Posts tagged Great Patriotic War

Double Punishment for being a Captive Soldier in WWII

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.

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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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What I Learn from my Kazakh Students (Part III)

Today’s blog is in keeping with Kazakh language learning based on my talking to a Kazakh man yesterday who wanted to practice his English with me. Two way street: he builds confidence in his speaking English while I learn more about his Kazakh culture. It is amazing what the Kazakhs have endured.  I maintain that in order to understand present day Kazakhstan, all expats, foreigners and “aliens” MUST know Kazakhstan’s past, even as recent as 100 years ago.

My Kazakh “student” claimed that the change of Latin alphabet of Kazakh to Cyrillic happened around 1935.  This would have been soon after the devastating famine of 1931-1933 where half the Kazakh population was wiped out.  Their cattle, sheep and horses were destroyed and so many of his grandmother’s neighbors perished as a result of no food.  Everyone on their street had their livelihood stripped from them and thus died of starvation.  The question I asked was how did THEY survive?  His grandparents’ family went fishing which is not a typical thing to do especially when the Kazakh nomads were used to breeding livestock.  Their will to live forced them to go to the Irtshk River to provide for the family along with planting a vegetable garden and eating the fruits of those labors.  His grandfather was also a well known carpenter.  He created wood closets and chests for the yurtas and window frames for houses.  He was skilled in his work and some of his work exists in their village even today.

What’s interesting is that my older Kazakh student didn’t find any of this past history out from his own parents, who were good communists.  No instead, his Kazakh grandmother talked freely of this era of famine, she had many stories to tell.  Also, she told of how MORE Kazakhs were killed during the Great Patriotic War where his grandmother said, “All Kazakh men went to war.”  Only one man returned to her village from her classmates of 20, but he returned with no legs.

The Soviet soldiers in the Red Army were ill-prepared for the battles against the German forces. Especially true of those Kazakh men who had already fought to live from those impoverished years of the famine in the 1930s.  For the Soviets, the war started as early as 1939 or 1940.  Not a lot of time to re-group after having survived a famine 8-9 years earlier.

His grandmother died last year at the age of 90 years old which was more of a celebration in her leaving of this earth because she had witnessed so much heartache. She had lived a good life during VERY hard times.  This reminds me of a saying another of my Kazakh students used recently, I’ll not forget it.  It is a kind of prayer, “God, you sent me to earth to be human, let me die as a human.”  I understood this in the context to mean that no matter how much barbarism and violence has happened on Kazakh soil in the name of whatever ruling policies or wars, the petitioner asks to not turn into an animal.  To die with dignity as a human even though one has been treated inhumanely, is the key for how some of the Kazakhs exist now.  Many older pensioners have seen too much death and bloodshed in their recent past being part of the Soviet Union, the main thing in the young nation of Kazakhstan is peace.

I may return to the post-modernist thoughts from a western point of view where some arrogant, western elites would like to think of themselves as descended from apes. (we have an expression “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle” but that indicates a disbelief or an incredulous come back to something preposterous to believe) These western academicians would prefer to teach others that we are all animals without a conscience, they are convinced there is no soul or spirit in each of us human individuals.

However, instead today’s guest speaker will come to our PDP class and talk more about the Kazakh language and how important it is to resurrect it from the ash heaps of bygone Soviet policies that affected every single Kazakh in this country.  Yesterday’s language policies affect today’s laws of the land, for better or for worse.

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What I Learn from My Kazakh Students

My adult learner students inform me of many things about life in Kazakhstan.  Here’s what I learned today in class. Keep in mind that I am a student-centered teacher, teaching university employees how to improve their English speaking skills.  I get them to answer questions, my questions.

First of all, we talked about singers and musicians.  This brought up Roza Baglanova who died several days ago, she was a very well known Kazakh singer.  She was born in 1922 and died on Feb. 8th at the age of 89.  After graduating from Kyzylorda Pedagogical Institute, she went to Moscow to study at the music conservatory as a teenager but her studies were cut short because of the interruption of the Great Patriotic War.

She would go to the battle front to sing for the Red Army troops.  She was famous for saying in her own effervescent way that she loves men.  They loved her.  She was an energetic, positive bright light for many of the beleaguered soldiers but for many people after the war years of rebuilding.  She was awarded the Hero’s medal of Honor and many other awards  for her singing as well.

The other day when I first heard about Roza’s death, I kept hearing my teacher/students say that she was the “visa card” of the country.  I didn’t know what that meant so I asked my other students today for clarification.  I was told Roza was the face of the Kazakh nation, so popular was she among all the former Soviet Union.  From what I was told, she only had one son and she was buried just yesterday in Almaty.

Well, I learned also that the soccer players in Kazakhstan are not very good, like I was familiar hearing about the famous Dynamo team in Ukraine.  However, the hockey team is good for some reason.  As are the Kazakh boxers, they are good also, like the Klushko brothers in Ukraine.  What is wrong with their soccer or football team?  They had a German coach but now maybe they will have a new one. Hopefully things will improve in that sport but it has to start from the early ages to encourage good sportsmen.

Another thing I learned was there is only one Kazakh female pilot who flies for Air Astana and she has been doing this for at least 10 years.  She has a name I didn’t write down but it is Ak- something which means “White Bird.”  Seems strange to me that there would only be one female pilot and that she would be famous amongst people in Kazakhstan.  Would a plane full of people think it great to have the female captain talk to the passengers before take-off and marvel at hearing a woman’s voice at the controls?

I told my students that I knew of Shannon Lucid, a NASA astronaut. I had gotten an e-mail from her recently because I had heard that she was going to be in Kazakhstan again and I wanted to meet up with her if she were anywhere near Astana. Not to be this time. She has a love for this area of the world.

Fortunately, I had Shannon Lucid give a talk to my Ukrainian students when I was living in Kyiv, Ukraine about 10 years ago. She was a friend with a very good friend of mine from Houston.  I admire Shannon who lived on the space station for six months as a NASA astronaut with two Yuris who were cosmonauts. I think they had been sent out from Baikonur space station here in Kazakhstan.  Shannon is also a pilot so I guess she is famous in her own right.  I remember when she landed back on earth after those six months in space, she was greeted by President Clinton. I pay attention to things related to space travel.

[Total side note regarding space travel, I started watching Men in Black II last night which features Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. I had forgotten that Michael Jackson had a cameo role in that movie and he wanted to be Agent M and work along side Will Smith solving mysteries about aliens.]

Back to different occupations in Kazakhstan that I learned about. One of the students talked about teachers and the difference between village teachers and those in the city.  Of course, there is a vast contrast that can be made.  NO ONE wants to go back to the village to teach because there is nothing going on there, no museums, no theaters, no sporting events, nothing is set up in the infrastructure to support what could produce better singers or sportsmen in Kazakhstan.  The concentration of wealth goes to the cities and that is where teachers want to be, where the money is, where the interesting things to learn are.  Who can blame them?

Can you FORCE people to go in the farthest reaches of a country where nothing is happening?  How do you make people go work where nobody wants to go?  We have the same problem in the rural areas of the U.S. and particularly where I’m from in northwestern Minnesota.  There has always been a mass migration away from the small towns and to the big cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Something good should be said of the quiet, pastoral life of the countryside.  Isn’t that what was happening here on this land of Kazakhstan over 100 years ago?  People moved from place to place and they had a wide open territory to do that.  Now we have urbanization with Almaty and Astana getting the most attention.  The English teachers who study hard and know English very well do not want to waste their talents in a small town where they are poorly paid.  What a conundrum we have that the Kazakh nomads could hardly have envisioned 100 or 200 years ago.  How to solve it?

We started to talk about journalists and the dangers they incur, especially those who know the truth and want to get the word out.  We lost track of time and didn’t get too far on that topic.

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Kazakh Students’ Random Stories of Yesteryear

I am not quite finished with my survey about “Education in a Modernizing Society.” For now I’ll turn to some conversations Ken and I had with Kazakh students this past weekend.  Invariably, I ask young people about their grandparents and great grandparents, it seemed this group was not shy to tell us what they knew.

One girl when challenged was able to name her ancestors seven back.  She did so using her fingers to help remember where she was.  She was applauded by her fellow English learners.  Another fellow who seemed shy finally did talk about his grandparents but sad are those whose grandparents were orphaned during the Great Patriotic War.  In this one case the grandfather’s name of his father was found out but that is rare.

Another girl told of her grandparents being rich and able to go to Mecca but then when the collectivization started the grandfather buried all his treasure.   Her relatives talk about how they sure could use the treasure now and speculate where it could be hidden. That led us down a discussion of getting into business of selling metal detectors and finding the spoils.  The saying “Finders Keepers; Losers Weepers” came up and that had to be explained.

One girl said she didn’t have any grandparents but she still had a 94 year old grand, grandfather.  I thought and said “Wow, what a treasure.”  She didn’t seem so happy about it because he lives in her home and constantly wants to do “remont” in their home.  The only trouble is that he is nearly blind so we joked that if he were using a hammer and nails he might bang his fingers by trying to do reconstruction.  She actually took my admonition seriously about sitting down with her great grandpa to ask him questions about the past.  Maybe he wouldn’t be so eager to re-do their home if he had some attention paid to him.

Another girl talked about her grandparents who had many children in the village and about how the grandfather repaired radios and other electronic things but never charged anyone anything.  Her grandmother was a good seamstress. Yet another girl related that her grandfather had been in prison for 50 years, he was released at age 75 and had many more children after that.  He got his name cleared of whatever he was guilty of.  He had a wife before he was in prison and one afterwards, as I understood it.  Seems the visits by the wife meant that she would go home pregnant.  I think there were 14 in that family.

Several students that talked about their grandmothers getting “Hero Mother” awards for having 10 children.  In some cases the children may have died in infancy but it was encouraged back in the old days to have big families.

One guy named Ruslan said that his grandfather was working in the mines near Karaganda and he LOVED to play cards. One day he lost his horse in a game and had to walk home. He later told me about a Russian documentary titled “Wait for Me” but for the life of me, I can’t remember what that is about.  I think about the reuniting of families.  Oy, that is why it is important to write things down right away.

Finally, one girl who was part Tatar and Kazakh told of how her Tatar ancestors were from the Crimea region but were forcibly moved out by Stalin and some went on their own to Iran and then ended up in Uzbekistan.  She said she had visited Ukraine to see where her roots had come from.  She did say that her grandfather also fought in WWII and that he hated the Germans, he died in Berlin.

So, there was an interesting mix of students that gathered at American Corner this past weekend.  We will start up the films again and it was agreed that we would have tea and snacks before that and discussion of the film afterwards.  Meeting these Kazakh students is one of the perks of living in Kazakhstan.

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Astana Victory Day Billboards–Grand Finale

I have many more photos of the Victory Day billboards which featured at least 65 of the WWII veterans.  We just finished celebrating 65 years since the end of the Great Patriotic War. Sadly, this will be the last that I’ll show these brave veterans on this blog.  Now I need to sit down with someone who knows both Russian and Kazakh to help translate the quotes of what each war hero said.  I can understand all their names and their ages but I need help especially with Kazakh.  Seeing these billboards on my bike rides towards the airport, south of Astana, was a nice surprise. It shows just how much respect the Kazakhs give to their older generation, something our American culture could learn something about the older I get.

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Dana’s Victory Day story and more Astana billboards

The following is a shorter story from a Kazakh woman in Almaty who wrote about her family’s involvement with WWII or Great Patriotic War as it was called here in the former Soviet Union.

The Great Patriotic War affected every family in our Kazakhstan.  My father and four of his brothers were at war from the very beginning. My father and three of his brothers came home wounded at the end of the war. One of my uncles  – Baizildayev Duisen went missing. My dad was searching for his brother all his life without success.

My mother’s uncles also were at war.  I know that fathers and uncles of my colleagues were at war. Therefore, I think we all who are living now must remember the heroism of World War II soldiers.

Yesterday I watched almost three hours of “Andersonville” the Rebels prison camp near Atlanta, Georgia where the Yankee soldiers were detained while the Civil War raged on.  A place meant to house only 8,000 POWs, had over 33,000 men in the camp, a miserable place.  In the span of less than two years, there were over 45,000 men who were thrown in this hell hole.  About a 1/4 of them died due to starvation, dysentery, scurvy and other sad conditions due to little medical treatment for the war wounded.  Others were murdered by the Raiders who were in the camp but were not disciplined military but rather hoodlums.

The only reason I watched this movie was out of curiosity because many Norwegians who had just arrived to Minnesota and Wisconsin signed up to be a part of the North’s effort to liberate the blacks from slavery.  One of my distant relatives, Bjorn Aslakson, from Telemark kept his wits about him and wrote in a small diary the atrocities he saw.  He was able to survive and eventually got back to his family in Minnesota but this place had broken his health, he didn’t live long once he returned home.

This sad plight was true of many of the Kazakh war veterans, if they survived the POW camps or fighting, they may have returned home wounded and were haunted with the memories of what they witnessed during war.  Dana is right, we MUST remember the heroism of WWII soldiers.  That is why I am showing more of the Astana billboards I saw along the highway to the airport.

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