Posts tagged Siberia

What about Winston Churchill?

young ChurchillI have long admired the vision of Churchill for what he saw and knew about the former Soviet Union and Stalin.  He saw through the veneer that was presented during World War II and I am sad that more people didn’t pay attention to what he knew.  The media force from the area of Russia was doing a full court press to make sure that the unsuspecting didn’t believe the anecdotes that were coming out of Russia and other parts of the Soviet Union.  The Australians have long known the truths of what REALLY happened once WWII was over, other generals and those in combat with the Allied forces knew what was happening when the Soviet Union wanted to take credit for ending the war against the Nazis.  Pity those people who were in the Russian quarters of Berlin because they were either sent back to their country, killed or exiled to Siberia.  Churchill some how knew but perhaps his hands were tied along with others.  The truth came out in reports by Malcolm Muggeridge and other reporters who started paying attention to those people who tried to get the message out about what was going on when things settled down.

That is why I think we need to look closely at what Winston Churchill said 116 years ago about something else he knew something about.  That is perhaps why our U.S.president who gave his usual State of the Union address the other night gave back the bust of Winston Churchill to U.K. when he first moved into the Oval Office.  He obviously didn’t like what Churchill stood for because of his own thorough-going beliefs.  What do you think?  This was penned by a young, but already wise beyond his years, Churchill.

The attached short speech from Winston Churchill, was delivered by him in 1899 when he was a young soldier and journalist. It probably sets out the current views of many, but expresses in the wonderful Churchillian turn of phrase and use of the English language, of which he was a past master.
Sir Winston Churchill was, without doubt, one of the greatest men of the late 19th and 20th centuries. He was a brave young soldier, a brilliant journalist, an extraordinary politician and statesman, a great war leader and British Prime Minister, to whom the Western world must be forever in his debt. He was a prophet in his own time. He died on 24th January 1965 , at the grand old age of 90 and, after a lifetime of service to his country, was accorded a State funeral. HERE IS THE SPEECH:
“How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries, improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement, the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Muslims may show splendid qualities, but the influence of the religion paralyzes the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa , raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome .”
Sir Winston Churchill; (Source: The River War, first edition, Vol II, pages 248-250 London ).

Leave a comment »

Two links about Siberia and the former Soviet Union

Sometimes I discover the most amazing stories from my FB friends who are currently living in a country of the former Soviet Union or are back home after surviving living in the former USSR.  Check out this YouTube clip that shows real footage of Lenin and has interesting graphics. It definitely has a point.

Definitely on a roll with the supposed resurgence of the Soviet Union.  Also, check out what a family of Old Believers went through living in hiding in the bowels of Siberia, 40 years away from contact from the Soviet Union. Amazing  and sad story of their endurance against all odds. This is from the Smithsonian website:

I have another funny one done by Ben Kling called Dictator Valentines which also include Trotsky and Marx. They are funny but this will have to do for now. Look them up yourself.

Leave a comment »

Poems by Anna Ahmatova (Part I)

I found this Requiem translated from Anna Ahmatova’s writing and thought it appropriate to show the first part today. Tomorrow I will post the remainder.  Tough stuff, probably no different than what a trafficked victim experiences and feels like.

                        Not under foreign skies

                        Nor under foreign wings protected  –

                        I shared all this with my own people

                        There, where misfortune had abandoned us.

[1961]

INSTEAD OF A PREFACE

During the frightening years of the Yezhov terror, I

spent seventeen months waiting in prison queues in

Leningrad. One day, somehow, someone ‘picked me out’.

On that occasion there was a woman standing behind me,

her lips blue with cold, who, of course, had never in

her life heard my name. Jolted out of the torpor

characteristic of all of us, she said into my ear

(everyone whispered there) – ‘Could one ever describe

this?’ And I answered – ‘I can.’ It was then that

something like a smile slid across what had previously

been just a face.

[The 1st of April in the year 1957. Leningrad]

DEDICATION

Mountains fall before this grief,

A mighty river stops its flow,

But prison doors stay firmly bolted

Shutting off the convict burrows

And an anguish close to death.

Fresh winds softly blow for someone,

Gentle sunsets warm them through; we don’t know this,

We are everywhere the same, listening

To the scrape and turn of hateful keys

And the heavy tread of marching soldiers.

Waking early, as if for early mass,

Walking through the capital run wild, gone to seed,

We’d meet – the dead, lifeless; the sun,

Lower every day; the Neva, mistier:

But hope still sings forever in the distance.

The verdict. Immediately a flood of tears,

Followed by a total isolation,

As if a beating heart is painfully ripped out, or,

Thumped, she lies there brutally laid out,

But she still manages to walk, hesitantly, alone.

Where are you, my unwilling friends,

Captives of my two satanic years?

What miracle do you see in a Siberian blizzard?

What shimmering mirage around the circle of the moon?

I send each one of you my salutation, and farewell.

[March 1940]

INTRODUCTION

[PRELUDE]

It happened like this when only the dead

Were smiling, glad of their release,

That Leningrad hung around its prisons

Like a worthless emblem, flapping its piece.

Shrill and sharp, the steam-whistles sang

Short songs of farewell

To the ranks of convicted, demented by suffering,

As they, in regiments, walked along –

Stars of death stood over us

As innocent Russia squirmed

Under the blood-spattered boots and tyres

Of the black marias.

I

You were taken away at dawn. I followed you

As one does when a corpse is being removed.

Children were crying in the darkened house.

A candle flared, illuminating the Mother of God. . .

The cold of an icon was on your lips, a death-cold sweat

On your brow – I will never forget this; I will gather

 

To wail with the wives of the murdered streltsy

Inconsolably, beneath the Kremlin towers.

[1935. Autumn. Moscow]

II

Silent flows the river Don

A yellow moon looks quietly on

Swanking about, with cap askew

It sees through the window a shadow of you

Gravely ill, all alone

The moon sees a woman lying at home

Her son is in jail, her husband is dead

Say a prayer for her instead.

III

It isn’t me, someone else is suffering. I couldn’t.

Not like this. Everything that has happened,

Cover it with a black cloth,

Then let the torches be removed. . .

Night.

IV

Giggling, poking fun, everyone’s darling,

The carefree sinner of Tsarskoye Selo

If only you could have foreseen

What life would do with you –

That you would stand, parcel in hand,

Beneath the Crosses, three hundredth in line,

Burning the new year’s ice

With your hot tears.

Back and forth the prison poplar sways

With not a sound – how many innocent

Blameless lives are being taken away. . .

[1938]

V

For seventeen months I have been screaming,

Calling you home.

I’ve thrown myself at the feet of butchers

For you, my son and my horror.

Everything has become muddled forever –

I can no longer distinguish

Who is an animal, who a person, and how long

The wait can be for an execution.

There are now only dusty flowers,

The chinking of the thurible,

Tracks from somewhere into nowhere

And, staring me in the face

And threatening me with swift annihilation,

An enormous star.

[1939]

VI

Weeks fly lightly by. Even so,

I cannot understand what has arisen,

How, my son, into your prison

White nights stare so brilliantly.

Now once more they burn,

Eyes that focus like a hawk,

And, upon your cross, the talk

Is again of death.

[1939. Spring]

(to be continued)

Leave a comment »

“Now we shall be able to talk” from Rawicz’s book

I have written this before, I’ll write it again in today’s blog: I LOVE old books.  However, I don’t count Slavomir Rawicz’s book necessarily that OLD at 55 years.  It recounts what had happened back in the early 1940s. But just the same, I came away learning more about Circassians.  I had not heard of Circassians before from my Kazakh students, yet I am well aware of Tatars, Chechens and other smaller people groups.

But first let me relate the dialogue in this 1956 book that piqued my interest in Circassians. If you have read my past several blogs, the group of escapees from a Siberian camp had entered Tibet and were on their way to Lhasa, or so they told people along their 4,000 mile trek:

“Welcome,” he said in Russian. “Now we shall be able to talk.”

We were rather taken aback.  He spoke Russian easily and without hesitation.  I had to remind myself that there could be no danger so far south of the Soviet in a chance encounter with a Russian.

He waited for me to reply and when I did not he went on eagerly, “I am a Circassian and it is a long time since I met anyone who could speak Russian.”

“A Circassian?” I repeated. “That is most interesting.” I could not think of anything less banal to say.

His questions tumbled over themselves. “Are you pilgrims? It is not many Russians who are Buddhists. You came through the Gobi [desert] on foot?”

From what I have gathered off the Internet with a cursory glance is that there are not many Circassians who are Russian Orthodox but this man in the Rawicz’s story was. Living in Tibet, he looked by his clothes more Mongolian yet spoke Russian. He was very proud of being Circassian as many independent Muslims are today.  I learned there are 500,000 Circassians in southern Russia and several million diaspora.

What’s interesting is this article I came across about Georgia [the country] which proclaimed the genocide against the Circassians. Read the following link. Also know that in a military campaign that was carried out in 1860-64, the Russian imperial historians recorded the deaths of these Circassians who lived in the Caucasus mountains.  Proclaiming that this was a genocide 150 years later but then Armenia will have its chance to ask for reparation from Turkey about the genocide that happened almost 100 years ago against the Armenian people.

Who can talk about these atrocities when there is division of languages, memories have faded and history books have been revised away from the truth?   “Now we shall be able to talk” will only happen in a perfect world where truth tries to mend the fractures within cultures.  It won’t be happening any time soon in Kazakhstan where many people from other nationalities were deported and dumped in Kazakhstan.  Ah…so much sadness…

 

Comments (2) »

“I think I should tell you about myself” from Rawicz’s book

Finished Slavomir Rawicz’s book titled “The Long Walk.” Different in other ways from the recent Hollywoodized movie “The Way Back.”  Why did the movie veer off as it did from this true story from the early 1940s? More than enough drama without going off the serpentine path these escapees took from a Siberian prison camp, all 4,000 miles of it.  Without giving all the story away, if you are interested in reading the book or watching the movie, I will insert something from p. 116 that I thought was particularly good. It fits with the drum I’ve been beating for a long time about what conditions were like in Ukraine in the 1930s.  So much sadness even before the 1940s for those who survived the terror famine in the 1930s and what they encountered once sent off to Siberia or Kazakhstan to be “rehabilitated.”

The movie changed the name of the one fugitive girl (Irena) that joined the party of escapees, her name was Kristina in the book.  She wanted to let the other seven men know who she was so thus the title of this blog, she started with:

“I think I should tell you about myself,” she said.  We nodded.  It was a variation of a story we all knew.  The prison camps were filled with men who could tell of similar experiences.  The location and the details might differ, but the horror and the leaden misery were common ingredients and stemmed from the same authorship.

After the first World War Kristina Polanska’s father had been rewarded for his war services by a grant of land in the Ukraine under the reorganization of Central European territory.  He had fought against the Bolsheviks, and General Pilsudski was thus able to give a practical expression of Polish gratitude.  The girl was the only child.  They were a hard-working couple, these parents, and they intended that Kristina should have every advantage their industry could provide.  In 1939 she was attending high school in Luck and the Polanskas were well pleased with the progress she was making.

Came September 1939. The Russians started moving in.  Ahead of the Red Army “Liberators” the news of their coming reached the Ukrainian farm workers.  The well-organized Communist underground was ready.  It needed only a few inflammatory speeches on the theme of the overthrow of the foreign landowners and restoration of the land to the workers, and the Ukrainian peasants were transformed into killer mobs.  The Polanskas knew their position was desperate.  They knew the mob would come for them.  They hid Kristina in a loft and waited…”

The rest of Kristina’s story is too sad to recount here in this blog as is true of all these stories coming out of Ukraine and Kazakhstan I have collected over the years.  Suffice it to say, Kristina was an orphan and met up with these men who had gone through far worse trials of being separated from their families and also severely tortured.  The movie, of course, did not go indepth as to what had happened to Kristina before she met up with them. Nor had the movie shown the tortures that Rawicz went through at the hands of the Soviets which is at the beginning of the book.

Therefore, next time an old timer from the Old Country might say to you, “I think I should tell you about myself…” Let them tell their story. But my guess is that you will have to patiently ask questions (maybe loudly and insistently) and need a box of tissues handy when you get the answers.

Comments (1) »

Reading “The Long Walk” by Slavomir Rawicz

My husband read this book titled “The Long Walk” written by Slavomir Rawicz when he was in 6th grade, it was published in 1956. It’s about a Polish army officer who was “sized up” as a spy for the Germans by the Soviets. The recent movie starring Ed Harris “The Way Back” is based on this book but leaves out all the torture and hardship Rawicz lived through as a 25 year old privileged army officer first in Kharkiv (Ukraine) and then in the terrible prison in Moscow.  That was almost two years worth before the agonizing one month train trip (3,000 miles) on the trans-Siberian. Prisoners were treated like cattle and then these “Unfortunates” were forced to walk in the deep snow with chains north to Camp 303 in the northern part of Siberia close to Yakutsk.  The film makers leave out many things but they DO portray other things quite accurately about the 4,000 mile walk.  I recommend seeing the movie if you don’t want to bother with the book.

The following is the description of what the inmates looked like based on their ages, according to 25 year old author Rawicz:

“And all the time my mind juggling with pictures of the stockaded camp…and always the men about me, the young ones like me who were resilient and quick to recover, the forty-year-olds who surprisingly (to me, then) moved slowly but with great reserves of courage and strength and the over fifties who fought to stay young, to work, to live, the men who had lived leisured lives and now, marvelously, displayed the guts to face a cruel new life very bravely. They should have been telling tales to their devoted grandchildren, these oldsters.  Instead they spent their days straining and lifting at the great fallen trees, working alongside men who were often half their age.  There is a courage which flourishes in the worst kind of adversity and it is quite unspectacular. These men had it in full.”

The same could be said of the “Enemies of the People” women who were depicted in what I have blogged about the last several days in “Till My Tale is Told.” Many women in ALZHIR prison camp should have been with their grandchildren instead of felling trees and being used as slave labor.

Leave a comment »

Unwritten Places (Part III)

As I was going through the index of the book “Till My Tale is Told,” by Simeon Vilensky, I was writing down every prison or camp to make sense of it and tease out what I could that might be in Kazakhstan.  Here’s a fitting poem I came across that goes along with the poem “We’re Alive, We’re Alive!”

 “I write in the name of the living,

That they, in turn, may not stand

In a silent, submissive crowd

By the dark gates of some camp.”

Taganka – Moscow prison

Lubyanka – headquarters for Soviet Secret police  in central Moscow

Lefortovo – Moscow prison

Butyrki – largest Moscow prison

Solovki – special camp north of Moscow

Kazan – southeast on the Volga

Kolyma – Magadan, Sea of Okhotsk, Vladimir prison

Suzdal – like Solovki, a former monastery, northeast of Moscow

Verkhneuralsk prison

Elgen – women’s camp, 500 miles northwest and inland from Magadan

Serpantinka

Narym – central Siberia

Yaroslavl prison

Shapalerka prison

Mariinsk camp farther west from Kolyma

You get the idea that there were LOTS of campus throughout the former Soviet Union. An oft spoken saying among those women in gulag camps after living through tedious drudgery day after day:  “It may be worse, but at least it’ll be different”

p. 112 – “What you suffer is not as important as what you learn from the experience.”

p. 271 – “…Eleanor Roosevelt knew about huge numbers of political prisoners in Soviet Union, had come to the country and asked to visit the camps and see for herself.  This request had been categorically refused.”

Leave a comment »