"Remember us as we remember you" – the plea from a father for his family in a prison camp in Stalin's Gulag empire. Jasch Regehr's letter is a criminal offence. Documents of the NKVD, the Soviet Union's secret police agency, confirm that "correspondence abroad" is punishable by arrest and imprisonment without trial.
Yet this father's letter was delivered to a tiny prairie town in Canada. From 1930-37, other letters written by Russian Mennonites – a nine-year old girl, her mother, brother and sister, extended family and friends – arrived in Carlyle, Saskatchewan. Most of the 463 letters traveled by covert means and circuitous networks. Aggressive prison guards, hostile censors and informers were obstacles to secure delivery. Once safely in Canada, the letters were stored in a Campbell's Soup box. They moved from attic to attic for nearly 60 years, and were finally discovered in 1989 by Peter Bargen, son of the recipients.
For the author, Ruth Derksen Siemens (a first-generation Canadian of Russian-Mennonite descent) these letter writers are not faceless, nameless people from the past. They are her blood, her kin. From the position of an "insider," the author guides us through the accounts that depict not only death and horror – but also the hope that sustains the prisoners in their darkest hours.
The world does not know this story. The silence is inscrutable. The Gulag and the millions who died must enter our public moral consciousness. Thankfully, these letters and some survivors are still among us who can validate events; the amnesia is not yet complete.
The letters gathered in this publication (Volume One) have been written by one family: Jasch and Maria Regehr and some of their children. Subsequent volumes will include letters written by other prisoners. These first-person accounts are damning evidence in the human court of justice. We will remember! We will celebrate those who wrote. And we will be changed.Portions of the profits will be donated to the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and Mennonite Historical Societies in Canada.
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