Sunday, November 15, 2015

Book Review

Why Are You Still Alive? A German in the Gulag 
by Georg Hildebrandt
I purchased this book recently, and it's one of those publications you cannot put down until complete.  The experience cannot be briefly explained; when you read this book you will be deeply moved.  Everyone should take the time to read this incredible experience to further appreciate how fortunate we are today.
Georg Hildebrandt was of German from Russia heritage who endured and surprisingly survived the terrors of life as a Soviet prisoner.  Georg was a descendant of immigrants who accepted Catherine’s invitation to relocate to Russia. Little could they foresee that the third and fourth generations would experience terrible suffering. Georg was Mennonite, being raised to love peace, without hatred and rancor.
Germans were labeled as criminals by the Soviet government, 800,000 – 900,000 were exterminated. Liquidation of Germans began after the October Revolution. Germans were gathered into groups and forcefully scattered throughout the entire Soviet Union. The intention of these acts was to force them to lose their language and ethnicity.

Georg grew up in the village of Kondrajevka, near Kramatorsky and Konstantinovka.  March 1929 the village was occupied by party workers, militia and secret agents of the OGPU.  Families were separated, and all men and boys 15 years and older from 12 families out of the 33 farms in the village were arrested and jailed. This was to be Georg’s first arrest.
Georg managed to survive several relocations and much physical abuse.  He was fortunate to have received early education and draftsman training.  These skills were valued at the various prisons and saved his life numerous times.  Food was scarce for all prisoners; illness was common and man’s inhumanity to man was staggering.  Traitors were everywhere and would commit hideous crimes to promote their own welfare and profit.
1942: Georg and other prisoners were forced into the Trud Army. The workers army was kept behind barbed wire like criminals.  Germans who had not died as a result of the Soviet bloody wave of destruction from 1937-38, were confined in horrific conditions; many deaths occurred each day.
1949: Georg and others were transported to East Siberia.  Fifteen men were put in each train compartment, which was designed for six to eight at most. The train stopped at Sverdlovsk, where the prisoners were loaded onto trucks referred to as the Black Raven.  Eventually after much discomfort the surviving prisoners were taken to a camp in Kolyma.  Georg was assigned to work in the carpentry shop.
One day, criminals gambled for the “head of any resident” from the barracks in which technical and office workers lived.  Later in the evening one of the prisoners was sitting at a table near the door with his fur lined cap on his head. A criminal rushed into the barracks and smashed his head with an ax. The criminal then ran to the guard tower and yelled, “I have chopped off someone’s head.” These were common everyday events.
1953: Georg completed his prison time.  He requested permission to relocate to the Urals where his family was living- denied.  He was appointed honorary head of the Bureau for Rationalization and Inventions (BRIS), devising a system to reward productive workers with increased pay.
In February, he was diagnosed with cavernous lung tuberculosis, seriously ill. He was transported to the Urals to join his family, the first odyssey of his life found a happy ending. The second odyssey had a different nature, the time from 1953 until emigration to Germany in 1974. The goal of a second book was not to be fulfilled.
Georg was asked by the wife of a deceased fellow prisoner why her husband had not been willing to share details of life as a prisoner.  George explained that the situation had been bad, very bad. Perhaps her husband kept silent in order not to expose himself to suspicions, and the cruel memories could not be comprehended by someone who had not gone through this hell. Rumors in Germany and other countries promoted the idea that conditions were not bad for political prisoners. It was false information.

(Submitted by Dee Hert)

Future Meeting

The December party will be held on Saturday, December 12th at 11:00 am at the Springville Presbyterian Church.We'll have German food and an ornament exchange. A $10 limit is suggested. Their new pastor is a German from Russia.

2016 AHSGR Convention

Plans are underway for the 2016 AHSGR convention which will be held at the Concord Hilton Hotel, in Concord, California, July 14-16, 2016. The hotel is conveniently located in the San Francisco Bay Area’s East Bay and is adjacent to Interstate 680.  It is accessible via the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) from the Oakland and San Francisco International airports.  The hotel offers complimentary round trip shuttle service to and from the Concord BART station thus making it easily accessible to the entire Bay Area including San Francisco.  Conveniently located across the street from the hotel is a shopping center with a second larger one within a one mile distance.  The world famous Napa and Sonoma wine country is a short 30 minute drive from the Hilton.  The venue offers an opportunity to visit and enjoy a world class tourist destination.

The program’s theme is “Before the Storm” which will focus on the evolution and life of the colonies in the Volga, Black Sea, and Volhynia areas of the Russian Empire.  Speakers have been invited from Russia, Germany, and South America.  In addition, topics will focus on:
  • Village Area Discussions
  • Using AHSGR and on-line resources for genealogical searches
  • Use of DNA in genealogical research
  • Education and welfare systems in the villages
  • Contributions by the colonists to agriculture, manufacturing, and the economy
  • Village governance systems
  • Churches
  • Architecture
  • Differences between the Black Sea and Volga villages
  • German Russians in the army
  • German Russians in Siberia and Kazakhstan
  • German Russian emigration
  • German Russians in California
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Developing  memory books
  • Story Telling Contest
  • Youth Program
  • Research room with access to the internet and AHSGR books and archival materials
  • Two all-day tours to the wine country and  San Francisco.

Room rates are $119.00 per night for a single or double room and $134.00 for a room at the Hilton Executive Level.  Executive Level rooms are on a private key controlled floor with enhanced amenities, access to a private lounge, complimentary breakfast, and an evening manager reception. Parking is $7.50 per day with in and out privileges.  Handicapped parking is free.  Reservations may be made by phone (925-827-2000, use the code AGR) or on line (

Address:  Hilton Concord, 1970 Diamond Blvd., Concord, CA  94520 (Phone: 925-827-2000)

Plan on joining other AHSGR members in Concord  July 14-16, 2016.