Posts tagged kulaks

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

Leave a comment »

Gaukhar’s Grandpa and family were repressed as kulaks

    I want to tell you about my grandpa. His name is Zait. My grandpa was born in 1921 in Mangistay, the west of Kazakhstan near Caspian sea. His father was a respectable, rich man and had 3 children. In 1930-1932 in Kazakhstan and other Soviet republics started the process called dispossession of the kulaks. Kulaks were people who were not poor and who had any property. Everything was confiscated from land to cattle, everything that was earned by hard work. Moreover all kulaks and their families became the subjects of repressions. The family of my grandpa could be repressed too, so my great grandfather decided to leave all and to put to flight from the country with his family: wife and three sons. They ran to Russia and this road was very difficult.

During their escape my great grandfather died because of infarction. So great grandma and children were left without the head of the family, but they had to continue their flight. Fortunately grandpa, his brothers and mom still achieved the point of destination- Russia. They settled in Orenburg city. At this period my grandpa was only 12 years old, his younger brother was 10 years old and elder brother was 17. My grandpa at the age of 12 decided himself to stay in Orenburg’s orphan’s home with his younger brother. He made this decision in order to help his family to survive, because it would be very hard for his mother to keep three children. Great grandma was opposed to his 12 years old son’s decision, she didn’t want to leave her children in the orphan’s home, however she had to agree because it was the only way to survive. My great grand mother lived with the elder son in Orenburg and always visited her younger sons. She soon realized that the orphan’s home was very good; there her children received good education. My grandpa was taught how to play on a great variety of musical instruments and developed his musical talent. In 1941 my grandpa at the age of 20 and his brothers were called for army because the Great Patriotic War started.

    During the War grandpa received a lot of different medals, orders, ribbons and other awards of honor and bravery. In 1943 he and his battalion were encircled by enemies and taken to captivity. The whole battalion was sent to Italy. There grandpa was held in concentration camp till the end of the War. In 1945 my grandpa was released and sent back to Russia.

After all he finally returned to his mother, his elder brother returned from the war too. But the younger brother of my grandpa was missing in action during the Great Patriotic War. Grandpa was trying to find his brother all his life. In 1947 grandpa married to my grandma, whose name was Zia. They lived near grandpa’s mother in their own house. In 1950 my grandma gave a birth to my aunt and three years later my mom was born. My mother has three sisters. My grandpa lived in this house near the Ural River in Orenburg region whole his life. My mother and her sisters moved to Kazakhstan when they became grown up. My grandpa died in 2001 when I was 9 years old. When I was a child me, my family, all my aunts and their families used to visit him very often.

I decided to write about my grandpa- Zait because despite severe periods in his life he always smiled a lot, he was always very cheerful and kind. My grandpa for me is the evidence of human’s strength, will, bravery and kindness. He underwent many ordeals and never gave up. Every time when I think about my grandpa a great feeling of pride and admiration arouse in me!!!

Leave a comment »

Thankful for George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”

George Orwell wrote in a preface to his book Animal Farm in the Ukrainian translation the following quote.  His Ukrainian readers, who were trapped after WWII in Displaced Persons camps in Germany under the British and American administration, needed to know his background and why he wrote about Marxist theories from animals’ point of view.  These Ukrainians resisted returning to the USSR, knowing they would be killed back in their supposed “Motherland.”  The Ukrainians and others termed as “kulaks” had gone through so much BEFORE the war. (Think Holodomor of 1932-33).


November is the time of year when people in Ukraine honor those who died in this famine called a “genocide” perpetrated by Soviet policies as of 75 years ago. Many understand that other nationalities suffered as well, not just Ukrainians.  Unfortunately, not everyone will agree with the extent of how many people actually died and whether it was genocide or not.  For now it is interesting to read what George Orwell knew and when he knew it. (think sixty years ago).


Even if I had the power, I would not wish to interfere in Soviet domestic affairs: I would not condemn Stalin and his associates merely for their barbaric and undemocratic methods.  It is quite possible that, even with the best intentions, they could not have acted otherwise under the conditions prevailing there.


But on the other hand it was of the utmost importance to me that people in western Europe should see the Soviet regime for what it really was.  Since 1930 I had seen little evidence that the USSR was progressing towards anything that one could truly call Socialism.  On the contrary, I was struck by clear signs of its transformation into a hierarchical society, in which the rulers have no more reason to give up their power than any other ruling class.  Moreover, the workers and intelligentsia in a country like England cannot understand that the USSR of today is altogether different from what it was in 1917.  It is partly that they do not want to understand (i.e. they want to believe that, somewhere, a really Socialist country does actually exist), and partly that, being accustomed to comparative freedom and moderation in public life, totalitarianism is completely incomprehensible to them.


Yet one must remember that England is not completely democratic.  It is also a capitalist country with great class privileges and (even now, after a war that has tended to equalize everybody) with great differences in wealth.  But nevertheless it is a country in which people have lived together for several hundred years without major conflict, in which the laws are relatively just and official news and statistics can almost invariably be believed, and last but not least, in which to hold and to voice minority views does not involve any mortal danger.  In such an atmosphere the man in the street has no real understanding of things like concentration camps, mass deportations, arrests without trial, press censorship, etc.  Everything he reads about a country like the USSR is automatically translated into English terms, and he quite innocently accepts the lies of totalitarian propaganda.  Up to 1939, and even later, the majority of English people were incapable of assessing the true nature of the Nazi regime in Germany, and now, with the Soviet regime, they are still to a large extent under the same sort of illusion.

Comments (7) »

“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.

Leave a comment »

Rare “Dacha” Moment Sequel

What I forgot to mention in my last blog posting is that the evening we watched the ORANGE full moon come up, fireflies were also something to behold.  Once it was dark, they glowed brightly against the backdrop of our densely, grassed woods.  So, to look at the sky above with stars glittering and then look at eye level to see miniature stars twinkle was part of our rare moment.

Also, I neglected to add that we have a wren or two who warble their happy melodies, always a welcome sound.  Now that we have the thistle seed up, we have our regular, bright yellow finches back.  Of course, without us they have plenty of wild thistle to eat from but it is like the birds “fast food haven” to go to our feeder.  The other night as I went out to see how the wild raspberries were doing that some birds “planted” out west under the western shelterbelt trees, I saw some raspberries were already ripe.  Our domesticated ones are not that far along yet but it won’t be long that we will enjoy raspberries on our breakfast cereal.  What got me really excited to not only watch the remnants of a spectacular sundown but also to HEAR the howls of the coyotes out west.  I tried to call Ken out to hear but he had already retired to the house.

We have some pocket gophers that are playing havoc with our raspberry patch.  These varmits dig up beautiful rich, black soil but when they start getting into the lawn, we must put a stop to that kind of ambition.  I don’t know if flooding them out will help or what to do.  I remember my grandpa would sit out on the front porch and use a BB gun to get the little rascals that were creating mounds in our front yard.  Not sure what animal rights people would say about that but once you let a gopher family in, the rest of the colony will arrive post haste.

Ken has been watering with a hose our Braeburn apple trees as well as our grapes, hopefully we will have some grapes to harvest this year from the oldest vine.  I’m not sure how much we can harvest and make into jelly of the apples and raspberries since we have to be back in Kazakhstan by mid-August.  I have rhubarb I could make into sauce today.  Last night we enjoyed some store bought blueberries on our ice cream thanks to our good friend Ron Vossler.  We three enjoyed a picnic outside by grilling chicken shashlik and catching up.

It has been about a year since we saw Ron and he had just returned from a Ukrainian Holodomor/genocide conference in Dickinson, ND.  He told us stories of his recent trip to Ukraine where his relatives were from.  He has been to Ukraine about seven or eight times before.  He is a prolific writer concerning what he has unearthed about his own people (Germans from Russia) who left the Odessa, Ukraine area to settle as pioneer farmers in North Dakota.  His own relatives of two generations ago were starved out by the communist regime in 1932-33 when the Holodomor (Terror Famine) had labeled industrious farmers as “Kulaks.”

On my early morning walks along the gravel roads I look around the perfect beet fields and impeccable grain fields that surround our little hobby farm, no weeds!!!  I ponder what our German farmer neighbors would do if they were forced to join the collective.  What if these prosperous farmers were told they had to hand in all their equipment to the government because they were NOT supposed to own their own property or work for their own profit?  That is precisely what happened 75 years ago in Ukraine and also in Kazakhstan to the nomads who happened to be good shepherds and owned large stock.  The Kazakhs did not fare as well with collectivization due to their lack of experience.  However, Russian and Ukrainian farmers, who were sent down to Kazakhstan to take over the open spaces fared much better with their collective farms.

Our God-given freedom is a very precious thing, our freedom to earn money by hard work is rare.  That is why I am enjoying my moments in Minnesota especially since it is mosquito free.  Wonders never cease.

Leave a comment »

“Kazakh Grandmother” Kanat’s narrative

She used to tell her stories in low voice and mentioning names like she was retelling incident took place yesterday. My grandmother. As every old man she liked to repeat her stories several times with new interesting details. Listening to her stories you will understand her jokes every time more and you understand why she laughs and why her face comes sad.


She was born in a family of rich and noble mullah (imam). With the new regime in the country, her father came under pressure was accused of being religious and outstanding rich. He was sent to camp in Siberian Russia, constructing bridges in distant areas and who was sent back to Kazakhstan before his actual death time. He survived after traditional medical treatment and lived till his old age. My grandmother started learning writing and reading after sixteen, during Soviet regime. She could write and read Kazakh in Arabic and Latin alphabet and finally she learned Russian alphabet-based Kazakh writing.


One story that interested me in 1930s is dispossessions of kulaks, my grand-grandfather was one of them. Cattle, possessions and valuable items were taken from my grand-grandfather. In one of the spot checks of those groups only women were in the house. My grandmother at those times had very expensive belt made of gold of about 5 kilos. Being afraid to lose that golden belt she threw it into fire in the furnace. At that time nobody could find or nobody tried to collect remains of golden belt.


Another moment in her life was time of starvation of 30s where population was fleeing to neighboring states and peoples’ bodies were lying in the streets like shot dogs. She remembers: “One day we went to central market for products and we witnessed that one boy grabbed one loaf of bread and was going to run, but tradesmen caught him and started to beat him and kick him. Next moment he was all in blood but chewing bloody bread.” Due to that starvation problem in the family, my grand-grandfather sold his daughter, my grandmother for a sack of grain in the age of 16. At that age she married my grandfather. She experienced problems with having children, but at the end at the age of 50 she had 5 live children.


Along with exciting times and fact my grandmother could tell about people who played important role in local and country’s life. One of them, Zhangeldin, was one of the Kazakh Bolsheviks and Pioneer Revolutionaries. He along with his army passed through aul (village) of my grandfather and needed provisions for his army. So, my grandfather provided them with the best horses and food. 


Like that golden belt, everything that was old by my grandmother looks like never-happened story. Revolutionaries, kulaks and starvation turned into modern history where my grandmother lived up to. I do not like to face the same difficulties as she met in her life, but to be able to respond to challenges of life like her.

Comments (1) »