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Elvira Müller addresses the audience
Map showing the "life stations" of Elvira's mother
Elvira Müller addresses the audience

On 25 May, 2024, UPF Giessen's International Café focused on the life story of Elvira Müller who spent her early life in Kazakhstan.

This monthly event has been consistently attracting an audience of over 20, and this time about 25 people listened attentively as Elvira Müller told the story of her incredible life. Born in the early 1950s in Kazakhstan, she lived there until moving to Hesse, Germany in 1993. Her life story, especially the life stages of her maternal family of origin, brought us a bit closer to the history of the ‘Germans from Russia.’

As an introduction, Elvira showed a U-tube video of the beautiful Bayanaul Nature Park where she, as a librarian in the Soviet era, was able to take vacations with her own family. A second video showed the rather desolate area around her hometown Majkain, a gold-mining village in the steppes of northern Kazakhstan.

The stories associated with the photographs from Mrs. Müller’s family album took us back a few generations. For example, we learned that her grandfather, a worker on a collective farm, had to feed a family of eight children. But in 1938 he was convicted of ‘anti-Soviet agitation and the organising of religious gatherings’ and finally shot. The family only learnt about this in 1990 after extensive research. Until then, Grandmother Sophia had hoped that her husband would return (perhaps from a penal camp). From the 8 children, only one, Elvira’s mother survived. In 1941, at the age of fifteen, she and Grandmother Sophia were deported - first to Siberia and then for three years to Iwdel (Trudarmee deployment = forced labour which few survived) and finally to Majkain.

In 1993 with her extended family - her husband and two children, grandparents, as well as a sister and her family - she left Kazakhstan with this heavy emotional legacy to emigrate to Germany.

Elvira last visited her hometown Majkain in 2018 and found little left since the closing of the mines and mass emigration from 1992 onwards.

In Germany once more fate struck a blow. One of her grandchildren, who was born with a physical disability, was ‘rejected’ by her mother (the then partner of Elvira’s son). Elvira and her husband took the seven-month-old baby and raised her as their own. Just recently - on 09.05.2024 - this same granddaughter gave birth in England to a healthy girl, who now bears the name Maia Elvira!

Elvira also had to cope with a serious traffic accident in Gießen, in which she suffered internal injuries as well as ‚breaking every bone in the body‘. She also had to deal with the loss of her beloved grandmother Sophia as well as her husband.

No wonder that Elvira chose a quote from Nietzsche as the motto for the invitation to this event: ‘That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.

More about the background of Germans in the Soviet Union:

https://www.volgagermans.org/

Report: Brigitte Makkonen. (English: Catriona Valenta)

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