Saturday, April 28, 2007

Music Recommendation

I have not blogged much recently because things have been hectic here. But, I did discover a new musical artist the other week. Like everything else I am way behind the curve on this discovery. I do not know enough about music to write a competent review. So I will just have to make this a recommendation. Cesaria Evora's Sao Vicente issued by Windham Hill Records in 2001 has been playing on my CD player for the last few weeks. It is my first exposure to the music of Cape Verde and I like it a lot.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Free Review Copies of The Liquidator

If any scholars would like a copy of Sidonia Dedina, trans. Rudolf Pueschel, Edvard Benes: The Liquidator: Fiend of the German Purge (Mountain View, CA: RFP Publications, 2001) to review please contact me. My e-mail address is pohlcat [the at sign] rocketmail [the dot] com. If the request is legitimate I will forward your information to the publisher and have them send you a copy to review free of charge.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Another Progress Report

This morning I got another three pages written for Catherine's Grandchildren: A Short History of the Russian-Germans under Soviet Rule. The manuscript is now up to 168 pages of text. This morning I was writing about the connections between the Russian-German emigration activists in Estonia and Karaganda Oblast Kazakhstan during the early 1970s. I am going to try and completely finish updating the chapter on the 1970s this weekend.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Review of Anya Ulinich's Petropolis

Originally hailing from Moscow, Anya Ulinich has written a debut novel that capture both the absurdity and tragedy of life in the Soviet Union, post-Soviet Russia and among the Russian speaking “Jewish” immigrant communities in the US. In Petropolis, published earlier this year by Viking, she traces the life of Sasha Goldberg, a quarter Black woman from the small Siberian town of Asbestos 2.

Despite her name, Goldberg’s Jewish identity is entirely psychological and impressed upon her by her parents to draw the attention of other people away from her obvious African ancestry. She identifies herself as Jewish despite having no religion and knowing nothing about Judaism until after she leaves Russia. It is only in the US that she learns for the first time about matzos, kosher kitchens and Jewish holidays. Even by the loosest racialist definition she is not Jewish. Her mother was a Russian gentile and her father the son of a Russian gentile woman and an African father. The name Goldberg comes from the couple that adopted her father. Other than their name these people retained no traces of Jewish religion or culture. Yet because of her name and presumably line five on her internal passport Sasha Goldberg considers herself to be Jewish rather than Russian or Black.

This is the first of many absurdities depicted in the book that accurately reflects the legacy of Soviet rule. Soviet nationality policy classified an untold number of culturally Russian atheists with gentile mothers as Jews based solely upon their father’s surname. Under Jewish religious law the child of a gentile mother and Jewish father is not Jewish by virtue of his or her parentage. This is only the case if the child’s mother is Jewish. Yet Soviet nationality policy pretended that atheists who spoke only Russian and knew only a Sovietized Russian culture belonged to the same ethnic culture as the Yiddish speaking enclaves that used to exist in the Pale of Settlement. US refugee policy and Israel’s Law of Return have replicated this absurdity. All three states adopted a legal definition of who is a Jew almost identical to the racial definition used by the Nazis.

Sasha Goldberg leaves the dreary and ultimately hopeless town of Asbestos 2 for Moscow and then America. In the US she encounters more Soviet inspired absurdities as she runs the gamut of the stereotypical experiences of Russian speaking immigrants. She starts out as a mail order bride in Phoenix and makes her way to Chicago and finally New York. She is a sympathetic if unlikely protagonist. Most of the people she encounters during this journey including her own father are in contrast quite repulsive. The Russian speaking “Jewish” immigrants have maintained many of the social pathologies that marred life in the old Soviet Union years and even decades after arriving in the US. The native born American characters have their own set of undesirable traits. The one outstanding exception to these unsavory people that Sasha Goldberg keeps encountering is Jake Tarakan. A young man afflicted with cerebral palsy, Jake is one of the few characters in the book that is not emotionally or morally stunted. His illness is instead merely physical. The interactions between Jake and Sasha are especially well done. These two characters complement each other very well.

Petropolis is a highly entertaining and quirky novel. It depicts the experience of Russian speaking “Jewish” immigrants and their descendants in the US in an unusual light. She does not reduce them to nothing more than the totally innocent victims of perpetual anti-Semitism as have a great number of American born writers. Instead Ulinich portrays them in a more sophisticated and less positive manner. Sasha Goldberg in particularly is developed as a fully human character. While such an approach is extremely politically incorrect in America today it does make for interesting reading. I hope Ulinich’s next novel is as good as her first one. If you are looking for something a little bit offbeat to read go check it out.

Friday, April 20, 2007

What I am writing instead of this Blog

The manuscript for Catherine's Grandchildren: A Short History of the Russian-Germans Under Soviet Rule is now up to 165 pages. This morning I wrote about the underground activities of unregistered Russian-German Baptist congregations in Alma-Ata (now Almaty) Oblast Kazakhstan during the 1960s. I intend to work some more on the book this weekend. I have a lot of material on the Russian-German emigration movement of the 1970s I want to add. I have written a fair bit about the movement in Estonia and Karaganda Oblast Kazakhstan. But, I have written very little about the movement in other areas of Kazakhstan and Central Asia. Apparently there were very close connections between the activists in Estonia, Kyrgyzstan and the Jambul and Alma-Ata oblasts of Kazakhstan. Two of the most prominent Russian-German activists in Estonia during the 1970s, Viktor Trenkenschuh and Peter Bergmann, had both previously lived in Kyrgyzstan. A fairly high level of coordination thus existed between activists in Estonia and those in Kyrgyzstan and adjacent regions of Kazakhstan. I was pretty excited about finding an Estonian-Kyrgyzstan connection.


It has been pointed out to me that the German version of Prerov is Prerau not Preschau as I originally wrote in my review below. I have now corrected the error.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Review of Sidonia Dedina's Edvard Benes: The Liquidator: Fiend of the German Purge

The literary works inspired by World War II era atrocities are not well balanced. In the Anglophone world there are literally thousands upon thousands of books dealing with the Holocaust. In contrast only a handful of works have been written or translated into English on the almost equally brutal treatment of ethnic German civilians by the governments of the Soviet Union, Poland and Czechoslovakia. The English translation of Czech journalist Sidonia Dedina’s Edvard Benes-Der Liquidator by Rudolf Pueschel is thus a welcome addition to this small collection. The English language version of this work is Sidonia Dedina, trans. Rudolf Pueschel, Edvard Benes: The Liquidator: Fiend of the German Purge (Mountain View, CA: RFP Publications, 2001). It is an historical novel dealing with the ethnic cleansing of Germans from Czechoslovakia from April to July 1945.

The native German population in Czechoslovakia when Berlin surrendered on 8 May 1945 exceeded three million people. During the spring and summer of 1945 the newly established government in Czechoslovakia under Edvard Benes instituted a brutal campaign of wild expulsions against the country’s ethnic German population. The Czechs rounded up ethnic Germans into internment camps and confiscated their property before expelling them from the country with only 60 kilograms of possessions. These initial wild expulsions permanently uprooted more than 700,000 Germans from Czechoslovakia. They also involved considerable violence. On 18-19 June 1945 an anti-German pogrom in Prerov/Prerau killed 71 men, 120 women and 74 children. The Czech authorities enforced a series of measures meant to humiliate and demean its German population as a stigmatized population. They required Germans not already interned in concentration or labor camps to wear white armbands with the letter “N” for Nemec, the Czech word for German. The Czech authorities also banned Germans from using park benches, sidewalks, public transportation, trains and telephones and attending restaurants, cinemas and theatres during this time. The wild expulsions from Czechoslovakia involved a complete denial of civil and human rights to the victimized German population. These expulsions as well as the ones in Poland and Hungary received the official approval of the US, USSR and UK at the Potsdam conference starting on 17 July 1945. The pertinent line from Article XIII of the treaty arising from this conference reads, “the transfer to Germany of German populations, or elements thereof remaining in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary will have to be undertaken.” This treaty, however, also required that the transfer of ethnic Germans be conducted in an orderly fashion. The conditions for German expellees thus improved somewhat during the second stage of the expulsions, but still remained extremely inhumane.

The wild expulsions of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia organized by the Benes government in the spring and summer of 1945 form the subject matter of Dedina’s The Liquidator. Although the author describes the book as an historical novel it is in fact based upon a great deal of investigative research and adheres closely to the actual events of the time. She provides detailed descriptions of a number of horrifying atrocities committed by Czechs against Germans after the end of World War II. These crimes include the death march of some 30,000 ethnic Germans from Brno/Brunn into Austria at the end of May 1945. Another particularly stunning example of Czech brutality against German civilians occurred in Usti nad Labem/Aussig an der Elbe on 31 July 1945. Here Czechs massacred dozens of German men, women and children. Although well documented elsewhere, Dedina’s depiction of these events is particularly vivid and powerful.

Dedina’s novel focuses on two opposite poles. The first locus of the book is on Benes and his henchmen. She seeks to illuminate the motives and mechanisms behind the government’s policy of ethnically cleansing Czechoslovakia of its centuries old German population. The second locus of the book is on the victimized Germans themselves. Here she aims to provide the reader with an insight into minds of a people suddenly deprived of their property, homeland, civil rights and human dignity. In between the space of these two extreme positions of perpetrator and victim she explores the moral ramifications of collective punishment and racial revenge. These ramifications are still relevant today. Unlike Germany the Czechs have never come to terms with the crimes against humanity perpetrated in their name during 1945 and 1946. Like its larger Slavic cousin Russia the Czech Republic remains a country in denial about the truth of its contribution to human misery in the twentieth century.

For further reading see the following works.

deZayas, Alfred, Nemesis at Potsdam: The Anglo-Americans and the Expulsion of the Germans: Background, Execution, Consequences 2nd revised edition (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979).

deZayas, Alfred, trans. Koehler, John, A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, 1944-1950 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994).

Naimark, Norman, Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).

Prauser, Steffen and Rees, Arfon, eds., The Expulsion of the ‘German’ Communities from Eastern Europe at the End of the Second World War (Florence, Italy: European University Institute, 2004).

Ther, Philip, and Siljak, Ana, eds., Redrawing Nations: Ethnic Cleansing in East Central Europe: 1944-1948 (Lanaham MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001).

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Wanted: Mo Better Blogging

Recently I have been finding very few interesting blog posts. Does anybody have any suggestions on new blogs I should check out? Please feel free to plug your own blog in the comments.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

All Quiet on the Border

Literally nothing has happened in Arivaca recently. The town is very quiet and calm. I know a lot of people like it that way, but I am currently bored senseless. I suppose now would be a good time to finish up my book manuscript. There is nothing else to do here right now.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Cited in a Russian language article in a Japanese Journal

I just noticed that volume 24 (2006) of Acta Slavica Iaponica has a Russian language article that cites my second book. This brings my total number of academic citations up to 78. I may reach my goal of 100 citations sooner than I anticipated.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Another Scholastic Citation

The number of individual books and journal articles to cite my research is now up to 77. Today I discovered another one. Jongsoo James Lee's, The Partition of Korea after World War II: A Global History (NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006) cites my second book, Ethnic Cleansing in the USSR, 1937-1949 a couple of times. The citations are regarding the Stalin regime's fall 1937 deportation of the Russian-Koreans from the Soviet Far East to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Links in Support of Finkelstein

Ernie Halfdram has now put up a post in support of Finkelstein at The Bureau of Counterpropaganda. He also left a couple of other links in my comments during the last few days to other sites. The first one is an academic petition in support of Finkelstein's tenure. I doubt any professors read this blog, but if any do I encourage them to add their support to this effort. The other is a blog devoted specifically to the issue of Finkelstein's tenure. I think that is important for all people who believe in intellectual freedom to oppose the attempt to deny Finkelstein tenure based solely upon the fact some people do not like his criticisms of Israel.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Happy Easter

To all my readers I wish you a happy Easter tomorrow. I am still not sure what I am going to do for Easter dinner yet. I do not have any ham, lamb or other traditional Easter main course to cook.

Another Person Expresses Solidarity with Finkelstein

Yesterday I posted my support for Professor Norman Finkelstein of DePaul University in his current struggle for tenure. Those seeking to deny him tenure are doing so for purely political reasons. Since that post my friend Abed has put up his own post in defense of Finkelstein on his blog. As Abed has noted in his post, Finkelstein is definitely somebody worth defending.

In Defense of Finkelstein

Most American academics will go out of their way to be unhelpful to you at best. One of the few exceptions to this rule is Norman Finkelstein. The few times I have contacted him by e-mail he has responded promptly and been helpful. He is also one of the few academics doing honest research. It was from reading him that I discovered that the Labor Zionists under Ben Gurion had modeled their ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in part upon the Soviet deportations of the Volga Germans and Crimean Tatars. It was also from Finkelstein that I learned that Joseph Schechtman had studied the forced expulsion of ethnic Germans from Poland and Czechoslovakia at the end of World War II precisely to provide a template for dealing with the Palestinians. Yet, because he does not tow the standard left Zionist line that predominates in American academia he has found his livelihood under constant threat. The current attempt by Alan Dershowitz and others to deny Finkelstein tenure at DePaul University is despicable. He certainly deserves tenure far more than Dershowitz does.

Mark Elf of JSF has put up what I hope is the first of several posts in defense of Finkelstein. If anybody else puts up anything else along these lines please let me know and I will link to it. For all the academic whinging about academic freedom I see very few US professors going to bat for Finkelstein. It is kind of like they only believe in freedom for ideas they support.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Book Review of Dinaw Mengestu's The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

What follows is a review of Dinaw Mengestu's The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears published earlier this year by Riverhead Books. This is the first work of fiction I have reviewed here. Most fiction I read is genre rather than literary and merely entertaining. But, this book was exceptional. When Dinaw Mengestu came to the US as a two year old child in 1980 nobody knew he would end up writing a great piece of American literature. But, that is precisely what he has done with this novel.

The novel centers around the life of Sepha Stephanos, an Ethiopian immigrant shop keeper in Washington DC. He and his two friends, Ken from Kenya and Joe from Congo, provide the reader with a view of the world from a position suspended between America and their African homelands. This novel has a rare combination of both profound thought and humor. Just in case there are any leftists reading this review it should be noted that this book is definitely not politically correct. The Ethiopian communist regime of Mengistu, Jimmy Carter and most of all rich white American left-wing feminist professors come off looking very bad. On the other hand the African immigrants are all portrayed as flawed, but deeply sympathetic characters. This is a description that also fits the image of both the United States and city of Washington DC as depicted in the novel.

This is the best debut novel I have read in many years. Mengestu has an eye for detail that renders a very accurate description of the city of Washington DC. He also managed to create a character and narrator in Sepha Stephanos that I found myself emphasizing with on a number of levels. So if you want a short, entertaining and emotionally powerful novel to read go check it out. I am very much looking forward to Dinaw Mengestu's second novel.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The weather here is now officially hot

Today's high is projected to be 92 degrees Fahrenheit. But, it is already hotter than that in the shade according to the thermometer in front of the library. This morning I drank nearly 2 quarts of water in the hour and fifteen minutes it took me to walk to the intersection of Universal Ranch Road and Arivaca Road. Of course it is only going to get hotter from here on out. It was not this hot this early last year.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Page by Page

I have not been as productive recently as I would have liked. But, I did get two more pages of Catherine's Grandchildren: A Short History of the Russian-Germans Under Soviet Rule written on Monday. The manuscript is now up to 162 pages. Other than that I have not done any substantial writing in the last few days.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

65 Years Ago on the Leningrad Front

On 3 April 1942 the Leningrad Front Military Soviet issued a resolution ordering the removal of all Russian-Finns in the Soviet armed forces from the front and their transfer to NKVD labor battalions and columns. These forced labor detachments became formally incorporated into the labor army with GKO (State Defense Committee) Resolution 2409 of 14 October 1942. This resolution subjected all male Soviet citizens aged 17 to 50 of Finnish, Hungarian, Romanian or Italian nationality to conscription into the labor army on the same basis as the Russian-Germans inducted under the authority of GKO resolutions no. 1123 and 1281. The Russian-Finns and others inducted into the labor army endured the same brutal conditions and high death rates from malnutrition, disease, exposure and over work that Stalin had earlier inflicted upon the Russian-Germans.


Pavel Polian, Against Their Will: The History and Geography of Forced Migrations in the USSR (Budapest: Central European Press, 2004), p. 139 and pp. 347-348.