This edition of Book Notes will cover The Years of Great Silence by J. Otto Pohl. You can buy the book here: https://cup.columbia.edu/book/the-years-of-great-silence/9783838216300 You can find the author on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGDA_3w0-mqywO9MS-eq1Gg You can also find interviews about the book here and here:
The first three chapters describe the research processes used to create the book. Both archival research and oral interviews were conducted, each with their own challenges. The surviving German deportees were difficult to find and scarce in number. The Soviet regime also had little interest in the daily lives of deported Germans and kept scant records on the topic. An amusing anecdote about Kyrgyzstan is telling (p. 15):
“All of the archives in Bishkek that were classified as secret or top secret during the Stalin era had again been reclassified as such when I visited the Central Archives of the Kyrgyz Republic in 2012. This was the case even for documents that had already been published and thus were readily available even within Kyrgyzstan. A truly absurd post-Soviet example of this policy was the fact that the archival reading room had these published document collections and would refer you to them even as they refused to show you the originals on the basis that they were classified as secret and top secret and thus a matter of state security. Mind you these were all documents from the 1940s for the Kyrgyz SSR, an integral component of the USSR, a state that ceased to exist in 1991. The idea that seeing the originals rather than verbatium reproductions of the same documents was any type of security issue for modern Kyrgyzstan is something that only Central Asian politicians could come up with.”
The author defines “Russian Germans” as Germans in the Volga, Black Sea, and other regions. Immediately upon embarking on the main body of the study in Chapter 4, one is struck by how these different subgroups had distinct identities that only really became a singular Russian German identity as a result of their “common experience of severe persecution at the hands of the Soviet regime.” This is striking because of its bearing on some of the previous books we have examined. Among the ethnicities of Eastern Europe, their identities were reinforced and in some way created by oppression from an outside group, again, the Russians. Moreover, the contemporary “white” ethnicity is also undergoing a formative process due to persecution. Distinctions that were once more pronounced are either ignored or disappear as a negative factor (persecution) resolves differences one way or another. It is likely the case that for the white American ethnicity to fully develop, more persecution is required.