A story of the Germans from Russia to be presented at Northwestern

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A story of the Germans from Russia to be presented at Northwestern

September 21, 2009

“Remember Us: Letters from Stalin’s Gulag to the Great Plains (1930-1937): A Family’s Story,” a presentation hosted by the Department of Social Sciences at Northwestern Oklahoma State University, will take place on Thursday, Oct. 8, at 7 p.m.

This annual event will be held in Herod Hall Auditorium and is free to the public.

Dr. Eric J. Schmaltz, assistant professor of history, will begin the evening  by presenting an overview of the German’s history and migratory patterns from Russia, specifically the group’s arrival in Oklahoma after the 1880s.

 Dr. Eric Schmaltz

Guest speaker Dr. Ruth Derksen-Siemens will discuss the odyssey of one Russian Mennonite family, the Regehrs, whose 463 letters from Stalin’s gulag made their way to a tiny prairie town in Canada between 1930 and 1937. A short documentary film, “Through the Red Gate,” based on her gulag letters book will follow the presentation.

Derksen-Siemens is a first-generation Canadian of Russian Mennonite descent born in Vancouver. She teaches rhetoric and writing at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Her doctorate at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom investigated this body of gulag letters, the largest international collection of its kind ever to be authenticated. She also is compiling similar letters sent to German-speaking families in Nebraska and Kansas during the same period.

The story of the Regehr family letters compels Oklahomans and others to ask whether more such letters remain hidden and forgotten in attics and basements across the prairies. As a father pleaded for his family imprisoned in Stalin’s gulag, “Remember us as we remember you.” Though heart-wrenching, the gulag accounts are also filled with hope and endurance, calling on everyone to prevent such things from ever happening again.

For more information on the event, contact Schmaltz at ejschmaltz@nwosu.edu or
580-327-8526. To receive more information about Derksen-Siemens, visit http://www.gulagletters.com.

This presentation is part of Northwestern’s Cultural Heritage Lecture Series. In the spring the Social Sciences Department will present its American Presidency lecture series and sponsor the lecture: “American Presidents: Presidents of the Heartland,” on March 24.