Tovarisch, I Am Not Dead.
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Thursday, 9 November 2006

Remembrance Day

Hi all, it's Romany here. I feel that this week more than any other, we should relate to the significance of Tovarisch, I Am Not Dead. November 11, 1918 marked the end of the First World War, when governments across the world, shaken by the devastating losses their countries had received, vowed never to let such atrocities happen again. Yet in 1939, just 21 years later, it started all over again. Whilst researching the Polish involvement in WW2, I realised that an awful lot of real facts and figures are missing and that Garri Urban's personal account of escape is only one of many that went largely unrecognised...until now. Have a look at this site dedicated to the men and women who escaped from Poland to fight in World War II. I think you'll find some of the information both fascinating and disturbing.

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

Family Torn Apart

I imagine that most of us find it hard to contemplate how life under the Nazi regime must have been. Garri Urban's struggle to survive is an incredible story, but what about those family members he left behind, in particular his younger brother Menachem, pictured left? With his father dead believing his brother to be dead for 25 years, he received a telegram from London asking him the names of his closest family members...

Speaking in 2006 in Tel-Aviv, Menachem recalls how Garri was deported to the Gulag. As the Nazis invaded in 1941, their father had “benched” Menachem, letting the 15-year old go to join the partisans. He knew that his father as well as the rest of the family had died in the Holocaust, and presumed for 25 years that his brother had perished in the Gulag. Then, one day in 1964, a telegram from London arrived, asking him the names of his closest family members….

We learn from Menachem and Garri about the amazing and emotional reunion of the two brothers and visit the spot where it happened near Tel Aviv. We also hear from Menachem how he told his brother of the fate of the rest of their family and how he returned home after the war to encounter the man responsible for murdering their sister and nephew. Menachem joined the Jewish underground, capturing several senior SS officers, and handing them over for trial and execution by the Jewish underground movement before emigrating to Palestine, where he became a decorated elite commando in three wars for Israel. We recall how the discovery of a brother brought so much happiness to Garri and his family. Menachem’s stories also help shed light on Garri’s singular character: how he had become tough and fearless when physically assaulting gangsters and anti-Semitic gangs.

For a detailed and harrowing account of what befell the Jewish community of Garri and Menachem's home town (nearly half of which was Jewish before WW2),in one of the biggest yet least reported liquidations of the Holocaust, click here.

Monday, 6 November 2006

Brief History

The Soviet system of forced labor camps was first established in 1919 under the Cheka, but it was not until the early 1930s that the camp population reached significant numbers. By 1934 the Gulag, or Main Directorate for Corrective Labor Camps, then under the Cheka's successor organization the NKVD, had several million inmates. Prisoners included murderers, thieves, and other common criminals, along with political and religious dissenters.

The Gulag, whose camps were located mainly in remote regions of Siberia and the Far North, made significant contributions to the Soviet economy in the period of Joseph Stalin. Gulag prisoners constructed the White Sea-Baltic Canal, the Moscow-Volga Canal, the Baikal-Amur main railroad line, numerous hydroelectric stations, and strategic roads and industrial enterprises in remote regions. GULAG manpower was also used for much of the country's lumbering and for the mining of coal, copper, and gold.

Stalin constantly increased the number of projects assigned to the NKVD, which led to an increasing reliance on its labor. The Gulag also served as a source of workers for economic projects independent of the NKVD, which contracted its prisoners out to various economic enterprises.

Conditions in the camps were extremely harsh. Prisoners received inadequate food rations and insufficient clothing, which made it difficult to endure the severe weather and the long working hours; sometimes the inmates were physically abused by camp guards. As a result, the death rate from exhaustion and disease in the camps was high. After Stalin died in 1953, the Gulag population was reduced significantly, and conditions for inmates somewhat improved. Forced labor camps continued to exist, although on a small scale, into the Gorbachev period, and the government even opened some camps to scrutiny by journalists and human rights activists. With the advance of democratization, political prisoners and prisoners of conscience all but disappeared from the camps.

For an excellent account of this period in history, please visit Anne Applebaum's site. A contributor to the Tovarisch film, her account won a Pulitzer Prize for its harrowing and accurate portrayal of life in the Gulags.

Wednesday, 1 November 2006

History Revisited

Hi all, this is an introduction from the latest member of the blogteam. I'm Romany and I have been awe-inspired by the story so far. Having learnt history at school in the traditional way, I can't help wondering whether I would have paid far more attention if every story was as fascinating as this one! Wasn't it Wilfred Owen, the First WW poet who stated that the poetry is in the pity? Well, Tovarisch, I Am Not Dead evokes equally strong feelings. Now that the book is available on, everyone can read it. I look forward to all your comments.
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