“I was still a little girl when I read for the first time the novel, Severograd by Nicolae Costenco. I was stunned by his description of Moldovan’s lives in foreign lands and I didn’t understand how they went from our sunny Moldova to lands near the Polar Circle. These Moldovans that I read about were humiliated, endured horrible deprivations, froze to death, drowned in the rivers, and were crushed by machines and huge piles of newly-cut timber.” - Ludmila Popovici (co-author of Destine Spulberate Shattered Destinies)
In class the other day we had the opportunity to view a documentary created with the help of a past Peace Corps volunteer. It interviews several survivors of the time period called “rehabilitation” which occurred after the death of Stalin. It is estimated that over six million people, including Poles, Balts, Ukrainians, Volga Germans, Chechnians, and of course Moldovans, were designated “enemies of the people” and legally detained as forced laborers in the work camps of Siberia and Kazakhstan. In Moldova alone, it is estimated that from this tiny country 100,000 people were deported, disrupting the lives of many thousands more. This massive and systematic transfer of people living under the Soviet regime took place during the 1940’s.
The book and documentary retell the stories of the women who were confronted with loud banging on their doors in the middle of the night only to be met at the opened door with armed soldiers and snarling dogs. Their mothers were crying, their fathers tried to escape and the survivors (children at the time) did not know why their lives had suddenly become a nightmare. Imagine yourself in their shoes: the soldiers scream at you telling you to take only what you can carry, you are hungry, frightened and forced to ride in stifling train cars meant to carry only animals for weeks. You don’t know where you are going, why you are going or when your are going to arrive. You look around in the dark and feel as if your future will bring only darkness as well. Will you ever be able to return home?
Learning and understanding history from a social perspective adds depth and breadth to something typically understood as dates, times and events. These events were real and affected many people and I think it is really important for teachers in the United States of America and everywhere to open up the painful stories that are rarely written (because history is usually written from the winner’s point of view), so that we can begin to learn from the hatred and cruelty of our past and work towards a more understanding and peaceful future. If you don’t believe me… read something written by Howard Zinn.