Last week I had a phone call from Germany - from a relative I'd only met over the last winter. It was the daughter of Lilli, one of my mom's cousins, telling me that Lilli had just passed away. I have to thank Don Miller, author of several books about the Germans from Russia, for connecting me to these lost relatives.
Lilli didn't make it out of the USSR until 1988. The two cousins, my mom and Lilli, got to exchange letters and photos this past winter, and most importantly, they let each other know what happened after they were forced from Federofka back in 1930. You see, they're both survivors of Stalin's collectivization. My mom's cousin, Lilli, was sent far north - up to Arkhangelsk - until the mid-fifties and then later - when Stalin had died and Krushchev 'rehabilated' countless former kulak families - she was resettled in Kazakhstan.
This is the second time my mom has reconnected with a cousin. The other cousin, Sophie, lived her whole adult life in Omsk where she'd been exiled to in the thirties. They, too, got to exchange letters (Sophie could still speak and write German) and compare stories before, she too, passed on a couple of years ago.
My mom's 89 now. She's going blind, her hearing is spotty and walking is difficult. She tells me the same stories now, over and over again. And I let her, because, once they're gone, they're gone. And I want to get them right!