The Silence Echoes: Memoirs of Trauma and Tears, Edited and translated by Sarah Dyck
1997. 234 pp. ISBN: 978-0969876274
Sarah Dyck’s selection and skillful translation of the memoirs of people who survived the Soviet inferno between 1915 to 1950 opens a rare window through which readers can begin to grasp the reality of life in the Soviet empire for those judged to be "enemies of the People."
These are the stories of humble heroes searching for answers to the age-old questions of Job: Why? They provide graphic, personal documentation of a land and a people in turmoil. To us in the West they may seem like tales from distant lands, but they expose to our view the catastrophe that was early Soviet life.
Mennonites of Dutch/German ancestry began emigrating from Prussia and settling in the Ukraine in 1789, following invitations and guarantees granted by Catherine II of Russia. One hundred years later, the Mennonites in Russia had prospered. They now numbered some 70,000 persons living in progressive settlements, leading the way in farming and manufacturing. The Mennonites who settled in Russia kept their language, their religion, and their culture intact. But as the nineteenth century drew to a close, Mennonite community identity was increasingly seen as a threat. There was first a drive for "russification" under the Czars; there then was increasing suspicion of all things German with the outbreak of the First World War; and finally the Bolshevik Revolution brought Christianity and prosperity into question. The Second World War and its brutal Stalinist aftermath succeeded in destroying life in the Mennonite colonies. The first person accounts translated here tell the stories of people who almost miraculously survived successive waves of revolution, civil war, assassination, economic and political purges, and arbitrary arrest and banishment. The stories of these survivors are just now beginning to be published, in both German and Russian. Sarah Dyck's selection and skillful translation of these memoirs opens a rare window through which English readers can begin to grasp the reality of life in the Soviet empire for those judged to be "enemies of the People." These stories provide graphic and personal documentation of a land and a people in turmoil.
"Stalin called them useful idiots, - the members of the western intelligentsia (George Bernard Shaw, Sydney and Beatrice Webb, Jean Paul Sartre and many more), who saw the Soviet Union as the hope of the future. They delighted in asserting that you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. Now, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union, defenders of the Soviet experiment have disappeared. We now know the chilling realities of the God that Failed. Sarah Dyck, Sunshine Centre, has edited, translated and introduced stories and memoirs of the treatment of Russo-German minorities (and other German groups) within the Soviet Empire.
The Silence Echoes: Memoirs of Trauma and Tears documents the casual brutalities, the moves to labour camps, the deaths from starvation and bitter cold, the murder and rape, the dreaded knock in the middle of the night with its message that you had a few hours to pack your belongings, and the transport in crowded cattle cars to Siberia - cruelties whose spurious justification was the classless utopia of the future to which these atrocities were somehow, inexplicably, to contribute. The chapters, written in a clear, straightforward narrative style, are human documents portraying the breakup of families and immense suffering, with death as a constant visitor. Simultaneously, they portray the strength of family bonds, the solace of Christian faith, and courage when facing a cruel fate which defied explanation. The compassion and fortitude of the victims, treated as pawns by a heartless state, contrast starkly with the cruelty and barbarism of the Soviet regime. We see humanity at its best and worst.
Sarah Dyck has written on Shelley, Coleridge, Pasternak and others. She has taught English literature and composition at the University of Waterloo. With The Silence Echoes she provides us with voices from below, voices rescued from the obscurity which too often attends the victims of tyrants. Sarah Dyck's introduction and the accounts of her many contributors are supporting evidence for the Soviet writer Vasily Grossman's assertion that the 20th century "is the century of the greatest violence ever committed against human beings by the state."
- Alan Cairns in The Village Voice (October 2006).