Sunday, March 25, 2012

Collectives

My grandfather was considered a class one, “counter-revolutionary” kulak. In 1930, he was arrested and his family forced to leave his 17 hectare farm so that it could become part of a collective – or – kolkchoz. Good bye, kulak.

Propaganda poster

(image from /www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/oleg-pavlov/down-on-farm-history-lesson-in-kazan)

By the spring of 1931 – when his exiled children returned, motherless, from Siberia – his windmill was gone and strangers lived in the family house. When I visited the area in 2004, an old local woman told me that she remembered the dismantling of the windmill. The wood was used to build the new collective manager’s office. Farming became a complicated bureaucracy - it was all about the number crunching.

First class kulaks were not invited to work on the collectives. But all the others were pressured into joining. Workers ( proletariats) from the city factories were even sent out into the countryside to apply pressure tactics to 'encourage' them. Collective workers were called kolkchozniks (a Russian, not Ukrainian word). No one was happy.

Food production fell, while demand increased. This was the setting that led to the horrific Holodomor – death by starvation – in 1932/33. Then in 1933 the rules changed so that the workers could actually share in the profit of a collective. Before this, there had been no incentive to work.

As I try to learn more about life on a kolkchoz – I’m now aware that there’s a huge difference between the early collectives, and the later ones. But, the collective way of farming was never as successful as the western world's farms.

My mother and family lived through the confusing early years (1929 – 1933) where that chaos cost many lives and much suffering. Later, by the spring of 1933, the mass deportations and arrests stopped. By then, my mom was out of the country. My grandfather, however, stayed behind and was eventually a victim of the insanity of the Great Terror (1937/8).

Another five years go by, and the Germans invade. The collective workers are eager to switch back to the private farming of the pre-First Five Year Plan. They see the Nazis as an improvement to Stalin. While the Germans do announce in March of 1942 that collective farming will end, and that the land will be re-distributed – this privilege is given only to ethnic Germans. Food that is grown and harvested by the Ukrainian women is confiscated to feed the German soldiers.

One of these soldiers might have been my father – a German from Schleswig-Holstein – who is sent to the Eastern front in 1944. Of course, he had no idea back then, that he would eventually marry a daughter of a kulak. He was married to someone else then, but I’m getting way off track.

Back to the collective farms. The first ones were formed as early as 1919, and became the norm during the dekulakization project after 1929. Today, in 2012, some of them are still around- lasting longer than the Soviet regime. From what I gather, while many collectives went bankrupt after the government stopped paying wages, and providing supplies – others have continued – with slight changes.

It’s all rather confusing. Perhaps things will end up like here in North America with big business taking over. However, I did read that family-sized gardens contribute a lot to the post-Soviet dinner tables. The kulak spirit lives on.

Yes, I'm back in the world of 1931, trying to imagine and re-create my mother's lost childhood.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

More WWII victims

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book begins with "... and the light was so white that it made my eyes ache." This story makes my heart ache. At times I had to put it aside because of its intensity. The author shines a harsh light on more victims of the Nazi regime and makes me squirm with discomfort. Compelling read. Companion novel to Stolen Child. Both books should be read by anyone studying WWII because it wasn't only Jewish children who suffered. That war was beyond awful. Kudos to Marsh Skrypuch for remembering the OST Arbeiter children.



Saturday, March 3, 2012

Exploring East Prussia

If you’ve browsed through my blog, you might know that I’ve been exploring my mom’s life (1919-2011). My first book, The Kulak’s Daughter, was set in a part of the former Soviet Union known as Volhynia. This area is now part of the independent country called Ukraine.

File:Weimar Republic 1930.svg I’ve been working on, and revising, a sequel to that book. It’s also set in a part of the world that exists only in history books and fading memories. This is a place called East Prussia. When my mom left the Soviet Union as a thirteen-year-old orphan, she was adopted by extended family who were farmers in East Prussia near the city of Königsberg. Today, Königsberg is part of Russia and known as Kaliningrad.

It’s a confusing part of the world, and the 1920s/30s/ and 40s were confusing times. I’m a slow learner, but I’m gradually getting an idea of what life was like. The one thing that did stay the same was the people. Teenage emotions, human relationships, and ambitions have remained constant throughout time. So this will be at the core of my writing, even amidst the chaos of eastern Europe in the 20th century.

If you look at this map (Creative Commons, free download) - you can see that East Prussia is separated from the rest of Germany. Poland divides the two parts of Germany. This is why Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. This Weimar Republic - created after WWI - is the predecessor of the fatal Third Reich.

In this brewing kettle of trouble, my orphaned kulak mother spent her confusing teenaged years.