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This Book Belongs in the Home of Every German From Russia

Dieses Buch Gehoert in Jedes Russlanddeutsches Haus

Meier, Andreas. "This Book Belongs in the Home of Every Germans From Russia." Volk auf dem Weg, July 2006, 39.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado


[Translated Title:] "Zone of Total Silence." The German-Russians during War and Postwar Times. Reports by Eyewitnesses. Waldemar Weber Verlag [publisher], Augsburg, 2003; 480 pages; Price: 17.90 euros. Russian-Language Edition: Gerhard Walter "Sona polnogo pokaya" Waldemar Weber Verlag, Augsburg, 2004; 512 pages; Price: 17.90 euros. Available from the book offerings of the Landsmannschaft.

The new edition of the book "Die Zone der totalen Ruhe [Zone of Total Silence]" by the German-Russian author Gerhard Walter, who died in 1998, appeared in the Waldemar Weber Verlag [publisher], both in German and in Russian. In fact, this book has been on the market for nearly three years. It is currently the most-purchased and likely the best known book on the German-Russian tragedy of the last World War and of the subsequent years. When the book was displayed at the Frankfurt Expo, German journalists called it the German-Russian "GUlag Archipelago." Most journalists emphasized that the author was not satisfied with just presenting single memories and a few historical documents. Rather, by combining under one cover numerous different life stories and a great deal of statistics, he attempts to show the fill picture of the tragedy of his people.

Gerhard Walter was born in 1923 in Ukraine in the German village of Kruposchin in the Zhitomir area. During the fall of 1941 his parents, siblings, and he were exiled from his home to Kazakhstan. Between January of 1942 and August of 1946 he spent his time doing forced labor in the GUlag. Later, he endured the life of so many other "Special Settlers," who were under strict and tight supervision by State authorities. Following studies in history and philosophy, he became a teacher at a middle school in the Ural region, and later at a higher-level secondary school in Kirgistan. During his teaching years, he was collecting and compiling eyewitness reports he would later use in this book. He emigrated to Germany in 1996.

The book deals with the period of forced recruitment into the [so-called] Work Army and subsequent forced resettlement under the supervision of the KGB. The author in this book allows the survivors to speak for themselves, thus gaining 150 co-authors. The tragic lives of our people is reflected via documents and memories by numerous eyewitnesses.

Why the title "Zone of Total Silence?"

It is this dictum that was posted at every gate of every camp and every work zone. These words had strong symbolic significance for the author. No one in the world was aware of this tragedy, no one was allowed to know. For the outside world, those subsisting behind barbed wire and fences did not even exist. It was the zone of silence concerning real crimes. In the West, too, there was total silence. During the course of the Nuremberg trials, several millions of Germans were being plucked out of their homes and deported to Siberia. All of this was condoned by the same Allied powers who were sitting in judgment at Nuremberg over the crimes of the National-Socialist war criminals. No one thought of the German-Russians on the other side of the Urals -- there was total silence.

This work by Gerhard Walter is absolutely unique. It is a book of innermost human witness. Much is written in the scientific literature about the German-Russians, but there has never been a report on the organized killings of the German-Russians that is told with such forcefulness and with such shattering realism. As long as people are alive, who are concerned with this topic, and personally affected their children, and their grandchildren. As long as individual people are conscious of their German-Russian roots, there will be demand for this book. Thus far it is the only book which reports in such an intense manner on the German-Russian tragedy and at a purely human, existential level. From it, one can learn more than from any scientific treatises.

The book contains many official documents. They are authentic, because Wolter succeeded, during the brief time when archives had been opened up, in photocopying documents that were of the highest importance. These are the orders to executioners, plus other documentation of modern barbarism that the author dug out from the KGB. The documents deal only on the surface with the mobilization of work forces for the war economy. At a deeper level, the actual goal emerges, that of liquidation of people. Still, for me personally, the most exciting pages are those dedicated to the human eyewitnesses. The book will not provide historical-scientific citations toward proof of the actual happenings. This kind of a book has no need for such. It is the preserved memories of people that constitute the main concern of this book.

Many top German politicians were given a copy of this book, among them Edmund Stoiber, Wolfgang Schaeuble, Roland Koch, and Christian Wolf. One can only hope that Gerhard Wolter's opus may help to reach the feelings of the federal, indigenous Germans, that it may help them to look differently at the Germans from Russia living next to them, and that they may understand them better.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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