The power of the Czar has diminished considerably. Nonetheless Apanlee is, for the most part, a peaceful and prosperous place, notwithstanding the occasional fly in the ointment. Dominik is the illicit son of Apanlee's patriarch, Hein Neufeld, as a result of his earlier indiscretion with the peasant woman Natasha. Though Hein and his wife, Marleen, have taken Natasha and Dominik into their home, the boy seems intent on begrudging his illegitimacy. Dominik grows to be a bitter and spiteful young man, stirred only by the revolutionary writings of Uncle Benny - which he, of course, interprets in the context of his own feelings of alienation and inadequacy. When Dominik is called away to fight in the Czar's army, even Natasha cannot help but feel some relief. Paperback. 461 pages.
In this volume, Russian German pioneers experience World War I and its aftermath in the Ukraine, and the Depression in the prairies of the Midwest.
"Lebensraum!" - Book II
(reviewed by the Reverend Mock)
Bottoms up! was the cry raging across Czarist Russia at the dawn of the twentieth century. A slogan spawned by the scribes and swallowed by the shallow, it was whispered in the huts of the peasants and echoed through the streets until at last it rattled the very palast walls.
In Lebensraum, Book I, we came to know the Neufelds and the Epps; two prominent and extended families amongst a close-knit kindred people whose ancestors had, years before, emigrated from their homeland in the Prussian swamps to settle in the Ukraine. There upon the steppes they had toiled and birthed the thriving farming community they called Apanlee. These were a proud people, both pious and pacifist, with a strong perception of themselves as a separate and distinct people.
This strong sense of heritage and tradition was maintained and transmitted across the sea when, in 1874, members of the clan had once again emigrated, this time sinking roots into the American Heartland and establishing the town of Mennotown, Kansas. A deep and inherent yearning for Lebensraum is seen as an impetus in the age-old pattern and progression of Aryankind.
Book II, however, finds the families at Apanlee beset with rumors of impending war, and concerned that their freedom from conscription may soon come to an end. The power of the Czar has diminished considerably. Nonetheless Apanlee is, for the most part, a peaceful and prosperous place, notwithstanding the occasional fly in the ointment.
Dominik is the illicit son of Apanlee's patriarch, Hein Neufeld, as a result of his earlier indiscretion with the peasant woman Natasha. Though Hein and his wife, Marleen, have taken Natasha and Dominik into their home, the boy seems intent on begrudging his illegitimacy. Dominik grows to be a bitter and spiteful young man, stirred only by the revolutionary writings of Uncle Benny - which he, of course, interprets in the context of his own feelings of alienation and inadequacy. When Dominik is called away to fight in the Czar's army, even Natasha cannot help but feel some relief.
Meanwhile, Hein's cousin, Jan Neufeld, and the rest of the clan in Mennotown, will experience World War I from an entirely different perspective. Somewhat torn between their German roots, Russian heritage, and newfound American citizenship, they seek equal measures of neutrality and honor, while trying to meld themselves into the Melting Pot that is - they are told - America. A Jew pens a poem, and a people slowly perish.
Archibald is the effeminate son of the preacher Dewey Epp. Raised and shamelessly spoiled by his spinster aunt Little Melly, he is by all accounts a prissy sort of boy. In this atmosphere of wartime propaganda his ethnicity has become a liability, and as he seeks desperately to deny his heritage, he is relentlessly persecuted and picked upon by his school mates. As a result of these ongoing ethnic attacks, little Archibald is beaten repeatedly, and eventually loses an eye to a well-aimed rock. This hate crime will haunt Archibald for the rest of his days, causing him to deny his roots, his people, himself.
Mennotown, nonetheless, prospers throughout and immediately following the World War. Alas, this prosperity and progress will not be without a price.
Back in Russia, historical tides have turned once again. Dominik's stint with the army has landed him in the Czar's prison, from which he is finally freed by the forces of the Communist Revolution of 1917. More bitter than ever, he quickly falls in with a band of roving anarchist/revolutionaries who are terrorizing the countryside, cloaking their crimes in the tattered rags of revolutionary ideology.
At this point, Lebensraum II becomes a horror story, all the more startling for its historical veracity. Apanlee, betrayed from within, falls to pillage, plunder and ethnic cleansing in the name of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. In one wrenchingly poignant scene two young cousins, Jonathan and Mimi, are hidden beneath an overturned washtub as their aunt, Dorothy - sprawled atop the tub - is mercilessly bludgeoned to death. Few survive this carnage; those who do will bear the scars.
The years to come are excruciatingly difficult ones for those who do survive. Marleen's many letters imploring her American cousins for help go unanswered, due to a spiteful and uncomprehending Little Melly. Without Hein who has been killed as well, Marleen and Natasha form a unique bond, spawned largely for its survival value but treasured just the same. The twins, Yuri and Sasha, while struggling with their own inner demons, will vie for the affection of Larissa, a female cousin who has, alone, made her way to Apanlee in the wake of her own trials and tribulations. The boy, Jonathan, has disappeared.
And then there is Mimi, educated - that is, indoctrinated - in the Soviet state schools. She is taught to despise the values her family holds dear. Religion has been banned, and she must deal with the fact that her loved ones are, technically speaking, criminals. She learns to parrot the Soviet slogans while keeping her true feelings to herself.
Ironically it is Dominik - now a member of the Communist Party - who is eventually sent to administer Apanlee as a state-owned collective farm. As he struggles in vain to meet his quotas, we realize the failure of this brand of collectivism lies largely in its failure to include the human factor in its equation.
Across the sea, America , too, fields the echoes of equalitarianism, and the minions of Mennotown are far from unaffected. Jan's employees continually increase their demands, even to the point of sabotage, and all the while his vast business holdings become increasingly tied to the moneylenders. Josie, meanwhile, to the utter dismay of her family, becomes a virtual conduit for every liberal idea that strikes her fancy. Nonetheless for all her shortcomings, none can overshadow her failure to provide Jan with a male heir. After birthing a brood of beautiful daughters, she has no desire to become pregnant again; yet she is ultimately given little choice in the matter. As resentful as she may be of the circumstances, she comes to cherish her last-born son, who she calls Rarey.
Depression hits hard in the Heartland, and many families lose their homes and farmsteads to the creditors. Severe draught and ill health combine to leave Jan Neufeld - once the wealthiest man in Mennotown - with little more than his pride. When this, too, is snatched from him, in a sickening downward spiral of events, it is more than even he can endure. The bizarre circumstances surrounding the death of Jan Neufeld leave Mennotown in shock, and set Josie and young Rarey adrift.
Lebensraum, Book II, appropriately subtitled "The Theft of Land and Peace" is compelling for its human drama. Author Ingrid Rimland has deftly applied a human face - and an ethnic identity - to the vagaries of historical circumstance.
Book II ends with Josie's redemption. Having stubbornly stood aloof and scathingly scorned the ways of the clan for all of her years, she is at last moved to look upon the faces of her kin. It is they who have loved her in spite of it all; it is they who have given her roots.
We can only hope that, in the end, contemporary Aryans might somehow come to terms with their own ethnic identity, and reclaim their historic destiny as a people.