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The Tragedy of the Soviet Germans

Book review by Edna Boardman, Bismarck, North Dakota

Philipps, John. The Tragedy of the Soviet Germans. Bismarck, North Dakota: Richtman’s Printing, 1983.


Philipps opens his book with warm descriptions of German Russian villages as they were at the peak of their prosperity. The struggles of pioneering were over; the depredations of the Communists had not yet begun. He writes a brief history of South Russia to help us understand his experiences. This is the kind of personal book you may prefer to read about German-Russian history.

John Philipps, who now resides in California, was born in Speyer in South Russia in "the time of the Czar." He was probably one of the more fortunate ones during the Communist takeover. He was given training as an agriculturist and assigned to a job in a Machine Tractor Station, a special kind of unit that provided and maintained tractors and other machines for the collective farms in an area. That is where he was when Hitler's armies swept into South Russia in 1941, and he went to Germany with panicky refugees in 1945, just ahead of the Russian advance. He was drawn into the German army, along with Peter Pfeifer of Elsass, possibly a relative of North Dakota German-Russians. In 1955, with the help of Alexandra Tolstoy, a Russian woman who also helped others to get out of the clutches of the Communists, he migrated to the United States.

Philipps was nervous about writing this book and says he omitted names for fear of reprisals to families still living in Russia. But he was a sharp observer and he understands where his personal experiences fit into the larger historical picture. You may appreciate knowing how it was from someone who personally lived during this very difficult time. He attended a convention of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society several years ago, and it was truly exciting to see this German-Russian hero in the flesh.

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