In 1920, Evgeniya Ivashenko was born in upor, a Ukrainian city on the Assyrian coast. In her short life of 36 years, she has experienced a lot. She struggled in civil war, counter-revolutionaries and famine in the former Soviet Union in her childhood, and suffered the cruel years of World War II and national socialism in her adulthood. Like many Ukrainians at that time, she fell into the clutches of two dictators-first Stalin in Ukraine and then Hitler in Germany. In 1942, Hitler ordered 500,000 Ukrainian women to be sent to Germany for domestic service, and then began to import slave labor. Evgeniya is one of these so-called “Oriental laborers”. At the age of 23, she and her husband were assigned to a military enterprise in Leipzig, Germany, which was responsible for assembling fighter planes, and never returned to their hometown.
In 1945, Evgeniya gave birth to her eldest daughter Natasha Woding in a German camp for displaced persons after the war. After about 10 years in exile, she chose to throw herself into the river. In Natasha’s memory, her mother was a poor, short and crazy woman. In her childhood, her mother constantly threatened suicide and even tried to drag her into the river. Young Natasha couldn’t understand what her mother had done. After decades, she still felt that she knew nothing about her mother. Evgeniya not only never mentioned her past as a forced laborer, but also seldom talked about her life in her native Ukraine. Correspondingly, Natasha found that although the survivors of concentration camps wrote a lot of books about the Jewish Holocaust in the decades after the war, the non-Jewish forced laborers who escaped genocide by hard labor remained silent. The number of these forced laborers is still a mystery, and it is said that it is between 6 million and 27 million. They were drained of labor and tortured to death under inhuman conditions similar to concentration camps, but in the end they only appeared in sporadic reports and were mentioned with Jews as footnotes to the Holocaust.
Discriminatory signs that eastern workers must wear.
For many years, Natasha has been trying to find the footprints left by her mother, trying to prove that her mother really lived in Ukraine, but she can’t find any clues. It was not until a summer night in 2013 that a miracle happened. When Natasha searched Evgeniya’s full name on the Russian Internet, she found a woman with the same name from upor, Mali on a platform called Assyrian Greek. Following this clue, she launched a series of search and investigation, and inadvertently opened the black box of family history.
In the book “She is from upor in Mali” published in Chinese a few days ago, Natasha lingered between research, reconstruction and memory, and finally woven a huge and complex family network. She found that her mother was born in a noble family, her brother was a famous opera singer who won the national medal, and her sister was a counter-revolutionary who had been exiled in the Soviet labor camp for many years. What is even more surprising is that almost no one in the whole family, including mother, died of natural causes. In the turbulent twentieth century, everyone’s personal history and family history may become a historical fable about the suffering in Eastern Europe, and the historical imprint will not only remain on the parties, but also continue into the lives of future generations.
Natasha wrote in “She is from upor, Mali” that trying to sort out the family network made her understand for the first time that “I am not out of human history, but in history”. Although this journey to find relatives has ups and downs, she may even face the “secondary injury” brought by history. In an interview with Interface Culture (ID: BooksandFun), she encouraged young people to write family history. In her view, every family history is a sample of national politics and social history. Through the description of individual destiny, we can understand history emotionally.
Talking about “She is from upor, Mali”: We must tell it over and over again until we can tell everything.
Interface culture: When did you confirm that your parents were forced laborers? How did you feel then?
Natasha Warding: I used to look at my parents’ work permit, but I couldn’t understand what it said. People can only see what they know and understand. The first time I consciously heard that Nazi Germany forced labor was 30 years later. By the time I found out and realized that I was born in a compulsory labor camp near the end of the war, about ten years had passed. Since then, the topic of forced labor in Nazi Germany has been lingering in my mind.
Interface culture: Since the end of World War II, there have been endless historical writings about the Jewish Holocaust. In contrast, the history of non-Jews being forced to work is little known. Is that why you want to write down your mother’s past experiences?
Natasha wading: Yes. At a certain point, I realized that I had to write about forced labor in Nazi Germany. If I am not a writer whose biological parents are forced to work, who else? I just don’t know how to write this history and how to sort out this huge theme. Finally, I intend to write a fictional short story about my mother’s life based on historical facts. But then I found my real mother online. It’s like a miracle after all this time. After a series of investigations, the book “She is from upor, Mali” was born.
She is from upor, Mali.
Translate [Germany] with Natasha Wading.
Xinxing publishing house 2021-03
Interface culture: Your childhood was spent in an exile camp in Vacat, Germany.
Natasha Warding: Maybe it will always be like this. After a major historical disaster, people will remain silent. They can’t believe what happened to them, and they can’t find the right words to describe it. Many people are ashamed of their misfortune and think it is a personal failure. They were traumatized and tried to forget everything as soon as possible. But nature will not forget.
Those unspeakable encounters and unavoidable trauma control them with a demonic force, which is manifested as serious insanity, aggressive behavior and self-destruction until suicide. This misfortune will be passed on to future generations. So we need to resort to writing, be open and honest, and say it over and over again until we can say everything. Only in this way can the wound heal.
Interface culture: When you first found a relative, you never found direct evidence that your mother lived in upor, Mali or Ukraine. Why don’t you go to upor in Mali for yourself? Do you have any resistance to uncovering the truth of the past?
Natasha wading: No, just the opposite. After I realized that my parents were forced laborers, I always wanted to uncover the truth. In the Soviet era, I probably wouldn’t be allowed to go to upor, Mali, and no one there would be willing to help me find a former forced female worker who was still stranded in Germany after the war-such a person would be regarded as a traitor or at least a guy without a motherland, and her parents were forced to work, so her daughter would naturally be unpopular.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, when I was looking for relatives on the Internet, the Ukrainian civil war had already broken out and it was impossible to go to upor, Mali. Although there are still restrictions, I can go, but the journey to upor in Mali is very troublesome and tiring. I am 75 years old and in poor health, so I can’t go on such a trip.
Interface culture: Later, you contacted Constantine, and he helped you find out a lot of information about family members, but most of them were about grandpa’s family, not grandma’s family, because general institutions don’t record women’s maiden names. The same thing will happen when you track down your mother’s sister Lydia. You can only look for clues through her father, brother or descendants. Is this a common obstacle when people look for housewives?
Natasha wading: Yes, if you don’t know a woman’s maiden name, it will be very difficult to find her. Fortunately, my mother’s sister Lydia kept her maiden name when she got married. Constantine and I also succeeded in finding my grandmother’s maiden name. From this, I learned that in my vague memory, my grandmother was indeed Italian. Mathilda Joseph Fu Na de martino (1877-1963) and his daughter Evgeniya Ivashenko (1920-1956), Natasha’s grandmother and mother, around 1938.
Talking about mother: She only faces hunger, fear and violence, and can never have a basic trust in life.
Interface culture: How did your impression of your mother change in the process of finding relatives?
Natasha wading: As time went on, I realized that I had two mothers. One is my mother when I was a child, and the other is the mother I found online. The two mothers are so different that they have little in common. The mother I know is just another kind, a timid woman who was rejected. In Germany, she doesn’t even belong to the bottom of society, but doesn’t belong to any class at all. She was completely excluded.
And the mother I found online comes from the upper class. Although this course has been cancelled, my mother probably never took a broom. Her father is a Ukrainian aristocrat and her mother is the daughter of an extremely rich Italian businessman. When I was a child, I never thought that these things would have something to do with my mother, not for a moment. Two very different women, until today I can’t connect them.
Evgeniya wearing a headscarf, circa 1943-1944.
Interface culture: You also find that the background of mother’s family members is quite chaotic-mother was born in nobility, father was the earliest Bolshevik, brother was party member and Red Army, and sister was a counter-revolutionary. Despite their different political positions, they all became victims of the former Soviet regime at different times. What do you think of the influence of political change on individuals?
Natasha Warding: I think these people are caught in a serious internal conflict because of their identity, and they have lost their direction. I think, in the environment dominated by terror and silence, family members gradually alienated and lost contact with each other more or less. Finally, a mental patient appeared at home and killed his mother.
Interface culture: unlike my elder sister and brother who enjoyed aristocratic treatment for a short time, your mother was born with civil war, revolutionaries and famine. Does this mean that she was a desperate person before she became a volunteer, so she developed a “timid and nervous” character?
Natasha wading: Yes, I believe so. Unfortunately, until the end, I didn’t find anyone who knew my mother and could tell me something about her. Even her sister Lydia only mentioned her when she told the story that the shooting affected the baptism of the newborn (that is, my mother)
According to psychological theory, the first three years of life are very important for a person. If this theory holds, then my mother’s influence is very different from that of her brothers and sisters. Her brothers and sisters may feel the safety of their surroundings and the recognition of others, while my mother is only faced with hunger, fear and violence. She may never have a basic trust in life. Her experience in Nazi Germany’s forced labor camp will not give her any chance to recover from the trauma she experienced in her hometown before.
Three brothers and sisters, from left to right, are brother Sergei, Evgeniya and sister Lydia.
Interface culture: After World War II, most German forced laborers were forcibly repatriated. Your parents chose to stay in Germany out of fear of Stalin, but they still live on the edge of society, and you were bullied and excluded by German children when you were at school. What did you think of your identity at that time?
Natasha wading: As a child, I naturally can’t understand the relationship and reasons. I was told at that time that it was the Russians who invaded Germany. Russians are barbarians, trampling on children with their boots and taking away half the country from the Germans. They also told me that Russians are filthy, they wash potatoes in the toilet, and Russian women don’t wear underwear. During Hitler’s dictatorship, Slavs were portrayed as monsters with horns and tails. I am such a monster, this is my identity, and it has been like this for a long time. It was not until the rise of the student liberation movement in 1968 that I began to understand some of them.
Interface culture: after moving to the refugee building, your mother’s mental state is getting worse and worse. What did you think when she said she would throw herself into the river? What do you think eventually led to her death?
Natasha Warding: I have tried to explain this in my previous answer. Unfortunately, apart from a series of historical tragedies, her marriage with my father did not bring her any support, but made her mental state worse. But in the end, people can’t see through another person’s soul. I was only ten years old when she killed herself.
Talking about family history: Through the description of individual destiny, people can put themselves in an emotional position to understand history.
Interface culture: Although your life in the refugee building happened after the war, it never seems to be far away from quarrels, violence and death. One of your hobbies is to observe the dead in the corpse parking room and then face your mother’s early death. How did these experiences affect your growth?
Natasha Wading: Death has been with me for as long as I can remember, and it still is today. Neither my mother nor my father realized that they had passed on the pain to their children. My mother has never been able to gain the trust of life. She has threatened suicide many times, leaving her children with nowhere to gain trust. At night, I tied a thread to her foot and held it tightly at the other end. Once she slips away, I will wake up.
Death is almost a close relative and a secret. When I went to the cemetery to observe the dead in the morgue, I tried to solve the secret. I almost instinctively feel that one day I will stand in the same place and look at my mother’s body carefully. Her suicide has always been my scar and brand.
Evgeniya’s tombstone, two daughters and their father standing behind it, 1957.
Interface culture: You wrote in your book that trying to clarify the family network made you understand for the first time that “I am not divorced from human history, but in history”. Do you think young people born today and brought up in peacetime can appreciate this? Is it important for them to trace the family history?
Natasha Warding: Every family history is a sample of national politics and social history. Although history books are truthfully written, they are often boring. Through the description of personal fate, people can understand history emotionally. I believe the younger generation can understand this. The best way is to encourage young people to write their own family history and pass this baton on to the next generation.
However, the new media has a great influence on our lives. Some scientists firmly believe that we will soon stop using words and create a digital image world. Even so, it does not rule out that memory can be transmitted directly through images.
Interface culture: You also mentioned that when you were a child, you had a deep-rooted impression that the Soviet Union was no different from Ukraine or Russia. Has this impression changed after a long search for relatives?
Natasha Warding: It used to be like this. The Soviet Union and its 15 republics were regarded as Russia