their farm. After one year his father died, and their farm were seized by party organization, for my grandfather was only one way,  to not to die of hunger he went to work on the factory. Work conditions were very bad, my grandfather lived in one room with 10 colleagues, ate only two times per day, worked for 10 hours with only one break for lunch. For 10 years my grandfather had worked on building the factories and then working in them.

But in 1941 situation changed, he went to the war where he broke his leg, lost one eye, and damaged his ears. After all these injuries he returned to Kazakhstan, where he met his future wife, who took care of him, and helped him to recover. In 1947 the Soviet party in Kazakhstan learned that he was not working on the factory as he must. For them it was no matter that he was a veteran of the War with many injuries. My grandfather started to run away from the police, but in the 1949 he was arrested and sent to the camp. In the camp were many problems for him, one of the reasons were his injuries, but in 1954 my grandfather received amnesty, and become free.

In 1956 my father was born, life was not so good, but my grandfather was a very strong man, and he made everything for my father. I’m very proud of my grandfather, and his life story is an example of strong character, which can help him to stay alive for many years, beside any problems.

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Hannah Arendt’s Totalitarianism vs. Animal Farm Literacy

I’m ensconced in my office with students’ files, papers, portfolios, exams, checklists, and scoring rubrics.  I’m familiarizing myself once again with the Excel spreadsheets in order to efficiently do my final grades for my four classes (about 60 students to account for).  I was interested by what C.S. Lewis wrote about Individualists and Totalitarian.  In our “western” institution of higher learning I’m struck with what we are required to do with our Central Asian students who have been taught by those former Soviet teachers who were under a totalitarian, communist form of government over 18 years ago.  It will take a generation or two to sift out the rigidity of one form of teaching to allow the students (and teachers) to breathe freely on the shallow academic air of freedom of expression and freedom of thought.


“When you find yourself wanting to turn your children, or pupils, or even your neighbours, into people exactly like yourself, remember that God probably never meant them to be that.  You and they are different organs, intended to do different things.  On the other hand, when you are tempted not to bother about someone else’s troubles because they are ‘no business of yours’, remember that though he is different from you he is part of the same organism as you.  If you forget that he belongs to the same organism as yourself you will become an Individualist.  If you forget that he is a different organ from you, if you want to suppress differences and make people all alike, you will become a Totalitarian.”  From Mere Christianity, Book IV, Ch. 6


In 1951 Hannah Arendt had published her seminal volume of “The Origins of Totalitarianism” coining the phrase which essentially means: A type of government that has total control over all aspects of its citizen’s lives.” From  Hannah was a Jew from Germany who was married to a Russian who had fled the Soviet Union’s form of totalitarianism.  She lived safely in New York where she could boldly write about her views of both forms of government, Soviet Union’s communists and the fascist Nazis.  Heavy stuff of which my Kazakh students have been writing about since the former regime of communism greatly affected their great grandparents and grandparents in the early days of collectivization in Kazakhstan and the subsequent call to arms to fight for the “Motherland” during the Great Patriotic War.


To stay on the lighter side, I’m reading Animal Farm and enjoying George Orwell’s view of the Soviet Union by taking a fictional spin around a farmyard once the animals had rebelled against Farmer Jones.  I’m guessing that Jones was the Russian tsar and that Major, the horse, was Marx and that the two pigs who don’t get along are Stalin and Trotsky. 


I had to laugh when I read the following about what Animal Farm’s rules were laid out for all the beasts of the newly emancipated farmyard.  This concerned their supposed reading and writing classes which were a seeming success:


“As for the pigs, they could already read and write perfectly.  The dogs learned to read fairly well, but were not interested in reading anything except the Seven Commandments.  Muriel, the goat, could read somewhat better than the dogs, and sometimes used to read to the others in the evenings from scraps of newspaper which she found on the rubbish heap.  Benjamin could read as well as any pig, but never exercised his faculty.  So far as he knew, he said, there was nothing worth reading.  Clover learnt the whole alphabet, but could not put words together.  Boxer could not get beyond the letter D.  He would trace out A, B, C, D in the dust with his great hoof, and then would stand staring at the letters with his ears back, sometimes shaking his forelock, trying with all his might to remember what came next and never succeeding.  On several occasions, indeed, he did learn E, F, G, H, but by the time he knew them it was always discovered that he had forgotten A, B, C and D.  Finally, he decided to be content with the first four letters, and used to write them out once or twice every day to refresh his memory.  Mollie refused to learn any but the five letters which spelt her own name.  She would form these very neatly out of pieces of twig, and would then decorate them with a flower or two and walk round them admiring them.” (p. 21).


May my students grasp the ideas I have presented them this semester with searching on the electronic research databases (Ebscohost, ProQuest, SAGE, InfoTrac, J-Stor) and NOT Googling for information or using Wiki-pedia.  May my students know how important a thesis statement is to help guide them to creating a manageable and readable essay.  May my students long remember to look up the intricacies of the APA formatting style on their own and know there are many other versions out there with their own picky rules (MLA, Turabian, Chicago, etc).  May my students enjoy writing as a way of expressing themselves.  May they always have a curiosity and love of learning and NOT do what everyone else is doing with cutting and pasting (better known as plagiarism).  May my students find out what information they need which is out there for them to synthesize and may they use their critical thinking skills to let others know just what smart students they really are!!!  After all, that is what education is all about, to find answers to life’s problems and find ways to solve questions for the betterment of mankind.




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“Knowledge Saved His Life” Zhanat’s Grandfather

My story is about my grandparents from my father’s side. Now I have two grandmothers who are alive. My father’s dad died when I was 4 years old and my grandpa from mom’s side was gone when I was 7. My father’s mother lives in Almaty and my second grandmother lives in Saksaulsk village close to Aral Sea, so I can see her only on summer or winter vacations. I visit my grandma, who lives in Almaty almost every week. We always gather together at her home on big holidays. She becomes happy when she is having us as guests. But her life wasn’t always so easy. Life is never easy during the war, especially World War II and through Stalin’s ruling period.


My grandmother’s parents were very rich. Her father was an educated person and a teacher at school, then he became principal of the school. They lived in Semipalatinsk oblast. There were 13 people in the family. But during the collectivization period they had to run away from their hometown. They were afraid to lose their lives. They buried all their wealth, silver. Then they decided to go to China, because they were afraid of dispossession of the “kulaks”. The way to China was very difficult especially for children. Most of them died of starvation. Only four stayed alive. They couldn’t reach China, because the Red Guard stopped them and brought them back. Then they stayed in Taldykurkan oblast. But still it wasn’t the most difficult time in their life, because World War II was coming. My grandma’s father, her four uncles and her elder brother were sent to the battle-front. Everyone came back from the battle except her brother. Life after the war became much better. My grandmother and my grandfather met each other. Their life wasn’t so difficult during Soviet Union. My grandfather was a secretary of Party Committee.


But his life wasn’t always so easy. His parents died when he was a child. He was an educated person. During World War II he was working at railway station, he was a dispatcher. He was one of the best and irreplaceable. So he fight, they didn’t send him. My grandma says that his knowledge saved his life. He was a smart person. So he became a secretary of Party Committee in Semipalatinsk oblast. He was a head of Matai village. They had five children and one of them is my father. Then they moved to Almaty. They were given a flat for my grandfather’s job. They gave good upbringing to their children. I lived with my grandparents my first four years. And they also gave me a good upbringing.


We should respect old people, respect their experience, what they went through. I love to visit my grandmother, because she treats me as her own child. She says when I or anyone of her grandchildren visit her, her flat becomes bright and flashes and that we are the only reason she is still alive.

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