Witnesses To Terror

Republished on VDARE.com on June 25, 2008

The Times (London, England), February 3, 1990 

New York

One snowy night years ago, shortly
after I arrived in North America from Britain, I went
with a young woman to a social function in Winnipeg, the
Canadian prairie city where I was then living. I am
sorry to say I neglected her. For she introduced me to
the parents of friends. Their story absorbed me for most
of the evening.

The husband was Soviet-born, what
American ethnographers call a "Russian German"—a
descendant of German colonists invited into southern
Russia by Catherine the Great in the 18th century. His
family were Mennonites, members of the historic pacifist
Protestant sect which, not coincidentally, had also
settled extensively in the Winnipeg area. But,
reflecting the social turmoil of revolutionary Russia,
he told me that, like all the young men in his village,
he had been eager to wear the glamorous uniform of the
Red Army.

He got his chance and, following
catastrophic defeat, found himself in the even more
impressive uniform of the Wehrmacht. After many
vicissitudes, he had reached Winnipeg. He was now a car
dealer.

It is a curious paradox that,
whereas North Americans in general are profoundly
innocent about foreign affairs, there is a wealth of
extraordinary experience among immigrant individuals and
communities. Somehow, the latter never seems to affect
the former. But with the opening up of Eastern Europe,
many more stories like my Mennonite friend`s are going
to be heard. They may eventually change the way
contemporary history is viewed.

A

remarkable example
of such a story is Nina
Markovna`s Nina`s Journey: A Memoir of Stalin`s Russia and the Second World War,
just
published here by Regnery Gateway ($19.95). This would
normally be a recipe for oblivion, but eventually one of
these émigré memoirs is going to seize the imagination
of the world, just as Solzhenitsyn`s
Gulag Archipelago
made Stalin`s purges
respectably acknowledgeable, although the

facts
had long been known to any reader of Robert
Conquest, or for that matter of

Reader`s Digest.

Markovna was a teenage girl living
in the Crimea when war broke out. She was deported to
Germany as a labourer and eventually married an American
soldier. She now lives in Florida.

Eye-witness accounts as vivid as
this must of course be treated with caution. On the
other hand, accounts no more vivid than Markovna`s are
now inspiring the American authorities to deport old men
for war crimes allegedly committed more than 40 years
ago. Nina`s Journey provides a further context.

One point that emerges quickly is
the sheer scale and nightmare intensity of Stalin`s
purges. One of Markovna`s childhood memories is of
inadvertently betraying her mother to a night of NKVD
interrogation by remarking to a teacher that sugar was
common before the Revolution. Another is of watching her
mother and her aunt agreeing instantly to part forever
after her uncle`s deportation and death, fearing that
further contact would attract informers and doom their
children. Her uncle`s crime: dressing a

Christmas tree.

How insanely demanding it was, this
communist Moloch. One telling detail: when the Germans
first took Markovna`s home town of Feodosiya in 1941,
"the Muslim mosques were cleansed, purified, and
reopened to the faithful, as were the Christian
churches…People began to cart to the marketplace
things they reckoned they could barter…Seamstresses
appeared in droves, carpenters walked from door to door,
and shoemakers were welcomed with shouts of delight at
every dwelling. These occupations had all been
previously forbidden to function, except under state
supervision."

This suicidal repression of
economic activity had been going on in the teeth of food
shortages verging on famine. Pol Pot, in short, was not
an aberration. The same manic streak ran through much
better known cases of communism. It could not have been
invisible to Western observers. Yet they stubbornly
chose to see what Sidney and Beatrice Webb called "a new
civilization".

Markovna adds: "Jews `our` Jews
too advertised their willingness to give instructions in
the German language and in music…(
and)
registered with the German authorities as experienced
watchmakers and cobblers."

"Our" Jews were some 1,000
locals, as opposed to the 3,000 "Communist Jews"
who came and went with Soviet rule in this city of
250,000, giving its tyranny
a little-noted ethnic undertone.
But stories of Nazi
anti-semitism were regarded by "our" Jews and
everyone else as just more Soviet propaganda until 98

special units
arrived and "our" Jews were

massacred
.

Markovna`s story, however, has
another twist, perhaps unexpected to my own war-comic
generation. The Wehrmacht itself, she reports, was
scrupulously disciplined. This was in dramatic contrast
to the Red Army, which

briefly retook Feodosiya
amid appalling rape and
murder of its own people. Even when the Germans returned
and found their wounded massacred, their doctors
continued to treat Soviet casualties impartially.

As Eastern Europe emerges from the
Soviet snow, we could find, like a skeleton finally
picked clean of all excrescence, the honour of the
German army still intact. The honour of the Western
allies, who tolerated the Stalinism, area bombing and

forced repatriations
graphically portrayed here, may
be in rather more odorous condition.

The author is a senior editor of
Forbes magazine.