My name is Lena Wolf. I am a descendant of Germans from the Russian Empire. I was born in Latvia, grew up in Kazakhstan and in Germany. I also lived in New Zealand and am currently at home in London, UK. I see myself as a German from Kazakhstan, KazakhGerman.
Kazakhstan was my first home. I loved growing up in Central Asia eating Beshbarmak, Plov, Kimchi and Pelmeni. Having friends who were Kazakh, Uzbek, Korean, Russian, Tatars, Ukrainian, Polish and many others. It was like a kaleidoscope of cultures, languages and tastes.
I never questioned why we lived in Kazakhstan until grandma Emilia started telling me ‘goodnight’ stories about their deportation, gulags and special settlements, my first real life horror stories.
It was only then that I realised that most kids at my school were just like me. They were children or grandchildren of deported people. People who Stalin punished by forcefully resettling them to far away places. Just like my family the others had no right or no place to go back to.
The question of identity was always difficult for me. While I was called ‘German’ in Kazakhstan, I became ‘Russian’ the moment we immigrated to Germany, despite the fact that I had never lived in Russia. The rest of the world has never heard of Germans from Kazakhstan or the Russian Empire, which makes it difficult to explain who you are.
This book is about the history of Germans from the Russian Empire but also on a more personal level it is a story about search for identity and how trauma and displacement affect not just one generation but many to come.
"The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history".
May The Universe Be Your Home! is a graphic novel about the history of millions of people in the Soviet Union who were deported by Stalin because of their ethnic background. My family was one of them.
The history of my family starts with Catherine the Great, the Empress of the Russian Empire who being of German heritage herself issued a Manifesto in 1763 inviting people from all over Europe to come and settle on Russian land. My ancestors took this opportunity to leave the war torn German lands of the 18th century to start a new life in the Russian Empire where land was in abundance.
At the start of WWII my family had farmed and lived on that land for over 170 years. They were Soviet citizens. However, in August of 1941 Stalin issued an order of deportation of every single person of German ethnic background, every man, woman, child and elderly person were accused of espionage.
Within a few months almost 1 million people were deported in the worst possible conditions. Many didn’t survive the transport. After the deportations, gulags, and special settlements every 3rd of the deported people was dead.
My story is told by three protagonists, three women. In this first book we meet Lena who lives in London. She tries to live a normal life and yet her family’s history weighs heavily on her.
The second protagonist is Lena’s grandmother Emilia who we meet in Kazakhstan. She is a small and proud women who is not scared of persecution as she had experienced it all. Grandma Emilia bakes German cakes and organises underground catholic church services for her elderly friends in a country where religion is forbidden.
In the second book we meet the third protagonist grandma Josephine. She lives in Germany and tells us her own story of deportations and gulags. She survived two gulags, for one of them she was sentenced to 20 years in Vorkuta, a brutal camp located several hundred kilometres north of the arctic circle. Any of the visits that Lena makes to see her grandmother, Josephine greets Lena with “Hi and how are you?” in ten different languages. Languages that she learned from all the other women she met in gulag.
The purpose of this book is to raise awareness about the history of Germans from the Russian Empire. For decades German-Russians were kept silent as speaking about it could result in an arrest and worse. Later, not speaking about it became a habit. “Moving forward, forgetting and integrating” became our motto in Germany. But not knowing our history means also not knowing who we are. How can we feel grounded and look into the future if we don't know where we came from? Let’s remember who we are!