"Mother and I escaped and walked many months to Sverdlovsk. We were on the road a year."—Helen Dmitriew
At a time when the former Soviet Union faces political, economic, and social uncertainty, Helen Dmitriew’s story of nerve and compassion offers personal testimony of Russian character and endurance. Surviving the Storms: Memory of Stalin’s Tyranny, is a moving account of punishment without crime—a first-person chronicle of life under Stalin in the 1930s and the subsequent invading Nazi army in the 1940s.
Declared "enemies of the people" during the Stalinist purges, eleven-year-old Helen Dmitriew and her family were forced from their home in the Smolensk district, stripped of their belongings, and transported in closed railroad cars to Siberia, where the family was separated. Dmitriew and her sick mother eventually found their way back from the Siberian wilderness, hiding in friendly homes or railroad cars, sleeping in dangerous forests, and concealing their "social origins" when interrogated by Soviet authorities.
Although life in the vicinity of Minsk returned to "normal"— characterized as it was by deprivation, malnutrition, and sickness—Dmitriew eventually earned her teacher’s credentials and married. She was reunited with her father only briefly in Leningrad, then never saw him or any other family member ever again. During the Nazi invasion, when the Soviet armies fled from its path, her first husband was fatally shot by drunken German soldiers during "target practice." The following month she gave birth to her only daughter, whose survival today seems miraculous.
Dmitriew never gave up, never stopped helping other innocent victims of Soviet barbarity and Nazi cruelty, and eventually found herself assigned to a labor farm in Bavaria that was later liberated by the American army. There she met her second husband, the survivor of two death sentences at the hands of the Soviet government. Together this fugitive family escaped the certain death of Soviet "repatriation" and managed to immigrate to Canada and begin life again.