Letters from the Gulag

July 17, 2009

Letters from the Gulag

To complement Vi Dutcher’s study of the circle letter in the July issue of the CMW journal, we also recommend the very different set of Mennonite letters contained in Ruth Derksen Siemens’ Remember Us: Letters from Stalin’s Gulag (1930-37). Volume 1: The Regehr Family (Pandora 2007). The book contains the largest corpus of letters to have survived in North America from the soviet gulag. And a second volume is promised.

The book contains 464 letters smuggled out of work and prison campus in Russia, written mainly by members of the Jasch and Maria Goosen Regehr family and addressed to and preserved by their relatives in Manitoba, the Franz and Liese Bargen family.

The letters were first transcribed and privately published in an edition of 100 by Peter and Anne Bargen. Ruth Derksen Siemens then worked with them for her doctoral dissertation at the University of Sheffield. The Pandora book now makes them publicly accessible.

Like the circle letter, these letters, too, could be analyzed for their conventions, form and social function. But such concerns are overwhelmed by the human drama, pathos, and persistent religious faith that the letters convey. Like Solzhenitsyn’s work, the letters give the human face to the horrible statistics of the soviet version of holocaust.

Ervin Beck

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