Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Remember Us: Letters from Stalin's Gulag, by Ruth Derksen Siemens

In the Stalin-led Soviet Union of the 1930s, it was impossible for the prisoners in any of the 2000 gulags to send letters out. There was no paper, no post office, no stamps. Yet some managed to write and smuggle their coded words past guards and informers. Remember us was their most common plea.

Ruth Derksen Siemens was given a binder of letters that astonished her. They came from family members who had written from the 1930s gulag. Her shock grew as extensive research revealed that none of the world's large archives believed such letters could exist.

The discovery of these letters launched this author on a road that was "made by walking." This was her secret history. She was born in Russia, but when she went to school, her parents drilled her what to say. "I am Canadian. I was born here." She was exhorted never to reveal that she spoke Russian or German, thought she learned both before English.

Remember Us, her book that included the first group of letters that made it to her relatives in Saskatchewan, led to the production of a film, Through the Red Gate. Eventually, she met a survivor who wrote one of the letters as a child, and was able to show it to her.

Ruth Derksen Siemens enthralled a gathering of Canadian Authors from Metro Vancouver by describing a long forgotten chapter of our nation's history. First, groups of Russian-born Mennonites escaped Stalin's gulags with their lives. Secondly, against enormous odds, they managed to send 463 letters to their relatives in Carlyle, Saskatchewan.

No comments:

Post a Comment