Dakota Datebook

Georg Hildebrandt in the Gulag

Monday, July 19, 2004

Today is the birthday of Georg Hildebrandt, who was born in 1911 in a German village in the Ukraine. In 1993, Hildebrandt’s book, “Why Are You Still Alive? A German in the Gulag,” was published in the German language. A German reviewer wrote, “Why are you still alive? That is the cynical question of a KGB officer to the author… His fate, which one could avoid only by escape or suicide, represents that of thousands of fellow-sufferers. Imaginative, sympathetic readers should have strong nerves for this book.”

On NDSU’s Germans from Russia website, Hildebrandt writes, “Many Germans died in Siberian detention camps during Stalin’s dictatorship. As Germans, they were declared as public enemies and after 1941, they were accused of collaborating with the Fascists.”

Dr. Erich Franz Sommer writes in the preface: “Testimonies were only rarely given by German camp inmates; more rarely yet, by those German colonists who experienced themselves forced collectivization in the Volga region, in the Ukraine, and in the Caucasus, and on the Crimean peninsula, and who have survived decades of resettlement in Siberia and Central Asia.

“That is why this biography and the report of suffering by the Ukrainian-German, George Hildebrandt, are of documentary value. He speaks not only for himself, he speaks also vicariously for those whose cries and prayers in prisons and in detention camps fell silent without finding an ear. George Hildebrandt’s report, which I can confirm from my own experiences,” continues Sommer, “recalls a chapter of the Soviet Union’s past with which people are still trying to come to terms and, as far as this is possible, the Kremlin cannot be indifferent towards revising it.”

Hildebrandt, himself, writes, “I was born on 19 July 1911, in the German village of Kondratjevka, Ukraine, the second of five children. My forefathers came to Russia in 1778.

After finishing junior high school in 1927, I worked on my father’s farm. In March 1929, Stalin began to collectivize agriculture, the ruin and destruction of many millions of farmers, Russian and German alike.

“Very early one morning in March 1930, militia and secret agents of the state police occupied our entire town,” he said. “All men and boys from 16 years of age were arrested and jailed. I was among them. This was my first arrest. I began forced labor in road construction in Konstantinovka. In the fall I fled to my relatives in Madestovka, where I took a correspondence course for technical draftsman until spring 1931. A series of arrests, imprisonment, and even one escape followed, taking me through several labor camps including that of the infamous Kolyma.”

“In 1952,” he continues, “I was prematurely released from a concentration camp to remain forever exiled in Kolyma. However, in 1953, I was arrested for the fifth time in my life and transported to the Urals. The journey took me through Magadan and (five) prisons, where I arrived to reunite with my family already living there in exile. Immediately after my arrival, I was admitted to the hospital for tuberculosis patients. I had contracted the highly communicable disease in one of the prisons.”

Hildebrandt later had two sections of his lung removed in Moscow. He returned to school, and pursued his profession as a draftsman for ten years before retiring in 1971. Three years later he was allowed to emigrate with his family to the Federal Republic of Germany. He is 93 years old.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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