Sunday 12 June 2011

Coming out of the Ice

Years ago, I read a book called Coming out of the Ice about an American named Victor Herman. Victor's Russian father had emigrated from the Soviet Union to America before Victor was born. He had settled in Dearborn, Michigan outside of Detroit and worked for the Ford Motor Company. It was there that Victor and his siblings were born. However, Mr. Herman missed home and got the idea to bring free enterprise to the Soviet Union by opening a Ford dealership there.

He packed the family up and returned to the Soviet Union to complete his task. Victor excelled in school, particularly in sports, and was soon making a name for himself at sports events. He even was billed "The Lindbergh of Russia" for his record-breaking parachute jumps, earning him many medals. As a young adult, it soon became apparent that although Victor was an excellent athlete, he was not a politically correct citizen. Wanting to return to the United States, Soviet officials insisted that he renounce his American citizenship which he refused to do.

Victor became a target of the Soviet regime and was put in jail for being a political dissident. He made the long cross country trek on the Trans-Siberian railroad to the infamous Gulag where he would serve out his sentence. In the work camp, he was worked to the bone. One task that he and many other workers were given was to fell the giant trees and stack a certain number of logs row upon row. Each worker had a quota that he had to fill; otherwise he would be sent to solitary confinement, or even to his death. Victor worked like a dog for the first few hours, but quickly realized that it would be impossible to fill the quota. Therefore, he figured out a way to stack the logs so it appeared like there were many more than there actually were. It became a game of survival.

At one point, the Gulag officials were only feeding Victor a watery soup. He was getting weaker and weaker and knew he had to get protein or he would die; he even started to go blind. Once again, his survival instinct kicked in and he trapped giant rats in the communal washroom, drowned them in the toilet, cooked them on a fire and ate them. His eyesight was almost instantly restored.

Released for short periods of time, he met and married his Russian wife who gave birth to a daughter. Although the threesome lived in an ice cave in the Gulag for a year, they were forced to spend many years apart as Victor went in and out of the prison system. Although his time in prison weakened him physically, he refused to let the Gulag break his spirit.

It took 18 years in total, but Victor finally "came out of the ice". One of the joys of his release was being able to eat an apple again, a delicacy in Siberia, but an everyday food back in Michigan where he had spent his early childhood. Victor and his family moved to an apartment in Moscow, but eventually, when the laws were loosened, Victor returned to the United States with his Russian wife and daughter.

Victor's book was first published during the Cold War. It's hard to believe how far we have come since the 1980's. Communism does not have the hold it once did on Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union is no more. The Eastern Bloc regimes have fallen, one by one. Now only China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba remain Communist. It's time for these countries to "come out of the ice", too.

Book cover courtesy

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